The United States’ landscape reveals essential contradictions within this country’s narrative of homeland and national identity. Official and unofficial “American” heritage sites draw in crowds of tourists: people captivated by nostalgia. Efforts to engage visitors with a history that privileges a pioneer mythology strip the land of its truth, effectively fencing in a model “America”, alienated from its history, and enclosed as property for the amusement of docile consumers. In “American Terrarium,” I am drawn to the brief superficial stops of visitors looking to reinforce or challenge a constructed identity that denies this country’s history of settler colonialism. I highlight the curation disguised as preservation that occurs at celebrated landmarks. These scenes, or as I prefer to call them, terrariums, are artificial landscapes arranged for the perpetuation of the great American myth.
By Alana Perino