In a new exhibition that opened last week at Hestercombe Gallery, ‘Terrain: Land into Art’ aims to do for earth what Tania Kovats’ previously did for water in an exhibition almost a year before at the Taunton-based contemporary art gallery. What is terrain? Where does Terrain begin and end? What is our relationship within it? And how can it be explored and depicted as art, are some of the questions ‘Terrain’ addresses at Hestercombe Gallery, which has appropriately always hosted a land, garden, or earth-based theme to nearly all the shows in response to the grounds and context the art is situ in. Quoting Tim Martin, curator of the gallery and exhibition,
“...It has become apparent that where landscape meets art and art meets landscape is central to our overall vision for Hestercombe.”
|Kathy Prendergast 'Land' (1990)|
The show opens downstairs with Kathy Pendergast’s, ‘Land’ (1990) [pictured above] where a mountain-tent-map hybrid is erected like a tent, but instead of canvas whose surface becomes part map, part mountain-range complete with rivers. The idea of the human element of discovey, exploration and mapping is fused with a visual depiction of the landscape in which it takes place.
As the title of the exhibition suggests, ‘Terrain’ conjures associations with military, surveying or geological approaches to mapping and understanding a site or area of land. And the exhibition broadly speaking feels more pragmatic or scientific in its approach; it has work from artists such as Hamish Fulton, whose word-based pieces based on a three week walk, have come from a human experience in the land but are presented as an experience which has already taken place, then been digested by the artist and processed into the resulting art work. It seems like what generally comes out at the end of this assimilation is remarkably detached, a lot cleaner, more considered, conceptual and analysed than that of the actual experience of being in the landscape. Does the art in this exhibition offer anything new in how we experience the landscape? Yes, but some of it does so better than others.
|Simon Faithfull '30km' (2003)|
Such is the nature of this exhibition which focuses more on those human reminisces of lived experience in the land than works which feel as though they are in the moment. They are traces and you have to really be prepared to imagine and be actively bothered about picturing the likes of Roger Ackling burning lines into card with a magnifying glass in the piece, ‘In Five Hour Cloud Drawing’ (1980) so as not to dismiss it as a bunch of lines on card. Visually starved it is instead the process, and the lived-moment of creating the work, which is in my view a lot more interesting than the result.
There are of course exceptions, with Rachel Lowe’s ‘A Letter to an Unknown Person No 5’ (1998) is a film piece that records a car journey in which the artist’s hand desperately struggles to capture the moving landscape by drawing on the window with a pen. It is frenetic and humorous and very quickly becomes abstract, Futurist-like, this work touches that most of our experience of terrain is spent moving through it. Similarly, Simon Faithfull’s ‘30km’ (2003) film projected onto a circle on the floor documents the launch of a weather balloon attached to a camera as it spirals upwards giving a dizzyingly aerial perspective of the land that cuts-out intermittently providing a camera's eye view rather than that of a human perspective. Tim Knowles’ work, ‘Mungo Bush Walk’ (2013) also offers an alternative eye, with a pinhole camera taking images of Australian outback as the artist travelled. It creates an alien-like landscape caught in a mirage haze from the heat of the sun, its brightness likely partly responsible for the out of focus quality of the image.
|Tim Knowles 'Mungo Bush Walk' (2013)|
Even where artists are working directly from materials within the landscape, the work becomes semi-detached from it through having that human interaction. Richard Long uses mud. Raphael Hefti burns moss spores on photographic paper creating a scientific, moon-like image. Art tends to claustrophobe landscape, frame it, contain it and put it in commutable little boxes so it is interesting when artists like Hefti take a small part of it that when altered opens it out to create an image that alludes to space, the cosmos and something much bigger than the spores it came from.
More inclined toward romantic and aesthetic connections with landscape, by the end of the exhibition I was craving to go squelch around the garden in welly boots, romp across a field through the long grass or run up a big hill and take-in a deep breath of fresh air. None of the work in Terrain is obvious; Peter Doig being one of the few who offer what will be to many a more, familiar approach to capturing and expressing the mood of a particular place, through paint in ‘Red Deer’ (1990). [Coincidently not my favourite Doig, so a little disappointing as he is a stunning painter.] Along with Gillian Carnegie, ‘Mono’ (2005) whose dark thickly painted flowers sit in a status between decay and mourning and works well alongside Anya Gallaccio’s decaying flower heads behind glass also in the exhibition.
|Gillian Carnegie 'Mono' (2005)|
In being more challenging the exhibition, like the nature of terrain itself, proliferates possibilities and opens up a dialogue into inventive and imaginative interactions between people and terrain. It aims to look ,“...more to the ground, where bodies and land meet,” but I would have liked it to go a bit deeper. I felt it a little too detached from its subject matter, Terrain is a concept, something outside and inside is the gallery where we come to terms and process what it all means. The Dutch artist, herman de vries (not in this exhibition) still being for me, one of the best artists for capturing a sense of a very human reality of bringing the land into the gallery in a way that still feels quite scientific but from a genuine compulsion and fascination to bring the outside, in. I would like to have seen a bit more angst a bit more warmth, expression than cold pragmatism which isn't in all the work but overall dominates the show. Essentially an interesting show but with a little more fish blood and bone, a little more guts, earth and muck and this exhibition could have really grown into something beautiful, unknown or wild!
‘Terrain: Land into Art’ is on until 4th July 2016 at Hestercombe
Image sourced from: http://www.artscouncilcollection.org.uk