Dana Fritz is a Professor in the School of Art, Art History & Design at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She holds a BFA (1992) from Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA (1995) from Arizona State University. Her honors include an Arizona Commission on the Arts Fellowship, a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange to Japan, a Society for Photographic Education Imagemaker Award and Juror’s Awards in national exhibitions. Fritz’s work has been exhibited in over 60 venues in the last decade including the Phoenix Art Museum, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, the Griffin Museum of Photography, and the Sheldon Museum of Art in the U.S. International venues include Château de Villandry in France, Xi’an Jiaotong University Art Museum in China and Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Place M, and Nihonbashi Institute of Contemporary Arts in Japan. Her work is held in several collections including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; New Mexico State University, Las Cruces; Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Arizona; Weeks Gallery Global Collection of Photography at Jamestown Community College, New York; the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art; and Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris. Fritz has been awarded artist residencies at locations known for their significant cultural histories and gardens or unique landscapes: Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, California; Château de Rochefort-en-Terre in Brittany, France; Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona; PLAYA in Summer Lake, Oregon; and Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in Saratoga, Wyoming. University of New Mexico Press published her monograph, Terraria Gigantica: The World under Glass, in 2017.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Terraria Gigantica: The World under Glass
Images: 2007 – 2011 / Monograph: 2017
The photographs in the series Terraria Gigantica: The World under Glass frame the world’s largest enclosed landscapes as possible impossibilities: Biosphere 2’s ocean in the Arizona desert, the Henry Doorly Zoo’s desert in the Great Plains of Nebraska, and Eden Project’s tropical rain forest in notoriously gray and cool Cornwall, England. These vivaria are enclosed environments where plants are grown amidst carefully constructed representations of the natural world to entertain visiting tourists. At the same time, however, they support scientific observation and research on the plants and animals housed under these ‘natural conditions’ that require human control of temperature, humidity, irrigation, insects, and weeds to cultivate otherwise impossible environments and species. Taken together, these architectural and engineering marvels stand as working symbols of our current and complex relationship with the non-human world. While the technical and aesthetic demands of these varying missions informed the physical design of these spaces, the required juxtapositions of natural and artificial elements also generate unintentionally striking visual paradoxes that can go unnoticed. In these carefully constructed exhibits, I turn away from the crowds of visitors, looking for views where the illusion gives way. In these margins, these liminal spaces, the natural and the artificial sometimes meet, overlap, and bleed together, or they collide, resist, and contrast with one another. The visual richness of these small details leads to big questions about what it means to create and contain landscapes. They ask us to think about our interactions with and attitudes about the non-human world. They ask us to consider whether these spaces supplement or replace those outside. They ask us to reflect on the distinction between the natural and the artificial and to contemplate our roles in the future of nature.
When and where did Terraria Gigantica: The World under Glass begin?
It began at the conclusion of my previous project where I had photographed in historic gardens and conservatories. I wondered if there might be contemporary analogs to the enormous 19th century glasshouses that collected plants from around the world and invited the public to enjoy them. I found a contemporary corollary in the enclosed landscapes at the Omaha Zoo, Biosphere 2, and the Eden Project. Early in the project, I was most interested in the fascinating combination of natural and artificial elements used to create these indoor environments. I began to wonder if we are able to distinguish between them and how that might shape our attitudes and actions regarding environmental issues. The Omaha Zoo and Eden Project allow visitors to roam freely through the exhibits but Biosphere 2 only offers visitors organized tours with a guide so making photographs there was initially more challenging. As an artist-in-residence at Biosphere 2 from 2008-11, I gained unlimited access to both public and private research areas in the worlds largest laboratory and met other artists-in-residence who were equally drawn to this unique facility. Over several years of photographing for the project, I developed a deep appreciation for the work these organizations do in research, conservation, and promotion of science literacy.
Congratulations on recently publishing this series as a monograph! What was your experience like making the book?
I began the project ten years ago and it has just been published by University of New Mexico Press this fall. It is my first book so I sought advice from a number of artists, curators, scholars, and publishers as I began to conceive the project in book form and submit it for consideration. I am so grateful to be working with the patient and professional staff at UNM Press who supported my vision for the book all the way through and encouraged me to travel to Singapore for the press check at Pristone where it was printed. I have learned a great deal through the process and am so pleased with the outcome from the beautiful printing to the thoughtful essays by William L. Fox, Carrie Robbins, and Rebecca Reider. Visiting Singapore was also a wonderful experience. Not only did I get to learn about four color offset printing and eat fabulous street food, I also got to visit and photograph in the world's tallest indoor rain forest and an actual (outdoor) rain forest preserve.
Where can we find Terreria Gigantic: The World under Glass?
The book is available in many local bookstores in Lincoln, Nebraska including the University Bookstore and the Sheldon Museum Store on campus and Francie & Finch Book Shop downtown where there are a number of signed copies. It will likely be available where I exhibit the work in the coming years and it is certainly available online from University of New Mexico Press, Photo-Eye Bookstore, and others. I understand it is already in a few university library collections and I hope more will order it.
Where do you see this project going?
I am delighted to be exhibiting the project next year at Bryn Mawr College, Duluth Art Institute, and the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts. There will be lectures and book signings at all three venues and I'll also be lecturing and/or signing books at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Tucson Festival of Books, the University of New Mexico Art Museum in Albuquerque, and Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln. (See my website for more information.) I enjoy sharing the work in exhibitions and through the book but I especially value the conversations I can have with viewers in a panel discussion, lecture, or gallery talk. The recent book signing discussion at Francie & Finch in Lincoln generated a good conversation about local environmental issues including prairie conservation, water use, and public power. I hope my work and presentations will foster discussions about how we will shape our environment both locally and globally.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
I am able to sustain my creative practice through various means including keeping weekly studio days, reading and listening to books about photography and other art forms as well as nature and the environment, regular time outside whether it is in the recently re-wilded park across the street or in a national park or forest, artist residencies, and ongoing conversations with friends and colleagues near and far about our work. My academic year is punctuated by spring and fall Society for Photographic Education conferences that keep me connected to my field. Sprinkled throughout the year are artist lectures on UNL's campus and visits to see art in museums and galleries locally and nationally. I am always inspired by collections of the Sheldon Museum of Art on campus and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in my hometown of Kansas City. I have a darkroom and studio at home and a generous studio/office on campus so I am able to print, frame, and store my work. Over the years I have received funding from UNL to produce and present my work and through this I have been able to travel widely in the United States, Europe, and Asia to make photographs, lecture on or exhibit my work, attend portfolio reviews and festivals, and conduct research required for my work. I teach a study abroad course in Japan every other summer that has had a profound effect on my work and life. My teaching and service as a Professor of Art at UNL both inspire and hinder my studio practice. Fortunately, I can devote my summers to traveling, creating new work, and restoring myself for the intensity of the academic year.
What’s next for you?
I am finishing up a five year project called Views Removed that grew out of Terraria Gigantica. The photographs in this project render trees, stones and other natural materials in ways that their scale and perspective become ambiguous, sometimes combining more than one negative to create a "landscape view" that exists only in the final print. The composition and contrast in the resulting gelatin silver prints emulate the white paper background and equivocal space in ink painting traditions that are free from the technical constraints of photography. The photographs are inspired by questions about Eastern and Western pictorial space, landscape as construct, and the inherent tension between the real and ideal. I have just put together a large exhibition of the work that is in Peoria, Illinois now and will be at the Lux Center for the Arts in Lincoln in January 2018. Some of it will go to Bryn Mawr with Terraria Gigantica work and I'm looking for more venues for future exhibitions. I'm also looking forward to making more photographs in the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey, the largest hand-planted forest in the country.
2012 – 2017