In an age where the gap between humanity and nature grows wider every day, questions on human existence and how we are to co-exist with the rest of the created world abound.
At the Currier Museum of Art, in Manchester, NH, the Shifting Terrain: Landscape Video exhibit challenges viewers to address these questions for themselves.
The exhibit, which runs until Sept. 18, 2011, has videos from seven up-and-coming New England-based artists and it’s contents range from traditional narrative to the abstract.
Liz Nofziger, Daniel Phillips, Louisa Conrad, Julia Hechtman, Jeannie Simms, Mary Ellen Strom and Suara Welitoff use the medium of video to share their thoughts, feelings and emotions on nature, humanity and the relationship between the two.
The first piece in the exhibit, River Street by Phillips, appears at first to be a wheel barrow and a pile of rubbish illuminated by a flickering street light. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a time-lapse video, projected straight down onto the rubble. The video sculpture is of the former Tileston-Hollingsworth Paper Mill Complex, Hyde Park, Mass., and the footage shows how the space has changed over the last several years. Phillips uses time-lapse photography in the piece to compress time and show how quickly the world around us changes. The trash pile is actual rubbish collected from the construction site.
The most eye-grabbing installation in the exhibit is Dead Standing and Selva Oscura: Drawing of Dead Standing by Strom. These works consist of two side-by-side, 16-foot video screens, one displaying pans of a stand of dead pines in the Rocky Mountains and the other a straight down view of the artist creating a charcoal drawing of the forest. The soundtrack for this piece is the repetitive scraping of Strom’s charcoal against her canvas as she creates her black and white forest.
Strom’s piece seems to suggest that human relations with the earth have somehow caused this destruction. The scraping of the charcoal stick is almost mournful as the camera pans across the opposing screen, showing row after row of dead pine. Viewers can watch and contemplate all these things from the wooden bench, harvested from the same stand of trees in Dead Standing.
Next to Strom’s exhibit is Suara Welitoff’s Red Landscape, a 17-minute, single-channel view of a nuclear power plant that evoked a physical reaction from me. The color changes slowly, causing conflicting moods. As I sat and watched the color shift from blue to red, I could feel my chest tighten and my heart begin to race. The piece suggests the constant state of tension between the need for power and the need for safety and to protect our planet.
In this same portion of gallery are two booths containing Jeannie Simms’ 1974 in California and Louisa Conrad’s Chores. These are the most traditional of all the works in the exhibit. Simms’ California is a narrative recounting the real life memories of an Irish immigrant to California in the 1970s. Chores is a documentary-type piece that looks at Conrad’s life on Big Picture Farm, Vermont, where her and husband Lucas Ferrell make and sell cheese and caramel. The video explores the relationship between the artist and the farm, the food production process and the mundane nature of this life. The small-scale agriculture depicted in Chores stands in stark contrast to the farming seen in movies like Food Inc. and King Corn.
“To me, landscape functions as a subject and site for art, but also as a tool to explore other themes of sustainability, small-scale agriculture, taste and aesthetics,” says Conrad, of her work.
Hecthman’s Convection and Look Out are around the corner from these two installations. In Convection, the artist appears and disappears in the midst of a stand of Joshua Trees as heat waves radiates through the air. This magic act creates an eerie, other-worldly feeling and challenges viewers to think about the brevity of human existence in relation to the long history of Earth. In Look Out, Hecthman point’s her camera up towards the summit of a small hill. She appears briefly, arms outstretched at the top before she turns and walks back over the crest of the hill. Both of her pieces challenge viewers to ponder their fleeting existence in a world that will continue after they’re gone.
To view Nofziger’s two installations, I had to travel outside the special exhibit hall. The nearest to the hall, Pore, is a small video peephole looking out on the street next to the Currier. All I saw was a blue minivan parked along the street. Despite it’s mundane qualities, the installation reminded me there is beauty to be found even in the environments I encounter in my everyday life. Her other piece is in the upstairs American gallery. Chocorua hangs between two paintings of the same mountain. It’s fascinating to observe the differences in a painting and a video of the same subject matter.
“While traditional landscape works often reflect on the sublime qualities of nature, or a harmony in the relationship between civilzation and the wild, I sought to consider the shifts in this harmony as contemporary life encroaches upon the great outdoors,” says Nofziger, of Chocorua.
So, whether you want to solve the conflict between man and nature, love art and film or just need something to do on a rainy Saturday (the museum is free from 10-12 on Saturdays), then get to the Currier and check out this exhibit. While you’re there, be sure to view some of the other amazing galleries and artwork they have on display.
Thanks for reading, enjoy!