Michael Matsil: Occupied Territory
Portfolio Introduction
In the east, where I am from, settlement and development are subtractive processes. The natural environment is seemingly carved away in order to make space for human activity. In contrast, the western high desert begins as a blank slate, where sky and earth meet declaratively along a neat edge. There, the addition of buildings, delineations and paths of movement are apparent additive acts. This reversal of environmental figure/ground unveils a landscape in a tenuous or occupied state.

It is our dream to live comfortably and painlessly in a wild land; to possess the landscape as if it were a personal artifact. These occupations are often born of unrealistic aspirations and wishes, based on the notion of impenetrable individualism. The scholar John Brinckerhoff Jackson describes a landscape not as a private world but as a "shared reality" and "a collection of lands." In other words, a tapestry of projected ideas and beliefs. He goes on to say that what we see in the vernacular landscape is an image of our common humanity. Within that constructed idea of landscape lie the many facets of contemporary land use; from the simple and harmonious to the complex and disruptive.

As an artist, I choose to depict these sometimes awkward and unintended outcomes juxtaposed with undeniable beauty. By using the unflinching, square frame to visually unify these two facets, I have endeavored to depict the subtle relationships and interactions between "occupation" and "territory." This body of photographs seeks to re-imagine these contrasting ideas into a single view, much the same way that the idea of landscape expresses a common humanity.

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