30
Dec
13

Review: ‘Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 9th November 2013 – 19th January 2014

.

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree…

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
.

Herman Hesse. Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte (Trees: Reflections and Poems) 1984

.

.

This is the last review of 2013 and what a cracker of an exhibition to finish the year. Without doubt this is the best pure photography exhibition I have seen this year in Melbourne. The exhibition is stimulating and enervating, the image making of the highest order in its aesthetic beauty and visual complexity. The artist explores intangible spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with the un/known world.

Briefly stated the bulk of the exhibition features small, square, tonally rich black and white medium format landscape images of unspoiled places from around the world taken between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s, images that possess a sense of the sublime and suggest a link to indigenous cultures. These images are hung in rows, sometimes double row grids, that flesh out the narrative that Terstappen seeks to establish. It is a beautiful, enlightening hang and whoever sequenced the work and hung the show should be congratulated for they understood the artist’s narrative and the tonal range of the printing.

In an excellent review in The Age newspaper (Wednesday December 18th 2013) the writer Robert Nelson suggests that these vistas depict something holy to an earlier or parallel civilisation. He observes that Terstappen’s images go beyond the mere picturesque because the artist applies a persistent inquiry to image making no matter where she is in the world, for “she always looks for properties that the environment shares with counterparts elsewhere.” He goes on to state that the photographs have three systematic demands that the artist places on her interpretation of the landscape: 1/ that they express something elemental (earth, air, water, fire); 2/ the scene has to sustain a dark print with a visual weight that is almost contrary to the nature of photography; and 3/the picture must reconcile the expansive and the intimate. In her world, everything must have presence, no matter how far away, and press up against the picture plane; everything must have a certain density, a thickness of being which is not about light but about the darkness of light.

“All photographs depend on light; but Terstappen’s sensibility errs to descriptions of the density of things, not their reception or reflection of sunshine or even moonlight. Her scenery is gravid with banks engorged by roots, the bulk of outcrops or the intricate tangle of overlapping forest, which is also what seems to activate the water within the air to express it heaviness… A part of the impetus behind Terstappen’s project is pictorial: how to make the most rigorous sense of multiplicity, to frame big things so that they harmonise with little things, so that everything has an equivalent weight, including the air.
The corollary of this consistent investigation is a poetic respect for the natural subject matter…”

.

Through images of visual and conceptual beauty and complexity, Terstappen imparts a strange kind of temporality to the work. The artist layers shapes within the photographs and, befitting her training as a sculptor, pushes and pulls at the image plane like a malleable piece of clay, sometimes blocking vision at the surface of the print, sometimes allowing access to a partially accessible (psychological) interiority. For example, look at the last three images before the press release below: Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)Curtain fig tree (Queensland, Australia) and Alligator nest (Queensland, Australia) (all 2002). In Cabbage trees the artist creates a visual pattern, like a fabric pattern, that holds the viewer at the surface of the image while still allowing glimpses of what lies beyond; in Curtain fig tree it is as if a curtain has literally descended blocking any access to the interior; while in Alligator nest there is a beautiful, open density to the work that invites contemplation and meditation upon the scene.

In Terstappen’s work, there is always a sense of space moving back, moving from the bottom up or top down and a conscious use of a restricted tonality (no bright whites or blackest blacks). The artist blocks movement, opens it up or swirls it around. Sometimes earth becomes sky as steam turns to cloud, or rock becomes water as the two meld at the base of a waterfall. In this multiplicity, each element is given equal weight within certain atmospheres and an equilibrium is formed, to live at the heart of these images. Each complex, thoughtful image becomes a living and breathing entity.

In Terstappen’s work there is no fixed image and no single purpose, a single meaning, or one singular existence that the images propose. They transcend claims about the world arising from, for example, natural or scientific attitudes or theories of the ontological nature of the world. As the artist visualises, records the feeling of the facts, such complex and balanced images let the mind of the viewer wander in the landscape. In their fecundity the viewer is enveloped in that situation of not knowing. There is the feeling of the landscape, a sensitivity to being “lost” in the landscape, in the shadow of ‘Other’, enhanced through the modality of the printing. Dreamworld vs analytical/descriptive, there is the enigma of the landscape and its spiritual places. Yes, the sublime, but more an invocation, a plea to the gods for understanding. This phenomenological prayer allows the artist to envelop herself and the viewer in the profundity – the great depth, intensity and emotion – of the landscape. To be ‘present’ in the the untrammelled places of the world as (divine) experience.

The only doubt I have about the exhibition is the ex post facto interpretation of the archive as picturing places that are threatened by social and ecological change. As the catalogue text states, “These pictures now form part of an archive of historically significant places that are threatened by social and ecological change. This archive of spiritual sites has, over time, become an environmental archive, reminding us that photography not only has the power to bring places to life, but also to bear witness to the forces that threaten life.” If they are only now forming part of an environmental archive, what memory of sacred place did they initially respond to?

While Terstappen’s work has always focused on a physical encounter with space and an imaging of places that have deep or hidden meanings and mythical/symbolic significance, when I look at this work I do not get a strong sense of these places being under threat. Only through written (not visual) language is this environmental threat enunciated. While archives are always fluid and will always gather new meaning (look at Atget’s “documents for artists”, images that are now acknowledged as some of the most artistic and influential in the whole canon of photography), we must also acknowledge that nothing in this world remains the same, that everything changes all the time, for better or worse. The landscapes that Terstappen photographs are no more “natural” then as they are now, due to the effects of bushfires, human cultivation, erosion, habitation, hunting, farming and natural disaster. Humans cannot appeal to some vision of a world, some garden of Eden, that exists pre humanity. Who is to stay that these places in the world are disappearing or appearing? By the very act of photographing these places, Terstappen labels them, names them as inconsolable places that should never change. This is not the mysterious way of the world. I prefer to look at these places and acknowledge that this is how they looked through the eyes of this artist at this point in time. They have full presence before me, in all their mystery and majesty.

Is this textual analysis necessary for the work to succeed? I do not believe it is, in fact I believe it lessens the inherent quality of these images. Use these images to help people understand what human beings are doing to the planet by all means, but please do not try to retrofit concepts of destruction onto the work.

This minor quibble aside, I say to you that this is the most sophisticated reading of the landscape that I have seen in a long time – not just in Australia but from around the world. This is such a joy of an exhibition to see that you leave feeling engaged and uplifted. Being in the gallery on your own is a privilege that is hard to describe: to see (and feel!) landscape photography of the highest order and by an Australian artist as well. If you grant anything for your New Year’s wish you could do no better than to visit this magnificent exhibition and drink of its atmospheres.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'After the fire (Northern Territory, Australia)' 2002

.

Claudia Terstappen
After the fire (Northern Territory, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Bushfire III (Northern Territory, Australia)' 2002

.

Claudia Terstappen
Bushfire III (Northern Territory, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Sickness country II (Northern Territory, Australia)' 2002

.

Claudia Terstappen
Sickness country II (Northern Territory, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

.

Claudia Terstappen
Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Curtain fig tree (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

.

Claudia Terstappen
Curtain fig tree (Queensland, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Alligator nest (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

.

Claudia Terstappen
Alligator nest (Queensland, Australia)
2002
From the series Lost world 2002-
21 cm x 21 cm

.

.

“Over the last thirty years Claudia Terstappen has taken photographs of places throughout the world that have spiritual resonance or associations. The basis of this exhibition is a selection of these landscapes, presented as gelatin silver prints printed by the artist between the 1980s – early 2000s.

The landscapes in this exhibition document places that have spiritual associations or significance for indigenous people, to make sense of their relationship to the land. But I now realise that the archive has taken on another set of meanings or intention. Today, these pictures form part of a vast archive of landscapes and places undergoing significant change. This archive of spiritual places has become an environmental archive.

Terstappen was born in Germany, and her landscapes are in many ways informed by her heritage. Like Australia, Germany has a particular tradition of landscape, where places of nature carry important associations for cultural understanding and a sense of belonging. Terstappen is herself part of a long tradition of German artists to explore this relationship.

Terstappen studied at the Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie, the training ground for many of Germany’s most important contemporary artists. Having been taught by the famous photographer Bernd Becher and then the architect and sculptor Erich Reusch, Terstappen has since exhibited widely throughout Europe, North America and Australia.”

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

.

“Claudia Terstappen originally trained a a sculptor but for over three decades she has worked in the medium of photography. In some respects, her art practice has been developed between these two artistic disciplines. She retains a strong interest in the sculptural sensation of a physical encounter in space, but she uses the two-dimensional medium of photography to document and reiterate these experiences.

Terstappen’s interest in the interplay between depth and surface is also evident in the subjects that she explores. She often photographs places that have deep or hidden meanings. This includes sites of pilgrimage, shrines of worship and landscapes invested with mythic significance. These associations are not always apparent, and often subsist as a type of secret knowledge, but they can be given tangible form through processes of story-telling and ceremonial action. Terstappen engages with these locations in order to give them a tangible photographic form, elaborating a sense of symbolic power or sublime drama across the surface of her images.

This exhibition features 75 photographs depicting places that have been invested with spiritual resonances or mythical associations, from Iceland and southern Europe to the Americas and Australia. The starting point for this exhibition is a selection of gelatin silver prints that were hand-printed by the artist between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s. These pictures now form part of an archive of historically significant places that are threatened by social and ecological change. This archive of spiritual sites has, over time, become an environmental archive; reminding us that photography not only has the power to bring places to life, but also to bear witness to the forces that threaten life.”

Text from the exhibition pamphlet

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Turtle Dreaming, Australia (Northern Territory)' 2002

.

Claudia Terstappen
Turtle Dreaming, Australia (Northern Territory)
2002
from the series Vanishing landscapes 1987-
Gelatin silver print
120 x 120 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Namandi spirit [Queensland, Australia]' 2002

.

Claudia Terstappen
Namandi spirit (Queensland, Australia)
2002
from the series Our ancestors 1990-
Gelatin silver print
29.0 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Cabbage trees [Queensland, Australia]' 2002

.

Claudia Terstappen
Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)
2002
from the series Our ancestors 1990-
Gelatin silver print
29.0 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Full moon [France]' 1997

.

Claudia Terstappen
Full moon (France)
1997
from the series I believe in miracles 1997-
Gelatin silver print
80.0 x 80.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Mountain [Brazil]' 1991

.

Claudia Terstappen
Mountain (Brazil)
1991
from the series Sacred mountains 1989-
Gelatin silver print
37.0 x 37.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Mountain [Las Palmas, Spain]' 1992

.

Claudia Terstappen
Mountain (Las Palmas, Spain)
1992
from the series Sacred mountains 1989-
Gelatin silver print
49.0 x 49.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

.

Claudia Terstappen. 'Zion Park [USA]' 1996

.

Claudia Terstappen
Zion Park (USA)
1996
from the series Sacred land of the Navajo Indians 1990-
Gelatin silver print
37.0 x 37.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

.

.

In the shadow of change features almost 100 of Claudia Terstappen’s magnificent landscape photographs. Terstappen is a German-born photographer who studied at the famous Dusseldorf art academy and is now Professor of Photography at Monash University in Melbourne.

For over three decades, Terstappen has been photographing landscapes the world over. Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Japan, USA, Iceland and Spain have been destinations for the artist, who has travelled the world looking for landscapes which have particular spiritual or mythical meanings. This search brought Terstappen to Australia in 2002; the artist now lives in Melbourne as a permanent resident.

Terstappen’s vast archive of landscape photographs has taken on significant environmental associations. As debates about the politics and impact of land use and climate change continue, Terstappen’s landscapes – from intimately scaled views of forests and riverbeds to grand views of mountains and glaciers – present a truly beautiful account of landscape photography and its contemporary significance.

As Terstappen states: ‘There is a moral dimension to looking at and photographing landscape today. Landscape photography has tremendous currency. Many of the landscapes in my photographs will have either completely disappeared or drastically changed by now. I firmly believe we need to re-establish our relationship with nature and landscape and photography can help us to achieve this.’

MGA Director and curator of the exhibition Shaune Lakin states: ‘MGA is very proud to have developed this exhibition with Claudia, which will be accompanied by a beautifully illustrated book. We have timed the exhibition to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of one of the defining moments in Australian photography, when landscape photographs actually brought about significant social and political change. It is now 30 years since Peter Dombrovskis’s now-iconic photographs of the Gordon River helped prevent construction of the Franklin Dam in Tasmania, which to this day remains one of the world’s great wilderness areas.

‘With the election of a new government and promises of a new environmental agenda, it seems a perfect time for us to reconsider the power of landscape photography and the status of environmentalism in Australia today.'”

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art website

.

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

.

Installation photographs of the exhibition Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

.

.

Bob Browns opening speech at artist Claudia Terstappen’s exhibition In the shadow of change at the Monash Gallery of Art (MGA) in Melbourne. Recorded on Saturday 9 November 2013.

.

.

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top



Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

Join 1,869 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Recent Posts

Lastest tweets

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

December 2013
M T W T F S S
« Nov   Jan »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Archives

Categories


%d bloggers like this: