Rural context

barn illuminated (photographed by Yogadog)

I’ve been dragging my feet a little on posting my thoughts on the “Barn Illuminated” project because I’ve had some mixed feelings about the work and wanted to let my initial reaction mellow a bit.  It was an installation created by artist Ann Durant located a few miles down the road and the most basic premise was to fill an old barn with some high powered lights and make it glow from the inside. Here’s a portion of the artists statement on VashonLine

“If there is any message in my work, it is simply that place is important.
The Barn Illumination Project is a community arts event that creates a setting for local residents to engage in a conversation about “place” and its relevance in our daily lives. I accomplish this by taking dilapidated barns or industrial buildings and lighting them from within, with high wattage lights. The result is a charismatic glowing structure unlike the building seen in daylight. By abstracting such buildings and highlighting their sculptural qualities it allows people to see them for more than their lost utility.”

I first heard about the project on the local photography email list, requesting that photographers come to the events and photograph the work. I terms of barns I share the sentiment of a photographer friend who says that when he resorts to shooting images of lighthouses, put him out of his misery. Barns, lighthouses and ferries are the defacto imagery on Vashon and these subjects are so overused they become culturally invisible, as brilliantly described in the novel “White Noise” by Don DeLilo.

“THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. there were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides- pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occassionally scrawling some notes in his little book. “No one sees the barn”, he said finally. A long silence followed. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn it becomes impossible to see the barn.” He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site replaced by others.  “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it Jack?”

DeLilo’s sentiments are not really about barns at all, and it is clear that the the important part of Ann Durants work is about ceremony, gathering and dialog so I do not intend to cynically associate the intent of her work with “the most photographed barn in America”.  However by objectifying the barn and partially removing it from its context it does pose some interesting questions about place.  Of all architecture, the barn is a typology that may be most connected to its location and its structure is highly responsive to its utility and functional requirements of the surrounding crops, animals, machinery, terrain etc. Without seeing and experiencing the landscape, can you really see the barn? I think the images are amazing. Kudos to Ms. Durant on making a beautiful object, I hope that the event sparked conversations about community and place that were as rich and robust.

The imagery also reminded me of other projects that I like quite a lot. The first two are of the “Hole House” an installation created by Hutchison Maul architects and the third image is from photographer Richard Misrach, of a abandoned military building in Wendover, Utah.

Hole House

Hole House


Although I didn’t shoot any images of the barn project it did inspire me to create some of the following images in my barn…

garage interior 1

garage interior 2


About jim gerlach

A seasoned landscape architect living and working on beautiful Vashon Island.
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