Wednesday, August 30, 2006

150 ft Seaskape, Largiebeg

Bruce McLean designed the café-bar at the newly refurbished Arnolfini gallery in Bristol. It is bright and colourful, like his paintings and prints. Not really my cup of tea (although the coffee they serve is good!) It seems a far cry from the late sixties when McLean was dabbling in a kind of land art. For 150 ft Seaskape, Largiebeg (1969) he laid a huge sheet of sensitised paper on the shore hoping for an indexical print of the landscape, but it floated out to sea. Another piece, 2 Rock and Shoreskapes, Largieberg (1969) required only 33 ft of white paper, laid on a rocky shore and covered with watercolour paint, leaving the landscape to tear and stain its presence onto the work.

The Arnolfini is one of the sites in Bristol currently hosting the sixth British Art Show. One of the works on show at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, created by Juneau/Projects/, seems to update McLean’s attempts to record the landscape directly: a scanner was pulled along the ground and the resulting images pinned to the gallery wall. However, it is clear from the artists’ installation that the intention here was not simply to facilitate a work of landscape art in which nature is the creator. Their focus is on technology (other works involve microphones, walkmans etc.), the idea being to take them outside and let natural forces demolish them. The British Art Show notes explain that ‘in good morning captain (2004) a scanner is dragged along a forest floor, documenting its own destruction with a series of blurred scans.’
Nevertheless, artists will no doubt continue to seek ways to allow landscape itself to create or adapt their work: kinetic sculpture, sound art or variations on photography (“the pencil of nature”). Outside the art world, simple indexical signs like weather vanes and sun dials let nature signify something (time, wind direction), whilst the landscape itself is full of natural signs that can be read by animals. However, as we know from modernism, art need not point in this way to something specific; signs that give a general sense of an actual landscape may turn out to be more interesting.

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