Review: "Landscape: the virtual, the actual, the possible?" at YBCA (Artforum)

Archived on Artforum.

                  Robert Zhao Renhui,  Changi, Singapore , 1970s,   color photograph, 47 1/2 x 33"

                Robert Zhao Renhui, Changi, Singapore, 1970s, color photograph, 47 1/2 x 33"

A collaboration between the YBCA, the Kadist Art Foundation, and the Guangdong Times Museum in Guangzhou, the ambitious group show “Landscape: the virtual, the actual, the possible?” defamiliarizes an influential trope in recent cultural theory: the Anthropocene as a new global era characterized by fundamentally new human/nature relations and even by a new conception of “nature” itself. The curators shrewdly present works that, rather than serving as evidence of this changed world, treat the Anthropocene as a hypothesis meant to engender exploratory thinking.

“Landscape” offers a careful balance of relevant art-historical references (such as the large photographic prints of human figures in eerily barren terrain by Elina Brotherus and Robert Zhao Renhui made in the last decade) with rigorous attempts to rethink the space of landscape using contemporary digital technologies, like Toby Ziegler’s The Fifth Quarter, 2005—architectural painting that appears to have been rendered flattened and pixelated—and Vidya Gastaldon’s conical yarn sculptureFloating Mountain, 2006, which twirls from the ceiling like a three-dimensional abstracted mountain.

The most unexpected element in the show is an array of conceptual video and performance pieces, especially Anthony McCall’s Landscape for Fire, 1972, which follows a hybrid of map and score to set fire to objects in a field, and Paul Kos’s 1970 The Sound of Ice Melting, an audio amplification of melting ice cubes in the gallery space using an absurd number of microphones—only funny for the first few seconds, then impossibly piteous. Against this thinking, more familiar approaches to nature after culture—approaches that reference detritus, erasure, and artificial borders—are cast in a fresh light.