Austrian art: major exhibition of environmental art in Graz

Landscape in motion, cinematographic visions of an uncertain future
Kunsthaus Graz
Until October 26

The spectacular big blue gherkin that houses the Graz Modern Art Gallery hosts a major exhibition of environmental art or land art with “Landscape in motion, cinematic visions of an uncertain future”.

The works in the exhibition are mainly films or videos with some photographs but all capture the idea of ​​the landscape; observed, in transition or under surveillance. It examines how humans impact the environment and the dichotomies between development, use and degradation.

The show presents what some might think of as a dystopian view of the world while others that of a utopia.

An obvious example is the footage filmed by the Land Use Interpretation Center, where a camera flies over the landscape following a highway that crosses the landscape. It can be seen as an incision and plundering of the territory or the notion of an artery opening up new possibilities.

The exhibition takes as its starting point “Spiral Jetty” (1970) the flagship work of Robert Smithson who created a large koru-like shape in the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

The 6,000-ton basalt work was impressive as a sculpture, but its isolation meant few people had ever seen it. The most notable aspect of the work is the original film in which a helicopter records Mr. Smithson running from the center of the spiral towards the mainland, escaping from something or searching for something.

Several other works in the exhibition make reference to Mr. Smithson’s work, such as James Benning’s ‘Take a Look’ (2007) where he filmed the spiral over a two-year period, mostly in close-up, documenting the changing nature construction, water, light and spirals have an impact on the environment.

There is also an intriguing work by British artist Tacita Dean in which she makes a sound recording titled “Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty” (1997) in which she records her failed attempt to find the construction.

Another work which owes much to Robert Smithson is “Captive Horizon” (2014) by Lukas Marxt where a camera moves relentlessly over a rough and stony surface. It could be a desert, a lunar landscape, or a microscopic view of skin or cells; the difference between the organic and the inorganic confused and disorienting.

One of the most important works in the exhibition deals with the political balances between development, the preservation of indigenous cultures and the transmission of progressive ideas.

Daren Almond’s “In the Between” follows the new railroad between Xining in China and Lhasa in Tibet. The line called “The Road to Heaven” is intended to help change the nature of Tibetan society by making the place less isolated.

The three screens projected of images of a hilly landscape, with train stops and departures interspersed with images of dark stations and scenes of traditional Tibetan monks praying, highlight the dilemmas of changing cultures.

In “Eden’s Edge” (2014), a team led by Gerhard Tremi and Leo Calice created a series of vignettes set in an American desert landscape. A camera hangs over an inconspicuous group – a person, a car, and a few objects.

People tell stories about life in the desert, on the fringes of society. From the birds’ point of view, each scene looks like an animated model, with the objects casting strong shadows on the shining desert sands.

One of the simplest and most powerful works in the exhibition is Guido van der Werve’s “Nummera Acht, everything will be well” from 2007. Which was shown at the Sydney Biennale in 2012. The short film shows the artist dressed in black walking across a frozen sea.

Behind him, a huge, rhythmic icebreaker crashes into the ice. This could be seen as a metaphor for a great catastrophe, the advances of industry and business on the mere mortal. The film is fascinating in its real drama. It seems the boat has only to speed up and crack the ice under the performer. There is no conclusion to the film, only a ten minute streak of his ongoing journey, similar to that of Sisyphus.

Ed Ruscha’s work on “Every Building on Sunset Strip” (1966) predates the Google Street View project by almost 50 years. All buildings are recorded as black and white photographic images on two long rolls. Its documentation of all the buildings between Hollywood and Beverly Hills is both a historical document as well as the cinematic way we glimpse views of the street from a moving vehicle.

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