Christiana Caro is intrigued with the history of Slovakia, a country that has been occupied and divided throughout its turbulent history.
Fascinated with landscapes, Caro began to consider: "What happens to a society that has such a complicated relationship with the land that defines it? What happens when this land is politically renegotiated multiple times throughout a single lifetime?"
"That was very powerful for me," said Caro, who this week will earn her University of Arizona Master of Fine Arts.
Caro will be spending the 2011-12 academic year in the country on a newly funded Fulbright fellowship. While there, she will investigate how Slovak people preserve and display their cultural identity within the context of a post-Communist society.
"A lot of Slovak art-making and identity was submerged during communism," said Caro, whose medium is predominately photography.
"There was a vibrant artistic underground because of the nature of repression," she added. "But there hasn't been a lot written or discussed about it. There is a lot to be learned in Slovakia.”
Having spent five months studying in Slovakia last year on a related project, Fulbright will support her continued investigation of landscapes and identity on Žitný ostrov, a Slovak island shaped by the Danube River.
Caro has spent much of her career studying, interpreting, and photographing landscapes – most recently, islands.
Much of her work to date has drawn from various influences. It was while studying 1960s and 1970s-era minimalist and conceptual art that she understood "how far art could be stretched in its definition, and this really excited me."
Her approach is not to merely document, but to unravel deeper meanings around space, light and narrative.
While in Slovakia, Caro will also investigate how Slovak photographers have portrayed their own land, beginning in the National Archives in Bratislava for her research.
"The element that is important is that the islands I photograph have cultural museums curated by locals. I am interested in places where the residents curate their own image for outsiders to view," Caro said.
Photographing the island and its museum will be central to Caro's Fulbright research, but she is not producing an ethnographic study.
"For me, photography is a way to access the landscape. It is a tool I use to observe everyday things, said Caro, whose Fulbright fellowship will conclude with a June 2012 exhibition of her work.
Prior to moving to Slovakia, Caro will spend three months in Florence, Italy, dividing her time between the classroom, the city and her studio in Florence.
Caro is serving as the artist-in-residence at F_AIR, a residency geared toward contemporary artists. She also will teach a photography course at the Florence University of the Arts while also carrying out a project – this time on Renaissance gardens.
The link between her work in Italy and Slovakia is on "demarcated or curated landscapes," which includes islands and gardens – "those places that are set apart," Caro said.
After her Fulbright fellowship is complete, Caro intends to pursue other artist-in-residence and teaching positions.
"I really have enjoyed teaching at the UA. The experience has been rewarding," said Caro, who taught several photography courses for the UA School of Art during the last three years.
"It keeps you sharp, and you are always reminded of your responsibility as an educator, “ Caro said. "I don't want my students to make work that looks like mine. When they become excited to try something, I'm excited. It's just a great energy – the classroom."