The Destabilized Landscape

In the catalogue introduction for “The Destabilized Landscape: Post-Colonial Space and Unreal Estate,” curators Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak take their cue from contemporary theorist Homi Bhabha in positing that it is the foreground and background of everyday struggles that compose the postcolonial landscape. With issues of displacement taking precedence over a dialectical antagonism between the colonized and the colonizer, the curators have assembled a selection of films, videos and installations in which the personal and the political meet in an unstable aesthetic realm. The works in the exhibition encompass widely divergent contexts, ranging from the desolate environs of Mexico City to the snow-swept barrens of the Inuit north and from the wartorn streets of Beirut to the towering concrete edifice of the Hoover Dam. Artistic strategies vary from documentary testimonial and reenactment to poetic montage and deconstruction.

To assist the viewer in navigating the diversity of the exhibition’s thirteen tapes and films and seven-odd hours of running time, the curators have divided the works into potential screening scenarios. The works are grouped (in the catalogue) by the categories of “North American Aboriginal Artists,” “Mexican Video Artists,” “Artists From the Former Yugoslavia,” and “Artists Who Use Irony and Other Distancing Techniques to Illuminate `Landscape’ and `Locale’ in Relation to Histories.” In the exhibition space, didactic wall panels suggest alternative viewing possibilities based on themes of exile, war, rupture, (re) scripting histories and (re) claiming. An Internet installation by Vera Frenkel, Body Missing (1995), and a video installation by Nora Naranjo-Morse What Was Taken. . . And What We Sell (1994), literally and metaphorically frame the time-based exhibition.

By inviting, and guiding, the viewer to create from the shifting viewpoints of the works their own narrative entry into the exhibition, Steele and Tomczak underscore the degree to which the postcolonial condition is transient and positional. What binds the works together is the way in which the artists explore multivalent images of dispossession and resistance through the prism of nature and landscape. Some works link the conquest of nature to a history of imperialism and neocolonialism. Others locate in nature the rhythms of everyday survival. Occupying a conceptual space between these two perspectives are works that use landscape to illuminate the psychic disturbances of displacement.

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