Martin Hogue: 925,000 Campsites: The Commodification of an American Experience

Display panels from 925,000 Campsites: The Commodification of an American Experience, illustrate the research of landscape architect Martin Hogue.
Display panels from 925,000 Campsites: The Commodification of an American Experience, illustrate the research of landscape architect Martin Hogue.
A view of the exhibition in the John Hartell Gallery.
A view of the exhibition in the John Hartell Gallery.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.
Display panels from 925,000 Campsites: The Commodification of an American Experience, illustrate the research of landscape architect Martin Hogue. A view of the exhibition in the John Hartell Gallery. Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience. Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience. Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience. Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience. Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience. Display panels illustrate the evolution of the camping experience.

Modern campgrounds are replete with delightful irony: an increasingly sophisticated range of utilities and conveniences services them, yet marketed to perpetuate the cherished American ideal of the backwoods camp. Each "lone" campsite functions as a stage upon which cultural fantasies can be performed in full view of an audience of fellow campers interested in much the same "wilderness" experience. As the exhibit title suggests, that parcel of land upon which travelers may pitch a tent (and will almost certainly park their car, trailer, camper, or RV) is thus only an imagined ideal. Despite the nearly one million campsites across the country, demand for sites remains so high at popular destinations like Yosemite National Park that would-be campers reportedly turn to Craigslist to purchase campsite reservations at three or four times their original price. In 2010 Kampgrounds of America (KOA) alone reported a total consumption of more than five million campsite-nights, as well as 1.5 million hits monthly on its website. Serviced by extensive networks of infrastructure and populated with trailers and $300,000 RVs, campgrounds celebrate a unique form of American ingenuity in which intersecting narratives and desires (wilderness, individuality, access, speed, comfort, nostalgia, profit) have become strangely and powerfully hybridized.

Using author-produced maps and diagrams, as well a collection of archival materials, the exhibit examines how this cultural ideal of rugged American character came to be appropriated and transformed into widely replicated templates and generic spatial protocols. Tracing the historical arc that connects late-19th-century recreational campers to the Adirondacks with overnighting RVers in a Walmart parking lot, this exhibit posits four key themes: Campsite as the standard the unit of management of any campground; geography and the range of destinations from Yosemite National Park to the KOA on Las Vegas Strip; the rise of services as the primary criteria for campground comparison; and the organization of campgrounds into national systems and franchises that reflect the radical physical and cultural transformations of the campground in the past century. Together these themes illustrate a fascinating history of 20th-century American landscape.

Martin Hogue is the William Munsey Kennedy Jr. Fellow at the State University of New York’s Department of Landscape Architecture in the College of Environmental Forestry, where has worked since 2010. Trained as an architect and landscape architect, his research explores the notion of "site" as a cultural construction — specifically, the mechanisms by which locations become invested with the unique potential to acquire the designation of site. Hogue’s research has been supported with residencies at the MacDowell Colony (2005), the Center for Land Use Interpretation (2006), and the Canadian Center for Architecture (2009). His work has appeared in 306090, Architecture-Québec, Bracket (forthcoming 2013), Dichotomy, Landscape Journal, Numéro, Pidgin, Places, Thresholds, and the Journal of Architectural Education. His 2003 photographs of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty have appeared in Bookforum, Numéro, as well as two monographs on the work of the artist published by the Dia Art Foundation and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Hogue's drawings have been exhibited widely at venues including the Ohio State University, the Urban Center in New York, and the Center for Land Use Interpretation.