Landscapes Without Memory.  Photographs by Joan Fontcuberta. Essay by Geoffrey Batchen.
Landscapes Without Memory.  booktease preview.

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 computer-generated 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 the tonguescape. 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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