Monday, February 23, 2009

OPINION: Is there a Vermont style or styles?

This is in response to a question submitted by Sam Thurston and posted on February 12, 2009. Further responses will be posted as they are received.

By Riki Moss

To consider that there is a Vermont style implies that Vermont’s painters relate to their landscape differently than those in, say, the state of New Hampshire; that art is in someway defined by statehood, rather than a state of mind. Even raising the question makes me nervous and feels - my students used to love this - very last century.

So what's very this century? Our culture has just yesterday been jolted awake with the realization that our species is devouring its own habitat and that it may be too late. Our hunger for technology has separated us from everything in the world that is not human - the ground, sky and plant life, the animals, water and air - severing the bonds with that which provides the very nourishment we need to exist. We are no longer part of the natural world: we rule it, and we rule it badly. We have devalued our own currency. What we depend on has become expendable. Surprise, all gone.

What's an artist to do? Do we sink into despair or polemic? Or do we keep up the illusion that (like the market) the environment will self-correct and we keep on painting pretty pictures? Neither? Both? Something new?

The current show at Mass MoCa entitled Badlands, New Horizons in Landscape posits a “next chapter in the landscape tradition” as artists express their hunger for a new cellular connection with all that is not human - a desire to experience it directly, to be it, grieve with it, rather than regard it from the middle distance. Badlands refers to “an area filled with both inhospitable conditions and immense beauty,” while simultaneously suggesting a landscape that is in very bad shape indeed.

From the catalog: the show “…. opens the next chapter in the landscape tradition, addressing contemporary ideas of exploration, population of the wilderness, land usage, environmental politics and the relativity of aesthetic beauty. Badlands comes at this critical time, an era when the world is more ecologically aware yet more desperately in need of solutions than ever before.”

image: Anthony Goicolea, Tree Dwellers, 2004 from MassMoCa's website

I don't see any Vermonters amongst those exhibiting artists. Most of them seem to be from New York or LA or Philadelphia. But here in Vermont, we’re looking down the same well and drinking deeply. More about that in another posting.