by Dilpreet BhullarNov 28, 2020
Serene beauty of the traditional landscape paintings recreated the natural world of abundance and harmony. Much has changed over the centuries, the beauty of green has paved the way for the mud cracks, the benevolence of nature is now swapped with the scarcity of resources. Visually representing the latter is the monumental exhibition How to Move a Landscape by Brooklyn-based artist Blane De St. Croix at MASS MoCA, Massachusetts. Claimed to be the largest and most ambitious exhibition by De St. Croix until now, it showcases sculptures, drawings and monumental installations. The exhibition is the result of years invested in research by the artist to interrogate the geopolitics of the landscape. Furthermore, the artist collaborates with the leading climate scientists to rightly approach his landscape works.
Given the current times of pandemic crisis, the exhibition on dire effects of the climate crisis has come at a crucial and sensitive time. Talking about the need for a healthy ecosystem in an interview with STIR, De St. Croix says, “The underlying content driving my work is the landscape. I seek to document the most important issue of our time, climate change. Artists throughout history reflected on social and cultural issues. I do so through geopolitical landscapes and how the cultural memory of land shifts based on our interventions. Climate change is a social injustice. It will and has disproportionately impacted the economically struggling populations, people of colour and indigenous people. The pandemic is also linked to climate issues. We are globally destroying our environment and ecosystems in a historically unprecedented manner. This has had a devastating effect on nature and wildlife. What is unique is how the landscape is specifically addressed by my work, which is built around a core of research-intensive creative investigation and interdisciplinary experimentation about current environmental issues”.
Besides presenting De St. Croix’s works from the last decade in the exhibition, his latest work dedicated to permafrost in the Arctic is displayed for the first time. Because of the rapid climate changes, the frost, which preserves the habitat of the Arctic, is beginning to thaw. The two sculptures, En Plein Air: Svalbard, Smeerenburg and Plein Air Arctic Permafrost Landscape highlight the exposure of the land due to dissolving permafrost at the coast of Norway and Alaska respectively.
The catastrophe in the sea due to dead ice is known to many. The large sculpture Dead Ice reiterates the struggle between the human and the environment. The sculpture shows the two sides of the dead ice - natural and human. The former shows the dead ice in its natural shape, and latter shows the remnant of the hull of a ship frozen into the ice. The gigantic scale of the sculpture seems to make commentary to the magnanimity of disaster carried out by the artificial world of the human race.
Since his art practice is founded on extensive interdisciplinary methodology, De St. Croix walks us through every step he takes before the works are finally presented to the viewer. “First, I conduct collaborative extensive field research to the permafrost and Arctic regions in Alaska and Svalbard for study and documentation by prearranged invitations by renowned scientists. During the research I select the concepts and landscapes I wish to create. Next, I create drawings and models of different possible directions. I consider the architectural space I am working in. I research materials and methods of construction, considering their ecological effect and economic viability. I must also consider the engineering of the work and how to break it down to ship and reassemble, reducing as much carbon footprint as possible. I also reach out to corporations for donations of material, specifically recycled. It positively affects the economics of the project and also prevents material from ending up in a landfill,” he mentions.
Another topical subject that the work Alchemist Triptych addresses is the impact of climate change on mining. The sculpture shows three tornado-like structures in gold, silver, and copper. The dangling rings are a representation of mineral mines extracted from the earth. When each artwork has a unique material to visually heighten the effect of changes in the environment, De St. Croix talks about the selection of material for his works, “I work with a large variety of materials and processes with each monumental landscape often taking new construction and engineering approaches. My selection of materials for the work also drives the content and supports the visual dialogue I seek with the public. Each of the new installations at MASS MoCA is made of predominantly recycled materials – recycled foam, foam mattresses and plastic water bottles. Cold Front, a media work simulating a glacier stands 34-feet high and is made from 65,000 recycled plastic water bottles. Alchemy Triptych, three large tornado-like sculpture forms at 32-feet high spiral out of control, are made from recycled foam mattresses and Hollow Ground, an Arctic landscape simulating the thawing permafrost is also made from much-recycled foam”.
Lately, it has been acknowledged that any change in the oceans has a direct effect on the land and climate as a whole. Emphasising the same are the works by the artist, who does not turn blind eye to the grim reality of our climate. De St. Croix declares, “My artworks and research seek to facilitate an increased understanding of the shared social, political, environmental, and cultural climate challenges we face, both within our local communities and in the international arena. Through the beauty and scale of the works, I aspire to foster an increased shared understanding, transporting the viewer and creating a sense of place, contemplation and urgency”. For many, the climate changes at the Arctic Circle or Gobi Desert are not easily visible, albeit we may experience its effect on a regular day. The exhibition is a chance to witness the effects of climate crisis in the forms of creative sculptures without having a single moment to doubt the scientific research that has gone into making them.
(Blane De St. Croix’s ‘How to Move a Landscape’ is on view through September 2021 at MASS MoCA)