oxford, ohiooxford, ohio was an installation poem i set up in the summer of 2019 in boulder,
Colorado (1). the project consisted of paper sheets glued onto a cloth canvas which was then taped onto a parking spot on an asphalt lot. during the 3 or 4 days in which it stood, oxford, ohio was driven upon, parked upon, and was generally overlooked or ignored; it also experienced some short periods of being experienced as an artwork. this was, of course, the intent: i wanted to create a work which was intervening in public space but which was also being destroyed by that public environment in ways which were reflective of modern and historical systems of destruction: capitalist land property “development”, the prioritizing of public spaces around the community- and environment-destroying private cult of the automobile over the more equitable creation of bus and rail services, and, first and most of all, the genocides and ecological genocides of colonial “expansion”.
(1) there is kind of a way in which oxford and boulder are both the misshapen coronas of college environments, so the translocative warp makes at least a kind of hallucinatory logic. my titular hometown, like all places in the rotting and resource-extracted heart of the landlocked U.S., is indicative of these processes. a college town created and located semi-randomly by governmental imposition of a university in the middle of nowhere, oxford often likes to portray itself as kind of an isolated, and idyllic pastoral landscape rife with undisturbed ecosystems. however, like the pastoral images of all art, the truth is something closer to garden or a middle-of-nowhere theme park (2). this place which seemed close to a natural space, was actually in some ways quite far away—many of the forests there were intentionally reconstructed on top of the remains cattle farms, pig farms, and junkyards as part of preservation efforts. as always, the past has been lost irrevocably, the true death and destruction complete long before i was born. the midwest is a post-apocalyptic space.
(2) indeed, at several points during my 20-year stint in oxford (having been born and gone to college there), the university demolished several forested areas for the sake of construction new parks, pathways, buildings, and, yes, roads and parking lots. in this installation, i articulated these facts via something i called “the disaster”—the disaster of colonialism and it’s hellspawn, global capital. but the idea of “the disaster” also communicated the kind of existential dread you experience in living in such non-living place, the oppressiveness of living there as a closeted queer townie who was into weird and fucked-up art. coupled with this experiential narrative of the existential dread inherent to living within the exposed bone of empire were collaged archival materials of the history of my hometown. i found a map of oxford and list of local businesses dated from the 1950’s. i took this map and cut it apart, reassembling it in new and peculiar ways, a fragmentation of space in reflection of my own fragmented experience of spatial horror. an emotive map. i then re-ordered / duplicated / removed the items on the list of business them to collage them into a kind of altered found poem, to make them better reflect various institutional violences on colonized land: banks, real estate agencies, insurance agencies, country clubs, etc. in collaging these three items together and placing them in a parking lot, i feel i was able to get at the linkages between place, land-ownership, capitalist/colonial violence, civil design, the midwest as the fucked-up remains of a regime of resource-extraction, homophobia, and a very personal existential dread. when i started making this project, i wasn’t sure people would actually end up driving or parking on top it—i wanted them to, but i was worried people would notice the piece and thereby avoid interacting with it/“destroying” it with their cars. thankfully, the piece was either low-profile enough or people didn’t care enough that the self-destructing aspect of the work was a major success: the once “pure” and “white” canvas of colonial destruction fell into ruin via its own oil-soaked obsessions, becoming littered with tire tracks, footprints, dirt, leaves, and trash. various pieces of the glued-on paper were slowly ripped from their canvas, evaporating into its own kind of garbage. the piece’s life concluded when, finally, the entirety of the work was removed by the establishment that owned the parking lot.
nice rejection letteryou are like something like something i like, but not the likable
version. deep deep down you and i will always be the rural queer
depths and in those depths the disaster has already happened. no
tech startup innovation disruption can revive these dead flowers
and though you are me, there will be no affection between us.
Originally from Oxford, Ohio, Ava Hofmann is a writer currently living and working as an MFA student in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She has poems published in or forthcoming from Burning House Press, Black Warrior Review, Fence, Anomaly, Best American Experimental Writing 2020, The Fanzine, Datableed, and Peachmag. Her poetry deals with trans/queer identity, Marxism, and the frustrated desire inherent to encounters with the archive. Her twitter is @st_somatic and her nausea-inducing website is www.nothnx.com