You’re viewing a version of this story optimized for slow connections. To see the full story click here.


by Andrew Ranville

Story by Shwood Eyewear October 5th, 2016

There is a palpable sense of freedom in living month to month. Financial security has never been in view, and I certainly don’t expect to see it over the next pass, or the one after. This lifestyle is stressful for some, freeing for others. For me it’s a sacrifice I make to travel and to create work I am passionate about, without concession.

After a decade living abroad I returned to the United States at the end of January 2016. Projects and possibility conspired to bring me back to my place of birth—Michigan. With an arts practice becoming increasingly transient and non-material, most days are filled with research for the next expedition, new fieldwork, or immersion in a remote landscape.

I am ready to wander. Returning home doesn’t necessarily mean settling. The return can be a long journey, and it’s a journey I will take my time with.

In Big Sur, California. Photo by Yan Mao.

A selection of recent projects, artworks, and explorations…

Out west

In February and March of 2016 I embarked on a two-month road trip to research new work, document a variety of environments off the beaten path, and reacquaint myself with the breadth of landscape the United States contains.

Ten thousand miles by road, both paved and dirt, hundreds more on foot. Eight national parks. Over a dozen national forests, monuments, and seashores. Sinking snow, viscid mud, humbling dust, bracing waters. Intentional explorations hand in hand with aimless ambling. Run the desert: no points of reference. Run longer. Climb the mountain: crane neck, scramble higher, traverse, descend. Wander the forest: follow the pointing trees, turn and return. Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan. A loop large enough to step through. Not ending where I began. Just beginning.

Monument Rocks, Kansas
VLA, New Mexico
Ojito Wilderness Petroglyphs, New Mexico
Apache National Forest, border of New Mexico and Arizona
Slab City Skatepark, California
Imperial Sand Dunes Nat'l Recreation Area, California
Death Valley, California
Coast, Oregon
The Loneliest Highway, Nevada


Over the past several years on those rare visits home I began to document the smattering of childhood architectures in a small section of woods in Northern Michigan. Photographed over the changing seasons, the structures age slowly with the quickly changing light.

Some were stumbled across on recent hikes. Others known intimately. The vivid knowledge of countless nail heads cluttering a salvaged piece of wood. My own hands and the hands of friends holding the hammers. We satisfied a desire for solitude, created our getaway. Limbs on limbs, always upward. Somewhere where the swaying didn’t stop, we couldn’t help but look and learn.

Foresight, however, we lacked. Wrong trees were chosen, desire waned. Skin became stiff and roots bent from the forest floor. The Tree Forts of Wah Wah Soo share stories. One of youthful folly, one forgotten, and one of grown-up reflection.



Site specificity became the key to my practice. The opportunity to visit new places meant making work in and about those places. From the temporary and ephemeral, to the more permanent and tangible—art and architecture intersect and inform the next.

It seems logical to follow a survey of childhood constructions with a selection of recent projects. As adults we still create, but now with a thoughtfulness amalgamated. An understanding that our altruism is informed less by naivety and more by truth. A passion lost, a tactic gained. Often for the worse, sometimes for the magic.

Live and learn to let it be. Each location lets the work know what it needs. A community in need of conversation—build them a space to dialog. A mountain range calling for a connection—provide its people with tools to celebrate the local all the way to the foothills and beyond. An island with unknown histories and unmeasurable futures—build a platform to allow the telling of its story.

A place is a space remade, even unmade on occasion. With a light touch and an honest eye, less becomes more, but my hands are never empty. Feet are always moving. Eyes are always open. One thing is certain—a warm welcome to those looking to join arms, step along, and take in the view.

Sauna, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Nebraska
Bridge to Little Wedge, Rabbit Island, Lake Superior, Michigan
Puumaja, Finnish Lakeland, Finland
Seven Summits, Marrakech, Morocco
On what remains of Eagle Rock, Lake Superior. Photo by Josh Guilford.
Footnote: Andrew Ranville is an artist and explorer. Currently nomadic, he can be found at and @andrewranville