Melissa Borman. Detail of takeaway packet from What to Do When Lost in the Woods, 2016.
Melissa Borman. Installation detail from What to Do When Lost in the Woods, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

Melissa Borman: What to do When Lost in the Woods

Opening Reception: Thursday, May 5 | 6:30 – 8:30 pm Artist talk with Melissa Borman and Curator Susannah Magers, 7:30 pm

May 5 – August 28, 2016

Opening receptions are free and open to the public.

Rochester Art Center is pleased to announce the second exhibition in their 2016 3rd Floor Emerging Artist Series, What to Do When Lost in the Woods—a mixed-media installation by Melissa Borman, a Minneapolis-based artist. Inspired by a 1946 US Forest Service leaflet, the installation consists of new and recent text-based work, large-scale photographs, Tyvek prints, paper takeaways, video, and altered, found branches from around the artists home, as well as the natural spaces around Rochester Art Center. The exhibition centers on the oft-invoked colloquialism of being “lost in the woods,” while pointing to the shifts and slippages that occur when information from the tangible realm is processed through digital media.

The exhibition’s title is taken from a 1946 United States Forest Service leaflet. Complete with numbered rules, the leaflet doled out practical advice while imparting emphatic reassurance should you find yourself in such a situation: “A clear head will find itself. Don’t yell, don’t run, don’t worry, and above all, don’t quit.”

Visitors can first encounter Borman’s work in two locations outside of, but with close proximity to, Rochester Art Center. Approaching from the front entrance, a small takeway housed in a wooden box will be installed atop the Rochester Parks and Recreation trail marker. Integrated into existing navigational signage, the takeaway provides a perhaps expected but non-instructional leaflet for the public to freely interpret. Attached to the façade of Rochester Art Center facing Mayo Park are two large Tyvek banners with black and white photographs of crows, branches, and sky. Both exterior works quietly announce the exhibition inside, functioning as subtle visual invitations in a landscape dotted with multiple construction projects.

Inside, the installation includes the entire text from the Forest Service leaflet, printed out in fragmented parts, the result of a digital technicality that Borman encountered when downloading the text to her computer. When she opened the file, she found the text garbled and arranged on the page in a seemingly random and disjointed, yet poetic, way. Rather than correct the text, Borman exploits the tension between the words and the way in which they are displayed on the page by drawing attention to the distinctions between their intended clarity and instructional purpose, and the visual beauty of the accidental occurrence. Accompanied by six enlarged, intentionally grainy photographs of crows amidst treetops (a murder of crows documented by Borman just outside her home) the exhibition’s idea of searching for direction when confronted with uncertainty is extended, critically engaging contrasting symbolic associations of crows as both harbingers of bad fortune and as adaptive, intelligent guides to humans. Together, these elements test our ability to decipher the textual, spatial, and the visual when disoriented, and challenge us to trust and embrace the risk of the unknown. 

About the Artist

Melissa Borman is a Minneapolis-based installation artist and photographer with a background in film studies. She is a fulltime faculty member in Art and Gender Studies at Century College in White Bear Lake, MN. She also team-teaches an interdisciplinary, summer program at the Burren College of Art in County Clare Ireland. Her practice reflects on the ways in which various modes of relaying information impact our collective cultural understanding of the natural world. The root of her work is co-constitutive relationship of the use of elements of the natural world as metaphors in the depiction of human stories and how these depictions then (re)shape our ideas of our environment.

Melissa has recently exhibited at the Regional Cultural Center, County Donegal, Ireland, TuckUnder Projects, Minneapolis, MN and RedLine, Denver, CO. She is a recipient of a Metropolitan Regional Arts Counsel Grant (2013). Melissa holds an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and a BA in Art and Film Studies from the University of Nebraska.



In 2004, Rochester Art Center initiated the 3rd Floor Emerging Artist Series—an exhibition program dedicated to promising artists working in the state of Minnesota. Since its inception, the series has reflected shifting trends in contemporary artistic practice and production and has helped to facilitate the creation of new bodies of work in a variety of media including photography, installation, sound, painting, drawing, sculpture, and film.

Now in our eleventh year, the 3rd Floor Emerging Artist Series continues to support emerging artists and to provide a dedicated forum for the exhibition of new work.