Mary Rothlisberger

May 23 to June 21, 2014

I THINK OF YOU ON MOUNTAINTOPS is a play-based exploration of North American landscapes and communities. The responsive installation illustrates the poetics of big spaces in small ways. Prior to her exhibition in The New Gallery’s Main Space, Mary Rothlisberger will spend several weeks in residence at the John Snow House, using both Calgary and the nearby Rockies as catalysts for her project here.

“Do you remember when— This time last— Did you notice the — How much further to— Can you still see the— This is the story of— Feelings that are equal parts imaginary friend and secret somebody, one long look backwards before leaping, and what shape does an echo make in a canyon. The people you think about when you see something beautiful, the stories that make you feel happy and sad, the miles measured between all of us at once, and getting to know the ground you stand on all by yourself. What colour is the dust that you kick off your shoes? Internal landscapes and outsider motions make way for the kind of place we all call home.”

– Mary Rothlisberger

Essay: Mary Rothlisberger is glad you’re alive

For the past several months, Mary Rothlisberger has traveled far and wide, high and low. Across the United States she has ventured to mountain peaks from the North Cascades to the Blue Ridge Mountains. These excursions are geological and geographic, but they’re also personal and relational.

These landscapes invited exploration of spaces, both external and internal. As artists have done for centuries, Rothlisberger seeks awe-inspiring landscapes in which to encounter the sublime, that odd mix of terror and pleasure we get from glimpsing how wild and immeasurable the world really is. But unlike many artists who seek the sublime, Rothlisberger’s practice is not a solitary encounter. Her work is grounded in shared experience. What she’s recording in these images and objects is a trace of the feeling that comes from fully experiencing a place and a person at the same time. This experience may not be shared in one moment and in one place. Landscapes, like people, often have their strongest effect in their absence.

The relationships formed are just as important as the objects, and Rothlisberger isn’t the first to operate this way. Where do relational projects come from? This is a relatively novel mode of artistic practice in our time that grew out of post-minimalism and installation art. Rothlisberger’s practice, however, doesn’t fit the typical relational aesthetics trajectory. The relationships that form the heart of her work do not read as a calculated extension of, or response to, the theoretical concerns of post-minimalism or installation. Relationships are not treated as the form du jour in a long line of forms manipulated by artists who moved beyond the confines of physical materials. Instead, her practice embraces relationships as its raison d’être. The work is born of relationships, it unfolds within relationships, and it becomes a tool for creating new relationships with viewers/participants when it’s finally displayed.

When an artist makes work about her own experience, it leads us to ask how that experience relates to us. Is the distance between our experience and her experience accentuated for effect, or downplayed? Put another way, how accessible are her experiences to us when we encounter these relics? Are we being shown the trace of something special that we cannot have, or are we being invited to share it?

In the case of Rothlisberger’s work, we are invited to share it. Sometimes it’s easy, like sending a postcard. Sometimes it’s not, like driving across the country. But in either case, her openness puts us in a self-reflective position that can be a little uncomfortable. She’s describing experiences she had and we did not have, but she’s not the one standing in our way. Rather, the work makes us confront that it’s us, and only us, who make the decision about whether to share in these experiences, exchanges, and travels. The mountains are there to be climbed whether we ascend them or not. The invitation is open.

– Kevin Buist


Kevin Buist is an artist, writer, curator, and critic of art and film, as well as Exhibitions Director for ArtPrize, where he overseas artists, curators, jurors, and guest speakers. He has exhibited artwork in solo and group exhibitions in New York City and Grand Rapids, and his writing has been featured in numerous print and online publications.

Mary Rothlisberger is a thinker, writer, conversationalist, and relationalist situated in the hinterland of North America. Her work explores universal issues of relating to one another by sincerely engaging in site-specific action and encouraging an adventurous collective spirit. She loves small towns, long winters, optimists, parades, and talking about feelings.

We produced a 29-page catalogue in conjunction with this exhibition. Available in our online store or as a free PDF.