The Art Of
Pick a medium — from mechanical sculptures to film documentaries to sound installations — Greg Pond's body of work incorporates and encompasses them all. Even single pieces are often unrestrained, not bound by a single discipline or craft. But what his work lacks in uniformity, it makes up for in harmony; every piece is shaped by the ideas that have shaped the artist himself.
“My work is all focused on issues concerning the landscape, and our perception of place,” Greg says. “Our sense of our own size relative to our surroundings, and how we react to them.”
His fascination with the landscape began in Portland, Oregon, where he grew up. A topographer's dreamland, surrounded by mountains and valleys, woodlands and waters. He went to college planning to become a geologist, but after taking a sculpture course, changed his focus to art. Really, though, his first artworks were an amalgam of the two — sculptures inspired by study of the land, and our cultural attitudes toward it.
Over time, Greg stripped away the layers of specific reference in his work, fixating instead on the way humans fundamentally perceive place — how we change it, and how it changes us. As his ideas and messages evolved, so too did his medium.
“These mechanical sculptures that I was making, they were very noisy,” Greg says. “They had patterns of movement, and I started playing with the patterns. The sound became so interesting to me, I found myself closing my eyes and listening to my sculptures.”
His current works are a deliberate blend of sound and sculpture, often also incorporating computer-enabled technologies and electronic media. The structures that he builds are designed to manipulate the sound waves they emit, ultimately altering an audience's sense of space, as well as perceptions about how environment shapes society.
Eight years ago, he expanded into documentary film, as a way to explore his worldview more explicitly.
“It happened by accident, really, when I was crossing the street,” Greg says. “I ran into a colleague who was going to Jamaica, and he told me I should join him.”
Born in Trenchtown, which Greg filmed, directed, and produced, explores the neighborhood of Trenchtown, once known as the Hollywood of Jamaica. Beginning with the community's early aspirations, Greg dives into the reasons that high hopes never came to fruition, and the ensuing disillusionment of the people who still call it home. Greg believes that, over the years, Trenchtown's physical environment — particularly the architecture — was the cause and effect of the area's rise and fall.
“Trenchtown was founded as a utopian project, and the older members of the community remember it for what it was and what it was supposed to be,” Greg says. “But the environment is very different now — entire blocks have been razed down and are vacant. Younger generations are influenced by those conditions. The film is structured in a way to show that deliberate response to place.”
Social divides run so deep, that residents can feel their physical presence: “One man told me that his friend lives across the river,” Greg says. “There's no river in Trenchtown.”
For Greg, the Jamaica project was a pivotal moment in his career, shaping his more recent work. It, too, focuses on the relationship of place and perspective, how the physical landscape influences the social one. But it's much closer to home.
Standing tall in downtown Chattanooga, Patten Towers was built in 1905, to be one of the South's premier hotels. As Chattanooga went through periods of struggle and success, Patten Towers matched the city's course — until now.
“Chattanooga has experienced this recent resurgence, but Patten Towers has not been a part of that,” Greg says. “The title of the project is Progress and Pride in Chattanooga, and it's really questioning what progress means if large sectors are left out.”
The project aims to make the opaque transparent, to address misperceptions, and to let the Patten Towers community tell its own stories, in its own ways.
“We've been working mainly with six residents there,” Greg says. “One fellow named Crazy Horse, he produces collages. Another woman, who is completely illiterate, wanted to create a book to tell her stories. We've asked a lot of people just to take pictures out of their windows, so we can see what they see.”
Some of the work will be displayed at venues in the area — River City Company, The University of the South in Sewanee — and Greg has incorporated several pieces into his own sculptures and sound installations.
His cause is oriented more toward social justice than artistic distinction. But, perhaps inadvertently, he's honing a new craft — taking the act of mediating and turning it into an art form. It's almost as if Greg, the multi-media artist, is becoming a medium himself.
“I feel pulled in a lot of different directions,” Greg says. “But I have a trajectory of thinking, I look at broad cultural themes, I ask questions about why we do what we do. And that's what leads me where I go.”