Valery Lyman’s “Breaking Ground” is a meditative, site-specific exploration of the cycle of expansion, migration and abandonment that has characterized much of America’s industrial history. “Breaking Ground” evokes the memory of those who worked at the Silo City site and invites the public to consider its own history in relationship to other places.
Lyman spent five years photographing and recording audio in the Bakken region of North Dakota, documenting the oil industry’s rise and the massive migration stimulated by the hope of employment. “Breaking Ground” is based on this work but Lyman also incorporates images from other industrial sites, including images of Buffalo’s industrial past taken by during her CAI residency.
“Breaking Ground” is an imersive experience that uses audio and photographs in conjuction with industrial remnants so that viewers enter within the work and actively curate their own experience rather than passively watching a film. The installation originated from 15 areas of projection, running in loops that were displayed on the interior of the Perot Malting Elevator in Silo City.
“Your physical movement affects what you see and hear,” Lyman explained. “I’ve spatialized the photographs and the audio so that as you move around you’ll hear a different mix of sound that plays with the density and echo of the surroundings, creating an intimacy at one point, cacophony at another.”
With no dominant, single rhythm or strict linear progression, “Breaking Ground” allows visitors to shape their own experience by wandering. As Lyman explains, “To me, this is a film that has been smashed with a large hammer sending pieces to settle in different spots in the room to hover there for visitors to walk around those elements.”
“Breaking Ground” plays like an American medley that allows visitors to have direct encounters with the subjects through revealing photographs and interviews. The prairie wind, drilling rigs, camps and conversations create a nuanced and immersive chorus.
“Breaking Ground” is not political or polemical. The installation is about the lived experience of the people; the force of the place; the force of the landscape; the force of the industrial history that we have wending through the landscape of the entire country.