By: Janis Demkiw

Mercer Union, Toronto, 2001

landescape as PDF (612 KB)

Excerpt by Janis Demkiw

A pictorial landscape by definition is finite. Cropped, charted, and isolated from a larger spatial expanse, it proposes a singular viewpoint. The specificity of this isolated terrain determines it as a ‘site’ designated for a particular activity, structure, or situation. landescape brings together a group of artists who each represent or recreate simulated environments or landscapes as a situation or set of possibilities to the viewer. While some depict very specific, even didactic scenarios, others are more ambiguous situations for subjective experience by the artist or viewer, or forums for the imposition and projection of fantasy and desire.

These are not habitats per se; they are fictive. Nothing is indigenous to these places. Rather, they are mobilized as situations of limitless possibility, each developing its own kind of cultural and geographical ‘ecosystem.’ The viewer becomes actively engaged, or further still, becomes a catalyst within these environments. Perhaps through the participation and imaginative engagement of both artist and viewer these spaces have the potential of becoming fantastic playgrounds, spanning beyond the parameters of the depicted space, providing momentary escape.

The Back Gallery has been similarly transformed, as Lynne Marsh plays dress-up as an intergalactic super-heroine in her video projection Venus… I see blue. Geared up in goggles, gloves and boots, a cap with peaked ears, and a two-piece red get-up inspired by traditional Chinese dress, Marsh charges, leaps and karate-chops her way through the digitally simulated terrain of the planet Venus. Marsh has sampled and mixed footage of her character running and leaping in place into jerky, gravity-defying feats that allow her to remain suspended in air, kicking up her knickers. At one point her image multiplies into three, each pivoting and chopping the air in synch in a formation comically reminiscent of early morning T.V. aerobics classes.

With ‘virtual’ fighting games, martial arts, and streetwear among her sources, Marsh creates a hyper-persona that is a composite jumble of stock female Pop icons assimilated by her own body and identity. As a result, Marsh’s ‘Venus’ really straddles the gap between the ‘real’ and the ‘affected’, articulating the complexities of identity and persona as constructs. While the appearance and actions of her heroine verge on the ridiculous, Marsh also took karate lessons as a part of her research for this project, a skill which is now a part of her ‘real’ identity. And while she is depicted performing hyper-fabulous physical feats and tricks beyond human capability, she is also at times hyper-tired and hyper-breathless.

Like Haska, Marsh synthesizes a fictive environment from images sampled from ‘real’ photographic sources. Using footage borrowed from NASA space cameras, she rebuilds the blue mountains and rocky terrain of Venus as a backdrop for her fantasies. Marsh identifies her re-rendering of the planet as an uncolonized ‘free zone,’ a neutral ground in which liberating imaginative experience is possible.

Marsh projects a life-size environment where the figure’s frontal positioning mirrors that of the viewer, and in turn implies a direct physiological and empathetic relationship between the two. This identification is enhanced by the link of Marsh’s movements in the landscape to the format of virtual fighting games, and as viewers we find ourselves engaged in a similarly charged interface. Is Marsh’s Venus an opponent?… an instructor?… a performer?… your doppelganger? All of these relationships are implied at once, and it is the ambiguity of the situation and the terrain that opens up that invites engagement in fantasy and role-play for the viewer as well as the artist.

And this effect is essentially the crux of each project in landescape; relationships or situations which span between concrete points or references; that is space. Whether in two or three-dimensions, literal or implied, each artist proposes an environment which escapes the singular perspective and flatness of a traditional landscape.

These places often straddle the notions of both ‘here’ and ‘someplace else’ at once. Haska and Marsh create pictorial landscapes that suggest other worlds through a confusion of references from our own. In Marman’s case the ‘landscape’ is implied, and is beyond actual representation. They are situational or relational, and exist in the imagination or through physical experience. The new ‘places’ that open provide environments with the potentiality for imaginative speculation or projection of both artist and viewer.

None of these projects boast promise of transcendence or emancipation, but rather incite subtle shifts in perspective which allow for the playing out of fantasy or a momentary escape. The role of the interactive Postmodern viewer is essential to each of these projects in order to effectively ‘complete’ them. In making this jump, the viewer might split or leave oneself momentarily, like the disorienting blip in consciousness that happens in the hitch of a hiccup or a sneeze.

Janis Demkiw

landescape was curated by Mercer Union’s current Programming Committee; Shelly Bahl, Janis Demkiw, Lee Goreas, and Kelly Richardson.