Landscape at Escape Velocity
The landscape has become a site of increasing conflict in the early twenty-first century. From the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the tsunami that caused the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima in 2011 to last week's announcement that Los Angeles is due to have a major earthquake in the next few years, it seems that thinking about the landscape, as well as the need for escape, is a constant theme in today's headlines. The speed at which we can run from the effects of global warming, however, may have already reached terminal velocity. On a planet of limited resources, where several recent reports about environmental degradation have suggested that we are well ahead of curve in reaching the planetary tipping point where ecological equilibrium will become harder and harder to restore with each passing year, we find that time has now become the dominant concern in thinking about the present crisis. From the melting icecaps to the cascading collapse of ecosystems, and even the idea that we are now well into the 6th great extinction of all life on planet Earth, it is not hard to understand why we find a whole new generation of artists who are invested not only in the landscape as an object of timeless contemplation, but as an event scene of immediate consequences for the times we live in.
Whether looking at the effects of light, water and atmospheric pollution; or war and personal narratives of power and struggle; or even how the history of landscape photography has been used to generate narratives about the 'manifest destiny' of western exploration and exploitation; the artists in this exhibition make us more aware of a wide range of critical issues effecting the environment today. By using photography, weaving, activism, printmaking and any number of material interventions, the works included in Landscape at Escape Velocity demonstrate a renewed interest in the politics of the 'natural' and the constructed environment, as well as the many ways that these two concepts are never really mutually exclusive. Afterall, we are always already invested in a perspective, which is to say the use of a 'framing device' that is never free of ideological implications or the kind of material and cultural histories that inform how we 'read' the decisions that are made about inclusion and exclusion whenever we being to think about 'picturing' the landscape. Only now, it seems as if it is the landscape that is returning the favor by putting humanity out of frame in an era of increasing environmental disruption, if not outright devastation.
As such, the works in Landscape at Escape Velocity ask us to reconsider what kinds of interventions can be made that will continue to participate in consciousness raising about the environment calamities that seem to be taking place all around the world. The dominant theme in such an exhibition is whether a sense of collapse is a foregone conclusion in a culture that is drowning in narratives of distress and destruction, or whether another future is still possible. A key subtext behind much of the work included in Landscape at Escape Velocity is whether it is really the environment we are seeking to escape or the kind of cognitive dissonance that hyper-capitalism institutes in relation to overproduction and planned obsolescence, i.e., whether what we really need is a new cultural narrative about sustainability and the consideration of 'externalities', of which the landscape is but one instance in relation to our current mode of production.
If anything, the survey of images presented in Landscape at Escape Velocity attest to a future anterior by showing us how personal, political and socio-economic narratives can be reframed in such a way that the need to escape may not have to be our only option. Rather, the term escape might offer us a much needed reprieve, or a momentary 'break' from the machinations of everyday life, where critical reflection can help to mitigate some of the worst effects of the current crisis. Toward this end, the selections included in Landscape at Escape Velocity show us some of the most prescient practices in contemporary art that seek to address the environment as nothing less than the defining genre of our era.