Unreal Nature

May 10, 2017

Invasive Species

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… The issue … is not the one of style or the lack of style, but the … the interconnected relationships between aesthetics and lived social experience …

This is the essay ‘ “Systems Everywhere”: New Topographics and Art of the 1970s’ by Greg Foster-Rice found in Reframing the New Topographics edited by Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach (2013):

… The exhibition’s juxtaposition of abandoned, new, and incomplete structures instills the human-altered landscape with a sense of built-in obsolescence and distinguishes its rapid growth from the natural environment in which it is situated. For example, the first photograph in the catalogue, Robert Adam’s Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, contrasts the smooth-domed, anticlinal mountain dominating the center of the frame — itself the result of slow tectonic shifts — with the angular geometries and rhizomatic growth of the mobile homes that spread beyond the lower frames of the picture, as if to emphasize their status as non-native, non-natural invasive species.

[line break added] In The New West, Adams pointed directly to the intertwined dangers presented by both the rapidity and built-in obsolescence of modern homebuilding: “Development has been anarchic, building is monotonous. … Few of the new houses will stand in fifty years; linoleum buckles on counter tops and unseasoned lumber twists walls out of plumb before the first occupants arrive.” Similar issues appeared throughout the entire exhibition, from the anarchic spread of the subdivisions in Deal’s photographs of Albuquerque to the monolithic glass and concrete skyscrapers in Nixon’s Boston photographs, to the broken windows and crumbling support piers visible in the Bechers’s Typology of Coal Breakers.


Robert Adams, Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973

… As a part of the new landscape of automobiles, roadways, and suburban sprawl that had come to dominate post-World War II America, the human-altered landscape was paradoxically “strange” because of its relative newness and “familiar” because of its encroachment into aspects of everyday experience. … [T]he infinitude of these landscapes was explicitly temporal, since they typically unfolded from a mobile subject position (i.e. an automobile), and explicitly spatial, since this implied the simultaneous progression and recession of the scenery.

[line break added] The experience of this landscape was, therefore, incapable of being delimited to an autonomous object or a singular “view,” as aesthetic formalism would have it. Instead, it suggested that one must take into account not only the object or “view,” but also the particular space, light, and physical viewpoint of the spectator, whose experience necessarily unfolds over time.

New Topographics clarifies and reconfigures the possibilities afforded by the opposition of “art” and “document” that has tended to dominate much photographic discourse. For, like the modernist critics identified by [Rosalind] Krauss, Szarkowski defined the peak achievement in photography as a combination of exclusions: the creation of photographs that are not art — in the sense that they had to divorce themselves from the pictorial conventions of other fine art media — nor [are they] documents — in the sense that, paradoxically, they had to be composed with the final photograph in mind rather than the world from which they “took” their images.

[line break added] Therefore, it should not be surprising that, along with other systems artists, the New Topographics photographers inverted this formula to create work that was adamantly both art and document, thereby expanding the field of photographic discourse in the way that [Robert] Smithson, [Michael] Heizer, and [Richard] Serra were expanding the field of sculptural discourse. The issue raised by New Topographics, therefore, is not the one of style or the lack of style, but the photographers’ development of a systems-based methodology that draws attention to the interconnected relationships between aesthetics and lived social experience that earlier modernist formalism had tried to keep distinct from one another.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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