Caught between fires and floods, there’s no time like summertime to contemplate our relationship to the world we inhabit.
This summer, curator Emily Falencki has brought together 14 artists for the group show “Landscapes and Stories” on display at The Blue Building from July 1st until September 16th.
The exhibition’s title may not reveal much to prospective patrons but it is a contradiction in terms. Landscapes as a genre pull focus out to the wider natural world, while stories are a distinctly human endeavour. This exhibition finds its focus at the point of reflection where these two approaches meet. It is not, as one might initially presume, composed of easy-breezy horizontally-orientated convergences of sky, earth and sea, but rather a site for unpacking theoretical landscapes—cultural and political, universal and personal.
A landscape is more than the sum of its parts, and fittingly many of the works on display make use of assemblage and collage, collecting and remixing source texts and fabrications. Self-described as “a careful process of worrying about the future,” Andrea Mortsen’s approach in her paper collages centres an awareness of what is missing/lost/removed in the absent cut out space, repeating pop-cultural forms in unexpected but highly explorable ways.
Elsewhere in this exhibition we see other artists invested in engaging with their familial territories, and probing what their connection with place means for them. Jenny Yujia Shi collages mix-media paper sandwiched in plexiglass. Her work expresses feelings of transience as her landscape is dictated by national borders, leaving immigrants to occupy a no-mans-land between the memory of homelands and the dehumanizing bureaucratic limbo of this one.
Comparatively, Lem Lian riffs on traditional Chinese ink landscape painting style, tying a line from the customary format to her own mountain emerging from the background of her curated folktale iconography, delicately rendered and edited in layered snips of ink drawing and collage. Her works demonstrates how landscapes may be understood as temporal, spanning generations.
Indeed, artists occupying the same landscape can offer alternative dovetailing views therein, as original peoples and non-European immigrants may recognize their experience in each other.
The mysterious Muerto en Repisa (2015) by Cinthia Arias Auz devises a personal and private landscape for mourning, presenting a triangular wooden form encasing her familial flag, like an archival vault, or a casket. Across the room, another vessel: Ursula Johnson’s 5th Generation: a lesson in hope (2023) invokes ancestral knowledge rooted in a reciprocal relationship to the land as she weaves black ash and sweetgrass into intricate baskets. Here, her landscape offers the materials by which to celebrate itself. Through weaving, Johnson works to retain her identity and cultural practices in a colonialist landscape which sought to separate her from them.
Considering landscape as material, industrial momentum is felt in Ryan Josey’s A Raft for Pathos (2023) as the image of a desiccated pine is carved out of boat paint. This bleeding out of a barren environment points to a wider sense of the disordered tangle of a world falling apart. Though landscape works are typically exteriors, the modern age’s habitat is distinctly interior. Accordingly, the exhibition affords attention to all manner of environments. Signifiers emerge distinguishing the thematic landscape each artist explores. Amanda Rhodenizer and Melanie Collosimo’s use of high visibility colours and references to the destructive and transient forces of expansion signal the aposematic trace of development as they consider the dual impact on communities, rural and urban. There is an overarching sense of unease as we feel the decay of late stage capitalism. The artists here may take comfort in their landscapes, finding space to grieve that which is being lost, and through this uncover modes of reparative reappropriation, acknowledging existential anxieties in tribute to the environments that shape our stories. But there is also, always, room for play.
Riss Sean Cruz’s video collages materials sourced from deep-cut pop-culture ideographies, embracing the impassioned and artful weirdness begat in the unrestrained personal testimony of a (historically) anonymous collective cyberspace. Like the unconscious mind, this legitimated, simulated plane consists entirely of stories—it exists within and without the landscapes we may consider (or here reconsider) to be innate. There is a deep ennui and distrust of tech innovation and the rat-race, and their separation from real bodily experience—while simultaneously being fun as all hell to watch.
Even as the landscapes we inhabit shape us, so too we are called to consider the weight of our agency in influencing, employing and responding to our environments, “natural” and modified, for better or worse.