Seek Out Immutable Landscapes.

Bos Arts, Cornwall. September 2009.

 

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A site specific response to Zennor Head in Cornwall. At the time I was leafing through the book, '101 Philosophies of the Everyday' by Roger Pol Droit and this text seemed to describe the way I felt in this place. The complex relationship between what we percieve as nature or landscape and what that means. In reality what we are actually seeing is a history of human intervention and what we are experiencing is the history of perception.

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Response by Felicity Notley

Walking up to Zennor Head from any direction, the first glimpse of the installation is likely to be a board mounted approximately three metres high on wooden posts showing an image of sea and sky. It is the same sea and sky that spreads out behind the noticeboard. Indeed, if you stand in a certain place, and if the light in the sky is just so, the image and the origins of the image will match up exactly to create the illusion of a window cut out of the world.

In all there are three noticeboards of varying heights. Their design and structure mimics the sort of noticeboards you often see on walks through natural places, giving information about the history of the area, local landmarks et cetera. The images Jennie Savage has placed on these boards, however, do not so much tell as ask.

The three boards stand in relationship to one another, all facing inwards to create a kind of closed circle or in fact triangle with ample walking space between them.

The tallest of the three is the one bearing the photograph of sea and sky. It is immediately accessible, a familiar romantic image placed in a new context. For me it is as if a portion of the sea and sky has been cut out and framed and this leads me to consider what the significance of such a frame might be.

This installation is out in the open. It is not in a museum. Anyone can see it and most will come upon it unexpectedly. Traditionally, a framed picture would have been hung in a gallery with the tacit assumption that whatever was within the frame was beautiful or important. In this case, perhaps the message is somewhat different. The fact that an image of sea and sky has been taken and then superimposed upon its own background leads me to ask, which do we look at, the image or the real living, breathing landscape? Does the image draw attention to itself, or conversely does it make us value the “real thing” all the more?

Turning anti-clockwise, I consider the second notice-board which shows a photograph of a coastline. As I look up, I see that the coastline is in fact exactly the same coastline as the one that stretches out in front of me. In the lower part of the board there is an image of numbered box-files bearing names: Trevessa, Rosewall Hill, Treveal, Trevega… These are the names of the headlands along this stretch of coast. The lower picture at first contrasts oddly with the photograph above. The box-files look slightly battered. The names are printed along each one in bold practical type. This is an image of thorough-going data-collection, not scenery. And yet, this is probably the point. A landscape, today, is not only a landscape. It does not exist in isolation, untouched by humans. Human beings have made it their business to know this stretch of coastline intimately. The National Trust has bulky files about each cliff and beach.

The third noticeboard is the lowest of the three and stands approximately a metre off the ground. The surface is tilted upwards for ease of viewing. Again, its shape and structure are exactly like the signs a hill-walker or tourist is used to seeing. But the images are more ambiguous. This board displays three pictures: a wooden signpost, a man with a map and a construction site.

Lifting my head from this noticeboard, I see the landscape stretching inland, complete with its traces of human activity, from hedges that follow the lines of ancient roads to modern footpaths. The landscape even in this beautiful and wild part of Cornwall is not virgin. It bears many marks. And the rhythm of lines and shapes is echoed by the map in the picture.

I look closely at the photograph of the man with the map. On his jacket there is a pattern of leaves, which looks almost as if it could have come through from the foliage in the adjoining photograph. Just as the natural world has been affected by human beings, so human beings wear the marks of the natural world, in patterns and logos.

The image of the signpost with arrows pointing left and right is stark and simple. It is a familiar feature of our 21st century landscape. It is also an ancient symbol, perhaps the most ancient, and lays itself wide open for interpretation. The two arrows pointing away from each other suggest ambiguity, contradiction, or perhaps a looking forward and looking back. For me, they suggest the relationship between things, the links between past and present. When we observe a landscape, we do not come to it completely fresh. We are not separate from it. This world has been marked and mapped and catalogued by human beings down through the ages. When we look at a landscape we are part of that complex relationship.

Returning again to the image of the sky, the horizon and the sea, I consider the claim; There is a solution close to hand. Turn to look out to sea. Nothing has changed here. Indeed, in front of me there is only sea and sky. Today there are no ships and no aeroplanes, and yet I wonder. Nothing has changed here, and yet we carry the whole history of human experience with us, even when we look out to sea.

I consider that this is the same sea and sky my ancestors would have known, but it is also the sea of our modern world, photographed, catalogued, measured. This contradiction, or perhaps it is continuity, like the two-directional signpost, exists.

 

 

Project © Jennie Savage 2009

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