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Northern Landscapes (2019)

Like previous series of mine, this series started as an outgrowth of the series that preceded it. One of the focus points for me in that series ( Cold City ) was the sub-arctic and arctic tundra environments that had impressed me so much in images I had seen of Siberia. This impression was only reinforced on my own visits in 2009 to the northernmost tip of Newfoundland and to Iceland in 2019. Again, the overriding interest for me was this idea of a minimalist landscape, one that seemed scraped of unessentials. A landscape that seemed elemental, limitless, enduring.

The north is a place of the most basic physical or material processes. You can feel the immense mass of the landscape, the forces of gravity grinding everything down. Time like concrete poured into every molecule.

It is also perhaps one of the most fragile eco-systems that exists, one of the environments most susceptible to climate change, with huge consequences for human settlement, but visible beneath a fragile skin are the bones, millions of years old, to which the scant timeline of human civilization means little.

During the time I was working on this, two old art magazine images came to mind. I didn’t remember the specifics that well, but I looked them up again. The first ( it was actually an essay with reproductions ) was Robert Smithsons famous essay “ Monuments of Passaic” from 1967. The second was a sculptural piece, also from the late 60’s by the Minimalist Richard Serra. Titled “ Lead Splatter Piece”, Serra threw molten lead against the gallery wall and the resulting natural processes of gravity, near instantaneous cooling in conjunction with the physical environment, formed a solid mass of lead (weighing several tuns) the length of the wall where the wall intersected with the gallery floor. Once cooled, he could move this object more towards the centre of the gallery floor with other earlier slabs, where together they would resemble complex geological layers or strata.

In Smithson’s essay, he redefines the common understanding of everyday landscape - comparing representative views of suburbia ( an old iron bridge, a rusting pipeline running alongside the riverbank littered with trash, several buried pipes disgorging their unknown contents into the river, an old barge, a used car lot, a nearby playground sandbox, ) against our notions of the past and its cultural or historical monuments. Smithson was riveted by a sense of mise-en-scene, the unremarkable sameness and unremitting sense of timelessness that accompanied these landscapes.

Smithson’s and Serra’s landscapes threaten to step outside the meaning of ruins or any physical object into the silent and invisible field of physics, the immense forces that shape everything around us - against which the constructed elements of civilization verge on the inconsequential.