Post-landscape: Normalizing life inside distant and contemporary environmental catastrophe.
I had never lived in a densely populated area such as southern Ontario. It’s not the urban cores in Toronto or Hamilton that disturbed me so much as the sheer amount of sprawl and development around them. Every square inch of it is, at the very least, claimed and groomed and zoned. Access to the lake shore is squeezed between vast swaths of private beach property. There is not a tree that doesn’t exist through the merciful or shrewd decision to leave it be. At least for the moment.
It occurred to me then I, and we, are born into a groomed landscape. Previous generations equally inherited a world that was already manufactured. It is a breeded landscape that leaves no part of our gaze untouched from human manipulation. The air is tainted forever with emissions and chemicals. The water is designated for industry or pleasure. There are pipes and cables buried in that fallow field. There are no wild areas you have ever encountered in your life. Parks and Conservation Areas are bureaucratic zones administering a simulacrum to you of what you probably think the world once looked like. What you think as lush nature may simply be neglected areas, inaccessible or economically beneficial to await development. We will never know what the world actually looked like but we are determined to control what it will look like.
This reality of our artificial environment is doubtlessly a source of pride for many, if not most. To physically contribute to a perceived structuralism is to mark reality in a way that is a powerful touch upon the promise of immortality. Others, like me, are conflicted intellectually, physically and spiritually by this entitlement of re-arranging reality. Perhaps though this schism is not the real issue.
I found, as an area of artistic investigation, wonder at our ability to accept an absurdly altered landscape. Most people seem to have no conception or interest in any world that was immediately previous to theirs. Indeed, most people seem to have no interest in worlds outside of their sight or immediate lives. The relationship with landscapes is overwhelmingly one derived from inside a car and the ceremonial importance of that landscape is measured by the number and kind of the other vehicles. I observed this perspective through discussions with life long residents of southern Ontario. Most flat out disagreed with my observations and instead insisted this was an area defined by nature and tranquility. Perhaps compared with many places in the world it is but my criticism is that this very argument embedded within a contextuality that permits the re-arranging of our world into a sort of Bride of Frankenstein.
One of the resulting sets of my artistic research-creation of the above resulted in a series of digital photo collages of landscapes. I re-arranged what I saw within a grid and centred the composition around an “x”. This was an obvious indication of the hand of manipulation in what you were seeing. Reminiscent of a girder, this symbol for me can be one of the weight of industry and utilitarianism. A park, a suburban development and a gas refinery are equally weighted in impact by this ideology. Urban areas reflect through through designation and enforcement of where poverty should exist, where you should gather on weekends to engage with nature and which direction your car should go if you want to shop.
These notions are incorporated into my “Landscapes with X” series. I very much enjoyed the formal stresses and stillness that an X brings into a composition. Many do not see an X or much of anything when they first view these grids of photos. For me, there is hope in that once they notice the X they cannot unsee it.