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Reconstructed Landscapes 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

Reconstructed Landscapes 2022 | Emilio Cresciani

M16 Artspace, Gallery 1b | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Emilio Cresciani is an artist living and working on Gadigal land (Sydney). He graduated from Sydney College of the Arts in 2012 in photo media and has been a finalist in numerous awards including the Earth Photo Award London and the Bowness Photography Prize.

In 2020 he was the recipient of a Dark Matter Residency at Canberra’s PhotoAccess. His works from that residency, exhibited with the title State of Change, explored the phenomenon of climate change by integrating the transformation of ice into water with photographic processes – photograms, recorded on photographic paper revealed what happened as blocks of ice melted. The images examined – literally, figuratively, and abstractly – human impact on Earth. My review at the time described them as spectacular.

Trees have long been an inspiration for artists, so it is not surprising to see another one responding to the fact that Australia has cleared nearly half of its forest cover in the last 200 years, resulting in habitat loss, extinction of native flora and fauna, rising salinity and 14% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Making it worse, in 2020 Australia was ravaged by bushfires and more forests were destroyed. There were increased calls for back-burning and land-clearing.

Cresciani’s artwork continues to explore the intersection between climate change and altered landscapes. He has a keen interest in objects, structures, and landscape in transition, and in particular the increasing number of ‘non-places’ that fill our environment. He started the project presented here before those deadly fires, deforestation already being a huge public issue.

The process for this new project by Cresciani again uses a photographic process, but quite a different one. This time, he took an analogue camera into numerous national parks to document forests in the Australian landscape at times when those parks were being quite traumatized by the disasters resulting from climate changes. Using a daylight-type high-image-quality colour reversal 4” x 5” film, he captured patterns of tree branches, bark and leaves, light and shade.

The artist then sliced the pieces of positive slide film into different shapes and sizes, like woodchips. The slices were rearranged into bold abstract compositions on a scanner and digital images created. Every piece of every photo was included in the abstract results – even the edges of the emulsion identifying the film type. The resultant works are also very different to the previous show mentioned earlier – but are equally effective and quite fascinating to look at. They need to be closely explored.

Emilio Cresciani. Blue Mountains National Park, 2021

Emilio Cresciani. Bongil Bongil National Park, 2021

The total exhibition is a wonderful and poignant set of works. What is on exhibition here is the trauma imposed on eco-systems essential to our lives. The billions of trees cut down annually are represented by these ‘photochips’, symbolising what we are doing to our natural environment. Cropping of film images would rightly be considered by many as an act of vandalism. Bold cutting of the images into numerous pieces represents the experienced trauma. Sliced – even shredded – in such a way that the film cannot be put back together in its original form is a clear metaphor shouting to us that, when the damage done to the forests is massive, regeneration is impossible.

Emilio Cresciani. Marrangaroo National Park, 2021
Emilio Cresciani. Royal National Park, 2021

By bringing what he describes as “these cut fragments” into an art gallery, Cresciani hoped to highlight the gap between the myth of the Australian bush and the real cost of our lifestyles. Sliced and cut, sawn and hacked, these images upset the perception of trees as beautiful, functional, replaceable. They are out of place, not as they should be. The artist has succeeded in his aim – Reconstructed Landscapes effectively highlights the costs of humankind’s failings.

This review was first published on page 19 of The Canberra Times of 29.8.22 and online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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