There are places where nature’s presence is more intensely felt, where the question of the city’s interrelations with its natural environment emerges more spontaneously. Certain circumstances are also conducive to raising such reflections – among them, sense of unfamiliarity experienced during a stay abroad, obvious deterioration in the equilibrium or beauty of a place, and pressure exerted for appropriation of a public site for private purposes.
The product of a residency in a small Icelandic town, Jessica Auer’s January portrays a unique experience of winter light in a mountainous environment. From the sparkling whites of the snow to the variety of blues (from the daytime sky to the night glow, through the half-tones of sunless days), from rippling reflections on dark water to the bright sun on the high mountain faces, the images are luminous. We are plunged into perception: apprehending what photography can capture of the light of a place cloaked in the shadow of mountains and the cold of winter.
With Mon boisé, Geneviève Chevalier features two contradictory views of an urban forest that is suddenly being targeted by a real estate development project. The installation contrasts the images of nature that is preserved or arranged for the public good (video on the phenomenon of “the timidity of trees”; photographic montage of woods, parks, gardens, and urban cemeteries) against documents showing the appropriation for private purposes of such natural sites (buildings being erected within hundred-year-old forests and promotional pamphlets for sales of properties). In this way, Chevalier contributes to the debate over preservation of the few remaining urban forests and public access to them.
Also the result of a residency, the series of seventy images by Isabelle Hayeur, Desert Shores (L’Amérique perdue), forms a desolate portrait of a small California area, Salton Sea, which was once a famous vacation spot. With a lake whose salinity is higher than that of the Pacific, the result of agricultural pollution and neg-ligence, this site is now deserted, sandy, arid. With their raw backlighting and grey hues, the images are hard and unvarnished. They show abandoned and ransacked houses, shattered windows, angry and insulting graffitis, and sand everywhere – and, in the distant background, a few signs of life of a victimized population.
These artworks are interesting, among other things, because they are based on a conception of nature to be preserved not as a given in itself but as a component of our “ecological condition,” as a component of the world that we are shaping and that shapes us in return. Translated by Käthe Roth