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Arni Runar Haraldsson

Paysage
[Holly King, Rober Racine, Jocelyne Alloucherie, Roberto Pellegrinuzzi, Francine Larivée, and Angela Grauerholz] Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver

C Magazine #18, Summer 1988
[ 1,758 words ]


To stage an exhibition within the context of photography that is not simply photography, is in part to provoke the partisans of true-to-life documentary, to believe that they are recording reality, the landscape of everyday life, and argue that they have in fact been all this time possessed by one thing: 'What we have less and less of as we fall asleep, and more and more of when we wake up,' and to remind them that representation is always constructed, never gathered, that to represent landscape now is to understand that this double-dealing has always been inversed, and that it is in fact landscape that is the double.

So begins Serge Berard's elliptical curatorial essay (itself a landscape of sorts) to Paysage — a gathering of six Montreal artists dealing with different aspects of the landscape genre.

Berard's inclusion of a fragment from Philippe Sollers' Paradis II as an introductory quote is appropriate, in that Sollers' deconstructive treatment of language is reflective of each artist's approach to image-making. Sollers practises a type of writing which places in question a particular mode of literary language —representation. He makes no attempt to authenticate language by the inclusion of a linear narrative in the service of representing the 'real'. We are instead presented with its 'other':

you also carrying the landscape with you and the sky there now brilliant silent unmoving while you align there ahead of you your gilden walnut syllables the silence is laden with another silence . . . it is through them that I orient myself that I experience hot and cold currents contrary winds diagonals metal verticals vegetable horizontals mineral plumbing for large channels of silence ...

Indeed, can we ever possibly speak of — let alone represent — such a thing as a landscape? Does it in fact really exist?

Much like Sollers, Berard refrains from adopting the author's authority —and attempting the recovery of meaning (neither the artists nor their works are mentioned in the catalogue essay). Instead he adopts the

carefree attitude of the stroller . . . a flaneur or a freethinker, whistling the universal refrain of indifference, free of the task of recounting dog-eared, local bits of history, judging that it would, for the present, perhaps be better to leave it to others to perform the ritual of preservation.

Then I shall assume the persona of this 'other', as I am at present engaged in 'the ritual of preservation.' In any case, Berard is about to lead us in several directions at once, through the itinerary of the landscape: from the comings and goings of his cat, the friends he visits, those places they frequent together or alone, 'the good French music on CIBL [a Québecois radio station], who should have received permission from the CRTC [the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission] to extend its media landscape to invade the adjoining neighbourhoods.' And on we go. Indeed Berard's notion of landscape encompasses not only what is out there in front of us, but also that which is within, including the sonic clutter and visual garbage we unwillingly internalize. Finally the distinction between an absolute and a regional landscape is dissolved into an 'absolute relativism.' Thus the true-to-life documentarist has been challenged; his approach is aligned with that of Impressionism or Expressionism —'difficult to justify nowadays as a valid practice because of the necessity for deconstruction.' It is to this 'necessity' that the artists in Paysage respond.

Each artist has identified an avenue of exploration aimed at effectively dislodging photography's traditional descriptive role. Photographs-within-photographs, the coupling of photography with painting, and other self-referential combinations are employed as a method of deconstructing the habitual response to photographs as representing nature.

Just as painters had once dismissed photography as incapable of producing authentic works of art, today traditionalists —and they are everywhere, these Neo-Platonists —continue to reject appropriated and multi-media prints; they would prefer the untampered image of reality. But the pure landscape, like the cult of the Beautiful, is merely an idea inside someone's head. Holly King's coupling of photography with painting in Effusion II (1986), and Fiery Falls (1987), performs the exorcism of the ghost of painting, whereby the notion of art is dematerialized into the abstractions which constitute our languages. And yet it is not via painting that King's photographs engage the viewer, but via theatre. What is staged is not the perfection of an illusion, but rather the blatantly obvious material means of construction —the stage itself is on display. It is this type of tension (the exposed seams of the image) that so frustrates the traditionalist.

With obsessive attention to detail and the physical process of constructing a work, Rober Racine successfully suppresses subjectivity and expression by the adaptation of an anonymous, seemingly never ending task-like procedure. On the one hand Racine's enterprise consists of an arguably frivolous endeavour —the cutting-out and covering-up of certain words comprising the Dictionnaire Robert; on the other hand it draws attention to the self-reflexive aspects of language. To this extent, Racine presents the page as both frame and image by the addition of a mirror, slightly concealed behind the page. The erasure (cutting-out) of words allows for the surfacing of the mirror. Page —Miroir, PAYEUR —1383 —PEAU (1987), qualifies as a landscape insofar as it contains the word 'paysage' which, when isolated or part of a sentence, is capable of conjuring up the notion of landscape to the same extent as is, say, the photographic apparatus. Although different, both are systems endowed with representational characteristics.

In Jocelyne Alloucherie's Suites, relais, derives (1987), the formerly isolated image of the landscape is supplanted with elements extracted directly from nature, reminding the viewer that the image under scrutiny is far removed from that which it purports to represent, and is ultimately nothing other than a surface of resemblances. A surface not all that unlike Alloucherie's deliberately over-sized and over-worked wooden frames and accompanying sculptural arrangements.

Another sculptural landscape, Roberto Pellegrinuzzi's Paysage (Ansel Adams Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada,1944, (1987), presents a back-lit, three-dimensional model with which Pellegrinuzzi has reconstructed and deconstructed Adams's Winter Sunrise. By crouching down and squinting, the viewer may, with a little imagination, reconstruct the 'original' scene, whereby the experience of landscape might seem more 'real' than the two-dimensionality of Adams's image. Interestingly enough there are two reproductions of Pellegrinuzzi's model in the catalogue: one we might mistake —if only for an instant —as a direct appropriation of Adams, the other exposes its source (the model itself) as a fabrication, a total unreality labouriously manufactured in the studio. And yet, we are not all that far from Adams's darkroom.

With a series of twelve tiny black-and-white prints (2 x 3 inches each, approx.), Francine Larivée constructs a slightly disconnected panoramic view, progressing across a solid mountainous mass of land, periodically interrupted by large and small bodies of water (lakes), finally concluding with the image of a barren island. Sues d'émeraudes, embruns entre vides et pleins (1985), [loosely translated, 'Emerald nectars, sea-sprays between the empty and the full'], one might assume to be a typical study in contrast, emphasizing positive and negative space (land / water, dark / light) if it were not for its scale. Scale functions here as a structural device with which Larivée comments on the distance between two utterly distinct experiences: that of being in the landscape itself and that of viewing its reproduction. Scale emphasizes the irony of this immense distance.

Angela Grauerholz's series of seven black-and-white prints have the appearance of a narrative structure, but inevitably defeat such a reading. Grauerholz stretches the conventional notion of landscape to include the 'cityscape', verifying that it is now the non-natural environment which dominates human consciousness. Picture-making, in all its idealism, can no longer ignore the omnipresent environment of media technology, of simulated reality. As with the Sollersian text, we scan Grauerholz's images, moving along across great gaps from one detail to another, with only our 'shining ring of silence' as a thread connecting the whole thing together. From the blurred image of a cathedral, to mountain-top, to city park, to sun-drenched sea, and so on. Intensely subjective ambiguities and poetic allusions function to eliminate context and therefore the possibility of identification.

Although Berard 'affirm(s) having performed (his) duty as a citizen by selecting Montrealers,' the deconstructed landscape (as represented by the artists he has chosen), like the mass media and its host of simulations, is certain to transcend any specific locale. Indeed, the final landscape Berard conceives of (via Semiotext(e)'s Bolo' Bolo, P.M., New York, N.Y, 1985) encompasses virtually all other soil —the global landscape. It stretches all the way into the past and back again as far as Africa, Asia, and Europe; a landscape consumed by an ever-expanding madness, covered with the excrement of a planetary machine. Its keepers are the multinationals and below them, on the horizon of the industrial zone, workers are being manipulated like pawns from one square to another:

Africa has produced slaves for Americans, Turkey produces workers for Germany, Pakistan for Kuwait, Ghana for Nigeria, Morocco for France, Mexico for the U.S. Untouched areas can be used as scenery for the tourist business: Indians on reservations, Polynesians, Balinese, aboriginies. Those who try to get out of the Machine fulfill the function of picturesque 'outsiders' (bums, punks, mystiques). As long as the Machine exists we're inside it.

This is certainly not the landscape the traditionalists have in mind, but then neither is it that of the artists in Paysage. Nevertheless, Berard wishes to remind us —in case we have forgotten — that this 'other' landscape exists and we are a part of it, like it or not. Because the landscape has changed its representation and, since we are no longer speaking of a neutral view, its 'representatives' must change. 'But,' writes Berard, 'at the same time one would feel ill at ease with political art, as before any discourse where art tends to serve as a neon sign.' No doubt, like language itself, the landscape is double. And doubled in proportion to the distance separating self from Self, the real from the ideal, the landscape from its representation.


C Magazine #18, Summer 1988


Text: © Arni Runar Haraldsson. All rights reserved.

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