Saturday, October 24, 2015

Edward Burtynsky’s Mesmerizing Images of Copper Mines | Feature in The New York Times Magazine

The scale of an open-pit copper mine feels impossible; it is a Bible-grade phenomenon made by machines. Vehicles called bucket-wheel excavators, nearly five times the size of the largest dinosaurs, rip up the surface and gradually descend, piling 200,000 cubic meters or more of rock behind them every day. Once the copper is extracted, waste products and unrecoverable metals stream out as tailings, snaking tributaries that turn psychedelic-looking as they oxidize in open air for the first time in millions of years. Each excavator, meanwhile, turns the land it is standing on into a ledge and leaves a succession of these steps, or ‘‘benches,’’ behind it as it goes. The Chino Mine, for example, in Grant County, N.M., has been excavated persistently for more than a century and now stretches almost two miles across and 1,350 feet down. It’s a chasm, a void, a deep and disordered amphitheater built around an abyss. It gets four out of five stars on TripAdvisor.

‘‘Wow is that place HUGE If you get time go visit this mine it is just huge,’’ writes one reviewer who visited the overlook point on the side of Highway 152. ‘‘What a huge pit,’’ says another. Another: ‘‘Wow!’’ Another: ‘‘What a hole in the ground’’ And: ‘‘Dange [sic] it’s deep. What a hole!@!!!! Huge hole in the ground.’’

Stupefied giddiness, disbelief: these seem to be universal responses to open-pit mines. When the photographer Edward Burtynsky started taking pictures of mining complexes in 1981, it was, in part, out of this same simple wonderment. ‘‘I look for the biggest mines in the world,’’ Burtynsky says, and these photographs, shot in Arizona and New Mexico in 2012 and published here for the first time, include both the Chino and the continent’s largest copper mine, the Morenci Mine, which is projected to produce 900 million pounds of copper every year for the next five years.

Open-pit mines are wounds we’ve inflicted, and the wonderment they excite easily becomes tinged with pangs of remorse or dread. Burtynsky calls that storm of feeling ‘‘a reversal of the sublime. In the beginning, ‘the sublime’ meant us in fear of nature,’’ he explains. We would look up at a thundercloud or mountain, or across a heavy sea, and be ‘‘awe-struck or powerless. But fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, and 150 years after that, and now we are the awesome and fearsome force that’s reshaping the planet.’’

And that power can’t be disowned. ‘‘We work in a world of atoms and molecules,’’ Burtynsky told me. ‘‘I’m talking to you on a phone. There’s copper in this phone.’’ It’s in our appliances and cars, inside the walls of our homes. ‘‘If you feel revulsion to this landscape,’’ he said, ‘‘you should have a revulsion to your whole life.’’ 

That tension is irreconcilable, maybe inevitable. Humans have always ripped materials out of nature, but the pace and scale of that extraction has accelerated so quickly that it challenges, or even outpaces, the individual human imagination’s ability to make sense of the consequences. It’s a strange predicament: to feel dwarfed by the momentum of your own species; to feel yourself being threatened, even swallowed up, by problems and to recognize that you’re also complicit in them. Think of how the person operating the excavator must feel, disappearing down the mine.

Burtynsky’s photographs are opportunities to stare that dilemma in its abysmal eye and let that tension in; to look down — way down in these mines — and allow yourself to feel unsettled, to lose your balance a little.

‘‘Huge hole in the ground,’’ one of the more pensive TripAdvisor reviewers wrote. ‘‘I just imagine falling into that hole.’’ Exactly. There may be no getting to the bottom of any of this.

Read original article @ The New York Times Magazine


KLEA McKENNA | Contact: Direct Reflections of Landscape — Featured Interview @ lensculture

For the past few years, California Bay Area artist Klea McKenna has focused her attention on photograms—an image created directly on a light-sensitive surface, without the aid of a camera. By responding deeply and personally to particular locations, McKenna produces large, immersive works that, though seemingly abstract, retain a direct link to the environment that produced them.

Her work is beautiful yet entirely mysterious. Each photogram (which is unique) seems to hold a silent secret that pulls us in deeper with each passing moment. Managing editor Alexander Strecker had the chance to sit down with McKenna and find out more about her work and the lessons she has learned as an artist.

LC: Walk us through constructing one of your photograms, say your "Rain Study" series. You take a piece of photo-paper, you bring it outside and...?

KM: For my "Rain Studies," I work at night, outdoors, in the pitch darkness. I need to work far away from civilization and on nights where there is no (or very little) moonlight. Lately I've been making Rain Studies in Hawaii and I try to schedule my stays to coincide with the dark of the moon or to work at night when the moon hasn’t risen yet or has already set. And of course, it has to be raining!

While I work, I have a covered area that I can keep my supplies under, a garage, barn or when I'm in Hawaii I work out of a shipping container in the forest. I run in and out of the rain and my work station and make exposures using flashlights.

The things that affect the finished image: every storm is different and there are different-sized raindrops and different patterns that the drops make. The part I can control that affects the image are the angles: there's the angle of the light to the paper, the angle of the light to the rain, the angle of the rain to the paper. After all, if you think about photography—the film and the camera, enlarging in the darkroom—the relationship between the substrate and the light is almost always perpendicular. If you change that, a whole world of possibilities opens up.

When I'm in Hawaii (or really anywhere working on location) I work completely blind for a few weeks. It's like the entire outdoors become my darkroom—but since I don’t actually have a wet darkroom out there, I can't develop anything. Two weeks is usually the psychological limit to how long I can work without seeing any results. After that, I start to doubt myself and ask, "Maybe this is all just gonna be black...what am I even doing?" 

LC: What inspires you to pick the locations that you choose?

KM: The landscapes I choose are places that hold some personal significance for me or mark a collective history that I find interesting. Although I'm very thoughtful about where I go, in the end, my aim is to make my materials interact directly with the place, to figure out ways to make the landscape imprint on my materials. I'm trying to orchestrate an interaction—but mostly I'm trying to get out of the way.

A few years ago, I went back to Hawaii where I had spent much of my early childhood. Since my dad had died a decade earlier, I hadn't been back much. But I decided to return to our family house—way up in the middle of nowhere, off-the-grid and adjoining a forest preserve—and just bring all of my light-sensitive materials.

The way I work is rooted in a deep observation of the landscape and of nature. And each work comes out of direct contact with its surrounding environment. In that way, it's totally photographic: there's a direct reference to reality. Even if the work appears abstract at first glance, it's actually hyperrealistic in some cases.

Read full interview @ lensculture

Friday, October 16, 2015


Michael Waugh. Les Règles de l’Art, 2015
ink on Mylar; four panels, 102 x 42 in. each

Written by Calder Yates

Michael Waugh's first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, Boom, is currently on view at Von Lintel Gallery. Using ink on Mylar, Waugh reimagines an assortment of 19th-century tableaux, depicting quaint scenes of countryside estates and horse stables, as well as turn-of-the-century buildings on New York City streets. These representational drawings consist wholly of handwritten text: Scribbled sentences produce the contour lines of buildings as they crumble to the ground, while epistolary markings provide contrast to form the underside of a horse. Letters and numbers further constitute the hands and faces of male figures. Waugh has painstakingly scrawled and layered words and sentences across the sheets of Mylar to construct the entirety of every image, spending three to four thousand hours to produce each piece. The amount of labor alone puts Waugh’s drawings on par with the historical legacies of endurance works.

The incongruous titles of the drawings, such as Unfettered Markets (FCIR, part 4) (2015), hint at the content of the words and sentences used to create them. Waugh uses the Congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Report to form the images of stately manors and equestrians. In Derivative (FCIR, part 5) (2015), the phrase “too big to fail” delineates the horse’s genitals. For the largest piece in the show—a four-panel work depicting a crowd watching a building collapse—Waugh plums Les Règles de l'Art (The Rules of Art) written by the philosopher Pierre Bourdieu. Like a gunshot, the stupendous amount of time and labor put into Les Règles de l’Art (2015) is immediate and breathtakingly obvious. 

Michael Waugh. Derivative (FCIR, part 5), 2015 (detail)
ink on Mylar; 42 x 65 in

None of Waugh’s drawings contain a single image of a woman. Waugh depicts men circulating among more men through fictional thoroughfares or rowing along on a polite, tree-lined river. Even inside the stables, only studs are found. Waugh evokes an old world based on good manners, pedigree, and male dominance. In the far right panel of Les Règles, a couple of men grope each other. Pleasure, here, flows only between men.

By combining three basic elements—images of 19th-century “good taste,” words describing 21st-century financial catastrophe, and dominant masculinity—Waugh implies that our current economic boom-and-bust cycles are rooted in a history of gendered aesthetic calculus. In other words, the “good life”200 years ago—a life that included property, leisure, and commodities, and that excluded any instances of women or people of color—continues to inform our present-day, exploitative, unequal economic system. Waugh’s drawings are a veiled swipe at an earlier era’s role in the construction of our inherited conditions of hierarchy.
Michael Waugh. Before Our Very Eyes (FCIR, part 2), 2015 (detail)
ink on Mylar; 25 x 25 in.
As a result of their illustrative qualities, Waugh’s drawings serve primarily as a demonstration of his argument, acting as a simple equation toward his artistic logic. The works indicate a cognitive tension, all the while allowing viewers to walk away with no visceral uneasiness—mostly due to the drawings' benign imagery. The only tension in the works lies exclusively within Waugh’s implied argument that 19th-century male-dominated society may be ipso facto the very problem we have today. The drawings hint at—rather than declare—this argument, which is an unsurprising one that has already been well-articulated over the past half-century.

Other artists have created this cognitive tension while also exploring material and visual tension. Glenn Ligon's text-based paintings, for example, contain similar, damning references to hierarchies of class, race, and power. Ligon's works, however, also contain an exploration of materials: coal dust mixed with acrylic, silkscreens on unstretched canvasses, neon lettering, and powder-coated aluminum. Waugh seems to ask viewers to look past his use of materials (ink on Mylar) to consider only his imagery, while Ligon's use of materials deliberately confuses image and ground, never taking the white surface for granted.
Michael Waugh. Derivative (FCIR, part 5), 2015
ink on Mylar; 42 x 65 in.
Waugh's drawings and the tidiness of his argument suffer from the very processes he hopes to critique. Beyond the horse scrotum cheekily formed from the words “too big to fail,” there is little surprise or confusion in his work; the drawings are fun and easy to look at. Where is the moment when the viewers of the work are implicated in the drawings' depictions of hierarchy of class and power? This is the irony of easily digestible (and purchasable) critiques of hegemony. Like a flu shot, the hegemonic system has taken in and processed its critique, and becomes stronger and more entrenched as a result. When does looking at these drawings move beyond a gentle and agreeable experience, and into an uncomfortable one, in which one cannot—ought not—look away?

Read original article @ Daily Serving

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Michael Waugh, “Les régles de l’art,”
2015, ink on mylar, 4 panels, each 102 x 42"
Michael Waugh's obsessively intricate drawings on mylar have a noble and ever-poignant central core — the troubling intersections of politics, wealth and power. Using micrography, transforming written text into representational imagery, he presents scenes both urban and semi-rural, as well as detailed portraits of horses, in a graphic aesthetic consistent with their late 19th/early 20th-century settings. Using texts from capitalist theory among other similar sources, Waugh's newsprint-like imagery is so finely rendered that it only breaks down into text under careful inspection. These are not mere formal exercises. The horses and human figures alike are depicted with an innocent charm that belie the ominous forebodings made apparent in titles such as "Crisis on the Horizon," or the spot-on word-to-text interplay of "Before Our Very Eyes." "Les règles de l’art," at 102 x 168 inches on four panels, is by far the largest piece, and also the most spectacular: a city street of perhaps a century ago stretches from a corner off towards a distant bend. The fourth building down from the corner is in mid-implosion, as if detonated from within, but only the horse-and-carriage faltering just beneath its collapse appears to register the dire circumstance; others just mill about. The work is too stylized to suit the literal content of Pierre Bourdieu’s book Les règles de l’art, (“The Rules of Art”) which explores the connection between art and the social structures within society by which art is produced and received. But Waugh's message and method execute a perfect tip-toe of a sneak attack. 

Also on view are selections of Izima Kaoru’s large-scale, highly saturated color photographs from the series "Landscape with A Corpse." The photographer depicts moments of death as imagined by his super-star models. In each staging the model is dressed in high fashion, albeit sometimes covered in blood. The magnificence and power of the industrial and natural landscape depicted in the photographs, in many cases, dwarfs the figure whose dramatically staged death is thus insignificant in relationship to the architecture (Von Lintel Gallery, Culver City).

Michael Shaw / Jody Zellen 

Read more @ ARTSCENE