Monday, April 27, 2009

After Nature - Week 13

What is "after nature"? 

Curator Massimiliano Gioni, states the exhibition After Nature "surveys  a landscape of wildness and ruins, darkened by certain is a story of abandonment, regression, and rapture-an epic of humanity and nature coming apart under the pressure of obscure forces and not-so-distant environmental disasters...the exhibition depicts a universe in which humankind is being eclipsed and new ecological systems struggle to find a precarious balance." The title After Nature  is so thought provoking however I don't think that this exhibition lives up to the title, and is rather predictable. The overriding post-apocalyptic theme of the exhibition is the most obvious way of thinking about what comes after nature. Yes man has dominated and devastated the environment and I think that simply showing nature's reclamation of the land does not discuss the "real" issues at hand. I understand that Gioni is interested in blurring the lines between fiction and reality, however the show appears to be more fiction then reality. 

With all this said I do feel that there are a few artists/pieces that really resonate with me and some of the ideas discussed in the class thus far. The first artist that I am drawn to is William Christenberry, whose work I never really looked at for more than it's aesthetic beauty. On one hand William Christenberry's series of photographs, which pictures a shack overrun by kudzu, exactly depicts what I mentioned above and said was the most obvious , nature reclaiming itself.  However after hearing Chritenberry discuss this piece it became more than just nature reclaiming what man has created, it became autobiographical and historically significant. I found Christenberry's childhood story about how he feared the Kudzu endearing, and it made me think about my own relationship with nature. Christenberry also discussed how the Kudzu is known to grow rampantly, enveloping everything that is around it (he particularly mentions trees), and how it will will choke these tree's to death. I found this part to be extremely thought provoking because instead of thinking only of man's suffocation of the land, Christenberry points out that "nature" is destroying "nature." This brings us back to what we define as nature, nature is something that is outside of ourselves, and I think that many pieces in this show go along with the common belief that we are outside of nature (for example Berlinde De Bruyckere's sculpture which depicts a tree overtaking a human body.) I think that it is this belief that humans are separate from nature that leads people to not care about nature. By having an exhibition, which attempts to show the reality of our effects on the environment as well as where we fit into nature/or what nature would be like without our existence, that is so crucial that it is somewhat rooted in the "real" because when it becomes to fantastic people stop caring.

Instead of showing the battle between man and nature, in which one must win, I think it is time that we show our interconnectedness and co-existence with nature. I don't know why we haven't mentioned the work of Ana Mendieta this semester, but the figurative pieces in this exhibition (Paweł Althamer, Self-portraits and Berlinde De Bruyckere, Robin V) made me think of her work. I have always been drawn to Mendieta's Siluettas, unlike the two artist mentioned above her work is about the way her body melds/becomes apart of nature, she is literally leaving her imprint and nature and nature on her. Her work also historically looks at our relationship with nature as a symbol of spirituality.  I think that history is one of the most important, if not the most important thing, to think about when discussing after nature or post-nature. For me after nature, or what I am calling post-nature is a recognition of our historical connection to the land, as a way to understand our relationship to nature, we must no where we came from to understand where we must go.

Ana Mendieta Siluetta

Paweł Althamer, Self-portrait

Berlinde De Bruyckere, Robin V

Zoe Leonard's Tree and Maurizio Cattelan's Untitled (horse) also resonated with me because I felt that these two pieces were  sincere and sad and felt the most "real" to me (as in it could happen). Leonard's piece reminds me of Annette Messager's Boarders, because Leonard has taken a dead tree and given it supports so that it could again stand upright. It is sad to think about the reality of this piece, a day when all the trees have died/fallen and we must suspend them in order fro them to be upright, this piece also references Biophilia. Though I have not seen either Leonard's or Cattelan's pieces in person I think the experience of seeing them in person would be heartbreaking, can you imagine a full sized horse attached to the wall above you or a tree suspended in a gallery and detached from its natural environment? These two sculptures reveal the damage we cause as humans to nature (destroy nature) and our desire to preserve it.

Zoe Leonard Tree

Maurizio Cattelan Untitled

Monday, April 20, 2009

The transformation of space into place and land into landscape - week 12

In Terra Antarctica: Looking into the Emptiest Continent William L. Fox explores how the "human mind transforms space into place, or land into landscape." In this article Fox concentrates on large, unfamiliar, empty spaces/environments where we have difficulty understanding our personal scale in space and time. He is also interested in the larger topic of "how we use cultural means to augment our neurobiology in order to overcome the perceptual difficulties we experience when exploring large spaces." 

How does the human mind transform space into place and land into landscape? Fox begins by discussing the basic rules of visions, in which our "visual sensory system (eyes, optic nerve , and various portions of the brain) parses information through a series of steps meant to eliminate most of what we see, arriving at a small set of patterns such as lines, edges, and contrast." Fox suggests that it is these visual rules that force us to distinguish figure and ground, this is done through mentally constructing continuous lines, or contours, which are assembled into basic geometric shapes. Therefore we understand a place on our familiarity with these contours. However Fox raises the question of what happens when these visual cues do not exist in a space, for example during the white-out conditions of the Antarctic? Fox states, "In the Antarctic there are no familiar salient features in the landscape and your eye simply wanders, looking for something, anything, that your mind can recognize." He uses to terms to explain this experience the first being visual dissonance described as something that we didn't expect to see which leads us to have to stare at the unexpected sight for a long time in order to "believe our eyes." The second term he uses is cognitive dissonance which is when we see something we don't understand and then act inappropriately in response. Fox raises the question, "What happens when we enter a place lacking the visual cues to which we have adapted ourselves, such as the Antarctic? He answers simply, "we get lost." It is this disorientation/ lack of visual cues within the landscape, as well as our visual inability to take all of the landscape in at once, that has lead us to create maps. We view the landscape as a set of grids that "reduce the world by formula to a common space." 

What is the relationship of mapping to landscape art? Fox asserts  "landscape art is itself a mapping activity, a way of getting us from the familiar "here" to the unfamiliar "there." In contemporary photography and art the "ariel view" has become a huge a fad, which I didn't quite understand beyond its aesthetic value and thought was getting a bit overdone, however I think Fox puts a new perspective on the ariel view.  The grid that is created through the ariel view both familiarizes us with the landscape because it breaks it down into a set of geometric patterns that we understand (making it universal), but also makes the place completely unfamiliar because we cannot discern what/where the place is. I think that it is this tension between the "familiar" and the "unfamiliar" that I find most interesting and can be applied to any genre, because it speaks of how we experience things.  

A grid of the ariel photographs of Terry Evans, Subhankar Banerjee, David Maisel, and Edward Burtynsky

When I reading this weeks Fox's article I kept thinking about the work of Mark Bradford, who collages found materials from the street, creating a map like grid of the landscape. 
Bradford's use of gesture and mark-making encapsulates the dissonance and excitement of a metropolitan landscape, and creates a tension between the familiar and unfamiliar. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Truth and Landscape - Week 11

Robert Adams begins his essay Truth and Landscape with a description of how when travelers reach the foothills west of Denver they often stop to be photographed against the Great Plains or Continental Divide, an act that is characteristic of the "fondness that Americans traditionally have shown of their geography." Adams goes on to assert that this affection for the land may be ending, which he suggests is evident in the architecture of buildings which offer few views of the outdoors. The designers of these buildings say the reasoning for this is because it protects office furnishings from the sun, adds retail display space, and makes possible uniform lighting, however Adams questions this reasoning. Adam suggests that maybe the reason for this is because "scenic grandeur is today sometimes painful." I found this statement very compelling because it is not that we no longer have affection for the landscape, as it is hypothesized that we have a strong desire for nature, but rather that it is our imposition on the landscape that has caused our lack of affection.  The view of the landscape is not the beautiful and wild place that we perceive it to be, but rather it is scattered with liter and human impositions. Adam asserts, "Unspoiled places sadden us because they are, in an important sense no longer true," he then raises the question - "Is it possible for art to be more than lies? 

The photograph on top is of the litter that is scattered around the viewing platform at Niagara Falls, the image on the bottom is a "typical" view of the grandeur of Niagara Falls, Does one of these images hold more truth than the other? What is truth in photography? Does truth exist?

I don't think I have ever heard anyone question the truth of a landscape picture, because it is as "the name implies a record of place." Adams states that landscape pictures can offer us three verties: geography, autobiography, and metaphor. I think that what we often forget when we look at landscape photography is that there is always a subjective aspect to it, and it is this subjectivity or the hand of the photographer that makes the view more compelling. This made me think of the discussion we had in class week about Subhankar Banerjee's loon photographs and what makes his images art when similar images depicted in national geographic are not seen as art. What makes Banerjee's photographs move out of the national geographic realm is that he is not just a distant observer his photographs combine geography, autobiography, and metaphor to reveal his hand. I think this is the one thing that we forgot when viewing landscape photographs is that they are highly constructed just like all photographs. 

By simply placing a white backdrop behind a tree Myoung Ho Lee raises  questions of representation, truth, landscape and art that are discussed in this weeks articles. Does it take placing a white backdrop behind a tree to expose the subjectivity of the artist? 


Monday, April 6, 2009

Subhankar Banerjee - Week 10

Over the last three years of grad school I think I have heard the question : Can a photograph/photographic series create change? at least 20 times.  Some people argue that photographs don't have the power to change anything, while others believe that they have and can create change. I think the answer to this question is so obvious, photographs can and do create change, as proven by the censorship of Subhankar Banerjee photographs, as well as many others including Robert Mapplethorpe and Andreas Serrano, the real question is to what extent can it create change.  In the contemporary art world the term "change" has become as problematic as the term "beauty," (or in connection to our class the term nature)  and I think this becomes very obvious after reading Reframing the Last Frontier / Resource Wars  and hearing Mr. Banerjee's lecture. If anything I think that the reading and lecture raised as many, if not more  questions about the role/classification  of art, as it did issues of environmentalism. 

Here are some of the statements / ideas that I found most compelling:

Is art that is based on emotion, feeling, and beauty not smart art? 
What is the goal of environmental art? 
In the Finis Dunaway article raises the question what is nature in its most authentic state? and do we have to travel to the "wilderness" to experience it? 
What is the relationship between text and image? Does text take away from aesthetics? Do aesthetics make something less political? 

I also found it very interesting when Banerjee stated that it wasn't important whether his photographs/text were truth or fiction, but rather what was important was that they asked questions. This statement really stuck with me because it  seems as though artists who create work of a political nature are suppose to have/show the answers and when they don't have the answers they are ridiculed. Can Banerjee's photographs really stop drilling in the Arctic and preserve the land? That is a question that I am not sure can be answered but it did make people stop and think about it, even if just for a minute, and I think that has to count for something. Change comes from questioning, and it is through this questioning that artists create change.