Finding Beauty in the Mundane

For many artists, one of the most unexpected aspects of this last, strange year was the space it provided to create. Such was the case for Joshua Graham, whose thought-provoking installation Walking In Place—borne from a yearlong walking practice—is on display now through May 22 at UMOCA.

Image of artist Joshua Graham

Drawing artistic inspiration from the natural world is nothing new for Graham. In 2017, kust before entering the University of Utah to earn his MFA, he spent a month living in an historic sandstone cabin at the base of the Angel’s Landing Trail in Zion National Park as part of the park’s Artist-in-Residence program. Then, while in graduate school, he became intrigued with Ernesto Pujol, a performance artist who uses walking as a form of activism and artistic resource. Graham is now an adjunct and assistant professor of art at the University of Utah, and during the early days of the pandemic, managed the stress of quarantine the way many of us did: walking in the Salt Lake City foothills. Mostly from convenience, he most often explored the foothills directly east and just to the south of the University. “It wasn’t long before I wandered off the manmade paths and started following those created by deer, elk and other animals,” Graham says.

Image of artist Joshua Graham's artwork in a gallery

As he travelled what are known as game trails, Graham found himself stopping to pick up things he found along the way—a tuft of deer hair, the molted skin from a rattlesnake, a jagged piece of glass, even an old crampon—and considering the relationship between these individual objects. “Each item become this sculptural prompt and a metaphor for understanding the other,” Graham says. This led to him to wonder what the objects might look like on a pedestal or under glass within the sacred space of the gallery. As a UMOCA artist-in-residence, Graham sculpted the items in his museum-provided studio, ultimately creating a site-specific installation for the museum’s AIR Space. (“I’m an avid collector and used only a small number of the items I actually collected,” Graham says. “Each sculpture is the A-side edit of a whole cabinet of curiosities that didn’t make it into the installation.”) He then added the slightly muffled but constant sound of distant traffic, similar to what people—and animals—experience in the Wasatch Mountains urban-wildlands interface. The resulting experience is raw and austerely beautiful, offering a new perspective on the wild but often taken for granted spaces just east of our city. “I hope this installation will do for people what it did for me: prompt reconsideration the ecological spaces they occupy, regardless of how mundane they may seem,” Graham says.

Graham will host a zine-making workshop, related to Walking In Place, at UMOCA on the final day of the exhibition, May 22, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Contact the museum for details. 

This year marks UMOCA’s 90th birthday and, as such, the other exhibitions on display there now are equally as impressive and thought provoking as Walking In Place, including: in the Main Gallery: Material Issues: Strategies in 21st Century Craft, presented by Diane and Sam Stewart, the work of 14 artists exploring the use of craft-based materials, processes and aesthetics (until July 10); in the Street Gallery, Baggage: Alex Caldiero in Retrospect (until June 19); in the Codec Gallery, Allison Schulnik’s mesmerizing stop-motion animation film, Mound (until July 17); in the Projects Gallery, Horacio Rodriguez’ Radicalized Relics (until May 29).; and in the Exit Gallery, Dimitri Kozyrev’ After Palekh (until May 22). 


Written by Melissa Fields