Small world

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Notions of what can constitute a landscape have become a lot more open-minded in the art world, evidenced here on an international scale by the Wexner Center's 2005 show Landscape Confection.

More recently and closer to home, the possibilities inspired artists Alexandra Copley, Elizabeth Gerdeman, Sonya Lucas and Aimee Sones. Having met through Ohio State's MFA program, they collaborated for a show now on view at ROY G BIV that explores landscapes both physical and intangible.

In Sites Seen, Gerdeman uses a section of gallery space to render parts of the city, like a lovely river view, in cut paper and paint-sample colors. Lucas takes a wall for a view into her subconscious landscape via video projection, in which the landmarks are sketchy figures and a yearning expressed through constant movement. Using finely constructed miniature oil towers with palm treetops and meticulous squares of road maps under glass, Sones compares the difference in places as recorded and remembered.

Like Gerdeman, Copley fixed on the city as a subject, but from a faraway perspective. The recent grad and freelance photographer followed up on a series about migrant farm workers with the "Taquerias" series, which offers a view into Columbus' Mexican community through the taco shops on wheels run by local immigrants.

For the earlier work, Copley followed families from Mexico to an apple farm in Pataskala, where they worked seasonally and lived in state-subsidized housing.

"We as Ohioans recognize them as workers and people, which is not what happens in a typical situation," the artist explained.

When her subjects returned to Mexico, she wanted to maintain her bond with the local Mexican community, so she turned to local taquerias, "a stable part of the landscape that most people don't recognize."

"I love taquerias, I love the food," Copley said. "It's almost like a hunt. They're invisible unless you know about them. I had to hear about them through word of mouth."

She's found 25 within I-270, photographing all of them and conducting interviews so far with 15 proprietors. A small sampling of the photos and the viewpoints provided are up at ROY G BIV, and most of the work can be seen on Copley's blog,

In the gallery, where the windowsill is lined with decorated prayer candles and a table is filled with tortilla chips, hot sauce and Jarritos soda, you'll find Taqueria Little Mexico on Sullivant Avenue, aka Paco's Tacos, a bright yellow bus that's the oldest taqueria in Central Ohio. There's also Taqueria Otro Rollo, which restocks its kitchen with trips to Tijuana. As Copley explained, the ownership on these may change hands, but they usually stay within the same family.

Alongside the photos are framed, handwritten responses to questions posed by Copley about living in Columbus.

"They've always been really open and receiving," she said of the owners' response to being documented. "At first, they were a little leery of course. They didn't know if I was trying to document them for immigration. I speak a little Spanish and that breaks the ice."

In interviews, the word "racism" came up, but Copley found that the word held a different meaning for her subjects.

"I didn't really understand what it meant to them," she said. "[Eventually I realized] it was a cultural bias, it didn't have anything to do with skin color."

Still, most felt that Columbus has become a more accepting city over the years, and many expressed a wish that more locals outside their own community would give the food a try.