Landscapes Without Memory.
Photographs by Joan Fontcuberta. Essay by Geoffrey Batchen.
Aperture, New York, 2005. 96 pp., 80 color illustrations, 11¾x8¾".
Known for his elaborate photographic hoaxes that challenge
our ideas of knowledge, Fontcuberta takes art and
its bedrock, the landscape, to task as he examines what
happens when they are subjected to scientific analysis.
Using geographic software that builds photo-realistic
landscapes from scanned data (such as maps),
Fontcuberta enters scans of various landscape masterpieces
to generate entirely altered geographies.
Cézanne, Dali, Mondrian and Le Gray, among others, are
subjected to the process that Fontcuberta refers to as
orogenesis—mountain formation through the faulting of
the earth’s crust. Interestingly, the software is encoded
to reproduce highly stereotypical features and renders
the data into all the sparkling lakes, blue skies, crisp
waterfalls, and breathtaking mountains that we recognize
from postcards and nature calendars. And, thus, the
groundbreaking artworks are transformed into cliché
panoramas through a kind of virtual, hyper-realistic orogenesis.
Fontcuberta also turns to his own body for
material. One can imagine him giddy at the scanner
wondering what his face and genitals will look like as
landscapes. And we
can’t help wondering,
too, why the earscape
appears as a winter
scene or why an eagle
soars above the desert in
Throughout, the "photographs" force the viewer to consider
the genre of landscape more carefully. Instead of
providing a cultural interpretation of nature, as the act
of art making often does, these landscapes provide a
scientific interpretation with cultural metaphors of
nature deeply embedded within its terms. With this,
Fontcuberta questions if science, itself, is not culturally
and socially driven, if the tools we use to measure actually
perpetuate cultural norms as much as advance our
horizons. His landscapes of landscapes question the
foundation of human knowledge: our dependency on
metaphor, something both the imagination and sciences
share. The book’s cover brilliantly features Rousseau’s
The Dream on one side and its computer translation on
the other, emphasizing the duality of metaphors: the
expanded metaphoric possibilities through dreams and
art, as well as the strictures that metaphors place on science,
defining uncertainty with what is known and familiar.
A master conceptualist and comedian, Fontcuberta
keeps us looking, laughing, thinking and guessing in this
new monograph. - DENISE WOLFF
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