A Constructed Landscape

[Winter 2001-2002]

by Jacques Doyon

In spite of the diversity of their modalities and subjects, the works brought together here are notable for their common interest in the sutures and marks in the landscape, the zones where significant transformations and their underlying issues are revealed surreptitiously or, on the contrary, concealed. These fault lines, or “cracks,” to use Suzanne Paquette’s very good term in an article in this issue, are found as much in the landscapes themselves as in the portrayals of them.

In fact, all perceptions of the landscape are mediated by representations, values, intentions. These works encourage us to probe with a more attentive regard the many states of the natural and urban landscape.

Ivan Binet’s panoramic photographs encompass vast stretches, both spatial and temporal. Their sequences merge different points of view and condense different moments of his own visits to the landscape. These images fall within the tradition of panoramic photography, while integrating the multiplicity of points of view and the mobility proper to the sequence and to cinematographic editing. An important component of this work, indeed, is its condensation of time as put into play by the concatenation of urban and rural landscapes, since it is through this condensation that the slow transformation of the landscape by human activity is evoked. Even in the photographs in which the landscape appears the most natural, the traces of its domestication are present everywhere, whether in the landscaping or in the access facilities. These works take on as a repertoire the different horizons to which a single walker has looked. These horizons have a temporal dimension: it is our future and the values of which it will be made.

Isabelle Hayeur’s digital images also probe the transformations of the landscape. Hayeur pays particular attention to the zones where a certain disorder rules, where the stakes of a transformation by human hands or a repossession of a space by nature are still in play: urban peripheries in development, empty lots, abandoned industrial areas, and exploited natural zones. They activate these stakes through simulation: an abandoned quarry that becomes a lake, the buried traces of heavy vehicles, nature in upheaval due to excavations and embankments are the fates of these non-places. These “uncertain landscapes,” somewhat contrived because re-created from different sources, are nevertheless all too real. In them is condensed, in a subtle way, our relationship with nature. With the width and depth of the shots and their particular light (from  a flat grey to a dull luminosity), the photographs magnify these sites, as if to echo the seriousness of the questions. They bring their share of the sublime – a sublime that is rather cool because the “unrepresentable” has somehow become much too palpable.

Manuel Piña’s approach is altogether different: he retraces the marks of an obliteration in the fate of public monuments, and exhumes in the urban environment the memory of ideological ventures. He does not manipulate the images; instead, he pays very close attention to detail: filled cavities, naked pedestals, places that are empty or decorated with trees where nothing would seem strange if they had not been designated as sites of the dispossession of an obliterated memory. What is at play here is less the values of the period before the Cuban revolution, with its pro-American allegiances and the regime’s corruption, than the eradication of an entire period of history. More specifically, these are the issues of symbolism of the monument for the common memory: forced tribute or attestation? The recent wave of monuments, and counter-monuments, bearing witness to historical errors, highlighting the fate of victims, or becoming rallying points for social groups, show a trend toward diversification of the values that have a right to occupy public places. The focus of Piña’s work is, in fact, to encourage the revival of a pluralistic social memory.