The Symbolic Landscape: Pictures Beyond the Picturesque
The Symbolic Landscape’s thematic derives from Rosalind Krauss critique of the pictorial, made in her 1984 essay, “The Originality of the Avant-Garde.” In it she reminds us that Jane Austen had challenged the conventional notion of the “picturesque,” as early as 1818. At that time, the picturesque was conceived as being “remarkable for its singularity” and thereby “afforded a good subject for landscape.” Krauss is quick to point out the semantic paradox of conflating “singularity” (nature) and “landscape” (painting), this a century before the avant-garde would ponder this same phenomenon within the field of visual art. For it was precisely this paradox that a branch of Modernist and Postmodernist artists – from Marcel Duchamp to Sherrie Levine – directed their practice.
Since Krauss’s formulation in 1984, such paradoxical notions of the “picturesque” have come to inform an international group of artists – working across the mediums of film, photography, painting and installation – who want to tarry further with the notion of “landscape.” They do this not only by employing the conceptual, aesthetic strategies indicative of the avant-garde that preceded them; they also do so as a means of cultural or political critique. In The Symbolic Landscape we thus encounter topics as diverse as the 2008 financial collapse, American “red state” politics, the historic civil rights movement, the Argentine conceptualism, the Arab Spring, high modernist aesthetics, and what Roland Barthes’ called “A Lover’s Discourse.
Formally speaking, The Symbolic Landscape features some images that literally resemble a landscape, but others embrace figurative or textual strategies. All the exhibited artworks, however, conceptually defy their morphological resemblance to such tried and true genres. This begs the broader question of just what a landscape is for the subject, especially when psychological notions of that genre are entertained. As a result, Krauss’s original theorization of the picturesque today can be translated into the broader psychoanalytic question of who we are, in the field of the Other. For it’s within this psychoanalytic, symbolic landscape that the Other stands for the many “fields” of desire that defines us as subjects: from history, to nation state, to love (and beyond).