For Chad Cochran it starts in the countryside, in the village of Fredericktown, Ohio, where he was born amongst the farms, that seemingly endless stretch of pastoral Middle America spiraling outward from Columbus. He grew up wanting to escape the agrarian architecture, the barns and farmhouses, but he began to miss them once he reached adulthood and moved away, even though many now stand empty.
“Like listening to an old song—you know, old songs sometimes take you back to moments,” he said. “It provides you a connection to a specific happening in your life, and a lot of these structures do the same thing for me.”
For Brian Reaume it starts in the center city, in his downtrodden neighborhood of North Linden. He calls it a ghetto—not in that vague cultural way—but in the very real sense of an area of concentrated poverty and blight. Sometimes he curses the abandoned homes as he drives.
“Goddamn, I wish the bank would just get off that, or I wish it would sell to a family that’s gonna care about it.”
The two of them are inspired by these vacant buildings—“ghost structures” Reaume calls them—and they worked together to capture the visual stories of fading pieces of the past.
“They’re almost like these giant safes standing there that are guarding all of this information. And it’s really about our cultural history,” Reaume said.
They first met via Instagram, where Reaume discovered Cochran’s striking photographs of abandoned buildings in the rural areas surrounding Central Ohio. They agreed to work together, selecting some of Cochran’s photos as base images for Reaume’s paintings and mixed-media sculptures. As they began sifting through pictures, they realized that they also needed to feature the vacant buildings they saw daily throughout the city in the aftermath of the economic downturn.
Reaume first chose from Cochran’s existing Instagram library, and then they took a few trips around Columbus to document abandoned buildings that were slated to be razed. Reaume wanted his paintings to preserve the emotions associated with these decaying structures, fearing that once the buildings disappeared, the stories of the homesteads and families would be lost.
“We live in a time where things are starting to disappear…I think it’s incredibly important to remember the history of what’s there.”
Both men sought to give the structures one last say, an emotional voice that would outlive their current physical condition.
“I think for me the thing that I want to show people is we live in a time where things are starting to disappear, where we live a life of progress, which I support and understand, but I also think it’s incredibly important to remember the history of what’s there,” Cochran said. “So for me the show is really about providing a voice back to these structures, and trying to tell a story, and hoping that these creations somehow connect with other people.”
They titled the upcoming show “Collusion,” a nod to the collaborative yet perhaps invasive nature of the project.
“I’m breaking sanctuary in a way, where I’m taking and pulling from these houses,” Reaume said. “So it’s like I’m asking permission and hoping that I have permission to use these houses’ histories and their stories.”
The Collusion exhibit at the Cultural Arts Center will include 70 small sculptures by Reaume and an image-based wall assemblage by Cochran that shows other structures around the city, in addition to the original photos and subsequent paintings. Reaume also created a 2,000-component installation that plays on the idea of ghost structures—a central memorial wall constructed so that bricks and other materials seem to disappear into vapor.
This exhibit is where the two realities become one—Cochran’s photorealism pitted against Reaume’s interpretive works, physical versus emotional, temporary versus permanent—all the lines converging as they meet the approaching horizon.
Collusion will be on display from March 13 – April 10 in the Main Hall Gallery at the Cultural Arts Center, 139 W Main St. For more information about Brian Reaume and Chad Cochran, visit www.birchwaterstudios.com and chadcochranphotography.com.