While you’re at the conference, we invite you to see an exhibition at the University of Pittsburgh, “A Part From Nature,” photographic works by Canadian artist, Isabelle Hayeur. It is displayed in the same gallery as “Shifting Ground: Landscapes from the UAG and Local Collections”. Both of these exhibitions resonate strongly with our topic of the Anthropocene.
A Part From Nature
Through photography and video, Isabelle Hayeur documents and questions the ways in which societies alter their environments. The artworks selected for this exhibition are from her Underworlds and Excavations series, produced in Canada and in the United States over the last decade. For these works, Hayeur has visited sites where soil and water have been disrupted by housing development or industry. From these visits, she produces images that point towards pollution and contamination at a more global scale.
Photographs from Excavations show how the increasing phenomenon of suburban residential and energy-driven developments consume and transform farm land just outside of large cities. The landscapes are presented as vast, desolate fields, but the debris, mounds and scars in the earth are marks of human occupation. Although the viewpoint is entirely above ground, the camera creates a vertical effect of stratigraphy. Hayeur’s screen-based work Aube (Dawn) and Underworlds use a low viewpoint to record the human impact on the landscape. Partly submerged underwater, or taken below ground level, the camera reveals an ecosystem that has been modified by the activity visible on the horizon. The images are pictorially divided between an upper band, marked by a human dimension, and a lower section, predominantly ‘natural’. Although these two spheres may seem to exist apart, the visible human footprint on nature undermines their separate status.
Societies unavoidably leave marks on the landscape. Large-scale projects are often motivated by short-term profits, with little regard for the long-term effects on communities and the land itself. The mindset that places the human apart from all non-human entities objectifies nature, which is then treated and manipulated for the needs of humans alone. The current ecological crisis, and the multiple examples of economic failures related to the exploitation of natural resources, should push us to rethink our ways of living, and make us understand that we are interconnected to a pluridiverse planet. Humans might best be described as “a part from nature” — while they fancy themselves free standing of it, they in fact are intrinsically of a piece with it.
Shifting Ground: Landscapes from the UAG and Local Collections
This exhibition presents artworks selected from the University Art Gallery’s permanent collection as well as loans from local artists and institutions that focus on landscapes and representations of nature. By the variety of the works displayed (which is in no way exhaustive of all periods and cultures), the images ask the questions: how do artists describe nature and how do viewers read it?
As a human-fabricated concept, nature is frequently presented as opposed to the human – either as a threat or as an object of magnificence. Has this binary perception influenced how we define and shape our environment, sometimes with unfortunate effects on other life forms? Human beings have invariably altered their environment and used it for their benefit, in many shapes and forms, and with varying degrees of consequences in natural, social and economic domains. Landscape, in fact, is a powerful medium that expresses the ways in which humans, in given times and places, conceive their world.
Pastoral, agricultural, urban, architectural or industrial landscapes testify to modes of representation and aesthetic conventions, shaped by artistic, religious, political or philosophical motivations. Nature becomes a model for art, organized by certain traditions and constructed with ideals of beauty. Landscape, therefore, deploys codes, symbols and metaphors for artistic purposes.
How to see them
The University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery is very close to the museum building and you can see it anytime the gallery is open. Information will be included in your conference pack, or visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/UniversityArtGalleryPitt/