‘The Dilemma of Landscape’
25th August – 4th September 2011
ROCHE gallery is presenting a show by Amanda Thompson, exploring the relationship between human activity and the environment. She embraces abstract, figurative and conceptual art, using all three with great effectiveness to explore our relationship to the land in terms of dependency and inter-dependency.
“By exploring vulnerable and strong marks, fragile edges against solid forms, layering white paint over backgrounds of colour, floating inky dark shapes over the contours of land and sea, considering the space between and through things, as well as the relationship of marks to the edges of paper and canvas, the challenge for me is to highlight the complexity and dilemma of landscape painting, drawing and photography today, given that we are facing a global crisis in our landscapes and environments; climate change.”
Read Amanda’s essay for the exhibition below:
THE DILEMMA OF LANDSCAPE
I believe that landscape painting in the 21st century has reached a dilemma whereby it can no longer be viewed or perceived as sublime or beautiful, if indeed it ever was, given the global crisis of climate change.
The terms ‘Landscape’ and ‘Environment’ have many possible variables attached to them in terms of their meaning and perception. For example, in the 21st century, there are rural and urban landscapes, marginalised landscapes of waste and disuse, Industrial landscapes, landscapes of movement (cars, trains, planes, boats and people), transient landscapes of communities where people come together for short or long periods of time (festivals, protests, football matches, refugee camps, commuters and the homeless) and landscapes of exclusion and inclusion (immigration, migration, wealth and deprivation, gated communities, privilege and poverty). There are historic landscapes that we invest with memory, and a sense of nostalgia and loss, and there are landscapes that we have decided we will conserve and protect labelling them ‘World Heritage Sites’, ‘Sites of Special Scientific Interest’ or ‘Conservation Areas’. There are also the imagined and intangible virtual landscapes which we have created through technology. Landscape seems to be about ideas.
The European Landscape Convention defines Landscape ‘as an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors’ (Council of Europe,2000).
Environment, on the other hand has a different perception and meaning attached to it. Environment is based on things- habitat, species, sub-species, ecology, geography and geology. English Heritage makes this distinction: ‘Landscape can be taken with you, while environment has to be left behind’ (English Heritage, 2004). The environment is more precious, less able to resurrect itself and completely at our disposal. We can recreate a landscape, we can construct it to suit our purpose but we can never rebuild or recreate an environment once it is lost. Environments need protection, but who decides which environment we protect and for how long?
The symbiotic relationship between landscape and environment is present within my practice and echoes our own relationship to the land in terms of dependency and inter-dependency. By exploring vulnerable and strong marks, fragile edges against solid forms, layering white paint over backgrounds of colour, floating inky dark shapes over the contours of land and sea, considering the space between and through things, as well as the relationship of marks to the edges of paper and canvas, the challenge for me is to highlight the complexity and dilemma of landscape painting, drawing and photography today, given that we are facing a global crisis in our landscapes and environments; climate change.
This global crisis is on an epic scale and forces the landscape artist to re-consider and re-evaluate their position in the 21st century. By concentrating my practice as a painter around the concept of loss, I am engaged in a process that aims to re-connect people with the land and landscape, and re-define and re-think that relationship as it stands now. We have to ask difficult questions of ourselves and of our roles and responsibilities.
This exhibition focuses on painting, drawing and photography specifically to research and explore this new experience of landscape and environment. The dilemma for the artist is how to address such an overwhelming and complex situation. By focusing on the fragility of a place or space, or on the small, marginal and overlooked it is perhaps possible to make a statement about the vulnerability of nature and our relationship to it? Through this exhibition I hope to ask questions of my work in order to help to define just what is the role and relative value of landscape painting today, and how does its narrative framework significantly differ from that which has been experienced in the past?
Rye is a natural island surrounded by a quintessentially English pastoral landscape. I have lived on a remote off shore island, Skokholm, and recently spent time on the Isles of Scilly. Islands have a particular fascination for me; a microcosm of a larger world, they allow for the intense observation of space, place, edges, layers (psychological and physical) and journeys. The 4 Island paintings titled ‘The slow erosion of edges I-IV’ explore insularity, isolation, exclusion and the desire to get off the island and make a journey to somewhere, anywhere but where you are. The edges of the drawn island are softly eroding, their paths are worn and monotonous; they are empty islands offering nothing more than the tracings of their past geographical formations. There are no boundaries, apart from the edge, and there is no reference to any living species; empty and isolated they sit on the grid waiting for something to happen.
The series of letraset drawings, ‘Untitled I-9’, take these ideas further. These drawings reference the psychological aspects of island living; some of the drawings are of small communities of people who live well together, others explore the individual within a small group or society and whether they are included or excluded. Islands are given only the slightest of pen outlines because the important aspect of the drawing is what goes on within the island, described metaphorically by the position of the letters and numbers and the space they occupy on the page.
‘Lost species I-IV’ hide images of plants under a veil of thin oil paint making it hard to see the original print. The paintings, which fuse representational and abstract marks, explore the concept of loss in a climate of change. A complex process of original photographs of delicate plants are transferred to the canvas using heat transfer papers and then washed over with layers of oil paint which suggest the fragility of permanence and the likelihood of impermanence. As in the larger canvas ‘White map of a disappearing landscape’ references are made through marks to layers beneath the surface. The making and unmaking and re-making of a mark suggest time passing, events taking place and subsequently arriving at a new position within the pictorial space.
This position is not always a comfortable one. We are living in an age of climate change where everything that may have seemed certain is no longer a definite possibility for the future. Skylarks are a declining species. As a child I can remember walking on the South Downs and lying on the grass looking up at the sky listening to the sound of the skylarks but very rarely seeing them. This simple act of listening and looking is in part remembered in the 2 paintings ‘The distance between myself and the sound of the skylark’. The idea that this basic and human connection between land and sky, between walking, listening, looking and feeling, could be lost to entire generations in our lifetime feels very important.
Landscape has always been defined by an evolving, shifting, fluid and changing response to the needs of each generation and species have had to evolve and adapt within this changing environment. There has always been loss, but never on the scale that we are witnessing now. Loss is a difficult and disturbing concept with which to engage both as an artist and as a viewer. My work is not about confrontation. I hope it asks serious questions about us, and of us, and of our collective roles and responsibilities to the landscape, and to our future.