An architectural video projection by Tiffany Carbonneau
ARTECHA Festival, Miami University, Oxford, OH, 2019
Curated by Annie Dell’Aria, PhD, Assistant Professor of Art History, Miami University
supported by Miami University College of Creative Arts, Department of Art (including the VASE Fund), and Humanities Center, in partnership with the Walter Havighurst Special Collections & University Archives at King Library and the McGuffey House and Museum
On July 4th, 1776, the Second Continental Congress ratified the United States Declaration of Independence. Included in this paramount document, was the radical notion that “the pursuit of happiness” was an inalienable human right, inspiring millions of people, then and now, to leave their ancestral homes to find what they believed would be a better life in the United States. These Americans dreamt of a place where one could find financial stability, social mobility, and freedom from ethnic, political or religious persecution. Their immigrant dreams became The American Dream.
As the son of Scottish-Irish parents who immigrated to the United States in 1774, William Holmes McGuffey held a strong belief that education and religion were essential to the building of a stable, healthy America. McGuffey’s Readers became one of the United States’ earliest and most significant textbooks, and were used by millions of students for more than a century to learn how to read, develop moral values, and cultivate an American Identity.1 Similarly, Americans today continue to look to education as an opportunity to achieve financial stability and social mobility. Unfortunately, broadening income gaps have led to an education gap, where wealthy Americans can more often afford quality early education, private tutoring, elite primary and secondary school tuition and costly higher education. In addition, the lack of public policy equalizing funding for public schools has led to disparities amongst the rich and poor in test scores, college completion rates, and access to early education.2
Created specifically for the campus of Miami University, Boats Against the Current is an architectural video projection that combines archival imagery found in William McGuffey’s Readers, historical still and moving images, and animated modern data to highlight effects of income disparity on equal access to education and the ability to achieve The American Dream. The title of this work is borrowed from the final sentences of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 Novel, The Great Gatsby, in which the main character’s roots in poverty, and struggles for financial success in adulthood, exhibit Fitzgerald’s own disillusionment with The American Dream: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”3
Smith, William. “William Holmes MGuffey.” McGuffey House and Museum, Miami University, 1973, https://miamioh.edu/cca/mcguffey-museum/wh-mcguffey/.
Jerrim, John and Linsey Macmillan. “Income Inequality, Intergenerational Mobility, and the Great Gatsby Curve: Is Education the Key?” Social Forces, Volume 94, Issue 2, 1 December 2015, Pages 505–533, https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/sov075.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.