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Elissa Brown

For centuries, artists have focused on the landscape around them as a subject and a source of inspiration for their work. More recently, advances in technology have made it possible for us to consider landscapes from an entirely different perspective. I chose to use maps, satellite images, and geospatial data to look at the Northfield area and based my work on the forms and patterns that I discovered.

As a city in an agricultural region, Northfield has significantly altered the land it was founded on, often with damage to the health of the affected environment. Ranging from obvious to subtle, human influence can be seen in all features of the landscape – even the ones we regard as most natural, like topography and vegetation. I found the resulting patterns most visually interesting and important to consider.

Wooden blocks recreate Northfield’s undulating landscape, with the Cannon River valley highlighted as its central feature. Two-dimensionally, contour lines, when combined with numerical elevation data, show the two ways we most commonly record topography. More layers in the same format show bodies of water, watershed boundaries, and the arrangement of trees, but imply so much more – I realized I didn’t need to include layers of streets, land parcel data, or zoning ordinances to show the structure of the city and how we use the land it covers. Moving outside the borders of the city, highways connecting Northfield and its neighbors make a complex web, and the patches of forest left around the Cannon River to the south are drawn with dots of decreasing size and density to imply the concept of ecological edge effects.

Throughout my work, I tried to depict features of the land carefully and accurately, somewhat representationally yet abstractly, hopefully in a way that draws you in deeper and sometimes makes you question what you are looking at and then think about why it is the way it is. Though my processes of measuring, gluing, tracing, and drawing were time-consuming and repetitive, through making this work I certainly got to know the Northfield area better and in a different light. I hope by viewing my work that you do too.