BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 12 NOV 00
Featured in
Issue 55


Mellow Birds, London, UK

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 12 NOV 00

'Landscape' was originally a technical term introduced by painters, so, if painters should want to change or abuse it, it seems entirely reasonable. The cautionary warning inherent in the title of the show 'Fakescape', was nicely unprovable, though. On arriving home and unwrapping any painting purchase made, you may have found to your unpleasant surprise that it was absolutely genuine.

Six artists were included in the show, all of whom share a common interest in the mechanised processes of reprographic image making, and of referring to these within the landscape genre. All of the works shown withheld any human subject. Placing notions of the natural and artificial in conflict with each other, in a landscape context, does, as expected, cause discords and mutual defeats to take place. Painters, having suffered various natural and unnatural defeats, here seem to have imagined some natural justice in using their own historical victimhood as a resource. Like happy masochists, they translated their bondage of intimate pain into some kind of aesthetic rationale, and it is meant as a compliment to say of this show that it was deeply obsessive and self tortured.

Dan Hays, in Colorado Impression No. 5 (all works 2000) sourced his original imagery in a crypto-arbitrary fashion. Finding another person called Dan Hays on the internet, and asking him to send an image by email, the twelve sections of Hays Two's computer print-out were then stuck onto canvas. In a servitude of labour, and with painful exactness, Hays One painted an exact copy of the original image over itself, respecting the pixellated character of the digital source - an image of a remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness. Other works in 'Fakescape' offered further cabins for solitary contemplation; so, whether by accident or design, Thoreau was invoked, and we were off - if we wanted - on a speculation involving transcendentalism and mysticism, through to romantic idealism, Caspar David Friedrich, and the nature of certain kinds of religious displacement.

Actually, it was more prosaic than that, and the show's relatively banal pragmatism disallowed the viewer permission to go very far down this line of enquiry, being too closely constrained by the dictates of painterly bondage. Bob Matthews' Cabin, a cibachrome print of computer origin, was digitally rendered in a sort of 1930s or 40s poster style, without gradation of tone. There's something sumptuous about it, but also something kitsch, and the urbane, object status of the work, which is sandwiched in sterile Perspex, is in conflict with the organic nature of its subject. This super-controlled depiction of a cabin in the mountains is a totally machine made work, but, approximating painted effects, could pass as a painting. Rob Platt's Disaster (dis-astra), the show's third cabin, similarly explores the difference between the literal and the graphic, with bands of naff wood texture painted across the canvas, to defiant effect.

'Fakescape', in a sense, was a celebration of confused values. In a world where Thoreau's remote cabin becomes home to the Unabomber, the Japanese enjoy artificial indoor beaches, and Friedrich's expanses have electricity pylons marching across them, its disparate discourses were neither a success or a failure. It's just the way things are. Gordon Cheung's Wysiwyg - a paper collage of electronic circuitry dragged through a photocopier - epitomised this, qualifying as a real, virtual landscape. The show's struggles between the real and the artificial compromised and blunted an awareness of the historical service of landscape art as a disinterested vehicle for the transcendent. Escaping landscape painting's Romantic legacy was not completely possible, however. As current art code increasingly re-confers on landscape its privileged use for new contemplative theologies, so the contribution of 'Fakescape' to the numinous, or liminal - or whatever you want to call it - became apparent as a kind of unconscious, heroic martyrdom. Faking it to make it, perhaps, the show's painterly struggle is evidence of the value of belief - irrespective, almost, of the nature of the actual belief itself.

Neal Brown is an artist and writer based in London, UK.