Ray Ogar’s Zero Landmass Archive

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By Ray Ogar, Associate Professor of Art, Graphic Design »

Faculty Report

3609 pages. 5 Volumes. 24,000 image fragments. 3650 days. 5124 compositions (edited down to 1500). 1232 lost hours of sleep. 1 million dreams. Welcome to the Zero Landmass Archive.

The artist himself, Ray Ogar

More than likely that was me you saw. That was me you saw taking a photo of an old illustration. That was me flipping to the bibliography of a dusty text and pushing my finger across the ink to find a specific name. In some of the locations that you saw me I collected the lines from an arm or the golden ratio proportion of an eyeball. Other times you saw me, I collected the image of a strange piece of equipment which, taken out of context, remains completely mysterious. My collection grows: an illustration on the procedures for donning nursing gloves, how to draw tax form grids, the many different ways a shoe heel can be drawn using a pencil, how to build concrete embankments to control flooding, the evolution of the form of the coffin. Yes, it was most likely me you saw in a library, a bookstore, a coffee shop, scanning, editing, squinting, and sighing in front of my laptop. And, I am still doing it.

Glamour shot of the 5 volume Archive in Book Form

I have an obsession with paper and old illustrations. I have an obsession with diagrams, and graphs, and photographing texture and surface. And I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you, I sometimes have an obsession with my dreams and cataloging them.

I originally conceived of the the Zero Landmass Institute and its resulting Archive project as a minor series of drawings, designs, and collages as momentary artistic detour. It was to be an experiment whereby I explored a selection of dreams by trying to visualize them through hand-crafted or digitally combined imagery, personal drawings, collected paper scraps, and imagery loosely related to the content of my inner world. But the project evolved. And yes, as the cliche goes, it took on a life of its own. This was appropriate as the resultant work soon became a much deeper exploration of a series of crises in my life: the unexpected death of family members, the catastrophic destruction of my family’s house by floodwaters, the unforeseen and resultant personal pain, both physical and psychological, of such events occurring so near each other in time, and the need (if even a selfish delusion) to control this series of uncertain situations from afar: and therefore the Archive changed from a reconstruction of past dreams to a cataloging and building of an image library related to daily events, personal reflections, current dreams, and unidentifiable emotions in response to the perceived tragedy. The Zero Landmass Archive (as it I sometimes call it) was, and still is, both the attempt at catharsis, but also, an attempt at constructing a personal theoretical framework by which I can understand that catharsis and the events it catalogs.

Cover of each Archive book volume arrayed

At its most primal, the Archive includes: the drawing of grids, the designing of symbols and icons, the constructing of graphs which suggest a solution to a personal problem, the taking of a photo which may seem like a mundane texture to some but for me stands in for a specific feeling, or the collecting of an old image which echoes a personal memory. Alternately, the Archive is also my collection and exploration of all the elements which, whether they are found, read, or constructed by me, form an infrastructure or net which comments on that other, primal, unconscious side of the work. And in this way the Archive and the resultant 5 volume book series and its 3609 pages of design, drawings, diagrams, images, collages, altered photos, word lists, and more, become not only the record and report but also exists as self-reflexive commentary and analysis.

As is my nature, and the nature of all my visual work, the artwork reveals but it also conceals. For each element I visually present to the viewer in the Archive, for each collage or drawing construct, I equally bury it through writing, and narrative, and a listing of neologisms and phrases. At its most literal, the included text reads as a series of definitions for possible surreal technology and strange psychological phenomena, or as suggestions about potential future calamities on a global scale—but isn’t that what personal trauma can feel like? Large, encompassing, unwieldy. But it is this “encoding” and wrapping of ideas in self-made words that, for me, serves as a personal deception that ultimately aims to heal. To deliberately twist the words of philosopher Michel Foucault: it is through cataloging the infinity of similitudes around us that we aim to understand. It is through a series of resemblances, and the ordering of those resemblances (whether true or distorted) we attempt to control and fix the world; and here I define fix as both to make-still, as well as to heal.

Book interior illustration detail

There is always the fear that a project like this which is so self-reflexive will lose any intended audience. The artist in me knows this. But the designer in me wants such a work to be understood (or at a minimum the process by which the work is made to be understood) and the hope is that the work and process suggests a way for others to make sense of their own reality. What is equally interesting to me are conversations I have had with Kelsey Spigner (a former student of mine) wherein we discussed her own approach to dealing with a recent personal loss through making art and illustration. What was intriguing was where our processes overlapped—our tendency towards (early in process) literalism and then the eventual development of more abstracted and metaphorical visual elements to signify certain emotions or events — and most striking was our similar approach and “need” to make sense by way of cataloging, gridding, sorting, mapping and organizing as a way that somehow affords us the control to place these types of issues in a box that we can hold. Whether we ever want to look in that box again or not delivers to us its own form of power.

Book interior typographic detail

At a recent solo exhibit of mine featuring a selection of the Archive, a young woman spoke to me about a subgroup of the Archive I featured near the gallery entrance. She started to ask me about the series and I turned the question back to her. I asked what she saw; her response: I see sleep reports, I see sleep charts, a series of medical diagnoses, and a human… always someone isolated. I asked her what made her think such, and she responded that it was the visual language, the suggestion of the space, the use of specific kinds of lines in a certain arrangement. I knew there was something more to her response and luckily we continued to talk. What soon revealed was the fact she was a nurse practitioner and that she found the specificity of some of the forms I used (which she was familiar with from her profession) suggested to her what the work potentially signaled as its content, even in its semi-abstracted visual space. Sometimes even one connection, one such similitude, one person understanding can affirm the path an artist takes is correct.

As I intend with many of my larger works, the Archive in its entirety may never been seen. But various subsets of the book series, in its early and recent forms, have found their way into art and design exhibits over the past few years: a regional traveling exhibit, a local one man show, an exhibit featuring the work of my colleagues, a national exhibit or two on the horizon. The project itself has spawned new reactions and exciting collaborations with other designers and artists. A version of the process I used to construct the book series has been adapted into a project for use by my design and illustration students as a tool for self-reflection and researching for developing their own personal creative experiments. As with all my creative work, the Archive will eventually find its way to my rayogar.com website. And of course I document my past and present processes on social media at instagram.com/whitegraph

(This project was greatly influenced by researching the works of Jorge Luis Borges, Matthew Barney, David Altmejd, Cormac McCarthy, William R. Corliss, Jennifer Rospert, Peter Watts, Paul Virilio, Anne Carson, Hassan Blasim, Lynn Margulis, Will Alexander, Steve Erickson, Michel Foucault, Frank Stanford, Don DeLillo, Colson Whitehead, WK Interact, Marcel Schwob and many more).