/ARCHIVE — 2008
/clark ferguson — IN SEARCH OF DESIRE
/CLARK FERGUSON is a Saskatchewan based visual artist interested in the spectacle, humour, and issues of gender and sexuality. His practice utilizes video, photography, performance, print-media, and installation to create experimental, eccentric projects. Ferguson is also interested in working within self-imposed limitations that define in what manner work is developed and produced. These ‘impositions’ mirror the conceptual interests that he is exploring. This process not only effects the final product becomes part of the research and is in effect, a performative aspect of the work.
A MEDITATION ON THE MIND AND WORKS OF CLARK FERGUSON
The image is an ancient forest.
Dappled light perforates latticework canopies of whorled pine and fern fronds; spruce tubers pierce black earth and spit back tendrils of bending roots; vine maples swathe mammoth, ancient cedar stumps and limbs of old-growth trunks; lush mosses encrust bubbling barks in richly layered greens and umbers. It is all, of course, artifice: a type of untruth told shrewdly with plaster, pigment and plastic. This is Robert Turriff’s multi-media installation Fictive Forests.
Here, several maquettes are miniature forests: free-floating vignettes backdrop a filmic wide-shot in which viewers are focal. We, perfunctory performers, are both back-stage and in-frame, simultaneously on the set and behind-the-scene in this immersive artwork. By way of the cinematic ‘mirror shot’ technique our likeness is interlaced in the backcloth-constructed landscape, and is screened live at the gallery’s rear. In the resultant video a viewer may recognize her own body, though temporally disjointed in a delayed playback. Our own bodies are reproduced in a cinematic experience: we ourselves are forefront to an artificial landscape— a forgery of a forest.
The elaborate set-up is obviously not intended to deceive: before we glimpse the emergent video we have already been exposed to the constructed illusion. It is a picture that draws attention to itself as a fabrication: a metafiction that writes itself through our participation. This self-conscious rupture of the ‘fourth-wall’ insists that we take centre-stage as involuntary actors. It reveals ‘the guts’ of the movie industry but simultaneously asks that we partake in a suspension of disbelief— ignoring, if only momentarily, the technological presence in the image of nature. This cinematic experience is perhaps parallel to the ways in which technology transforms nature, both physically and via our experience of it.
Turriff’s focus is doubled: in his day job he works as a sculptor in the field of film-production and in his childhood he enjoyed experiences of nature in the North Vancouver suburbs that straddle dense-but-waning coastal rainforests. His installation recalls the West Coast’s parallel histories of cinematic and commercial mediation of nature through the film and forestry industries. Both industries intervene in the landscape: while cinematic depictions reform nature in illusionistic spaces, the plunder of natural resources reshapes it physically. The artwork bows equally to these legacies of domination of nature and representation of it, and finds footing in the history of landscape painting.
Like idyllic English gardens— ostensibly untamed but in fact cultivated and manicured— most landscape imagery ultimately bears little resemblance to the unruliness of nature. Its endeavour is one of ‘capturing’ the wild and ‘fixing’ it in refined scenes. Tacit in the picturesque landscape (an 18th Century invention) is a proclaimed authority: an assertion of control over the land, a highly-composed ordering of the wild, a taming of nature within the edges of the picture plane. This tendency informed colonial sensibilities which framed nature as a passive and possessed resource, and further reinforced this perspective as commonplace. Actual landscapes were sought out and appreciated only when they conformed to fashionable style. Artists and Romantic-era eco-tourists alike turned their backs to savage vistas in favour of reproducing them in the surface of a Black Mirror. This handheld, convex, tinted mirror was used to reflect and transform the landscape in real time so as to better portray the scene away from which its holder would face. This imaging technology— a round lens like a shallow inkpot— seized nature within its circumference and dimmed the unruly range of its natural light to render the depth and magnitude of the wild as flat and manageable. This trend worked to solidify the privileged position of the reproduced image over its original to the degree that nature could be identified only so far as it could be categorized as either representable or not. Indeed, present imaging technologies have progressed from this historical point so much so that if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to represent it, technology may get the job done alone.
We might easily see how ‘authentic experiences’ are created and validated by technological mediation, especially given the ubiquity of photography. Tourists who seldom look up from the viewfinder of their point-and-shoot are the norm, as are mothers who won’t let a day pass without taking pictures of their child . This is so commonplace that one might nearly say if an event goes unphotographed, it didn’t ‘really’ happen. The realm of media indwells the real. This is not to bemoan the loss of ‘authentic experience’, but rather to identify that experience takes place on multiple levels, and that imaging media play a role in authenticating any given experience. By extension, media doesn’t risk obscuring our experience of any ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ nature, but rather the nature of experiencing nature is implicated with our experience of media.
The last time I visited Turriff ’s home city and walked through Stanley Park I experienced an Emily Carr landscape… and then another …then another. While Carr’s was perhaps a remote mediation of the place, my experience of the landscape was nested in the popular imagery of her canvases. This layering of technology over nature is pervasive: “like the fish, who do not know they are wet,” says Koert van Mensvoort, “we are living in a technologically mediated space.”1
Our shared myth of the purity of nature is a conditioned one. From cultured landscape painting to forests staged in filmic backdrops, nature is not only mediated but idealized, rarefied and ultimately imaginary. The protagonist in Robert Turriff’s cinematic narrative may be this romanticized nature, but only as much as it implicates each of us as players in the act of its mediation. He presents us with a Black Mirror aimed above the shoulder, perchance to catch our own likeness in its reflection. Yes, he has created a Fictive Forest, but his installation also begs the question: do non-fictional forests exist?
1 van Mensvoort, Koert. What You See Is What You Feel. LAP Lambert Acad. Publ. 2009. p14
/DONNA WAWZONEK is an independent curator and writer who has exhibited shows at the Dunlop Art Gallery, The College Building Galleries in Saskatoon, AKA Gallery, Latitude 53 and the Owens Art Gallery, among others.