EXHIBITION TEXTS AND REVIEWS

// CHICAGO SHOW HIGHLIGHTS CANADIAN ARTIST'S CROSS-BORDER TREK
by Menachem Wecker

A Canadian Art online feature article: http://www.canadianart.ca/features/2014/05/22/andreas-rutkauskas/ (May 22, 2014)

As costs mounted exponentially for an exhibit they were collaborating on, Chicago curator and professor Rhoda Rosen and University of Illinois at Chicago museum and exhibition studies master's students Nancy Harmon and Jamie Luensman discussed ways to stretch their budget. They joked, Harmon recalls, that it would be cheaper to go to Montreal and pick up Andreas Rutkauskas's photographs themselves than to hire shippers. "Jamie and I started looking at each other, and we were like, 'We'd love to go and get it. Is that really an option?'" she says.

It was, it turned out, an option, and Rutkauskas was on board. "It is not the typical method of transportation. Usually my work is handled by an art shipper, or is put in a crate and sent to its destination as freight," he says. But Rutkauskas enjoys the "poetry of the action," which he may consider for future shows. "The back seat of a rental car is a far less hostile place than a cargo truck," he says.

That Rutkauskas's photographs address the "cutlines" carved in forests on the US-Canada border to make the boundary more visible further amplified the significance of the works' physical journey. "I wish that I could say that students transporting my works across the border was a conceptual decision, perhaps making a comment on smuggling, but it was purely a financial consideration," Rutkauskas says.

The connection wasn't lost on Harmon, who says that she and Luensman hit some hiccups on the drive from Chicago to Montreal, which took them 15 hours. "It was so ironic, because we were doing an exhibit about borders and nation states, and it occurred to us about five miles before the Canadian border that … Oh my gosh, we are literally going internationally here, so we had to turn off our cell phones. And we didn't have any maps," Harmon says. "We missed a couple of highways in Toronto, which cost us about an hour and a half."

But the rental car, two nights of Montreal hotels, and the nearly four weeks it took to secure the necessary paperwork—which both US and Canadian officials had to sign—saved the gallery about 75 per cent of what Harmon says professional shippers quoted: in the several thousands of US dollars.

The enormity of the responsibility, and the privilege, hit Harmon at the border, she says, when an official inspected the cargo. "He was just looking at this giant crate, and these two really tired-looking college girls, and he was like, 'What on earth do you have in there?'" she says. "We were sweating and just so nervous, and we were like, why are we nervous? We have all of our ducks in a row."

Harmon got involved in the exhibition "Encounters at the Edge of the Forest," which is on view at UIC's Gallery 400 until June 14, as part of an exhibition practices class of Rosen's. Students were given the option of curating their own show or collaborating with Rosen on a show. Half a dozen of Rutkauskas's photographs appear in the exhibition, which also features Jennifer Scott's works on the lynching of African Americans, Ariane Littman's pieces about contested olive trees in Israel and Palestine, and David Goldblatt's photos relating to South African apartheid.

Rutkauskas conceived of his photographs, which present stunningly beautiful landscapes scarred by border gashes, in 2010 when a guest curator at Lennoxville's Foreman Art Gallery invited him to photograph the border towns of Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont.

At first, Rutkauskas photographed the town centre's distinct architecture. "There is a library and opera house in Stanstead, built directly on the border. A patron from Canada must enter through the doorway in Vermont, and then proceed back across the divide into Canada, where the collection is housed," he says. "I felt, however, that it was difficult to get beyond the quirkiness of these sites, and also that the border was quite ambiguous within the town."

Instead, he moved to Stanstead's outskirts, where he knew from archival photographs that there were cutlines. "What I immediately enjoyed about walking along the cutline was that the demarcation was so visible. You knew exactly when you crossed the border, which sounds simple, but it is often not the case when driving, flying, or arriving by boat in the neighbouring country," he says. And the blatant demarcation and striking similarity between the landscapes on both sides of the border struck him as a good metaphor for Canadian-US border politics.

"This border, especially since September 11th, 2001, is severe and restricted, yet is simultaneously absurd, and impossible to fully control," he says.

The Canadian-US border, to Rutkauskas, is unlike the US-Mexican border, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and the Green Line in Israel insofar as the border between Canada and the US "takes on a certain innocent and bucolic character when juxtaposed with these heavily militarized borders."

But at the same time, Rutkauskas notes, the Canada-US border has its own, very definite, gravitas, as "the clearing of massive amounts of forest along the 8,800 kilometres of the world's longest undefended land boundary is a significant gesture."

Along the US-Canada border, Rutkauskas knows that drones, helicopters, infrared cameras, and sensors are keeping close watch. "The RCMP and US border patrol know exactly where I am while I continue my project," he says.

Writing in the exhibition catalog, Rosen notes that members of the same family who had lived on opposite sides of the border before 9/11 often didn't feel deep border divisions. "But with increased US border protection [after 9/11], individuals and families are forced to negotiate around fences and a growing number of border security police," she writes. "The cutline creates a visible border on what would otherwise be an invisible division."

Rutkauskas's photos at UIC are all the more compelling, because the division—although it has been made visible—is easy to read at first as a ski path (in the snow scenes) or a natural trail (in the spring and summer views). Paths, after all, are cut through the woods for many reasons. The process of delving into the deeper significance of the ones that Rutkauskas photographed—whether viewed from a rental car transporting the works across the border, or in the gallery space—only enhances the symbolism in the landscapes.

Menachem Wecker is co-author, with Brandon Withrow, of Consider No Evil: Two Faith Traditions and the Problem of Academic Freedom in Religious Higher Education, forthcoming from Cascade Books.


// REVEALING LANDSCAPE FROM SEA TO SURFACE
by Karla McManus

Exhibition text from «Sea to Surface» with artist Jessica Auer at Evans Contemporary. May 23 - June 30, 2013

One of photography's greatest uses is to reveal the invisible. By invisible, I mean the unnoticed rather than the undetectable; from the everyday to the extraordinary, photography makes us look, and look carefully, if not always to care. Landscape photographs are a case in point: they make us look at something that seems so natural, so commonplace, revealing a level of detail and meaning that might easily pass unnoticed without the careful enclosure that is the photograph's frame.

The photographs of Jessica Auer and Andreas Rutkauskas capture our uneasy relationship with the landscape's naturalness as they reveal both the artificiality of the human preoccupation with wilderness and the history of humanity's shaping of the land. Their joint exhibition, Sea to Surface, reflects on the history of settlement and development of the land we now call Canada, while emphasising the long reach of history that calls into question the foundations of our particular national myths.

As a scholar who thinks a lot about landscape, and about those ambivalent ideas of 'Nature' and 'Culture', my experience of Auer's and Rutkauskas's work is shaped by a desire to strip away the layers of meaning and affect and lay them out in front of me, for deeper contemplation. You may not feel the same urge. Perhaps you believe that overthinking or, worse, critiquing, may destroy some of the pleasure you feel looking at these undeniably beautiful images. With these few thoughts, I hope to show you that thinking through the landscape can only offer more pleasure in the reveal.

Landscape art has long been associated with articulating a sense of social and political identity. Acting as a cultural signifier of greater meaning, whether it be the avarice of "look how mighty is our wealth!" as was the case with the landscape paintings of the British upper classes of the 18th century who consolidated their power with through peasant land clearances,1 or the more deterministic "see how our sense of self is shaped by our surroundings!" an idea that was promoted by Canada's own Group of Seven painters whose work was warmly embraced by the national imagination,2 landscape is never neutral. While in recent years art historians have drawn attention to the ideological values behind such works and their promotion, the landscape nevertheless persists in speaking to viewers as, well, natural. This conflict, between the social construction of meaning and the more phenomenological response that tells us landscape is pure and unaffected, rests partly with the problem of representation.

Representing the landscape may not initially seem a thorny proposition. In fact, it challenges any creator, artist or amateur, to fight against the instinct to make a pleasing, yet ultimately banal, picture. For the landscape, whether it be picturesque or sublime, urban or post-industrial, easily lends itself to being viewed and hence to being pictured. You might say it is unceasingly photogenic. But why, or rather how, does landscape make itself so visually appealing, so readily representable? One answer comes from how we often equate looking at the landscape to looking at a representation of landscape. The easy blurring of reality with representation can occur unconsciously, as when looking at a snapshot of your childhood home, you are driven to say, "that is my old house," making the picture's frame incidental. W.J.T. Mitchell has argued that landscape, "is not simply raw material to be represented in paint but is always already a symbolic form in its own right."3 Following this logic, we can understand landscape as a medium itself, made up of various elements including trees, moss, water, earth, and sky, as well as buildings, burial mounds and rowboats. Like a picture which expresses its own cultural meaning, landscape itself is "embedded in a tradition of cultural signification and communication, a body of symbolic forms capable of being invoked and reshaped to express meanings and values."4 Landscape photography offers us a representational doubling of cultural signification and, in so doing, further naturalizes that which seems inherently natural.

With care and subtlety, Auer and Rutkauskas make this layering evident through their photographs. In Auer's series Unmarked Sites, she continues her long engagement with modern tourism and cultural heritage, a theme that runs through all her work, especially Re-creational Spaces (2004) and Canadian Canals (2000). Visiting sites throughout Newfoundland and Labrador that once were occupied and now lay fallow, Auer turns her "archaeological eye"5 on the traces of history, from the ancient to the modern. These marks on the land, scraped away and reworked like an old parchment, only hint at the possibilities of what may have been. From a burial mound excavated and rebuilt in 1974 that once held the remains of the oldest teenager in North America, dead some seventy-five hundred years, to the former soapstone quarry of the Dorset People, who lived across the Arctic for nearly three thousand years, finally losing their distinct cultural identity to invaders around 1000 BCE, Auer's images remind us of the long reach of human and geographical time.6 Other works are more enigmatic: In Sod Huts, furrows in the grass indicate a foundation of some sort but built by whom and when? And perhaps more provocatively: does it matter? While emphasising the beauty and wonder of the landscape, Auer makes evident the tragic inevitability of what little remains after we are gone: some scrapings on a rock wall, an indent in a meadow and a bright orange flotsam caught on the edge of the sea. Unmarked Sites offers a challenge to the landscape as wilderness myth, while asking us what we really know about the past under our feet.

Rutkauskas's Petrolia takes the present landscape as its subject, yet hardly one that you and I would recognize as current. Petrolia explores the history, from the 1850s to present day, of the oil extraction industry of Lambton County, Ontario through its industrial landscape. Oil Springs, Ontario, population 704, had the first commercial oil field in North America and currently houses the Oil Museum of Canada. In exploring Oil Springs and the surrounding Lambton County, including the town of Petrolia, which gives its name to the series, Rutkauskas discovered a landscape caught, visually and economically, between it's past and future. His images show a place profoundly shaped by its industry, first by oil extraction and later by the chemical industry that became the largest employer of the region. In Sea to Surface, Rutkauskas chose to focus on the historical aspect of this project, editing down the larger series of work to a single photograph and one single-channel video. These works reveal the ongoing use of 1850s technology to do a job that has become one of the most high-tech resource industries in the world. Discovery Well is an image that confounds our sense of time, showing as it does the original pumpjack technology that was used in the 19th century to extract the crude. Located beside a weathered wood cabin, the pumpjack is a relic of a simpler and more rudimentary time. The image seems to represent a historic site, preserved as a form of cultural heritage, a remnant of another era. Yet this temporal freeze frame is contradicted by the video projection Oil! which shows the real-time kinetic action of an old jerker line working a series of pumpjacks to extract oil. There is a hypnotic fascination in watching, and listening, as the creaking line, cobbled together out of ropes, rusted metal, and aged wood, slowly works away through the overgrown bush of some farmer's land. One cannot help but compare this "human-scale"7 process to that of the Alberta tar sands where over a million barrels of bitumen are extracted every day, using gargantuan machinery and 21st century engineering. The dissonances in this body of work, between the pastoral and the industrial, the past and the present, makes the artificiality of landscape a central concern in Petrolia and offers us a way to engage more deeply with its representation.

By engaging with history and landscape, Jessica Auer and Andreas Rutkauskas embrace the history of landscape, a "way of seeing"8 the world that has become increasingly significant to communities at the local, regional, and global scale. Landscape and its representation is never neutral but instead incorporates profound cultural and social values about aesthetics, experience, belonging, justice and time. Great landscape photography shows us how entangled we are in these values, and with nature itself. In Sea to Surface, Auer and Rutkauskas show us a way to think through the landscape, exposing us to the power of representation and reminding us of the significance of our place on the earth. 

Karla McManus is a PhD student in the Interuniversity programme in Art History at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec and a part-time lecturer in the department of Art History. 

McManus graduated with a BFA in Video and Installation Art from the University of Manitoba in 2004. In 2009 she received her Master's degree in Art History from Carleton University with a thesis entitled Neutralized Landscapes and Critical Spaces: An Analysis of Contemporary Landscape Photography and Environmentalism in the Art Museum.

Her research focuses on the presentation and interpretation of landscape photography as environmentalist and the intersection of meaning and context in contemporary photographic visual culture. Karla is a 2010 recipient of the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 

1 See: Ann Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology: The English Rustic Tradition, 1740-1860 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

2 See: John O'Brian and Peter White, eds., Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity and Contemporary Art (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007).

3 W.J.T. Mitchell, "Imperial Landscape," in Landscape and Power, ed. W. J. Thomas Mitchell, 2nd ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 14.

4 Ibid.

5 A term Auer used to describe her approach in email with the author, May 8, 2013.

6 Jessica Auer, Unmarked Sites (Montreal, Que.: Les Territoires, 2011).

7 An expression Rutkauskas used in email with the author, May 8, 2013.

8 A phrase first used by art critic John Berger that was later taken up by cultural geographer Denis Cosgrove in discussing landscape. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1977); Denis E. Cosgrove, Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998).

Sea to Surface Exhibition Catelogue
Available on Blurb
80 pages, with color reproductions, 2014


// LES RUINES DE LA PÉTROCHIMIE
interview with Ève Bonin

Exhibition «Petrolia» at Sporobole, La Nouvelle, Mercredi 3 Avril, 2013. Vol. 32 No. 41

L'activité humaine a profondément bouleversé les paysages depuis l'industrialisation, et il s'en trouve pour y déceler une certaine beauté. Se posant en témoin des cicatrices de l'industrie pétrolière sur le paysage de Sarnia, dans le sud de l'Ontario, l'artiste Andreas Rutkauskas expose, par la photographie et la vidéo, quelques points de vue chargés d'histoire.

Invité à proposer un projet à la galerie d'art de Sarnia, alors en processus de déménagement et à la recherche d'activités originales pour combler sa fermeture temporaire en 2011, Andreas Rutkauskas a eu l'idée d'impliquer la communauté dans sa recherche de lieux à filmer et photographier.

"La galerie s'est procuré 12 GPS, et on a invité la communauté à se promener dans les environs et identifier des endroits qu'ils jugeaient intéressants d'un point de vue photographique." La région ayant connu un important boom pétrolier dès la moitié du 19e siècle, la communauté a naturellement identifié des paysages comportant des installations de l'industrie pétrochimique.

"C'est la communauté qui a fait la direction artistique de cette exposition, ce n'est pas moi qui ait découvert tous ces endroits. Jusque dans les années 80, l'industrie était glorifiée. Avec l'arrivée de la conscience écologique ça a été condamné, maintenant l'industrie quitte la région et la communauté ne sait plus comment réagir. C'est mauvais pour la santé et l'environnement, mais ça leur donnait de l'emploi. 50% de la population locale est employée dans l'industrie pétrochimique. Il y a une relation d'amour/haine entre la population locale et cette industrie."

Petrolia s'intéresse au passé etau présent, et comporte des photographies d'installations en partie abandonnées et d'autres toujours en fonction. Les visiteurs peuvent ainsi découvrir les installations d'Oil Springs, où a eu lieu la première découverte de pétrole au Canada en 1858.

L'antique ligne d'extraction y est toujours en fonction, exploitée par quelques familles de generation en génération. Elle tient la vedette dans une vidéo d'une dizaine de minutes où l'intégration de la technologie dans le milieu naturel est troublante, le chant des oiseux côtoyant le crissement des lignes d'extraction envahies par la végétation.

L'artiste ne tient ce pendant pas à prendre position dans cette exposition. "Je suis un témoin, on pourrait penser que j'envoie des messages contradictoires. Il y a des issues complexes, tout n'est pas noir ou blanc."

Les photographies d'installations plus modernes ont été prises sans la permission des entreprises pétrochimiques, Andreas Rutkauskas tenant à ce qu'elles présentent une perspective humaine. Puisque la communauté a choisi les endroits à photographier, il jugeait important que les oeuvres offrent un point de vue accessible au marcheur.

Pour l'artiste, c'est un peu comme si la population locale reprenait ses droits sur le paysage, au même titre que la nature envahit d'anciennes installations abandonnées au fil du temps. "Il y a un point de vue esthétique intéressant, ce sont comme des ruines modernes."


// FROM GOOGLE MAPS TO THE GALLERY: ARTISTS USE GOOGLE STREET VIEW IN RISING PHOTOGRAPHIC TREND
by Alison K Lanier

Brief essay on the work of Michael Wolf, Jon Rafman, and my project «Virtually There», taken from http://nvate.com/9831/google-maps-art/ (January 9, 2013)

Google Maps has famously and extensively created a digital vision of Earth that any Internet user can use to vicariously tour locations as distant or as minute as the streets of New York or back roads in Ireland. The streets of any city, any campus, and thousands of towns are all laid out online, captured by Google's nine-camera-equipped car that explores all of these locations in the flesh, so to speak. The incredible new tool has been utilized for means as trivial as "MapCrunch," a fad in which users spend hours at a time clicking through Google Street View to find an airport from a random starting point anywhere on earth. However, over the course of the last year, Street View has become a medium for a much more lofty aim. Taken frame by frame, artists are transforming the extensive scope of Google Street View and Google Earth into a fascinating art form.

Transforming Tool to Photojournalism

Cropping and framing screenshots from Google Street View is one method of converting Google images to artwork. One such artist, Michael Wolf, created a stir when his photography, titled A Series of Unfortunate Events, transmuted these Google Maps images into award-winning photography. The pictures depict curious, slightly uncomfortable moments photographed accidentally by Google Street View. A pedestrian's feet appear to be hovering in midstride above the pavement. A man stalks through a parking lot with rifle in hand. Someone lies curled up on the curb. The images themselves are anonymous, the subjects' faces blurred out by Google, and the city sidewalks seemingly uniform, making the initially geographic tool placeless. The set of photographs received honorable mention last year at The World Press Photo Awards' Contemporary Issues category, igniting criticism that the photographs do not represent photojournalism at all. Wolf, discussing his creative process with the British Journal of Photography, seemed unfazed by the controversy. He views his work, not as screenshots, but as a new strain of street photography, photographs of a virtual world rather than the more commonly photographed, physical one.

Connecting the Real and the Digital

Artist Andreas Rutkauskas uses Google Earth's images as a creative connection of Google's reality with his own. According to the artist's website, for his collection Virtually There, he digitally toured the Canadian Rocky Mountains via the Google app. He composed digital images of the vistas of mountains and valleys into highly realistic photographs in the comfort of a Montreal apartment. Then he actually ventured out into the Rockies themselves, trying to recreate the digital explorations and the digital images. His success is startling—only the cloudless sky and the shades of the grass differentiate Rutkauskas' homemade images from those he took on location. Instead of looking at the strange, anonymous accidents captured by Google's Big Brother eyes, Rutkauskas relates the aptly named Google Earth to the Earth that he actually experienced and moved through. It is worth noting that the Google Earth reality that Rutkauskas deals with is the result of his own careful research and construction. Using topography and historical data, Rutkauskas' images are a personally constructed vision—a mental, imaginative approach to the utilitarian web service.

Shaking Off the Artificial

Like Wolf's seemingly accidental moments, Jon Rafman explores striking Street View visions in last summer's London exhibition of his 9 Eyes series. The photographs show natural vistas with wild horses, seagulls in flight, urban crime scenes, shipwrecks on beaches, tanks, desolate cemeteries, and lone figures walking down the side of the road. The images are stunningly high-quality "accidents" of a very different nature than Wolf's unsettling figures curled on the sidewalk. Rafman uncovers odd moments of perfect lighting, startling beauty, and fascinating humor captured by chance or through people's deliberate interactions with the nine cameras of the Google Street View car, which the exhibition's titles refers to. Rafman said, in an interview with the Huffington Post, that he does not just look for the beautiful and the spontaneous. He delves into Google's digital record of the world for the "tension" between the automated Google camera and the human "who seeks meaning." Many of his shots, unlike Wolf's, focus on natural subject matter, where the Google Street View vehicle was the only human presence. "Frequently, I investigate areas that I'd be curious to visit in real life but at other times I just drop the Street View icon randomly somewhere in the world and start clicking."

Free Range on the Digital Landscape

With the press coverage of and the prominence of art based on Google's digital reality, these artists are powering a trend which promises to have permanence whether or not critics wholly accept it. The step to photographing the digital makes logical, if unsettling sense, in a moment when so much of the everyday activity occurs in a digital reality. However, there still remains hesitation on the point of whether these photographs really belong to the artists at all. So far, though, it seems that these photographers are enjoying free reign with their online inspiration.


// HIKING THE TRAILS OF WHAT IS TO COME
by Geneviève Chevalier

Essay on the project «Virtually There», Ciel Variable, Number 92 (Fall 2012)

I found out about the Virtually There project in 2009 during a brief visit to the Gushul Studio, which offers a residency program run by the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. At the time, Andreas Rutkauskas was staying there and preparing to make another of his outings in the mountains. The Gushul Studio is located in the small town of Blairmore, in the Crowsnest Pass area of the Rocky Mountains in the southwest part of Alberta. This improbable landscape, resulting from the collision of the Continental and Oceanic tectonic plates and shaped by the elements, is an almost irresistible draw to hikers. It was in this area, as well as among the peaks near the Banff Centre, that Rutkauskas undertook a series of off-trail excursions the itinerary of which had been meticulously planned a few weeks earlier, in his Montreal apartment.

Rutkauskas had already hiked many times in the Canadian Rockies, as well as in the Appalachian White and Green mountain ranges along the border between Canada and the United States1 and in other areas, in order to capture the encounter between nature and culture with his large-format camera.2 To a point, his work evokes landscape photography,3which he updates through his reflection on questions about representation and about the now-omnipresent technologies that act as mediators of reality. This reflection, which he developed as he walked – armed with his GPS – is articulated through a range of strategies, such as notebooks, route plans, and topographic maps, but also blogs, videos, digital imagery, and photography. His practice highlights the performative dimension inherent to the fieldwork that landscape photography requires – it is expressed in GPS altitude, time, and distance data accumulated in the notebook View From Mount Temple, which is included in Virtually There, as well as in the drawings in the form of route plans that denote the itineraries that he took and the cadence of his step. Elsewhere, in the video Walk the Line (2011) presented as part of the Stanstead Project, the artist can be seen distancing himself from the camera, heading for the horizon. This manifestation of fieldwork in the project gives a glimpse of a methodology inspired by a discipline resembling that of geography. Walking, which is at the heart of the exploration process, refers us back to the mobile nature of the experience of the climber, who sees geographic changes corresponding to different altitudes. Here, the work, in addition to cataloguing this movement, examines its virtual counterpart. In effect, by juxtaposing the high-angle view of the mountain climber who has reached the mountain peak against the reconstructed satellite image, Virtually There records a gap in the means used, but also in the range of renderings that these means are able to offer.

Virtually There is composed of elements that transmit the artist's experience of contemplation as he scaled high peaks and of his interaction with the Google Earth satellite imagery and aerial photography software.4 Following research conducted using topographic maps, archival documents, and GPS routes previously used by other climbers and drawn from different books,5Rutkauskas isolated longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates, determining a certain number of hikes that he virtually executed by via Google Earth. It was during these online expeditions that images constructed by the software from recorded altitude data were selected. Two video works are based on these virtual environments: the first, Summit Circles, shows high-angle views of seven peaks that Rutkauskas climbed; the second, Caché, deconstructs the operation of the imaging software by erasing from the memory cache, piece by piece, the data previously transmitted. Thus stripped of all information, the 3D reconstructions are transformed from complex assemblages to simple geometric diagrams.

The virtual hikes done in Google Earth formed the point of departure for the work that subsequently took shape in the field: Rutkauskas executed the planned hikes and reproduced on film points of view corresponding to those taken by Google Earth. "One might say that [Rutkauskas] prepared a sort of horizon-inwaiting; he precomposed his views to come, preshaping and conditioning the in situ experience."6 The titles of the photographs resulting from these excursions deep into the Rockies are the GPS coordinates that indicate the exact site where the picture was taken. Conversely, the digital images are identified by the longitude and latitude of the artist's apartment in Montreal. This bringing together of images produced during hikes, some virtual and some very real, determines the essence of the project, which approximates our experience of the world today – armed as we are with high-performance technological devices. The process set up by Rutkauskas short-circuits the unpredictable nature of contextual practices by anticipating the shots to be photographed. And yet, this juxtaposition reveals the limitations of synthetic imagery and the gap between it and a place in real time. The electronic portrayal proves to be approximate and refers to the artist's subjective interpretation of the landscape. Furthermore, as art theoretician Miwon Kwon explains, in recent in situ7 approaches, the site can no longer be considered a given condition; rather, it is generated by the work itself and then placed in relation with certain discursive elements.8 Thus, Virtually There participates in current discourses on the growing importance of geolocation technologies in our lives, on the nature of the information that they able to transmit to us on certain sites, and, by extension, on their economic and political stakes. Whether it takes a position or not, Rutkauskas's work is inscribed within this discursive context; in this sense, it opens a window on questions linked to representation and conquest of the world.

Virtually There makes visible the subjectivity of the aesthetic experience and of our experience of the world. Although the geolocation devices now at our disposal facilitate travel, they offer only the illusion that we can better know a territory by looking at it from above. According to sociologist Bruno Latour, the claimed panoptic of Google Earth is based on a false continuity of the whole with the parts – its zoom function leads us to believe in this continuity, even though it links some points of view to others that are in essence incommensurable.9 On the contrary, Latour calls certain experiences attached to real space (such as that of the walker) oligoptic10 – "narrow windows that make it possible to create links, through several narrow conduits, with just a few aspects of the beings (human and non-human) that together comprise the city [or any other environment characterized by some complexity]."11 Oligoptics constitute positions allowing for the subjective and limited apprehension of things. In this sense, Virtually There, in its intrinsic organization, bears witness to the fractured and constructed nature of all views of the world. By multiplying interpretations, the artist builds a portrait that can't help but convey the impossibility of describing continuously the experience of a place. This tension is at the heart of the work, the title of which may also evoke the state that we are perpetually faced with in relation with the world.

Translated by Käthe Roth

Geneviève Chevalier is an artist, independent curator, and doctoral student in arts studies and practices at UQAM. Her field of interest covers exhibition, contextual methodologies, and the question of public spheres. 

1 For the contextual exhibition "Stanstead Project, or How to Cross the Border," Rutkauskas explored the border area around the town of Stanstead, situated in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

2 The Virtual Hiker blog that Rutkauskas has produced since 2009 features numerous images, many of them annotated, taken during his excursions (virtualhiker.wordpress.com).

3 For example, the pictures taken by William Bell and Timothy O'Sullivan, who joined the U.S. government's Western American Survey. See J. Snyder (ed.), One/Many: Western American Survey Photographs by Bell and O'Sullivan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

4 "Google Earth is a software package, owned by Google, that allows Earth to be viewed with an assemblage of aerial or satellite photographs. . . . The Google Earth software also contains topographic data gathered by NASA during the SRTM mission, which allows the surface of Earth to be viewed in 3D" (www. wikipedia.org, consulted 1 July 2012; our translation). The software works through an Internet connection or the memory on a computer's hard disk. Therefore, it is possible to use Google Earth offline, using cached data (www.support.google.com/ earth, consulted 1 July 2012).

5 Rutkauskas based his work, among others, on certain Web sites and books that present off-track routes in the Rockies, such as The Road Not Taken of Robert Frost and Scrambles in the Rockies of Alan Kane.

6 S. Campeau, "Andreas Rutkauskas: Une aura intemporelle," ETC, 92 (2011): 51 (our translation).

7 Kwon advocates use of the expression "site-oriented practices." See M. Kwon, One Place after Another: Site-specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004).

8 Kwon, One Place, p. 26.

9 B. Latour, "Paris, ville invisible: le plasma," in C. Marcel, D. Birnbaum, and V. Guillaume (eds.), Airs de Paris, 30 ans du Centre Pompidou (Paris: ADGP, 2007), pp. 260–63.

10 Latour uses the neologism oligoptic in contrast to panoptic, which is derived from Bentham's Panopticon, a building for surveillance of prisoners within which the movements of each can be seen at any time from a surveillance tour without the observer being seen. The concept of panoptic, which has been theorized by Foucault, among others, evokes the existence of a gaze that embraces everything (M. Foucault, Surveiller et punir [Paris: Gallimard, (1975) 2010.])

11 Latour, "Paris" (our translation). 

 

Ciel Variable No. 92 - TRUE NORTH
Edited by Jacques Doyon
100 pages, with colour reproductions, 2012
ISSN 1711-7682c

 

 

 

 


// PICTURING DRIFT, MAPPING DISORIENTATION
by Pablo Rodriguez

Excerpt from a duo exhibition text, TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary, Alberta, (Jul - Aug 2012)

"The difficult of charting the spaces that chart the spaces, of mapping the scaleless networks of the very system that promises to end our disorientation, demands redefining the points and lines and planes that build the map, and lingering in their strange times and spaces."

- Laura Kurgan, "You Are Here: Information Drift"

Kurgan, an architect and artist, published these lines in a 1994 issue of Assemblage, the same year that the U.S. military's Global Positioning System became fully operational. The difficulty of charting the spaces that chart the spaces, she writes - what a wonderful and challenging way to think about the slippery location of contemporary experience. Karen Zalamea and Andreas Rutkauskas are not architects or information specialists or cartographers; they make photographs. Among other things, though, they use the visual language of maps and modeling to probe the ways in which pictures are made, distributed, and perceived. Given photography's historic transactions with both cartographic and picturesque landscape traditions, one might take these works - their strange times and border spaces, their devotion to drift and disorientation - as exploring both aesthetic experience and its critical ramifications.

Disorientation

If Karen Zalamea makes photographs that have the appearance of abstract blocks of visual information, one might say that Andreas Rutkauskas' Google Earth views are abstract blocks of information that have the appearance of photographs. Digital renderings, less of a "real" than of a well-cultivated photographic reality. Rutkauskas emphasizes this in two ways; first by "virtually" travelling to, and framing locations that are eminently photogenic (majestic mountain peaks, breathtaking vistas, etc.); and secondly, by trekking to these places himself and bringing back his own picture. Rutkauskas thinks of this second set of photographs as re-enactments of the virtual trip. I agree, although I wwould go a step further, for the virtual trip as Rutkauskas shows it is also a kind of re-enactment - an armchair re-enactment of frontier-cum-leisurely photographic seeing.

Rutkauskas doesn't collapse the model, he reduplicates it. This is not the first time that he employs repetition as a creative strategy. In an earlier black-and-white series, titled Killarney, he set out to emulate the aesthetic of 19th-century survey photographers like Timothy O'Sullivan and William Henry Jackson. For the Virtually There project he had in mind, among other things, some of the Vaux family photographs. The Vaux family, from Philadelphia, first travelled to the Canadian Rockies in the late 1880s, and in the decades that followed they photographed a number of glaciers in the area; in 1997 Henry Vaux Jr., a descendant of the family, began re-photographing what remains of these glaciers from the same locations.

Zalamea and Rutkauskas use fragmentation and visual comparison as strategies to comment on and elicit questions about the landscape and its reification. Nevertheless, it's hard not to be captivated by the sharpness, intensity, strange depth, and in Rutkauskas' case, the colour of their pictures. Like Zalamea, Rutkauskas places a strong accent on the viewer's visual experience. And like Zalamea, he combines an awareness of landscape photography's history with an interest in process and movement - a kind of experience that in their pictures lingers just outside the frame. This movement - the feeling of experimenting with different aspects of the same object (Zalamea); or of trekking up to the mountaintop to see what's different (in Rutkauskas) - is hardly photographable. Yet it remains a basic component of the way they work. As viewers, we participate in this movement whenever we slip into the aporias, uncertainties and repetitions of their pictures. 

Pablo Rodriguez holds a Master's Degree in Art History and currently lives in Montreal. His texts on art and photography have appeared in exhibition brochures, monographs, and various Canadian art magazines, including Parachute, Canadian Art, and BlackFlash.


// TOPOGRAPHIES
by Jocelyn Purdie

Excerpt from a group exhibition text, Union Gallery, Kingston, Ontario, (Jun - Sep 2011)

On the rear wall of the gallery's main space is an eight by sixteen foot prefabricated photographic mural of a stand of birch trees, an idyllic, rural scene similar to what one might encounter on a road trip through northern Ontario. Upon closer examination, one can see the artist C. Wells' painted strips of highway line markers that veer off in different directions. To the left of this piece, we are taken to Banff, Alberta, through Andreas Rutkauskas' dramatic images - both computer generated and real - of the Rocky Mountains. Diagonally across the gallery is a series of photographic portraits by Clare Samuel taken in the domestic spaces of her subjects' homes in Centre Est-Nord-Est in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, Quebec. And returning full circle to the gallery entrance, Eva Kolcze's video takes us on a journey into the urban core of Toronto and one of the city's historic buildings.

The theme for this exhibition was inspired by current discourse around globalization as a process that has dramatically shifted the way human activity takes place, where resultant spatial and temporal changes have altered social, cultural and physical boundaries and experiences. With this in mind, an exploration of place and placemaking, through the work of contemporary visual artists, seemed a timely topic to consider. This exhibition brings together a selection of artworks that offer different perspectives on topographies within that context.

Andreas Rutkauskas takes us out of urban spaces and into the mountains of Banff, Alberta, where he examines the way visual imaging technologies mediate our experience of natural landscapes. Caché is one of two pieces in the exhibition. Displayed on a large monitor it consists of a three-minute loop of a computer-simulated landscape, which materializes gradually, culminating with a red line that maps the artist's trek across the mountaintop. In this piece, Rutkauskas positioned a virtual camera in Google Earth and without changing its position, proceeded to empty the software's cache. These real time moments were then captured photographically and turned into simulations, creating a video game-like image as the software downloads data and rebuilds the terrain. Directly opposite  Caché are two 40x50" photographs, each titled with a longitude and latitude indicating the location where the images were taken. The first photograph was taken in the artist's apartment in Montréal where he captured the image from Google Earth and the second one is the same image taken by the artist on site in Banff where the artist re-enacted his virtual explorations. The imperfections in the virtual photograph are not disguised but instead are displayed side by side with the real image where the distinction between the two is amplified, creating a heightened awareness of the absence of a real experience in the virtual image. It is only in the actual photographs taken on the site where, tthrough the effects of weather, light and passage of time, we can experience a deeper connection to the site.

In a society where globalization has led to a decrease in barriers to movement, communication and exchange, the concept of locality and one's relationship to place are constantly shifting, resulting in a complex layering of mediated and real experiences that reflect on the multiple contexts that are constituted by place. The works in Topographies are some examples of the way contemporary artists are exploring these ideas and I would like to thank them all for their generosity and assistance in bringing this show together.


// THE NATURAL & THE MANUFACTURED: PLATFORM 01: THE CREATION OF EVOLUTION
by Lance Blomgren

Excerpt from a group exhibition text, ODD Gallery, Dawson City, Yukon, (Jun - Jul 2011)

The Natural & The Manufactured is an annual art and research project in the far Canadian north. The N&M works to stimulate and engage people in a environment, while exploring alternative political, social, economic and aesthetic agendas and strategies towards a re-interpretation of the regional landscape and social infrastructure. As a site of creation, as well as presentation, the N&M also seeks to promote new research and creation projects. Each year the N&M explores issues related to site-specificity, as well as land-based and environmental art practices: the meaing of geography and the geography of meaning, the ephemeral and the concrete, the transitory nature of 'nature' and our philosophical need to resist and respond to it.

Andreas Rutkauskas is a Montreal-based artist whose works in the exhibition come from a series of diptychs entitled Virtually There. Contrasting an 'actual' landscape photograph taken by the artist himself with its geographically accurate Google Earth equivalent, Rutkauskas not only highlights the ways in which technology has influenced our relationship to the land, but also how all representations - however faithful - reveal a mediated relationship to the things we choose to document or interpret. As the differences in his two images reveal, our experiences and memories of 'being there' are often far removed from any actuality; our technologies may seem to capture reality, the artist suggests, but ultimately create a distancing effect about the way we view the world.


// UNE AURA INTEMPORELLE
par Sylvain Campeau

Essay on the project «Virtually There», ETC Revue de l'art actuel, Number 92 (Fév - Mai 2011)

Rutkauskas est un randonneur expérimenté. Lors de deux récentes résidences, l'une au Banff Centre et l'autre au Gushul Studio, affilié à l'Université Lethbridge en Alberta, il a pu pleinement s'adonner à sa passion pour la marche en montagne. Il a même choisi de faire fi des directives qu'on lui avait données à l'arrivée, lui indiquant de ne jamais s'aventurer seul dans les sentiers environnants. Ce qui ne fut pas sans créer de problèmes. Mais il n'a pas que marché, comme le prouvent les images qu'il a rapportées. 

Il a aussi fait plus que simplement ramener des images. Dans Virtually There, il cherche en fait à nous faire revivre sa propre expérience contemplative en nous donnant le maximum de détails et de précisions sur ces lieux qu'il a arpentés. Il le fait en images, bien sûr, mais cela ne s'arrête pas là. Il reconstruit aussi, en d'autres données que purement photographiques, les conditions de son expérience visuelle. 

D'abord, il y a, en galerie, le journal très minutieusement annoté de ses nombreuses excursions. Dans ce View from Mount Temple, on trouve en effet les étapes de ses neuf heures d'ascension. Il y a là les heures, les altitudes, les coordonnées en longitude et latitude, la distance et quoi encore; tout cela avec l'aide d'un appareil GPS. Comme ces données essentielles sont prises aux trois minutes, parfois, on comprendra que cela donne un manuscrit aux pages finalement assez nombreuses. Manuscrit dont la lecture se voudrait sans doute éclairante, mais dont on peine finalement à recomposer les éléments. C'est évidemment voulu. Il y a là une surenchère de détails et d'annotations dont la présentation relève de l'intention stratégique. 

Puis, il y a des croquis qui reproduisent le chemin parcouru. Comme cela est fait sur papier mince et léger, et qu'aucune carte géographique ne vient nous orienter avec soin, nous en sommes quittes pour des dessins au trait sinueux, qui se font assez courts, somme toute. De par leur laconisme, ils sont difficiles à interpréter et on ne comprend leur usage qu'après quelque temps, convaincus que nous sommes au début de voir là des œuvres minimales, de simples ébauches, peut-être bien des états préparatoires d'une œuvre à venir. En fait, ce sont là des impressions au jet d'encre sur Tyvek et l'épaisseur du trait nous donne une idée du rythme de la marche; plus épais le coup de crayon, plus rapide le rythme. En plus, ces œuvres ont un titre évocateur puisque celui-ci reprend le temps nécessaire à ladite expédition. 

Une autre station est nécessaire avant que nous en arrivions aux images 1, Il s'agit cette fois d'une reproduction, sur moniteur-écran, du travail de constitution d'images du logiciel Google Earth. On assiste en effet à une sorte de balayage et de reconstitution progressive de l'image tridimensionnelle que parvient à reconstruire le logiciel. Ainsi, dans la bande Caché, la simulation permet de voir comment se bâtissent ces paysages à partir des données de longitude et de latitude avec lesquelles l'usager nourrit le logiciel. Une fois le point de vue virtuellement choisi, Andreas Rutkauskas évacue toutes les données de la banque de mémoire. L'écran devient pur vide. Puis, peu à peu, le logiciel se remet à télécharger les données. Le paysage se recompose. Des lignes apparaissent graduellement, le long desquelles des volumes, des creux, des dépressions, des protubérances, en un mot, du relief, se forment lentement, peu à peu recouverts des couleurs nécessaires à une restauration complète, à un simulacre idéal. Dans un autre moniteur, exposé en galerie, ce sont cette fois les sept sommets visités par le promeneur-artiste qui sont présentés en version virtuelle sous le titre Summit Circles

Mais, justement, ce simulacre l'est-il, idéal? Ou cela n'est-il qu'illusion? Pour se convaincre de l'efficacité de cette simulation, Andreas Rutkauskas a choisi de parfaire sa présentation et de peaufiner sa stratégie en nous servant la preuve suprême: une présentation comparée des images en temps et lieu réels avec celles que parvient à refaire le logiciel de simulation, à partir des informations qu'il a en mémoire. On trouve donc couplées des images des mêmes lieux, mais prises selon des paramètres différents. En fait, seule l'une des deux a réellement été prise, on le comprendra. L'autre image a été reconstituée. Cela explique le soin qu'a pris Andreas Rutkauskas à nous indiquer longitude et latitude, altitude et temps réel de l'excursion. Le carnet de notes nous permettait de prendre connaissance de l'expérience de contemplation et d'excursion en temps et vecteurs de localisation rapportés. Ces données écrites entrent évidemment en rapport avec celles, informatiques, reprises par le logiciel. Elles sont un autre écho de l'expérience de contemplation, d'entrée en relation avec le paysage. Car c'est bien cela qui intéresse en définitive Andreas Rutkauskas: notre expérience de mise en contact avec le paysage traditionnel et la transformation de cette expérience maintenant que de nouveaux modes de représentation, de nature technologique et informatique, la modifient.

L'expérience contrôlée de l'artiste fut tout autre que ce que j'ai bien pu en décrire. Car chacune de ces randonnées fut planifiée un mois d l'avance. Et elle le fut à l'aide de photographies historiques existantes, cartes topographiques, tracés GPS, sans parler des recompositions virtuelles des lieux imaginés dans les Rocheuses au moyen de Google Earth. Il a ainsi préparé les images qu'il comptait prendre au cours de ses promenades en montagne. On peut donc dire qu'il a préparé une sorte d'horizon d'attente; il a précomposé ses vues à venir, préformant et conditionnant l'expérience in situ. Puis il est allé au-devant de ce qui ne pouvait manquer d'advenir, puisque tout avait été soigneusement prédit et prédéterminé. Tout cela va dans le sens de ce que les recherches esthétiques récentes nous ont appris sur notre expérience du paysage et de la nature, à savoir que le « paysage ne préexiste pas à l'image qui le construit pour une visée discursive 2 », et que la nature est « toujours celle que nous nous représentons », puisqu'elle est toujours « médiatisée, socialisée, culturalisée du fait même que nous la percevons et qu'a fortiori nous la concevons 3 ». 

Ici, la simulation que tente Andreas Rutkauskas est plus que création de simulacres de paysages et comparaison avec la version réellement prise. Elle est simulation de notre position praxéologique et idéologique par rapport à l'objet paysage, toujours déjà construit. Reprise de ce que les instruments modernes permettent comme prise en compte et appréhension. Force nous est de convenir que ces nouveaux instruments vont encore plus loin dans le sens de nos expériences médiatisées. 

Est-ce nécessairement dire, cependant, que les images saisies par l'artiste sont à l'avenant des vues préconstruites à l'aide des données purement informatiques de positionnement par satellite? Que rien ne distingue plus les unes des autres? Non, loin de là! Les images reconstruites par données diverses possèdent une sorte d'aura d'intemporalité. Elles offrent une perfection idéale, certes, mais elles ont un aspect vaguement irréel. Elles ne semblent certainement pas être, comme les autres, le résultat d'une expérience active de connaissance, de reconnaissance et d'appréhension sensible. Lumière et imperfections, relief et ridules, vent et intempéries ont marqué les images réelles, acquises par saisie et présence. Les autres sont moins des images que des substrats de ce que peut sembler être un état du monde quand on le soustrait aux conditions réelles de vie et de présence. 

Chaque atome de chaque composante du paysage vaut en tant que lui-même, sans liaison avec les autres; chacun est présenté dans son état idéel, tel qu'on peut le reconstituer par une vue de l'esprit... et de la machine. 

On comprend dès lors la double intention qui préside à l'exposition des croquis et du relevé des marches. Leur présence est équivoque. D'une part, ils nous rassurent sur le fait qu'ait eu lieu expérience réelle, campée dans le temps et l'espace. Ils confirment l'expérience. D'autre part, ils sont une autre représentation, un jeu de l'esthétique, une réification extrême, une translation extra-rationnalisante de l'expérience réelle. Les informations du cahier des marches sont un relevé de données d'une telle minutie maniaque qu'il est devient ridicule et qu'il ne nous fournit, pour peu qu'on parvienne à le décoder, aucune information utile. Quant aux croquis, ils en viennent d verser dans un esthétisme minimaliste, décrochés qu'ils sont du relevé topographique sur lequel ils ont initialement été esquissés. En fait, cet abus de signes et témoins divers met l'accent sur la virtualité de toute présence. La multiplication des indices et témoignages relègue l'expérience tangible du marcheur dans un horizon lointain, comme réalité fugace. À tel point qu'on en vient à se demander si de telles montagnes ont vraiment existé ou si elles ne sont pas le simple jouet de l'imagination technologique. Bien sûr, on sait bien que pour ainsi les reproduire, il a fallu que des images soient prises et transformées en pures données, il a fallu que ces données soient réactivées et sollicitées de telle sorte qu'elles en viennent à composer images. Mais rien n'y fait! Le signe achevé, de quelque nature qu'il soit, fut-il photographique et dépendant d'une réelle coprésence de l'opérateur photo et du référent initial, est manifestation active de l'absence de la chose reproduite. 

Andreas Rutkauskas est ici l'artiste de cette déconstructlon/reconstruction des processus de présence/absence, témoins de l'ambivalente nature des signes

Sylvain Campeau est poète, critique d'art, essayiste et commissaire d'exposition. Il a publié cinq recueils de poésie, un essai sur la photographie (Chambres obscures. Photographie et installation) et une anthologie de poètes québécois (Les Exotiques, Herbes rouges, 2003). En qualité de critique d'art, il a collaboré à Parachute, ETC, C Magazine, Vie des Arts, Ciel Variable, Spirale. Il est l'auteur de nombreux textes parus dans des monographies d'artistes, des catalogues d'expositions et des revues étrangères. 

Notes: 

1 Toute cette progression est ici la stratégie d'écriture que j'ai choisi de privilégier. Elle ne reproduit pas nécessairement la disposition des éléments dans l'espace d'exposition. 

2 Anne Cauquelin, L'Invention du paysage, Paris, Éditions Plon, 1989, p. 39. 

3 Augustin Berque, Écoumène. Introduction à l'étude des milieux humains, Paris, Éditions Belin, collection Mappemonde, 2000, p, 154 - 155.


ETC Revue de l'art actuel No. 92 - FOLK
Edited by Isabelle Lelarge
86 pages, with colour reproductions, 2011
ISBN 2-922607-92-5



// STANSTEAD PROJECT, OR HOW TO CROSS THE BORDER
by Geneviève Chevalier

Curatorial essay for an exhibition of the same title at the Foreman Art Gallery, 2011

Stanstead Project, or how to cross the border revolves around the theme of border lines, those which, as architectural artefacts inscribed in the landscape, have an impact on citizens' mobility. In the last few months, the citizens of Stanstead - the border town in the Eastern Townships that neighbours Derby Line, Vermont - have seen a heightening in border security, manifest in the construction of fences and a growing number of customs officers and arrests. New border policies across the world are having repercussions all the way in Stanstead, where people have routinely crossed the border for generations going back to the late 18th century, some with family members on both sides of it.

Recent history of colonial development in the Eastern Townships begins at the end of the 18th century with the settlement of the first Americans in a region then under British rule. The area served as a buffer zone between Canada and the United States and had not yet been developed. Until 1812, ties remained stronger with Vermont than with the rest of Lower Canada. 1 Among the handful of Americans who colonized the area that would later become Stanstead, some did so thinking they were still south of the border. Others were intent on returning to the British fold. The microcosm in the Tomifobia valley prospered, thanks in part to its way station for stage coaches travelling between Montreal and Boston. 2 In recent years - some would say since the paradigm shift of September 11, 2001 - , the "curiosity" and "close-knit community" that had defined the border area formed by Stanstead and Derby Line has become a blind spot in Canada-US relations. Events are inexorably pointing in one direction: this enclave will not be the exception to the rule. The demands of national defence and security are disrupting the habits and lifestyles of a community and partially eradicating its history.

This first part of the project, preparatory to the particular case of Stanstead and Derby Line, broaches the general question of the world's boundaries and the nature of the territories they circumscribe. Selected works deal with notions of space, territory, border lines, history, culture, and geography: Andreas Rutkauskas (Montreal) drew from the surroundings of Stanstead to produce photographs, video, and travel logs; Green Border, which Christian Philipp Müller (Berlin and New York) presented at the Venice of Biennale in 1993, deals in part with Austria's historical boundaries, and his more recent Burning Love explores the cloth-weaving traditions of a mountain community; Ursula Biemann's Performing the Border and Europlex examine the legitimacy of the borders that neo-capitalism creates between rich nations and poor ones, between men and women.

The reflection thus begun, the exhibition continues in the summer of 2012, as artists Raphaëlle de Groot (Montreal and Italy), Christian Philipp Müller, and Althea Thauberger (Vancouver) produce site-specific works articulated around Stanstead and its social, cultural, historical, and political contexts.

Notes:

1 Jean-Pierre Kesteman, Peter Southam, Diane Saint-Pierre, Histoire des Cantons de l'Est (Québec: Les presses de l'Université Laval, 1998).

2 Matthey Farfan, The Vermont-Quebec Border: Life on the Line (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2009).


// VIRTUAL EXPLORATIONS OF THE SUBLIME
by Noni Brynjolson

Text for the exhibition «Virtually There» at Galerie Projex-Mtl, 2010

At a time when such an incredible amount of data, statistical information, charts, graphs and models can regulate and monitor the natural world, sublime experiences seem limited, if even possible. From time to time, events like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions remind us of our smallness in the world. For many people, a more common first experience approaching the sublime might be flying over a mountain range. Somewhere between the terror of such vast, overwhelming spaces and the sheer sense of awe and beauty they inspire in us, our senses become confounded.

In Virtually There, works by Andreas Rutkauskas illuminate a split between the aesthetics of the sublime, and the visual imaging technologies which attempt to simulate and rationalize it. Included are several photographic images of the Rocky Mountains, created using Google Earth. The artist is physically absent from these works, which gives them a feeling of disembodied remoteness. Google Earth images are composed from satellite and aerial photography, and so the viewpoint of the photographs is from a very lofty perspective, as in the piece N 51° 20' 54" W 116° 12' 26". The ability to access such views over the internet allows one to explore the world without any of the physical discomforts or risks that explorers once faced. Moments in real time and space are captured photographically and turned into scenes which are video-game-like in their simulation of the natural world.

The virtual presence brought up by the exhibition title suggests the long history of virtual reality in art. From cave paintings to cathedral ceilings to renaissance paintings to cinema, artists have used strategies of illusion and immersion in their exploration of images. Art historian Oliver Grau has even suggested that “virtual reality forms part of the core of the relationship of humans to images.” 1 Other artists have used these elements in expressing the sublime. Albert Bierstadt, a 19th century American painter, used huge canvases which overwhelmed viewers. Mountains were a common feature in his paintings, as they symbolized the supposedly wild and untamed frontier. Many of his contemporaries were involved in panoramic painting, a popular phenomenon. Viewers of these panoramas would be surrounded by a painted scene, thereby embodying a panoptic position. Many of the artists involved in this work were inspired by European romanticism, especially the work of German painter Caspar David Friedrich.

Mountains are a classic example of sublime nature, and countless artists throughout history (including Friedrich) have represented their power and beauty. This history is intriguing when considering Rutkauskas’ use of Google Earth imagery. By composing these images of mountains, he makes aesthetic decisions that reflect both his own taste, and the constraints of the remote photography which originally captured the image. Bierstadt adjusted the colour and saturation of his paintings, and this enhancement process continues in digital photography. The photographs that Rutkauskas has composed portray picturesque examples of the region, in terms of weather, light and colouring. An example of this is the uniform band of blue sky in the three photographs titled N 45° 28' 34" W 73° 37' 18". Translated into digital images, the scenes become even more idealized as pixels replace earth, trees, water and sky. The viewpoint suggested by the photographs brings to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s reflection on the transcendence provided by the sublime perspective: “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all.” 2

Emerson’s quote captures the sense of presence despite physical absence that defines virtual reality, and which is seen in Rutkauskas’ creative use of Google Earth. As a counterpoint to the visual pleasure afforded by the photographs, the artist has included several stark prints which represent real, physical journeys through the mountains. These track drawings were created by compiling hundreds of GPS coordinates. An artist book presents this un-aesthetic visual information, which has the effect of deconstructing the photographs and exposing the monotonous matrix of data behind the spectacle. Rutkauskas’ two videos depict customized tours taken on Google Earth, which also simulate actual journeys through the mountains pictured. The drawings, videos and artist book emphasize the conceptual underpinnings of this body of work. They represent the movement of the body through time and space, something which is suspended in the digital photographs.

Viewed together, we witness an exploration of the sublime aspects of mountains, seen through the lens of appropriated photographic sources. What comes out of this creative use of new media is a reconsideration of the relationship between presence and absence, physicality and virtuality.

Notes:

1 Oliver Grau, “Introduction,” Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003): 5.

2 Emerson, “Nature,” (1836) The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Charlottesville: InteLex Co., 2008): 10.


// SUBURB BEAUTIFUL
by Dorota Kozinska

Review of the exhibition «Suburb Beautiful» at Galerie Projex-Mtl, ARTnews Magazine, June 2009

“Suburb Beautiful,” the latest exhibition from the Montreal photographer Andreas Rutkauskas, provoked comparisons with the work of other observers of despoiled landscapes, such as Edward Burtynsky and Roy Arden. But Rutkauskas quickly seduces viewers with his very personal take on suburban sprawl. Recording locales from Quebec to Vancouver, the ten images here depicted disturbing, but mesmerizing, homogeneity and blandness.The artist’s typological series begins with Kanata, Ontario (2007). Rows of identical boxy homes languish in a regimented and constricted landscape. Photographs titled Winnipeg, Manitoba(2007) and Ste. Rose, Quebec (2007) feature similarly eerie and empty scenes.

With the land devoid of greenery and people, the viewer’s eye travels toward the ubiquitous housing complexes marking the dreary horizon. The prairie skies may be a touch different in hue than those over Quebec, but otherwise little distinguished one place from another. Snow-covered Kanata reappeared in the final image of the group, but this time the field leading to the rows of vacant and fragile-looking houses is a battlefield of giant boulders that seem to jostle one another with tectonic energy.

Closed Course (2008), picturing a serene golf course with a meandering water feature and precisely trimmed lawns, offered a respite from this monotony. But despite its beauty, the photo tells the same story as the others: its grounds are contained, nature has been subverted.


// SPLEEN URBAIN
par Lyne Crevier

Review of the exhibition «Suburb Beautiful», ICI Magazine, April 2009

Dans les banlieues étales, en périphérie des grandes villes, Andreas Rutkauskas trouve matière à paysages sublimes. Dans sa série photographique Suburb Beautiful, il a sillonné le Canada à la recherche de lieux en cours de développement domiciliaire. Or, de ces activités mutilantes de l'environnement, l'artiste en extrait des images où la réitération de motifs, l'horizontalité du bâti (maisons unifamiliales de même hauteur) et camïeu de blanc, de gris ou d'ocre se révèlent proches de la peinture, avec sfumato à la clé. Dans Closed Course, les legnes sinueuses d'un étang se rétrécissent en bordure de cadre, manière de fuir, dirait-on, des habitations qui se profilent au loin.


// MODULAR NATURE
by Gordon Hatt

Curatorial essay for an exhibition of the same title at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, 2008.

Modular Nature is an exhibition that responds to the suburban paradigm. The organizing principle of suburban development is the provision of maximum space for the cultivation of nature within the economics of an affordable built environment. Homes and residential buildings are buffered from each other and from roadways with lawns, gardens and trees and are zoned apart from business and industry. The value of cultivated nature in the suburb thus creates the characteristically low population density.

The artwork in this exhibition is bracketed by and involves the cross fertilization of the influences of modularity and nature. Gareth Licthy (Kitchener, ON) adopts traditional basket weaving techniques to contemporary materials such as garden hose to create bio-morphic sculpture that is both sophisticated and minimal, ancient and contemporary. Ernest Harris Jr., (St. Catherines, ON) uses the modular children's building material Lego, to depict standardized Computer graphic icons, using them to symbolize the seven moral virtues. David Armstrong-Six (Montreal, QC) works with the standardized concrete drainage pipe, referencing its non functional adoption as a play-ground prop and as a site of adolescent refuge.

Sandor Ajzenstat (Toronto, ON) creates interactive sound sculpture that integrates musical sounds with visual pattern changes. His work plays with random synchronicity in a closed system and visually references hi-fi stereo equipment from the 1960s and 70s. Andreas Rutkauskas's (Montreal, QC) photographs fluctuate between a romantic interest in sublime mountain vistas and the reality of development. Kristiina Lahde's (Toronto, ON) work is characterized by the encounter of computerized repetition and labourious craft of hand-cut paper. Gunilla Josephson's (Toronto, ON) video adopts a gazebo in an idyllic wooded area as a performative site. Eric Glavin (Toronto, ON) focusses on computer generated Images of common functional architecture. As structures for living the geometric regularity of these images is simultaneously compellingly attractive and mechanistically repellent.

The work of these artists causes us to reflect on the intersections of nature and chaotic systems with technology and modularity in the life we live.


// AU SOMMET
par Lyne Crevier

Review of the exhibition «Peak», ICI Magazine, March 2008

Tout est une question de point de vue. Et celui d’Andreas Rutkauskas ne manque pas d’air. Sa série photographique Peak se situe dans l’Ouest canadien, en région montagneuse, trouée de lacs. Où parfois un ciel gris perle fusionne avec la végétation raréfiée. Or, à la manière d’un photographe paysagiste, il immortalise des images à l’aide d’un trépied. Façon de faire d’une autre époque. Et ces oeuvres d’un lyrisme plombé sont tout sauf des «cartes postales». Car ce qui nous est révélé ici semble hors des chemins battus. Tel un monde étrange où l’on serait nullement étonné de déceler les traces d’un ours noir ou celles d’un cerf. Le tout nappé d’une lumière caressante.


// PEAK
par Jessica Begault

Text for the exhibition «Peak» at Galerie Projex-Mtl, 2008

Les Images de Andreas canalisent la splendeur, la beauté sauvage des étendues imprenables. Le spectateur est submergé par la présence d’un monde éternel pendant que l’artiste lui délivre un inoubliable point de vue. En effet fidèle à la méthodologie de ses prédécesseurs, Andreas a voyagé à l’ouest de l’Amérique du nord, le trépied sur l’épaule, à la recherche de l’ultime paysage.

En outre, en attribuant des titres romantiques à ses photographies, l’artiste nous rappelle les peintures du 19ème siècle tel que Un promeneur au dessus de la mer de brouillard de Friedrich, Il nous séduit pendant un instant trop bref avant d’être inévitablement ramené dans notre réalité civilisée d’aujourd'hui, le contexte actuel du paysage construit en tant qu’une expérience maîtrisée par l’homme.

La pertinence du travail d’Andreas se situe dans son choix délibéré et subjectif de photographier sa manipulation, en choisissant un point de vue spécifique qui n’a pas encore été abîmé. « Ces images ne font que donner une illusion de la nature sauvage étant donné qu’elles ont été photographiées à une distance calculée de la civilisation.

Derrière cette façade de la photographie du genre documentaire se cache une connotation sinistre : la lutte continue d’un jeune pays, jadis rural, à se mettre en accord avec sa nouvelle identité en tant que société urbaine et industrielle. Ces images questionnent l’importance du paysage en tant qu’art dans la société actuelle ; les photographies du paysage de l’Ouest de l’Amérique du nord ont souvent été décriées en tant que carte postale touristique pour des urbains sédentaires avides d’un aperçu de la grande frontière. Et même si les photos de Rutkaukas pourraient être des cartes postales exceptionnelles, les objets précieux de Peak sont tout sauf banales.


// A TYPOLOGY OF CANADIAN SUBURBS
by Lynn Beavis

Text for the exhibition «Typology of Canadian Suburbs» at the FOFA Gallery, 2007

Jessica Auer and Andreas Rutkauskas both look at the human occupation of land in their work – Auer through a look at art and archaeology sites such as Machu Picchu or Smithson's Spiral Jetty at Great Salt Lake, Utah; Rutkauskas with his examination of suburban housing developments across the country. Jessica Auer's compulsion to view and understand places, and her fascination with recreation and tourism have led her to photograph popular cultural sites in North and South America. These images give witness to the way landscape and architecture has been preserved, restored or altered for tourism, along the way addressing issues of post-colonialism, environmental sustainability and education. Andreas Rutkauskas's practice rises out of the differing attitudes toward the urban environment in cities across Canada. The desire to live in a metropolis is weighed against economic and social reasoning, resulting in a boom in suburban development. This work underscores both the dystopia and desire that such housing tracts represent and calls into question issues of urban decay, socio-cultural change and environmental legacies.