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''Journey Forth''
Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco, California
Review by DeWitt Cheng

Clement Valla, ''Postcards from Google Earth,'' 2010, archival digital print, 40 x 23''.

Continuing through August 31, 2013


Landscape may seem to be one of the basic and eternal subjects of art, but it was not until the 18th century that it achieved legitimacy in Western art as a subject in its own right — not just as the background for sacred or historical drama. Even so, it might be argued that there is little or no “pure” landscape art, except in the naive literalness of tourist-quality snapshots. Artists have always colonized the natural world in their representations via inserted ideas and meanings. “Journey Forth: Contemporary Landscape Between Technology and Tradition,” a group show curated by Wendi Norris and Melissa Bernabei, features the work of ten highly regarded mid-career Bay Area artists: Brice Bischoff, Val Britton, Castaneda/Reiman, Kevin Cooley, Gregory Euclide, Patrick Jacobs, Tania Kitchell, Mary Anne Kluth, Matthew Moore and Clement Valla.


It’s an ambitious and rewarding show that reveals how the digital revolution is changing how we see and think about a world that is increasingly pervaded and enriched by media: it's about nature, acculturated. This mixture of handicraft and new media neatly bridges the gap between the human touch and digital magic.


The contrast between artifice (artistic method) and the natural world underlies the twenty-four works here, which synthesize inner and outer, fact and interpretation — just as the best works of the past did. A few artworks will have to represent the show as a whole which, given the variety of approaches and media (ranging from Google Earth, ABS and styrene plastics to drywall, moss, sedum, geranium, pine cone, goldenrod, sorghum, ash, and talc), would benefit from explanatory wall labels. 


Bischoff’s mysterious color photo, “Bronson Caves #7,” looks both cosmic or microscopic — a could be a fitting location for numerous TV and movie shoots. Britton’s installation, “The Continental Interior,” its organic “continents” or “islands” of painted, cut paper suspended and connected by webs and lattices, could serve as a apt symbol for contemporary consciousness: data in flux. Castaneda/Reiman’s painted drywall reliefs combine abstraction with suggestions of landscape, implying a cycle of construction and destruction. Cooley’s video, “Takeoffs: Runway 13, JFK,” records the departures of passenger jets over placed water and silhouetted trees — the contrails tracing elegant curves in the night sky. 


Euclide combines painted elements with collaged constructions and plant matter, creating complex mini-dioramas where the real and the manufactured merge. Jacobs, too constructs miniature worlds from a wide range of materials; glimpsed through circular reducing lenses, works like “Oak Stump with Dead Leaves” deliver a silent, sacred timelessness that seems more Renaissance than postmodern in spirit. Kitchell and Kluth create contemporary versions of landscapes, with the artificiality of 3D printed white plants and collaged cut-paper paintings (with the layers digitally combined in digital prints), respectively contrasting with their illusionism. Moore practices a kind of aerial photographic land art, using crops as pigments in his “Rotations” series. Valla’s “Postcards from Google Earth” combine the cultural and the natural, positing that our representations of reality, beamed from brain to brain, "Dear Reader/Viewer," are the new universal language — despite digital artifacts and other glitches.

Gallery Wendi Norris

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