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Critical Foreground

New Langhton Art San Francisco  •  United States of America [US]

New Langton Arts presents Critical Foreground, a group show of international contemporary artists whose works foreground the artifi ciality of cultural and economic devices that condition the representation and understanding of landscape. These artists approach the subject of landscape not as natural phenomena, but as a way of perceiving urban and rural landscapes as cultural images. The exhibition includes works by French artist Melik Ohanian, Romanian artist Mircea Cantor, Ecuadorian artists María Teresa Ponce and Miguel Alvear, and American artists Matthew Buckingham and Noah Wilson.

The photographs of Noah Wilson and María Teresa Ponce resonate with the same power that landscape painting has for appealing to our appreciation of the pictorial. While their works reference sketching and composition in painting, they also critically distance themselves from these traditions. Wilson’s effaced photographs of California’s Central Valley question the rigid structures that defi ne farmland, while resonating with the sketches of the American painter
-continuedAndrew Wyeth. Ponce’s series, Pipeline, documents the oil-pipeline that traverses Ecuador’s geography—from the rain forest to the Pacifi c Ocean. Ponce’s photographs compress time and space: the background image is taken in one single shot, while, for the duration of the day, the artist photographs different subjects and actions that are later added digitally to the background image. Ponce’s methodology resembles that used by the XIX century Ecuadorian painter Rafael Troya—who, while accompanying the great German scientifi c traveler, Alexander von Humboldt, documented the geography of the Andean volcanoes, painting scenes into the foreground to enhance the dramatic and romantic nature of the landscape.

Melik Ohanian’s video installation, Hidden (2005), consists of two images: one visible, and a Hidden (2005), consists of two images: one visible, and a Hidden second invisible image encoded within the picture. The second image has been encrypted into the work using a process called steganography—a method used to encode hidden information inside an image. According to the FBI, the plotters of the 9/11 attacks used this system to transmit information via the Internet. In Ohanian’s work, the second image cannot be revealed without the use of decoding software, and therefore can only be imagined by the viewer. Hidden resonates with notions of territory, and the politics of control, defense, and attack.

Matthew Buckingham’s installation, Traffi c Report (2005), consists of a sequence of projected Traffi c Report (2005), consists of a sequence of projected Traffi c Report still images accompanied by an audio loop—a combination of city and highway sounds, and news reports from the car’s radio. The images were taken from inside a car, documenting the last vestiges of Mills Creek Valley, an African American neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri, whose demolition was completed in 1964 in order to build the Interstate 64/US Highway 40.

Buckingham’s work is a poignant investigation of the erasure and transformation of an urban landscape that touches upon the automobile industry as a force that reshapes the land, and privileges the distancing view from the car windshield as the “American” experience of landscape.

Mircea Cantor’s video, The Landscape Is Changing (2003), presents a group of “protestors” The Landscape Is Changing (2003), presents a group of “protestors” The Landscape Is Changing walking down the streets of Tirana, Albania. This unconventional gathering holds mirrors in front of them, which refl ect and morph the surrounding urban landscape. The mirrors capture an image of a city transformed, one in which the social and urban fabric has been dramatically altered since the collapse of one of the most oppressive Communist regimes, and the intervention of utopian ideas into the life of the city.

Miguel Alvear’s video, Conteo Bai (2003), uses visual imagery from a primordial landscape to confront the viewer with an aural landscape that challenges peoples’ cognitive ability to create an image of their environment. Filmed in the Bameno region of Ecuador’s rain forest, the video is a double portrait of the landscape and its inhabitants that touches upon culture and territory, and methods of depiction that underline an exotic desire to discover and expose “otherness”.

Critical Foreground questions the different types of construction that take place for a landscape to exist and be read. Looking at specifi c physical spaces that are layered with representations informed by art movements, social sciences, and political strategies, Critical Foreground highlights the conditions that take place in the formation of an imaginary and physical landscape, and the negotiations between the two.

- Continued Langton presents Terra Incognita—three nights of screenings of works by artists and Terra Incognita—three nights of screenings of works by artists and Terra Incognita fi lmmakers including Chantal Akerman, Lindsay Benedict, Mario Chierico, Peter Hutton, Hernan Khourian, Abbas Kiarostami, Mungo Thomson, among others, that resonate with the exhibition, Critical Foreground.


Artists : Miguel Alvear, Matthew Buckingham, Mircea Cantor, Melik Ohanian, María Teresa Ponce, and Noah Wilson


New Langton Arts
1246 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94103-3817
415 626 5416
415 255 1453