In Art, I am generally not a fan of beautiful landscapes. That is not to say that I do not appreciate the inherent splendor of nature, it just always seems too picturesque and subsequently too easy. The source of my aversion is popular visual culture’s inundation of images showing over-saturated suns rising or setting, paths and docks receding into the distance, and natural monuments impressing their grandeur. It is a manipulation of the majority’s wide-ranging attraction to the unchallenging and aesthetically pleasing. In Water & Polaroid, Matthew Brandt’s current solo-exhibition at Highlight Gallery, he appropriates and subverts the archetypes of landscape and commercial photography to create works that are both visually striking and challenge the expectations of a “good” landscape photograph.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Matthew Brandt’s reference to contemporary and historical landscapes is a backhanded compliment. He utilizes the pop beauty of nature photography in combination with advertising devices, then breaks them down into a mash up of scenic disintegration. On one side of the gallery hang three bright light boxes, facing them is a mammoth color photograph and on the middle wall two small, monochromatic Polaroids contrast the surrounding vibrancy. While each photograph is undoubtedly of a beautiful vista, none of them gives viewers the cheap pleasures of mainstream landscape photography.
In both Nymph Lake WY 4 (2013) and the Mystic Falls triptych, Brandt made photographs referencing 19th century landscape photography, then exposed them to water from the original site resulting in the deterioration of the materials. Nymph Lake WY 4, a 72 x 105 inch c-print looks as though the water in which it soaked for weeks freed the layers of emulsion, allowing them to organically spread across the image in exuberant chaos. Despite that the water is technically destroying the paper, it reveals the true nature of the medium and the unparalleled chromatic capacity of analog color paper.
For the three Mystic Falls pieces, Brandt separated the CMYK layers of a single image and reproduced the multiple layers as Duraclear and Duratrans prints, which he then left under a simulated waterfall spouting water from Mystic Falls. Mounted in light boxes, the images are reminiscent of illuminated advertisements at bus stops, which draw us to them like moths to a flame. Brandt contrasts the overtly sensational media by allowing the organic materials of the original site to destroy the image of itself.
The works slip in and out of varying levels of clarity and corrosion, transforming what is typically the most accessible subject matter into images celebrating the unpredictability of nature and of Brandt’s process. Commercial culture depends on the predictable desires of populations, which drives an attempt to control all variables and produce highly specified consumerist campaigns. Instead of attempting to “capture” the boundless magnificence of the great outdoors, Brandt allows nature to strike back and remind us that it will not be contained.
Water & Polaroid is on view at Highlight Gallery until May 18, 2013.