Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Brenda Kim Christiansen, "Resonant Landscape" FAB Gallery, February 5 - 23, 2008

The residues of copper oxide and other industrial waste on Alberta’s landscape emerge into the forefront of Brenda Kim Christiansen’s MFA show. Somewhere between the sublime voids of Edward Burtynsky and the passionate imagination of John Hartman, Christiansen is grappling with the destruction of landscape through experience and through memory.

With an urban eye surveying the intrusions upon subdued vastness, the works flow through soft strokes of pale greens and dusky oranges--confusing your perception of natural light with the distortions of chemicals seeping through the earth’s surface. There is a pattern of reflecting ponds surrounded by diminished groves of barren trees and these isolated spots act as a sort of oasis within the blackened landscape. On the larger scale this perspective works best as the eye struggles with the entry into such an unnatural pictorial. However, the smaller works appear to be exercises in remembering through colour.

In context of the exhibition, they reveal spots of initial interest (excavation sites, fluorescent fencing), but they do not necessarily strengthen the larger completed body of work. As well, the revelation of looking through walking (as mentioned through the reference to Rebecca Solnit) does not reach its full potential. The works contain a perspective of having walked; but to fully realize the act of looking (i.e. absorbing the land through walking) there needs to be a gesture towards movement--be it through or across a compendium of space and time. Otherwise, there remains an isolation of the landscape into objects, still trapped in personal memory rather than living in present reality. Undeniably, there is a gentle beauty to the works, and it is this beauty that sits at odds with itself.

Image credit courtesy of the artist: Brenda Kim Christiansen, "Slough" 2007


Anonymous said...

Can you explain what you mean in the last paragraph? From"As well... " to the last line. Thanks

af said...

I was triggered by the reference to Solnit and her book on walking, as walking, looking, and thinking are all tied together into one singular event. the more modern landscape work I view, the more important I see these three components to furthering the investigation of landscape painting.
in this set of works, the landscapes themselves come from deep pondering, from walking amongst the trees and debris, and they are "snapshots" of the scene and coloured by memory. only the land, the single plots of trees and ponds, are composed quite scenically, as a pictorial, a postcard, and this composition seems to be at odds with the underlying message of the ruin of the land. the landscape appears large and away in the distant; a personal connection is implied in the colours, but not the view. that's what I mean by landscape as objects and memory rather than a reality. the land has been surveyed in a very personal manner (but this I only know through conversation).