The Heartland research project started out in 2007 at the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands. In collaboration with the Muziekcentrum Frits Philips in Eindhoven as well as the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago the three co-curators Charles Esche, Kerstin Niemann and Stephanie Smith began to look upon the Heartland and its contemporary culture. The premise of this project was to rid ourselves from some of the clichéd images of the rural areas as well as big cities of the United States, both in their positive and negative variants.
Heartland is a term that has been stretched and adapted in so many ways on both sides of the ocean, for example ‘fly over states’, the ‘great plaines’ and ‘the forgotten land’. From the perspective of a US citizen, the word ‘Heartland’ usually refers to the Midwest, an area which includes the north-central states of the United States of America, specifically Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. As for the exhibition Heartland, the word serves as a working title and is a synonym for a piece of land that is located in the heart of the country.
Looking upon the Heartland from a European as well as a US–American perspective, the co-curators decided to research, assemble and make information and knowledge available, following a central question: what is happening within this huge geographic area that is so little represented as a cultural center or a place of knowledge exchange in the world of art?
Instead of relying solely upon established networks of artists, musicians and cultural institutions, we were eager to explore the visual culture and music of the Heartland region through research travels in this area. To create an organizing principle that resonates with the literary history of the Unites States, we have chosen to follow the course of the Mississippi River with detours to some of its tributaries. In 2007 and 2008 we traveled several times in the Heartland region, meeting up with artists, institutions and experiencing both land and people. These journeys took us from Minneapolis to New Orleans, from north to south, Union and Confederacy and through open rural lands, Native American reservations, industrial towns, continental metropolises and small towns.
By the summer of 2008 we had accomplished altogether four research travels. Each trip back to the US made it possible to question upon practices of structures, to rethink our concept for the exhibition and to share our ideas and thoughts to insiders that were helpful in contributing new aspects to our findings. The hospitality of the people we met, the building up of relationships with artists and art institutions made it possible to realize Heartland, a large-scale exhibition project of art and music, from October 2008 until February 2009 at the Van Abbemuseum and the Muziekcentrum Frits Philips.
Please take a read at some of our findings about our traveling experiences and look at the contributions of people from within the Heartland and those affiliated with it. With this blog we will keep you posted on our latest travels as well as our new ideas how to shape and conceptualize Heartland as an exhibition in an institution in the Heartland itself.
The research and the travels continue and Heartland will be reconceived at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago in October 2009.
If you want to contribute or have questions, please feel free to contact us.