The Edge of the Earth – Leo Hsu

[Winter 2017]
Adrien Missika, Documentation photograph of Darvaza, Turkmenistan, 2011

Adrien Missika, Documentation photograph of Darvaza, Turkmenistan, 2011

Climate Change in Photography and Video

Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto
September 14 to December 4, 2016

by Leo Hsu

The Edge of the Earth: Climate Change in Photography and Video grapples with our changing understanding of the connection between human activity and the destiny of this planet. The title does not begin to suggest the exhibition’s ambitions, which go far beyond surveying work related to climate change. Curator Bénédicte Ramade has thoughtfully assembled artworks spanning five decades in an exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre that ponders humanity’s relationship with the world that we are making, but that we may well not survive.

The exhibition proposes that to imagine the implications of the Anthropocene, described in wall text as “the era marked by total human domination of the planet, right down to its geological essence,” we require a new visual language. Edge of the Earth seeks to move past imagery of ecological crises focused on describing consumption, waste, and the corruption of the natural world toward work that visualizes the planetary character of geologic and atmospheric changes. This aesthetic does not take humans as its scale for measurement; if anything, the people represented in this exhibition appear inert and insignificant when set against the changes that our actions have brought about. What we perceive as calamities, the earth does not perceive at all.

Julian Charrière’s Panorama, Behind the Scene (2011) adroitly comments on our anthropocentric narcissism. The video shows what appears to be a mountain glowing in warm sunlight. It’s a familiar view, recalling both Romantic painting and the lionized monoliths of North American landscape photography. But this conceit is disrupted by the artist’s appearance above the peak; what we thought was a majestic mountain is revealed as a mound of dirt.

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