Lowlands was a solo exhibition on view at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau in spring 2020. The show featured recent work, including carved and painted panels, woodcut prints, and an installation comprised of hand-carved boxes and vessels arranged in the form of “The Collector’s Cabin.”

Lowlands is an exhibition of new work that reflects my relationship to a very specific place.  Though specific in my mind, the lowlands of my backyard are not unlike a thousand various other swampy places throughout Interior Alaska. These are not the lands of the Alaskan tourist brochure – they are cold in the winter, wet in the summer, unmanageable for building, mosquito-filled, and visually relentless in their endless forests of stunted trees. It is not the easiest landscape to love. Luckily, I’ve never equated love with ease or perfection. I believe that in nature there is brutality, misshapenness, a degree of loneliness, and that the natural world does not bend to accommodate us. This is particularly true in the lowlands. 

The basins of spruce and swamp between the mountains are places of enormous beauty. Every tree that grows on the inhospitable permafrost takes a unique shape. The muskeg is home to an infinite variety of small plant forms, grasses, berries and surprising creatures. Waterways surge with overflow even in the coldest weather, foiling travel and creating evolving ice sculptures. Over the years, I’ve seen animal life in my backyard ranging from bear to muskrat, shrew to sandhill crane. I've had the disorienting pleasure of being lost on my own land. I think it is a place that puts up with my presence, but barely. It can hinder my control in a thousand ways, which somehow seems only fair.

These lowlands are also the context for human lives, some settling here by choice and others due to economic necessity. A lack of building codes and a tradition of do-it-yourself leads to both unique and often inadequate or dangerous structures. In the lowlands, we give each other space and don’t ask too many questions of our neighbors. Between the trails and dog teams and tidy log homes are drugs and darkness, mistreatment, abandoned dreams, junkyards and guns. This place is made of all these things at the same time - beauty, difficulty, occasionally desperation. Through my work, I attempt to get beneath Alaska’s overly edited myths to try and understand the whole. 

selections from the exhibition

 © 2020 by Sara Tabbert 

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