GHOST/HOST: Myth and Reality of the American Western Homestead, the latest exhibition at Solent Showcase Gallery, explores the historical facts, myths and mediation of the early US settlers in the American West. Part of an ongoing practice-based research project by photographer Sarah Dryden, the work seeks to explore the disparity between fictionalised depictions of the homestead in the Western States of the US and the realities faced by early settlers in relation to climate, geography, elevation, materials, design and construction methods. It aims to offer a critical position towards the mediated form of the frontier homestead within popular culture – in particular film and life story museum sites – and to assess this in relation to historical data regarding the western migration of settlers, the expansion of the United States (1862-1890) and the subsequent evolution of architectural conventions and interior design styles.
The town of Bodie is one of five sites investigated in the research; said to be the most notorious of the California Ghost Towns with tales of gold digging, shootings and a narrative that any Wild West cowboy film would be proud of. More recently, Bodie has been used as a tourist destination, a museum site, a film set, advertising and music video backdrop – not to mention its direct links with Clint Eastwood’s fictional town of Lago in the film High Plains Drifter.
This exhibition also draws on the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe’s Ghost Host – latterly reconstructed within Disney’s Haunted Mansion – and Victor Burgin’s Situational Aesthetics that looks to the built environment as a theatre of wishes and fears past, present and future, and the haunting of an environment by history, memory and fantasy. Through mediation, architectural space is physically and technologically constructed from space to place, Ghost to Host.
Sarah Dryden is a Senior Lecturer at Southampton Solent University.