Landscapes have a long and rich history within the artistic traditions of virtually every culture. In fact, in 1993 two artists performed a study/sociological art experiment where they conducted a world-wide poll to study the artistic preferences of people in ten countries. What they discovered was an overwhelming uniformity in their inclinations: almost without exception, the most-wanted painting was a landscape with water, people, and animals. We all have an unexplainable affinity towards landscapes and what they represent, and author Denis Dutton even goes so far as to speculate that it’s some instinctual affinity hardwired from our pre-historic days out on the plain. But how is this changing with the present collision of the virtual and digital worlds?
In a recent exhibition curated by artist, writer and curator Nicolas O’Brien’s called “Notes on a New Nature”, O’Brien gives us a concise show of works that takes on contemporary conversations surrounding landscape and its subjective representation:
In his opening text he writes:
The research critically examines and compares the relationships that contemporary artists working with digital media have to practices started in Modernist Painting – specifically the pursuit of capturing the virtual qualities of what constitutes a landscape. How does an artist depict a space faithfully enough to show its affect on a subject? Can art capture the space between the viewer and the horizon, and where does that horizon reside now that we can digitally circumnavigate the globe? Can the digital reconcile the physical?
When we visited the show last week, we were particularly mesmerized by the work of Melbourne-based artist Joe Hamilton, whose video installation Hyper Geography is part of an ongoing Tumblr project of the same name. We sent him a few questions to learn more about his intricate layering technique and his own particular relationship with landscape.
The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
Joe Hamilton: I’m an artist living in Melbourne, Australia. I create a variety of physical and non physical works, many of which are assembled from found images, videos or objects.
What does Hyper Geography mean? Where did the term come from?
It is a made up term. I don’t recall how I came up with it but it just felt right. It triggers a clash of associations from our notions of both physical and networked environments.
Your work is so intricately layered with different textures and planes that all melt into one another. Can you tell us a bit more about your technique?
A primary aim when making my work is to assemble a composition that feels right visually. I look at things like value, color, texture, pattern, unity, etc. and just keep working until I’m happy with how it looks. The content is obviously very important too, but I tend to think about that less when I’m composing the work. I have a tendency to make my working process overly complex, which is often frustrating, but in the long term this has taught me to deal with complexity well.
When and how did you start working in this way? Why? What were you trying to say by creating these collaged landscapes?
My technique evolved from early years exploring digital imaging tools, a few vague years stumbling through a BFA and my time working as a commercial graphic designer. I began to focus my attention on ideas concerning environment and landscape about two years ago, after I returned to study my (now recently completed) ‘Master of Art in Public Space’ at RMIT. I don’t necessarily intend to say anything specific through my work. It’s an ongoing investigation.
How do you think our concept of and/or relationship with landscape has changed in the present digital era?
The landscapes we experience have changed in the digital era but I don’t think our concept of landscape has changed significantly. That is what I explore in my work. The space between our shared sense of history and our experience of the world today.
Do you have a favorite landscape or scene you like to visit? Where is it and why is it special to you?
My favorite landscape is the raw wilderness of my home state Tasmania, Australia. I think it is due to my current life in the city being deprived of most things considered natural rather than an innate desire to return to the wild.
“Notes on a New Nature” open through November 20 at 319 Scholes in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Friday and Saturday from 2-6 PM and by appointment. You can also purchase a limited edition print of Hamilton’s Tumblr as part of Rhizome’s annual Community Campaign.