Sage Dawson’s recent work examines dwelling rights, land use, and the identity of spaces. For Ghost, Sage created a collection of prints depicting dead plants, imagery which originated from her previous work about the Summerville neighborhood in Augusta, Georgia. To understand this series of prints, also entitled Ghost, we first have to understand the housing inequalities, urban abandonment, and environmental characteristics of Summerville itself.
Conceived as a summer getaway for the elite since its inception in the late 18th century, the historic hilltop village boasts extravagant homes from another time. Many of these were (and are) inhabited by the wealthy and influential, and today stand in sharp contrast to the low-income housing flanking its base. Moving up from the hill’s base, class divisions are distinctly visible. The subtropical climate is also apparent—plants seemingly take over blighted sites and perpetuate decay. Some residents tend their lawns vigilantly, while others can barely keep back the overgrowth.
Several projects developed out of Sage’s investigations and interpretations of Summerville. Natural Disasters utilized mapping tactics, walking trips, and found materials to create works on paper that poetically interpret the socio-psychology of the district. Natural Disasters is hyperbolic in nature–a series of mixed media serigraphs and lithographs depicts natural disasters befalling the neighborhood. Volcanic eruptions, churning clouds, and lifeless plants are forced onto the neighborhood. Something seems amiss in Summerville, and in these prints the neighborhood becomes a political structure.
A more systematic approach to recording the neighborhood is Sage’s drawing machine Kinetograph, which was inspired by Jai Sen’s essay, “Other Worlds, Other Maps: Mapping the Unintended City,” in which Sen discusses mapping tactics as a means to make visible those who are invisible and marginalized on official maps of the city of Kolkata, India. The Kinetograph performances and resultant drawings make visible the urban planning and topography of the neighborhood. The drawing machine is strapped to Sage’s waist and shoulders, and the machine’s pendulum and chalk swing in direct response to her movement through the landscape.
A set of nine drawings illuminate the neighborhood’s terrain through one-way and round-trip excursions to various destinations in the district. With the neighborhood hilltop in mind, the drawings depict walking the one mile distance up the hill to the top of Summerville, as expressed by one chalk color on the paper, followed by the return trip back down the hill, as expressed by a second color of chalk. The performances repeatedly underline the vertical movement up and down the hill, emphasizing housing inequalities, race, and class divisions from hilltop to base.
The Collections series culled objects from Summerville (as well as other sites in Missouri and Florida) and assigned collection tags to each artifact. To emphasize their invisibility and obsoleteness, the objects were painted white.
During the year that Sage lived in Summerville, she kept note of abandoned houses and those that burned down. As a result, In Memoriam became an ongoing project that commits to memory houses which had been erased from, or made nearly invisible within, the landscape–through demolition, fire, or abandonment. The project heightens the visibility of sites, some of which are now empty lots, by presenting the addresses as banner or ribbon-like emblems, an idea that would build into Sage’s next project of the same name:
Emblem, a pyramid shaped collagraph, took a broader perspective of Summerville, a bird’s eye view or profile view of the hill, and infused it with ornamental pattern and iconographic references to ritual space and tombs to discuss larger concepts about death and the many decaying structures in the neighborhood.
Ghost is Sage’s final project examining Summerville. Sage created a collection of mixed media lithographs based on plants that she picked up during walks in the neighborhood. Ornate, color-saturated patterns flank the lifeless plants. Perhaps the most generous and intimate of all the projects about Summerville, Ghost allows viewers to sift through the prints, a gesture meant to echo the original act of finding the plants in Summerville.