Degrees of Remove – Landscape and Affect
Sculpture Center, on view September 7 – November 30, 2008
The Changing Landscape
On view in the basement space of the Sculpture Center currently is Degrees of Remove - Landscape and Affect co-curated by Sarina Basta and Fionn Meade.
The show highlights artists who create work at a degree of removal from the subject of landscape, whether through appropriation or reinterpretation, all fed through a mediated source. The choices of mediation directly impact the way this form of landscape is read, modifying and even confusing the relationship between source and viewer. Accompanying the works is a stapled packet of text, provided on a basement bench by the curators. Included are nineteen separate pages of writing from critics, authors, historians, and artists (ex: from Kerouac to Kraus) all on the subject of landscape – diaristic, documentary, poetry, and literary fiction. This packet of text provides an integral backdrop to the works on display, and provides a (mediated) reference point for the exhibition. Individual pages from this packet were tacked up around the exhibition as to keep the viewer flowing from one point of departure to the next. Affect refers to the experience of emotion. In this way, Degrees of Remove is investigating the relationship of landscape and visual culture through mediation, and how this affects the viewer as emotional witness. The development in the discussion of ‘landscape’ throughout art history has shifted in several ways: 1. From the necessity of studying directly from/working in nature into allowing technology/mediated sources to act as the artist’s hand (landscape as first hand to landscape as twice removed.) 2. From landscape viewed as sublime to landscape as tangible, calculated and measured. 3. From landscape as a visual to landscape as mental imagery as well. 4. From landscape as picturesque to landscape as backdrop for experience of viewing (how people shape the landscape).
Marie Jager uses landscape as surrounding environment to create the constructed landscape painting. An artist living and working in Los Angeles, Jager plays off the car-culture loving, smog inducing city of LA to her advantage, and highlights the disparity between the idyllic scenery and industrialization. In LA Painting (a month in L.A.), 2008, Jager placed a white canvas on street level and came back to retrieve it one month later. The result was an experiment in air quality, revealing all of the impurities, acid rain, and perhaps smog that became adhered to the surface of the canvas, marring the pure white monolith. Another painting, titled LA Painting (starter), 2007-2008, was placed directly behind a car’s exhaust pipe, resulting in a blast of diesel onto the canvas. Jager’s work heightens our awareness to our individual contributions in the changing natural environment, for better or worse, and if our role in transforming the societal landscape is progress or regression. Jager uses the canvas to make visible the invisible, and tangible the abstract ways in which humans affect and alter their environments in modern, industrialized societies.
Tim Hyde is an artist working through the mediation of a camera lens to operate as the eye of the author. Hyde outlines the limits of vision via technology. For example, The Keeper, 2006, exemplifies how humans can (literally and symbolically) obstruct views of the landscape, as seen through a camera lens, and questions the authorship of the view. The Keeper, six minutes long, records a silent and delicate negotiation between the artist and an anonymous elderly woman in the courtyard of a former KGB building in Kiev, Ukraine. The video is a single shot of a woman who approached and stood directly in front of Hyde's camera while he was filming, intentionally blocking his view of the building. The work can be seen as an inverted portrait — the woman's intention was not to be filmed, but to prevent a filmed view from occurring. Also included in Degrees of Remove, Video panorama of New York City in March 2006 during which the camera failed to distinguish the city from a snowstorm, 2006-2007, was filmed with one camera from the top floor of a Brooklyn apartment building throughout a seven hour snowstorm. Each monitor of the seven-screen panorama represents one hour of the storm. Hyde utilized only the periods in which the storm became so dense that it seemed to merge with the surrounding buildings. Like a nineteenth-century panorama, the work is invested in dissolving a perceptual boundary between viewer and object, as well as in dissolving a psychological boundary between viewer and medium. The technology of the camera serves against its purpose to obstruct the view of the landscape; the auto focus shifts back and forth rhythmically between the snow and the buildings, perhaps pointing out the flaws in progress and industrialization. The work has been compared to J.M.W. Turner's painting Snowstorm (1842) and reinterprets the visual language of the sublime in the context of the camera’s failed attempts to decipher the disappearing city.
Rosa Barba’s It's gonna happen, 2005, is a 16-mm film made up of subtitles describing a nocturnal scenario in a fictitious city. The only visual images on the black TV screen are white subtitles, which pop up with every line of dialogue. The audio track to this imageless cinema is composed of a phone conversation between two fictive presidents (Barba mentions a conversation involving Watergate), a mysterious plot that somehow rhymes with the dialogue in the film's subtitles, however the audible conversation and the visual text do not match. Originally, the viewer starts to mentally imagine the landscape as described by the subtitles, such as “windows rattle in their frames,” or “close-up CAT,” ignoring the audio, but later a game between the two layers of conversation starts to play with the viewer’s mental imagery. In an interview with Jan St.Werner from Villa Romana on May 16, 2008, Barba stated, "I have always been interested in cinema but sometimes there's too much information for me and I started to minimalize things and make abstraction to the point when I started to let no images get in and I just started using text and to make film with only sound..." Barba asserts that the landscape can equally exist only in the viewer’s mind, and the layered way in which it is mediated allows for multiple interpretations, allowing the viewer to take authority as the editor of their own imagination.
Contrary to previous belief that to study and render nature one had to physically be present in nature learning from it first hand, the artists in Degrees of Remove are comfortable in using mediated sources to process the image first, giving the viewer a second hand version of the landscape for interpretation. Cezanne was such an artist placing first authority of landscape interpretation into the artist’s hand. In his letters to friend and fellow painter and writer Emile Bernard from 1904-1906, Cezanne mentions that “in order to make progress, there is only nature, and the eye is trained through contact with her. It becomes concentric through looking and working.” He also mentions that “nature reveals herself to me in very complex ways, and the progress needed is endless. One must look at the model and feel very exactly; and also express oneself distinctly and with force.” Cezanne’s view of the landscape was that man was a separate entity from nature, and man must study from nature to achieve a higher level of awareness. However the artists in Degrees of Remove allow landscape to be reinterpreted as a human made condition, constantly changing according to societal shifts, and allowing the creation of the view to originate from secondary sources.
Thus, artistic development in ‘landscape’ has moved from the necessity of artists working directly in nature to an opening of the conversation into allowing technology and mediated sources to speak as the authority, under the supervision and manipulation of the artist. Landscape used to be sublime, possessing a greatness with which nothing else can be compared and which is beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. As with his 1842 painting titled Snowstorm, JMW Turner said, "I painted it because I wished to show what such a scene was like; I got the sailors to lash me to the mast to observe it; I was lashed for four hours and did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did.” Turner, lashed to the mast and in danger of his life, had been able to look at the Snowstorm with aesthetic detachment. When it was over he remembered not only how the waves broke over the stern, but how the light from the engine room had taken on a peculiar delicacy when modified by the blinding snow. At every point the visual data had adjusted themselves to his pre-established understanding of color harmony, so that this somewhat drastic look at nature was adding a refinement to art. Today’s artists can calculate and measure the landscape without physically having to do so themselves, such as in the case of Tim Hyde using his camera to record the snowstorm. We have created a new way of seeing, and accepting this mediated view as first person, thus shifting the relationship of author to viewer and viewer to witness.
Included in the curator-supplied packet for Degrees of Remove is a text written by Lucy Lippard (The Lure of the Local, 1997) that smartly describes the recent climate surrounding the discussion of landscape. She writes about the shifts over time in the definition of landscape as a term, originating from Germanic fifteenth-century landschaft meaning a shaped land, a cluster of temporary dwellings and more permanent houses, the antithesis of the wilderness surrounding it, to the Dutch seventeenth-century term landschap, transforming the physical space into a painting of the dwelling sites, and into today’s accepted view that landscape equates with nature, a view, or scenery in general, but overall something picturesque. However Lippard personally interjects that in moving forward, landscape can be everything you see when you go outdoors, a backdrop for the experience of viewing. Thus, finding connections between land and people and what people do there becomes the subject. Places are the records of hybrid culture, hybrid histories that must be woven into the new mainstream. They are our background in every sense. This is a far cry from Cezanne’s nature as sublime call to arms, and into the new discussion of constructed landscape as interpreted by aperture in the case of Degrees of Removal. The new landscape is humanly constructed, manipulated, self-destructing and twice removed; it is ever changing, always open for reinterpretation.
Rachel Reese, 2008