In the Army, we had scouts. They probed the terrain in front of us for intel. They traveled light: M4s, small packs of ammo, water, and no helmets. They wore ghillie suits and camouflaged their faces to match the environment. But the best scouts were those who could pass for native civilians. They could blend in, speak the language, and participate in local culture. They could go between us and them because they were from them, but now with us.
In this issue, four artists venture into territory that is both foreign and familiar to them. Sasha Rudensky returns to Russia, the country of her birth, to locate women whose lives could well have been her own. Eunice Adorno records the intimate spaces in the daily routines of the Mennonite women in Nuevo Ideal, Durango, and the Onda Zacatecas, Mexico. Morgan Ashcom seeks the myths of the American frontier in an anarchist community on the western edge of Appalachia. Anastasya Koshkin returns to her home country, Belarus, and makes videos questioning the role of the ethnographic gaze when trained on the Old World.
One of the dangers of scouting is that you run the risk of going "native." That is, you may find reasons to defect to the other side. How close are the artists to their subjects? How easily could they have become the ones being recorded? Where was the split in their paths that led them behind the camera, from in front — and where are those lines now?
Each project begins with a journey. A journey to an earlier life, an older way of life, a contained life, and a community. The camera gives them access to lives, which can then be held up in comparison to their own. They gather information. They document and record, driven more by curiosity than any preconception of a final product. In the process, they confront the fractures in their dual identities, whatever home they've made between two cultures. It is fitting that the camera contains both a lens and a mirror, and that they work together to produce art.
Scouts pass between cultures they were once from, or long to be a part of, and return to us from the field with material to sift through. Material about what is (to us) the other. In the process of the work, these artists reaffirm their place as scouts, outside of them while still bound to them. But they are also bound to us. They are accepted in both places, belonging to neither, citizens of both cultures: us and them.
Jacob Rhodes is an artist, curator and gallery director at Field Projects in Chelsea, NY. He holds a MFA from Yale in Sculpture, a BFA from Otis College in New Genres/Photography and spent 3 years in the US Army between schools. He's shown his work in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and London.