“Growing up in science, it is really interesting to see people turn fiction into fact.”

A studio visit with Mary Anne Kluth, a friendly ambassador to ideas of the real and the fake.

Kluth is an Oakland collage and installation artist who constantly questions reality and perception.  She is currently working on a series called Theme Park; she visits amusement parks to gather imagery and constructs her collages based off of American landscape paintings.  She brings her collages to life in her installations.  I just got swept into her worlds.  Her collages made me feel like I was with Mary Poppins and we were going to hop into her landscape with a little bit of magic.

Kluth shares, "I never really experienced landscapes west of Denver, CO until I was an adult.  When I moved out here, it was the first thing that took my breath away.  My parents drove me out here through the very flat and lifeless Great Plains, when we got here I was floored."  Kluth experienced Western landscape on such a different level than I could ever imagine.  Originally from Colorado, Kluth moved to the Bay Area when she was six years old.  Her father was a geologist, a photographer, and a ceramist.  As a geologist, he traveled a lot, and he took her on his excursions.  Kluth’s childhood is at the forefront in her making.  Kluth now researches the land, the older writings, and the American landscape paintings of Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran.  

Although she doesn’t consider herself particularly knowledgeable in geology, she grew up in science.  With her father and his colleagues, she would use her imagination to bring her own narratives into his studies. “I never had any idea what they were talking about; I made up my own explorations and studies... although a little out of context.”  Before her installation, Theme Parks, Kluth created an installation called Visitor Center.  It was her way of finally telling her father’s stories and research.  She used her experiences hanging around Visitor Centers as a starting point.  Self-taught dioramas mesmerized Kluth.  Visitor center dioramas are usually made from employees who are very passionate about the parks, but don’t have the right resources and techniques to construct museum quality dioramas.

“I think growing up in a house that is really obsessed with the truth, reality and facts, there is something about theme parks and fake places, community, and experiences that is so weird to me.”  They were additional part of her trips with her dad as they spent time at Disneyland and California Adventure Park.  She currently works as a restoration artist at Fairyland in Oakland, recreating the fake landscape that is physically real.  As early as she could remember she was asking, "What is representation? What fake experiences do we choose to make for each other?" There are artists designing and creating these amusement parks yet go unrecognized as artists.  It is representational; but as commercial art, it is not seen as conceptual work.  

Science is recorded information from research.  When explorers and scientists went on explorations, they had a different way of documenting their experiences.  They were alone for days or weeks, wrote long detailed notes, and drew beautifully rendered pictures.  Now explorers have different, faster ways to communicate their research. You can follow NASA on Instagram and Twitter; it is a different way of turning your experiences into stories.

“Photoshop is so advanced now; sometimes I let the tools choose for me.”  There is so much of the deliberate hand in Kluth’s making, and the power to let go of controlling the piece and trusting that technology will make an artistic decision is so fascinating to me. I asked her if she ever gets mad at Photoshop for selecting something she never intended to select.  She responded, “No. I really enjoy playing with that.  Sometimes the digital line stays; I like leaving the proof of the digital mark.” It is all connected back to the real place.  How do we construct images?  Kluth wants the constructed image; she enjoys the big reveal when the curtains open.  You can still see how everything was made.  From the street view, The Escape looks like an imaginary place you can walk into. When you walk through it and turn around, you can see how she constructed the pieces.  She lends artistic trust in technology, but she adds subtle reminders that she is the maker.  

Kluth thinks “living in the Bay Area is really interesting as sort of a hobby.”  We talked about how people in San Jose go into work and use their video game skills to bomb drones in other countries, and how people at Google are in the pursuit of extending human lives; those happenings are so real to a very select group of people. Kluth commented on how sad it has been to see friends leave, but believes there are positives and negatives to the situation.  She wished there was a more meaningful tech versus art conversation. “There are still moral and ethical and imaginative questions to be asked that are not being asked because we are still upset about the buses… there is a different story of technology and art that hasn’t been talked about.”

Kluth sees the difference between real and fake as a political statement. What are the implications of representing things.  How has technology changed our perception of landscape?  She does not claim “her work to be overly political, but it would be nice if it was a friendly ambassador for ideas of the real and the fake. She believes “the American landscape and how we see our national identity can be one of the defining moments of our generation. How is this American landscape seen across the country?”  She voiced her concern as to whether or not she was the right person for this conversation, but she believes it is the responsibility of being a cultural maker to be a part of the conversation. However small, you still have some part in the conversation.


Check out more of her works at maryannekluth.com.