Terrain Vague: The Promised Land

Friday May 20th, 2022

Terrain Vague: Promised Land

Artists: Teresita Carson and Cydney Lewis

“One day, the need for space makes itself felt … It comes to us without warning. And never goes away. The irresistible wish for a space of our own. A mobile space which can take us anywhere. A space where everything is to hand and nothing is lacking. Already, space is inside you.”
 – Marc Augé

You have to destroy a mountain to create a building. The city, as one big pile of stuff, can create suffocating and overwhelming anxiety. Gaia carries our ever-growing burden of plastic and poison. Cement trucks churn as the debris from razing and demolition accumulate somewhere—over there. The capitalist nightmare has mutated into surveillance capitalism that is difficult to escape. So where can we find non-places to hide in plain sight—to run away from the algorithm and what it’s selling? 

Terrain vague is defined as an urban, empty or abandoned space in which events have taken place. It’s deceptively free, available, and unengaged. Think of a closed public school or an empty lot between two houses. What is to be done with these enormous voids, with their imprecise limits and vague definitions? In these overlooked places, the present is obfuscated by the memory of the past. Within a futurism context, Teresita Carson and Cydney Lewis seek to expand on what terrain vague can be—to  reflect on potential meanings of non-places. Through recycling, cutting, piecing, reconstructing, weaving and collaging, they take up the task of contributing to futurisms’ speculative terrains.
Engagement with a non-place, or terrain vague, enables Carson and Lewis to imagine better ways to escape from the totalitarian constraints of place and shift to something approximating freedom. In their view, terrain vague’s destiny is decolonization. In other words, terrain vague removes the limits of order and form, and makes place unrecognizable, different, and personal. In essence, terrain vague acts as an instrument of disorganization, of the irrational, and of inefficiency. It is capable of transforming the cultivated into the uncivilized, the productive into the fallow, and the built into the void, to render the space neither/nor—a non-place where the city is no longer—evoking a concurrent somewhere and nowhere. 

The very nature of weaving simultaneously conjures up historical, physical and imaginary spaces. Carson’s speculative weavings bend the grid to elicit displacements and to create metaphorical disruptions in our postcolonial condition. Dissatisfaction and resistance are at the core of her fiber and mixed-media sculptures. Her films attempt to blur restrictive definitions of past, present and future by setting in motion what was rendered still. In her diptych films, the cinematic, but especially the sonic, is terrain vague. She asks, what are ways in which sound can be occupied? She is particularly interested with finding sonic slipstreams in the margins of society. The sonic is both a place and a non-place. It can be personal and it can be communal. It can be colonized and decolonized much easier than the visual. The sonic claims and reclaims sites with ease. 

Lewis’ ecological anxiety manifests itself in her choice of reclaimed materials. She weaves together images of nature, technology and the human body into landscapes that point to the non-place, serving as indexes of potentiality. Pattern, repetition, dimensionality and constant movement provide the foundation for her forms. She transforms and manipulates found materials to consider the intersection of the natural, spiritual, and scientific worlds. Walking the streets of her community, she locates needles, synthetic hair, and colorful plastic bags gathering on the ground and caught up in the trees. This landscape where the natural and the unnatural collide, reveal the artifacts of thoughtless consumption and waste. Her installations suggest that, within the debris, there is a terrain vague where we can gain mindfulness and  stop performing capitalism.

Above all, it is useful to think of the concept of terrain vague as a feeling—a mental and spiritual state of being that facilitates a discourse of possibility, away from the binaries and contradictions of modernity and neoliberalism. The artists rely on the abstraction potential in non-places because it opens up an opportunity for the undercommons to emerge. Terrain vague could very well be a place where we can experience the future, or at least the present without constraints.

Teresita Carson:  (b. Mexico), is a Chicago-based artist working in moving image, photography, printmedia, fiber, sound and installation. Her films have been screened at film festivals and curated film exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art of San Diego. Recent venues presenting Carson’s work include Mana Contemporary, Sullivan Galleries, Moving Image at ACRE, Spudnik Press Collective, Czong Institute for Contemporary Art, Ugly Gallery, and Hyde Park Art Center. She is director of the project space INTERSECT, which exhibits and supports artists making time-based work. She holds a BFA from The School of the Art Institute and is an MFA candidate at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC).

Cydney Lewis: is a Chicago-based multimedia artist with a distinguished multidisciplinary background. She began in architecture at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, where she received a BS in Architectural Studies; she also attended the L’École D’architecture de Versailles, France. The fluidity of her ability to transform materials reflects her mastery of ballet as well as her endeavors in film. Her art is held in private collections around the world, and has been exhibited widely, at venues including the Union League Chicago, Saugatuck Center of the Arts, Hyde Park Art Center, and The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. She has received various honors, among them residencies with Chicago Public Schools and Lyseloth Musikerwohnhaus Basel, Switzerland, as well as awards including 3Arts Make A Wave grantee, Best in Show at Governor State University and the Black Creativity/Green Art Award from the Museum of Science and Industry. Currently, she is a member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid of Chicago.