LIGHT TOUCH MARYLAND ART PLACE
Chrystel Lebas | Ă‰tudes - Bel-Val - 6 Mars 2009 - Matin II, 200 x 84 cm
LIGHT TOUCH MARYLAND ART PLACE International Pier of the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport February 12-June 21, 2014
LIGHT TOUCH: Liz Wells, Curator Light is core to our existence. This is evident from physical and social phenomena. Without daylight there would be no life, few animals, limited agriculture and a dramatic shift in the ecology of woodlands, hills and plains. Humans can survive on water alone, but not for long. We need food, and vitamin D (for which sunlight is a key resource). The vegetation that sustains us is likewise light-sensitive, subject to climate and weather as well as terrain – with, as we know, drought or flooding contributing to risk of starvation whilst extreme cold in winter limits access to crops snug below the winter snow and ice. Agricultural use of greenhouses is widespread and experiments in laboratory-generated food increasingly feature, but light and warmth remain crucial to germination and growth; artificial lamps and heating substitute for nature’s seasonal cycle. We perceive light through the way it reflects from objects. Electric and magnetic fields oscillate in waves that intersect at right angles. Matter encountered by the electromagnetic waves absorbs light; hence, for instance, light appears dimmer to us on cloudy days as the density of the clouds acts as a filter. Light – although it may appear white – is composed of rainbow colors, and color effects are determined by the extent to which each hue is absorbed by particular matter. So, for instance, we may describe a paint pigment as ‘red’, but in fact it appears red as a result of other colors being abstracted through absorption by the material of the paint. As viewers of pictures this doesn’t matter; we engage intellectually with the content of an image and emotionally with intensities of light, shade and color; medium and materiality are not our immediate concern. For artists, though, the properties of particular materials, their effects and affects are crucial, and carefully considered in composing pictures, whether through a camera lens or on a surface. This absorption phenomenon also accounts for why objects that appear colorful in daylight (or in artificial light) may appear black in the dark. Unless a little light falls on them we cannot see them. Nocturnal perambulation brings touch, hearing, smell and memory into play as we navigate without vision. In fact, out of doors, even with a new moon, there is some natural ambient light from stars; hence the possibility of using long exposures to photograph at night. There may also be ambient illumination from streetlights, shop signs, car headlamps, and so on. But when light is limited, different sensibilities are drawn into play; familiar surroundings come to seem strange. Architects take the movement and intensity of natural light into account when designing buildings, whether domestic or public. Windows allow daylight to caress us; although in hotter regions they often face away from the baking midday sun. Buildings also need to be insulated, ventilated, heated or cooled in accordance with prevailing climate and weather conditions. When natural light and moderate heat are not available we increase our dependence on fuel resources, whether oil and coal or alternatives such as wind power and solar energy. Indeed, in much of the world, artificial light extends work hours and leisure possibilities, taking over as a primary stream of nocturnal illumination, both indoors and out of doors, introducing tungsten textures to the generally more muted palette of the moon and stars. Extensive energy resources are devoted to ensuring that we are not plunged into the dark. Yet, darkness (lack of light) offers potential for rest and replenishment; individual balance restored. There is a long-standing association between light and art in Western culture that is both literal and allegorical. Medieval gothic cathedrals included frescos along with stained glass windows, generally recounting biblical myths. Light was integral to this; the windows both facilitating the ingress of light and also the expressive emphasis that light lent to the glass panes. Abbé Suger, Abbot at the Cathedral of
Saint-Denis, north of Paris, France, in the 12th century, proposed a division between ‘lux’ (light), ‘lumen’ and ‘illumination’ whereby lux refers to natural (physical) light in general. That was profane in that it shone on everyone even heretics and sinners.1 Through the window it was transformed into lumen, a metaphysical light, bathing a holy, consecrated space becoming a source of faith and godly inspiration thereby becoming a source of illumination – or knowledge – a life-enhancing light. Suger’s typology of the transformative qualities of light also included allegorical notions of color, with blue skies representing eternity (heaven) and red representing earth, blood, and the body. The symbolism is clear; light in its illuminatory capacity becomes a spiritual force. Associations between light and worship are not exclusive to the Medieval western church. For example, in Pagan culture, celebrations marking the key solstices of summer and winter, with gatherings at sacred sites of worship such as Stonehenge in the South of England likewise respect sunlight, here associated with seasonal transition (in Latin sol = sun). Whilst art no longer plays such a specific didactic theological role, acknowledgement of interrelation of vision, knowledge and light is evident from the extent to which ‘light’ continues to permeate metaphor and myth. In the English language, sight and knowledge are associated through the notion of seeing - connoting both literal seeing (with one’s eyes) and also comprehension. ‘I see’ may reference literal perception, or it may indicate understanding of a situation or a concept. We reference comprehension in terms of illumination, which is associated with knowledge and understanding. Indeed, we talk of ‘light dawning’ or – in confusion or in a dispute – ‘seeing the light’. To be ‘in the dark’ is to be lacking information, to be out of the loop. That light is valued over darkness is also marked. People or animals may appear ‘bright’ or ‘subdued’. In Western culture young brides traditionally wear white; black is associated with mourning.2 If the preoccupations of artists indicate something about human concerns, the numbers of paintings and photographs made historically and now that depict dawn and dusk testify to our attachment to these moments, and also to the extent to which the apparent movement of light (which is actually a movement of matter that absorbs light and also of the planet as is revolves on it’s axis around the sun) is called upon expressively. There is perhaps nothing more amazing than the gentle emergence of light at the beginning of each day or the gradual silencing of birdsong as darkness falls; although, of course, both are much more marked in rural areas than in urban ones. This exhibition brings together work by three artists from northern Europe, Chrystel Lebas (France/ UK), Heidi Morstang (Norway/UK) and Marja Pirilä (Finland), with that of two American artists, Lynn Silverman based in Baltimore, MD and Frank Hallam Day in Washington, DC. All five use photography to explore aspects of the physical world and our relation to it. Photography is particularly appropriate to the exhibition theme. Photons = units of light energy. Photo-graphy literally means ‘writing with light’. Early photography was viewed as ‘photogenic drawing’, imagery resulting from a chemical transformation effected through exposure to the rays of the sun. Visual sensitivity to intensities of light and shade remains central to the aesthetics of photographic seeing (even though, given digital technologies, the infrastructure may now be mathematic rather than chemical).
1 I am grateful to Dr Patrick Hunt, Stanford University, for his very clear introduction to the writings of Abbe’Suger. www.traumwerk.stanford.edu/philolog/2006/01/abbe_sugers_theory_of_light_lu.html 2 This is, of course, culturally specific; for instance, traditionally white is worn for Hindu funeral ceremonies.
The exhibition title, Light Touch, is intended to remind us of our relation with light and the myriad ways in which it touches us. Baltimore Washington International Airport, with its use of glass roofing and wall panels to create outdoor views and facilitate ingress of available light, offers a good example of an integrated approach to illumination (perhaps paralleling to the Medieval cathedral as a port of call for travelers). Indeed, one of the more interesting aspects of the airport gallery is that the shifting direction and intensity of light during the course of each day animates the pictures, introducing a further dimension to the notion of Light Touch. Each artist in some respect questions the movement of light and our responses to it, exploring interior and exterior spaces. They variously document the effects and affects of light, taking as subject- matter: camper vans sited in woodlands, a seed vault in the Arctic, a managed park area explored at dawn and dusk, exterior reflections projected within a decaying building interior, and windows looking out to our external environment. Brought together, their work invite us to reflect on ways in which light touches us, contouring our environment, and on our relationship with the natural world of which we form a part. Precise themes and artistic concerns vary. Heidi Morstang and Chrystel Lebas are both directly concerned with the natural environment, exploring ways in which we relate to the physical world, contributing to sustainability (or to endangering it). Lebas has undertaken several artist residencies across Europe through which she has explored rural areas, questioning ways in which we attempt to negotiate and contain natural phenomena. For example, in 2010/11 she worked in Risnjak National Park, Croatia, which is a managed mountainous area through which a dual carriageway has been routed in order to speed the journey between Zagreb, the capital city, and Rijeka, a key Adriatic port. But what was the impact on wildlife? Her panoramic film, Tracking Nature – Dedin, Risnjak (2009; 53’05”), concerns the Green Bridge built over the motorway to facilitate animal movement from one part of the forest to the other.3 Apparently, according to the video camera tracking system used by park rangers, it took about three years for bears and other large mammals that roam the region to learn to cross the bridge, rather than following their previous route that now leads directly across the tarmac. The sound of traffic in the film reminds us of the aural impact, of the shift in the soundscape caused by the highway. Lebas’ research also resulted in a number of still photographic sets of images documenting local flora and fauna, and following animal tracks deep into the woodlands at dusk. In addition, she used long exposures to record the effects of the movement of light over the Kupa River that flows from its source in the Northeast of the Park forming the border between Croatia and Slovenia.4 Aside from drawing attention to the inscrutable beauty of landscapes such as these, we are reminded of the various interests at stake in environmental conservation: tourism, animal husbandry, transportation links, the ability of woodlands to absorb enhanced levels of carbon emissions. Taken overall, the project questions ecological mutability and the import of human action within this. The series shown in Light Touch engages similar questions but less overtly. Études Bel-Val (2009) resulted from an artist residency at an estate in Northeast France. Lebas chose to focus on one spot within this managed landscape, a lake observed from the same position, using the same camera, at different times of day and year. The vista through the space between the trees that surround the waterscape emphasizes visual symmetry. The pictures document rhythms of change over time: the leaves that frame 3 http://www.chrystellebas.com/tracking%20nature-dedin/tracking%20nature-dedin.htm 4 www.chrystellebas.com/Histoires%20naturelles/histoires%20naturelleshtm; www.chrystellebas.com/presence/presence.htm; www. chrystellebas.com/spoors/spoors.htm
the lake view in Spring and Summer giving way to the stark forms of denuded trunks and branches of Winter. Pictorial affects are enhanced through the effects of light as the landscape morphs through the day and the seasons with colors and shadows taking on different hues and patterns according to the angle and intensity of the sun, its reflections and its after-light. The lake is literally touched by light. The scenes are strikingly seductive and beautiful; we are also reminded of the immensity of natural forces. The balance of color within each picture contributes to a sense of calm and harmony that emanates from the geometry of composition; that the panoramas derive from different moments within a twenty-four hour period, and also within the annual seasonal cycle, is reaffirmed through the stating of the time of day and date of each image.5 But this apparently serene scenario is in some respects paradoxical; the lake forms part of a managed estate - nature contained and controlled. Weather, light and ecological shifts remain beyond human control although human action has consequences. For instance, it is now reasonably and widely agreed within scientific communities that industrial emissions contribute to global warming, and that this in turn contributes to climate change. Heidi Morstang more directly addresses questions of natural disaster and human response through the theme of her film, Prosperous Mountain,6 and her still photographs from Svalbard in the north-west of Norway, high within the Arctic Circle.7 One legacy of the mining industry previously active here is a network of shafts that have now been transformed into an international seed vault intended as a disaster-proofing global resource. The film is the first in a trilogy concerning bio-security, pollination, and the implications of climate change. As an artist often working in collaboration with scientists she not only researches particular project themes, but also considers ways in which pictures, through the deployment of visual aesthetics, communicate differently as well. [For instance, policy reports, international accords, or articles in scientific journals.] Her interest is in exploring and responding to questions, circumstances and places, rendering complex information in a form that is distinctive, memorable and emotionally charged, but also elliptical and haunting in its implications. The seed vault is a global resource, a safety net put in place in case of natural disaster or political upheaval. But Morstang’s work draws attention to the Arctic as itself, a fragile wilderness. Glacier melt offers visual evidence of change that most environmental scientists agree results from global warming caused in part by industrial emissions. That the seed storage vault replaces mining shafts neatly brings together concerns with energy, warmth and food, linking the islands to the Norwegian economy and, now, through seed storage, to the world more widely. While the purpose of the research differs, there is a link with her previous short film, In Transit (2011), which concerned the recovery of abandoned bodies of Norwegian soldiers, killed in Russia during the Second World War.8 Here her interest was in the denial of an uncomfortable aspect of history and the difficulty in acknowledging something that many would prefer to forget, namely, that these young soldiers had volunteered to fight for the German army in the Nazi era. The film is not a documentary; rather it reflects on that which we chose to hide, and does so through a delicate exploration of the landscape within which forensic archeologists were seeking evidence of the presence of corpses signaled by metal 5 The series has been shown widely, initially at the Museum of Nature and Hunting, Paris, and also in Sense of Place, BOZAR, Brussels, 2012 (an exhibition of contemporary landscape photography from the 27 European Union countries - guest curated by this author). www.chrystellebas.com/Etudes/%C3%89tudes%20%E2%80%93%20Bel-Val.htm 6 This exhibition represents the North American première of Prosperous Mountain (2013). 7 The Global Seed Vault, latitude, 78.2382° N, longitude, 15.4472° E, is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen which forms part of the Svalbard archipelago about 1,300 kilometres from the North Pole. 8 www.hcmorstang.co.uk
insignia or tools on or below the surface of the soil in this remote woodland on the Russian western border. The implications of the film are uncomfortable, rendered more far-reaching given Morstang’s decision not to anchor the film to a specific story or to edit the film as a documentary. As a narrative of non-commemoration it reminds us that we are all implicated in inconvenient truths - things we would prefer to forget or ignore. By contrast, Prosperous Mountain and her sequence of still images, The Road North, constitute a narrative of now and of what might come to pass. The set of images was made within half an hour. Shifts in colors and in the way that light reflects on the ice in this far northern roadway testify poetically to fragility, transience and mutability. Glacial melt in the Arctic is contributing to sea rise; coastal communities in the northern hemisphere are directly affected. As with Lebas’ work, the images are beautiful in terms of composition and subtleties of color tone, but this is a paradoxical beauty as we find ourselves contemplating fragility, mutability, risk and loss. The artists included in this exhibition variously respond to – and remind us of - the palette of the natural world, deploying color as a key aesthetic element within their work. Between them they span an almost complete spectrum of tones and hues, ranging from the hot ambers and reds in Marja Pirilä’s pictures to the cooler pale greys, blues and light pinks that characterize work by Lebas and Morstang. Pirilä has been exploring the colors and movement of natural light, and related aesthetic and emotional affects, for many years. She is also interested in early camera and lens technologies. For her series Like a Breath in Light (2002/4), she used a pinhole camera, held on her knees, for long exposures as she sat silently in the same place overlooking a lake in the Finnish heartland, waiting for images that gradually take form.9 The soft edges that characterize the colors in the pictures arise from her breathing very slightly shifting the camera. Hung behind glass they have an ethereal quality that is contemplative, poetic and evocative. For me the stillness suggests ecological and spiritual harmony. Place is not specific in her work. Rather her concerns are with our relation to light and shade, shadow and reflection. In a further series, Interior/Exterior, she created Camera Obscuras (dark rooms) in everyday apartments using plastic sheeting over windows to block out light.10 She inserted a convex lens within the black-out material; the scene from outside was thus reflected inside. A camera set-up within the darkroom was used to photograph the room’s inhabitant indoors bathed in the reflected outdoor scene. Like the chink in Plato’s Cave that forms a starting point for Sontag’s reflections on the world seen through photographs, we reflect on the curious inter-relation of interior and exterior. Speaking House uses a similar method, but in a building with particular resonances as it is the abandoned, uninhabited, deteriorating interior space of a former mental asylum, recognizable as such from an institutional bed frame, or an old wooden chair. What is particularly extraordinary is the range of colors within the yellow-amber-brown-red spectrum that appear. The imagery in Speaking House evokes a range of emotions that cannot be explained simply in terms of photographic transcripts of melodious color effects. The outside world is drawn inside, the external setting overlaid on the internal scenarios; the effect is unsettling, more so when we remember that this was a place of confinement for those with mental issues. Again we are reminded of human fragility. Light is transient. So are we. 9 www.marjapirila.com/breathe_in_light_ins.html 10 www.marjapirila.com/interior.html; Marja Pirilä (2002) CAMERA OBSCURA Interior/Exterior, Helsinki: Musta Taide.
In contrast to the other artists included in the exhibition, Lynn Silverman works in monochrome. Her series, Lookout, reminds us of early interior photographs wherein an external source of natural light was necessary for exposure. It is no coincidence that, for instance, the well-known portraits of her daughters by the British photographer, Lady Hawarden (active 1857-64), were staged on the terrace of their family house or, if indoors, near windows or mirrors in order to maximize the flow of light within the room.11 Pictorially we are reminded of a longer tradition within painting, following Vermeer, of depicting interior scenes as if illuminated by natural light. [For example, gently profiling the ‘Woman Reading a Letter’ (c1663/4) or on ‘The Milkmaid’ (c 1660).12] It may be no accident that the painter’s brushes depicted by Silverman in Lookout 46 are set along the window sill, conveniently positioned to capture the effects of daylight should it be reflecting into or around this studio. Indeed, several of her images remind us of the historical origins of photography in exploration of ways in which light could be deployed to create ‘photo-graphs’ (with the associated problem of chemically fixing the image). Lookout #75 perhaps recalls Fox Talbot first ‘photogenic drawing’, ‘The Oriel Window, South Gallery, Lacock Abbey’ (1835). This was recently revisited by the artist Floris Neusüss whose photogram ‘Homage to Talbot: The Latticed Window, Lacock Abbey, 2010’ depicts the same window. In Neusüss’ lifesize rendering, it appears not as a point of light ingress so much as a barrier between the dark of the interior and the blues of the outdoors at night illuminated by lamps.13 Silverman’s photograph evokes the earliest days of photography and fascination with light as a means of image-making. Here, external space is indicated in the line of treetops traced on the opaque glass whilst the solitary light bulb, no lampshade, suggests a stark interior. Overall the series suggests a complex interaction of light and dark, natural and artificial light, exterior and interior, window as outlook and window as barrier, apartness, solitude. Silverman’s aesthetic sensibilities have a lineage in modern (mid-twentieth century) concerns with the image in itself and with reflection on phenomena whether everyday or extraordinary. Silverman’s projects have included reflections on the disorientating experience of the Australian outback where it is impossible to locate oneself in terms of the horizon because openness and flatness means that all sense of distance is lost, or thinking about the shapes formed by electric cables and telephone wires in everyday urban dwellings. Her work, always monochrome, reminds us that the grey scale was integral to the early photographic print; color only became commonplace in the second half of the twentieth century. We talk of black and white photographs, but as anyone who has sat in the Rothko chapel in Houston (Texas) will know, perceptually there is no such thing as pure black; rather, as with all print tones, there are extensive variations of hue, surface and density that contribute to the ‘mood’ of an image.14 Monochrome emphasizes form. As in her many previous series, Lookout is characterized by a minimalist visual economy. Nothing distracts from contemplation of inside-outside, the function of walls and the complex associations of windows that let us look out whilst they let light in, but that also hold us alone, separate from the world outside. This is perhaps more poignant when we consider that this series was made whilst 11 http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/l/lady-clementina-hawarden/ (accessed 14th Jan. ’14). Also see Virginia Dodier (1999) Clementina, Lady Hawarden: Studies from Life 1857-1864. New York: Aperture. 12 Johannes Vermeer, ‘Woman Reading a Letter’, c1663/4, Rijksmuseum (oil on canvas, 46.5 x 39 cm); The Milkmaid (c 1660) Rijksmuseum, (oil on canvas, 45.5 x 41cm). www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/explore-the-collection/overview/johannes-vermeer (accessed 14th Jan. ’14) 13 http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/16120 (accessed 20th Dec. ‘13). 14 http://houstonmuseumdistrict.org/museums/rothko-chapel/ (accessed 14th Jan. ’14); http://rothkochapel.org/ (accessed 14th Jan. ’14).
travelling, including artist residencies in places such as Prague where there is additionally a language barrier. Even as a long-term visitor she would not be fully integrated within the social space she occupied, although in other instances she returned to English speaking places more familiar to her â€“ Australia, Britain and USA. Her concern is with mobility and identity, with inside/outside, and with the interrelation of artificial and natural light â€“ although in her pictures the single, tungsten light bulb or table lamp hardly offers the benign solace and replenishment that we seek from the sun. The solitary table lamp, centrally positioned within the window on the external world, looks out into an expansive landscape within which it is utterly insignificant. Frank Hallam Day more overtly engages social and cultural themes. In RV Night, made in the tropical forests of Florida, he operates as a nocturnal flaneur observing ways in which people cocoon themselves from nature at night, holing up in tents or camper vans. Previous projects have included pictures of the hulls of boats, and of shipwrecks. His subject-matter is diverse, ranging from Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC to East Berlin panoramas, to adverts for Ethiopian beauty salons or shop Mannequins photographed in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle-East. What links his various series is, first, that he makes work where he lives or travels, cataloguing phenomena that catch his attention, and second, authorial style. His work is characterized by a certain sociological detachment. He investigates aspects of human culture sometimes revealing quirks, for example, the poses of the mannequin dolls constantly not catching our eye, or delights, such as the craft skills evident in deteriorating hulls of shifts or the delicacy of spring blossom. He observes and catalogues phenomena creating collections of images that, through repetition, point to more than might be remarked in any single image. His methodical approach perhaps echoes typologies associated, for instance, with the Bechers and their Dusseldorf School students. In common with them, aesthetics are deployed strategically not to create pictorial affects so much as to effect a direct communication, not cluttered by too much detail. In RV Night, his concern is very directly with human behavior and ways in which we construct spaces for ourselves that shut out the natural world at night. Holidaymakers no doubt come to these Florida woodlands to explore and enjoy the trails and waterways. Yet at night they are so immersed in their interior shelter and in their TVs or video electronics that they have no idea that that the photographer is there, outside, surveying them unobserved. We are reminded of the extent to which things occur without attracting our attention as we bed down in our houses, boats or caravans, experiencing the world only as it impinges on us and unaware of wildlife â€“ or photographers - pursuing night haunts. Hallam Day was able to capture these emblems of contemporary culture without being furtive and without being observed, using 30 second exposures and placing lamps to create surreal effects in nocturnal glades. This makes his ability to work unobtrusively even more extraordinary. Where once travelers might have camped round a fire for light and warmth, keeping it burning with wood collected locally, sharing stories and listening for the sounds of wildlife, or of passing strangers, now we carry generators enabling us to seal ourselves off from the outdoors at whim. As audience, there is a sense of the sublime, that is, aspects of the natural world that we find awesome, yet pleasing since we are viewing images rather than directly encountering the scenario pictured. Leaves silhouetted against the night sky or the armature of the trees towering over us, perhaps bowing in response to the ravishing storms that sometimes lash the area, remind us of the immensity of nature and our relative insignificance. Spiky palm leaves cut into the space of the image, disrupting the
gentle reassurances of the pictorial. Rather, we are reminded of the sense of threat that so often characterizes fairy tales. As Austrian psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, observed in his critical analysis of their meaning of and significance, fairy tales speak to our fears; for Hansel, Gretel, Goldilocks and a host of other mythical figures that we remember from childhood, woodlands are spaces of unease.15 Indeed, in Bettleheim’s account protagonists go into the transitional space of the forest to test themselves, emerging in a changed state. By cocooning themselves from the woods at night, Hallam Day’s anonymous RV dwellers avoid any risk of unsettlement, of encounter with unknown aspects of their physical environment. The themes explored by each of the artists also remind us of existential presumptions whereby we experience - and by extension conceptualize - ourselves (humankind) as central within the global ecology. Of course, this may not be so. In geological terms human habitation is very recent. Yet cultural perceptions, including language, rest on such assumptions. For instance, sunrise and sunset are effects of the movement of the earth in relation to the sun within a complex planetary system; yet, human-centrically, we describe the shift from light to dark as if the sun is organized in relation to us. The sun does not ‘set’; the earth circles thereby creating moments when we point away from our principal source of natural heat and light and the earth tilts, thereby bringing one hemisphere closer to the sun at certain points in the annual cycle. The sun does not rise for us; we shift our position in relation to the sun. The distinction is significant. In depicting places, events and circumstances, artists draw attention to that which might otherwise be concealed, ignored or overlooked. Art insists that we pay attention. The artist as observer prompts us, sometimes elliptically, to contemplate our responsibilities within complex social and environmental ecologies. In considering the transience of light and our relation to it, Light Touch invites us to reflect on our relation to natural light, on its effects, and on how it affects us.
Liz Wells writes and lectures on photographic practices. She edited The Photography Reader (2003), and Photography: A Critical Introduction (2009, 4th ed.) and is a co-editor for photographies, Routledge journals. Publications on landscape include Land Matters, Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity (2011). Recent exhibitions as curator include Sense of Place, European Landscape Photography (BOZAR, Brussels, 14 June – 15 September 2012). She is Professor in Photographic Culture, Faculty of Arts, Plymouth University, UK, and convenes the research group for Land/Water and the Visual Arts. www.landwater-research.co.uk
15 Bruno Bettelheim (1976) The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Ă‰tudes - Bel-Val - 6 Mars 2009 - Matin II, 200 x 84 cm
Études - Bel-Val “Études - Bel-Val results from an artist’s residency at the Bel-Val Estate in the Ardennes forest, Northeastern France, which I pursued through a number of visits at different times of year throughout 2008/9. I am interested in how natural spaces affect us psychologically, and also in ways in which histories are concealed within landscapes. These include the unseen movement of animals, the mutability of vegetation, and legacies of human presence and activity that are often barely visible. Through selecting a single location and viewpoint, my purpose was to highlight the complexity of such places. We view a contained and controlled landscape within which, nonetheless, change occurs in response to many factors including season, weather and the aesthetic affects of natural light.” – Chrystel Lebas
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Ă‰tudes - Bel-Val - 6 Mars 2009 - Soir I, 200 x 84 cm p 12 | 13
Ă‰tudes - Bel-Val - 6 Mars 2009 - Soir II , 200 x 84 cm
Chrystel Lebas employs photography and the moving image to address the complex encounter between humankind and nature. As an artist she is interested in promoting wider understanding of the complex encounter between humans and nature. She employs photography and the moving image to explore and reveal histories concealed in landscapes, investigating a variety of sites to which she returns over extended periods of time during key moments of change. Her works highlight the complexity of these places, observing natural phenomena within managed landscapes including designated park areas. Recent sites of investigation include: Risnjak National Park, Croatia, in which she took long walking tours during which she recorded animals roaming the forest; Rockingham Forest, East Midlands, UK, where she looked at a forest shaped by man for hunting purposes, using hunting hides to photograph the landscape from high vantage points; and the Domaine de Bel-Val in the Ardennes, France, which is affiliated with the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris. Here, Lebas selected one view in the enclosed park, which she then studied at different times of day across the months and seasons, revealing the slow changes within a natural, yet cared for environment.
Lebas is currently engaged in a re-photography project, in collaboration with the Natural History Museum in London and funded by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, retracing the steps of Sir Edward James Salisbury, a British ecologist and director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew at the beginning of the twentieth century, who photographed landscapes of the British Isles nearly 90 years ago. Born in France, Chrystel Lebas currently lives and works in London. She studied at the ENSBA-Beauxart Paris in Paris, the ENSAAMA- Olivier de Serres, later pursuing an MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art, London, in 1997. Her photographs and films have been widely exhibited including: Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Palais des BeauxArts, Brussels; Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris; National Media Museum, Bradford; Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Rijeka, Croatia; The Collection and Usher Gallery, Lincoln; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; The Photographers’ Gallery, London; Nichido Contemporary Arts, Tokyo. Her works are held in several private and public collections, amongst them The V & A; Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris); The National Media Museum; The Collection and Usher Gallery (Lincoln, UK); The Citigroup Private Bank (UK); The Wilson Center for Photography (London). She is an associate lecturer at Camberwell School of Art and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Art, Design and Media at Richmond, the American International University in London. www.chrystellebas.com
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Prosperous Mountain, 2013, Film still
Prosperous Mountain “Prosperous Mountain was filmed at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway, February 2013. As global plant diversity is rapidly declining and several plant species are facing extinction, numerous countries are collecting seeds for securing the world’s future supply of food crops. The Svalbard Vault is a safety storage facility for seed samples located deep inside an Arctic mountain in the permafrost, 130 meters above sea level. In addition to over 1400 seed banks located in countries that risk natural disasters, wars and civil strife, this Arctic seed vault, constructed from a former coal mine, is used for depositing duplicates of seeds sourced internationally. The purpose of the vault is to secure global plant diversity and food security for the foreseeable future. 774,604 food crop seed samples from 231 countries around the world were stored there in February 2013.1 The full capacity of the vault is 3 million seed samples. It currently stores one third of the worlds’ food crop seeds.2
Through its unfolding narrative Prosperous Mountain explores the specific terrain of the Arctic as it plays its part in a fragile ecological system. Portraying the inhospitable Arctic winter landscape, this short film reflects on human intervention and on the scale of endeavours involved in mining, transport and global seed storage. If climate change and political conflicts are challenges that continually threaten the survival of other seed banks, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault may symbolise future existence. But who holds the key to the vault?”
The Road North “The photographic series, The Road North, expresses the – perhaps paradoxical - beauty of an ecologically fragile area, where glaciers melt and re-form. The images explore the effects of the Arctic winter light and of rapid weather changes in this ever-changing environment. Mirages of colour, wind, sky and earth merge apparently seamlessly within the whiteness of the luminous space.” - Heidi Morstang
1 Hermansen, P (2013) p. 129, Kom Forlag, Norway 2 The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is financed by the Norwegian State, managed and administered by the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (NordGen) and the Global Crop Diversity Trust provides scientific support and organizes global seed deliveries as well as funds the operations of the vault.
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The Road North 1, 2013, 110 x 110 cm
The Road North 2, 2013, 110 x 110 cm p 18 | 19
The Road North 3, 2013, 110 x 110 cm
Heidi Morstang works with moving image, photography and experimental documentary. Her practice is rooted in the physical; she is interested in the social, mythological and archaeological histories embedded in landscapes. She uses images to explore and offer insight into complex and often subtle tensions and conflicts that characterize places, however beautiful our environment might appear. She works internationally through collaborations with historians, forensic archaeologists and scientists. Her photographic works have been exhibited widely including: the Derzhavin Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; The Lowry, Manchester; Galeria Ana VilaSeco, Spain; Plymouth Art Centre, UK; Camberwell Space, London; Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Zealand; Nottingham Contemporary, UK and Pump House Gallery, London. Her films have been screened at several short film festivals including: the 34th Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, France; 31st Uppsala International Short Film Festival, Sweden; Concorto Film Festival, Italy; â€˜Best Short Films from Around the Worldâ€™ programme at The Helsinki Short Film Festival, Finland; Sapporo International Film Festival, Japan and the 35th Norwegian Short Film Festival, Grimstad. Prosperous Mountain forms the first part of a trilogy concerning seed banks, pollination, climate change and bio security. Part Two, on the global decline of the bee population, will be filmed in New Zealand and the UK in 2014. Heidi Morstang studied in Norway and Wales, and now lectures in photography at Plymouth University, UK. She co-chairs The Moving Image Arts Research Group and contributes within research groups for Land/Water and the Visual Arts, and Photography, at Plymouth University. www.hcmorstang.co.uk
p 20 | 21
Speaking House #6, 2006,132 x 112 cm
Speaking House “Camera obscura1 has been a theme in many of my projects over the past two decades. Space transformed into dark room conjures up magic of photography. For me it is a method both to explore our environments and to allure subconscious feelings into daylight. In the series Speaking House, 2006 I have transformed spaces of a large abandoned house into dark rooms, camera obscuras. In this way the timeworn rooms of the mental asylum - already amazing in their native state - have taken in reflections of the outside world. During long exposures, lasting from minutes to hours, I have captured into my photographs the spaces of light that merge with the dilapidated spaces of the old house. The slow working process of this project has been like a meditation of light. The photographs of the Speaking House series are printed on thick, fibrous paper with pigment colors that give velvety surface, intense hue and long life for the prints.” – Marja Pirilä
Speaking House #3, 2006, 61 x 78 cm
1 Camera obscura (Latin for “dark room”) is a phenomenon where light passing into a dark space through a hole or a lens forms an upside-down image of the view outside. For centuries scientists and artists have used this phenomenon in their work.
p 22 | 23
Speaking House #1, 2006,112 x 119 cm
Speaking House #8: 2006, 87 x 81 cm
Speaking House #7, 2006 108 x 97 cm p 24 | 25
Speaking House #10, 2006, 112 x 97 cm
Marja Pirilä (born 1957 in Rovaniemi, Finland) has specialized in working with camera obscura method during over 20 years. By using this method she has made the following projects: Interior/Exterior 1996–, Speaking House 2004–2006, Inner Landscapes 2009–2011 and Milavida 2011–2013. Beside her photographic work Pirilä has made many different kind of three dimensional camera obscuras together with photographer Petri Nuutinen. Pirilä graduated in 1986 as a photographer from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki/ department of photography and as Master of Science (MS) from the University of Helsinki/ Ecological zoology. She received the Finnish State Award for Photography in 2000. Pirilä has held dozens of solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group exhibitions both in Finland and abroad, and her art works have been acquired by many public and private art collections. Marja Pirilä has published photography books Inner Landscapes 2012, Speaking Light 2006, CAMERA OBSCURA Interior/Exterior 2002 and The Eyes of the Fingertips Are Opening 1993. Currently, Pirilä is working with her retrospective exhibition “Carried by Light” which will be ready in 2014. Also a new book with same name will be published in 2014. www.marjapirila.com
Speaking House #21, 2006, 61 x 80 cm p 26 | 27
Lookout #61, 1988-Present, 33 x 25”
Lookout Series “The windows depicted in Lookout were photographed in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and the Czech Republic, countries where I have lived for an extended period of time. Currently numbering over one hundred images, this ongoing project is a collection of observations into how we live in proximity to other people and nature, and how we strike a balance between the desire for contact, concern for security, and our need for privacy. Each window serves as a point of orientation in the way it frames a variety of situations. Access to the view outside is mediated by the design of the window dressing, such as curtains, blinds, or shutters that also affect the flow of natural light. The contrast between inside and outside may be seen as a dialogue between private and public spaces, the self and the other. The arrangement of the window frame and shade, as well as the presence of any objects in the photograph, further enhances the viewer’s subjective position in relation to the external view. Most of these photographs employ a minimal amount of detail to evoke a sense of place, which may make the identification of place ambiguous. Such ambiguity plays on the perceived similarity or differences between places.” - Lynn Silverman *All works were made over an extended period of time, from 1988 to the present.
p 28 | 29
Lookout #46, 1988-Present, 25 x 33â€?
Lookout #75, 1988-Present, 25 x 33â€? p 30 | 31
Lookout #54, 1988-Present, 25 x 33â€?
Lynn Silverman received her BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths’ College in London, England. She has participated in solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Australia, and the United States. Past projects include Furniture Fictions, 1:1, Corporation House, and Interior Light. In 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to teach and photograph in the Czech Republic. In addition to publishing four books, Lynn’s photographs may be found in public and private collections in the Australia, Great Britain and the US. Recently, her work was exhibited at Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, and Goya Contemporary Art in Baltimore, Maryland. Since 1999, she has taught photography at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. www.lynnsilverman.com
Lookout #82, 1988-Present, 25 x 33”
p 32 | 33
FRANK HALLAM DAY
RV Night, Airstream with Kayak, 2012, 44 x 66”
RV Night “These images of recreational vehicles lodged deeply in night jungles suggest a humanity isolated from a dark and ominous nature. They crouch like steel insects in the woods, shining, hard carapaces protecting a soft interior. They are Rousseau’s animals recast for a mechanical age, glowing windows and screens in place of the penetrating stare of watchful creatures. They brand themselves with labels asserting a desired yet ironically thwarted relationship with nature: Escaper, Conquest, Sunset Trail, Wilderness, Cougar, Falcon. Together they reveal a sense of displacement and alienation from the natural world. The occupants of these pods are hermetically sealed from the natural world looming just beyond. The overtly voyeuristic creepiness of these pictures also evokes other topics: withdrawal from public space and engagement in American life, the obsessions of survivalists and the dominance over nature. In this sense, these RV’s resemble the ultimate gated community…i.e., no community. Nothing is more American than an RV, but these pictures suggest other impulses underlying the sheen of the American dream: flight, concealment, isolation, bewilderment and withdrawal. The RV’s sing the night song of the American dream, all the while spilling a toxic light into the jungle. These photographs are overtly theatrical; the foliage surrounding the vehicles resembles scenery props. The images are intended to look staged, almost dreamlike, half-way between fantasy and reality. While it may seem they share the current wave of interest in the theatrical and constructed, they are not staged. They are the product of months of travel in Florida using handheld lights and a tripod to capture the images. The occupants never know I’m there; their televisions are on and their blinds are drawn.” – Frank Hallam Day p 34 | 35
RV Night, Blue Tent #1, 2012, 44 x 66”
RV Night, Moonrise, Two Pines 2009, 44 x 66â€?
p 36 | 37
RV Night, Sun Set RV Red Window, 2009, 44 x 66”
Frank Hallam Day is a fine art photographer based in Washington DC. He was the winner of the prestigious 2012 Leica Oscar Barnack Prize as well as the Bader Prize in 2006, and numerous other awards, commissions and grants. His work has been widely exhibited within the United States and abroad, and has been collected by the Berlinische Gallerie und Landesmuseum Berlin, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Orlando Museum of Art, the Portland Art Museum, the Corcoran Gallery and the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts, among others. In 2013 he executed a photographic commission for the Pew Charitable Trust and for Rosslyn, Virginia, and was awarded a grant for a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A monograph of his photographs of RVâ€™s at night in the Florida jungles was published by Kehrer Press in 2012, and won a prize from Photo District News the following year. His work has often been concerned with the fraught relationship between man and nature, as in the RV series and earlier work on the manmade landscape along the eastern littoral of the U.S. Much of his work is also concerned with the semiotics of culture and social history, as in his series on the impact of globalization on African culture, and on the erasure of cultural, political and personal memory in the rebuilding of East Berlin in the 1990â€˜s. Day is currently working on a series on abandoned phone booths in Bangkok. He is represented by Addison/Ripley Fine Art in Washington, DC. www.frankhday.com Gallery credit: Addison/Ripley Fine Art, Washington DC.
p 38 | 39
Light Touch is made possible through the generosity of the Cultural Service of the Embassy of France, EDF, Art and Media, Plymouth University, UK, Frame Visual Art Finland, Image Impact Inc., and is produced in partnership with the Society for Photographic Education, Baltimore Washington International Airport and Brookshire Suites in Baltimore city. Special thanks to Aero Service Group featuring Sky Azure, Stella Artois and The Cordish Family Fund. Maryland Art Place (MAP) inspires, supports, and encourages artistic expression through innovative programming, exhibitions, and educational opportunities while recognizing the powerful impact art can have on our community. MAP creates a dynamic environment for artists of our time to engage the public by nurturing and promoting new ideas. MAP has served as a critical resource for contemporary art in the Mid-Atlantic since 1981. mdartplace.org. MAP is supported by the Maryland State Arts Council and The Citizens of Baltimore County.
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Curated by Liz Wells, Light Touch prompts us to consider the transience of light and to value our natural environment. The exhibition includ...
Published on Feb 20, 2014
Curated by Liz Wells, Light Touch prompts us to consider the transience of light and to value our natural environment. The exhibition includ...