“The Dhu Varren Barn” is a collection of photographs of a single barn in Michigan.
As Rheagan Martin has it in his description of his new photography show at Sagebrush Cafe, “The barn on Dhu Varren Road will not last long. When I moved into a house on the farmland, I had no idea that the barn was on the last undeveloped parcel of land in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan. But as long as the reluctant city council denies plans for its development, the barn still stands.”
The photos in this show capture the Dhu Varren Barn under different conditions of weather and light, inviting thoughts of the tension between continuation and change.
In an age of rapid change, we tend to think that we are the non-permanent part of our landscape.
The world we were born into has been swept away by Twitter, by Apple and by Amazon. We’re half a hashtag away from a brave new world and we gleam in the cast off glow of our personal devices. We’re the blue-lit faces of the future, but in the whiz-bang of tweets and updates we hardly have a breath to wonder what’s next.
We are undergoing a sometimes torturous and sometimes joyous metamorphosis into a new society, which is difficult to acknowledge because we have never known what it’s like to be whatever it is we are becoming. We know, like the caterpillar knows, only where we’ve been.
The iconic Midwestern barn naturally symbolizes this sense of change. It is a literal picture of where we’ve been. But the barn – static, totemic, stoic – here is also suggestive of an idea that re-frames our sense that we are changing against an unchanging background.
The barn in spring offers another context. The barn in sunset too. It complicates the simple sense that we are changing against a permanent backdrop. Because our legacy includes the land – what we’ve done to protect it, to cultivate it, to store its fruits, to love it, in our way.
We have a legacy, but there is an open question as to what that legacy means today and what it will mean tomorrow.
Which light, striking an old barn on Dhu Varren Road, is the real light – the one that tells us the truth about where we’ve been and where we’re going?
This barn won’t last long, Martin says. The world is changing around it.
In an interesting turn of metaphor, the barn in these photographs becomes a double-edged symbol. It represents a changing world, standing here as the emblem of a past that has already been left behind. The distance between this Barn and Us – with our sense of being rushed toward an unknowable future – is wide, and getting wider.
These photos speak into that distance.
“Eternity is in love with the productions of time.” – William Blake
But the Dhu Varren Barn is also the vessel of a certain beauty – the kind we experience when we encounter an object outside of its time, an object that has endured. It is the past – still miraculously present. The past still intact and wholly itself.
When we hold an object like this in our hands now, or in our gaze, we feel that we are reaching back through time, and for many of us it becomes a moment of dumbfounded wonder. We don’t have words to put to this feeling of being stretched across time to touch the past, here, with our cell phones buzzing in our pocket and the news cycle chasing us like a shadow. But without words, we still feel the wonder. That’s why we keep going back to stand in the field and look at the barn. (At least, that must be why Rheagan Martin did it.)
So, the barn is a symbol of a part of the past that is still with us. It may feel fleeting and it may actually be fleeting, but for now it is still here. It’s part of our landscape, however anachronistic it may seem.
You wonder – How can this solitary barn be so active in its symbolism, so two-edged? How can it represent a changing world running full speed from any thoughts of an agrarian past while simultaneously representing the constance of that past, its ability to endure?
What should we say this barn means?
Is it a chance to reflect on a fleeting, pastoral American life, a message about how quickly and how far we’ve come toward changing into something new? Or is it a sign that even amidst all this change, something remains intact? Is it a link to a romance with the land that may flicker but never entirely fade?
Rheagan Martin’s photographs meditate on these questions, which spring to mind in the more poetic rooms of our brains, even if we don’t put these words to them.
“The Dhu Varren Barn” does the work of bringing us to a strange piece of land where the past and the present are hewn – together and apart.
The Dhu Varren Barn
Photography by Rheagan Martin
Showing at Sagebrush Cafe in Quartz Hill, CA