The Fate of Landscape Painting
Landscape painting has always been tied to the question of fate. The pastoral landscape was comforting, conquered and subdued, signaling that the fate of humanity was in a position superior to that of nature, or ultimately, that is was closer to being in a pictorial dialogue that reflected the benign hand of a benevolent godhead. In contrast with this explicitly religious outlook, the experience of standing atop sublime vistas or facing nature's most extreme forces eschewed perspectives that threatened the safety of the human subject, and were often depicted using pictorial motifs associated with trans versing unimaginable distances. It is no coincidence that this interpretation of the landscape rose to prominence at the birth of the Enlighten, when humankind traded the picture of creation with a caretaker for so many images of paradise lost. Of course, these were strictly pre-modern notions of our fated condition of confronting the landscape, largely because it was taken for granted that there was no other means of natural habitation, save that of struggle. In fact, there was no way around the landscape as a fated relationship of tumult and toil until the invention of trains, planes and automobiles. As a consequence of these modes of transportation, along with widespread industrialization, the genre of landscape painting lost its perceived relevance as our relationship to the environment became one that was defined by greater and greater degrees of distantiation over the course of the last century.
After being exiled from relevance for more than a few generations, landscape painting has made a rather triumphant comeback by embracing the themes of earth-art, land-art and eco-art, but transmuting the central concerns of these genres into pictorial dispositifs. Once again, we are trying to picture the landscape, but not as caretakers or conquers. Instead we are confronted by the landscape in its aggregate and interconnected effects. Which is to say, that what was assumed to be inert matter has now become increasingly active and what was thought of as a bounded material has become a dynamic form of earthen animism. In short, it seems that since we've displaced enough of modernism's by-products into the atmosphere and the ground below, planetary life has now entered into a reactionary phase, or even a classic reaction-formation, with regard to the irrevocable inheritance of the modern era.
Or, to go one step further, one might even say that we now live in the period of Gaia-in-revolt or even planetary anti-modernity if you will. Indeed, we might only be experiencing the first rumblings of the consequences that have come about by way of ignoring our interventions and accelerating investments into the literal and figurative idea of the landscape. Modernism was, afterall, defined by thinking about the concrete reality of materials put in service of a set of increasingly abstract pictorial conventions, which is to say, it abandoned the means to think about the x an y axis of representation with any degree of genuine complexity. Flatness and anti-illusionism became the call of the day, and postmodernism was only just beginning to recover the depth of field we once had, or a farsightedness which, when abandoned, also represented the loss of depth associated with our cultural concerns about the landscape. And so, in the early 21st century, we still find ourselves waking up from a kind of cultural slumber with regard to the problematic of creative-destruction and cognitive dissonance that defined the modern era tout court.
But the artists in The Fate of Landscape Painting bring a renewed look at the landscape without any sense of productive or painterly indifference. The work of Travis Ivey plays with the dichotomy of romantic naturalism and constructed aerial views by assembling pictures from discarded commercial goods as well as traditional materials. Camila Galfore gives us a picture of the landscape painted in ghosted contours, combining the orthographic feel of eastern landscape painting with the techno-vibrancy of our contaminated life-world. Devon Tsuno provides the punctum of picturing the landscape by passing it through saturated chromatic scales cast against so many iconic motifs. Abbey Messmer paints with a method that is part dreamscape, part improvised reconstruction --- where the place of the human subject is put in question --- especially with regard to the feeling of a well-defined Cartesian space. Cam Decassin's paintings are perhaps even more telling in this regard, as they often hint at a post-Hopperesque world, one where what's left of the nuclear family is otherwise occupied indoors, or wondering amongst the constructed naturalism of suburban sprawl. Sarah Hathaway's more expressionistic approach gives us pause to reflect on the last vestiges of a world without us, where affect and effect make up the boundless play of beautiful and conflictual forces. Both Virginia Katz and Jonathan Marquis's works explicitly confront the themes of climate change by marshaling the ability of art materials to highlight how environmental conquest is circumscribed by both entropic and accelerationist tendencies. Emily Ritter's installation points to how the problems of accumulation, degradation and debris can be made into a literary corpus, or a exquisite encyclopedia of the ruins of the day based on using rhetorical devices of display.
Together, these artists address The Fate of Landscape Painting in a different manner than their premodern or modern predecessors. They come not to bury the dead presuppositions of modernism but to exhume its exhausted remains, and possibly, to retrieve the potential of a genre cast aside for almost an entire epoch. They come to resuscitate its lost potential, and to make its fate into something more than what the logic of post-industrial capitalism and planned obsolescence might allow. In fact, in their able hands The Fate of Landscape Painting has a brighter future for foregoing the retrogressive tropes of démodé romanticism and instead, facing up to the demands of the day, or what many now call encountering the catastrophic condition that is comprised of living in the age of the anthroposcene. This term, which denotes an era forever marked by human impact on the carbon record gives us the contours of a new turn in the logic of the epoch, where the appreciation of creation and the abandonment of "mankind" have been replaced by examining the consequences of our collective impact today. Thus, the work in The Fate of Landscape Painting is a harbinger of things to come, and questions the viewer to think deeply again, and not just about the value of an image, or a genre, but the values of western culture in total. And because of this, The Fate of Landscape Painting still has a bright future today, tomorrow, and for many many years to come. It seems, that for this generation, it is even fated to be so.
Artists in the show: Laura Spalding Best, Cam DeCaussin, Camila Galofre, Sarah Hathaway, Travis Ivey, Megan Johnson, Virginia Katz, Jonathan Marquis, Abbey Messmer, Emily Ritter, and Devon Tsuno.