Doctoral student Amanda Beardsley participated in the annual Ohio University Graduate Symposium this past Friday, April 11, presenting her paper “A ‘Cabaret of Curiosities’: The Landscape Aesthetics of ‘Mondo Utah’ and the Mormon Panorama.”
More than just the aestheticization of natural phenomena, the panorama has functioned as both optical surrogate for nature, simulator, and generator of affect—an apparatus for teaching people how to survey and perceive the world while also situating them in it. Such characteristics of panoramic vision have carried over into current museological practices in an effort to unveil and reconcile socio-cultural landscapes, while also encouraging tourism. This was seen specifically in the 2013 Utah biennial, “Mondo Utah,” whose title referenced the controversial genre of Mondo cinema. The biennial attempted to decipher a visual language of contemporary art specific to the region. Pavilions surveyed objects ranging from the marginal (golden life-masks and mummiforms of the Summum group), to the aggregate (work from the collective holdings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
This paper looks at the Utah biennial in relation to Mormon frontier artist C.C.A. Christensen’s Mormon Panorama (1878), a series of twenty-three large paintings sewn together into a 175-foot scroll depicting the history of the religion. The artist used the device for missionary work in the late nineteenth century as he traveled America, encouraging prospective members to join his community in Utah. Christensen’s panorama encompasses a genealogy of landscape aesthetics and spectacles packaged in consumable form to encourage geographic and ideological mobility. Acting as commentary on Utah’s landscape and as the lens that shapes it, both “Mondo Utah” and Mormon Panorama become significant when considering the technology and optics that not only fashion a particular perspective of a given place, but, in addition, have the authority to translate what might—or might not—already be there.