Queen's University — Since 1873
30th July 2013

Minimalism with some substance

Five artists use photography and video in their explorations of human existence and solitude

Juxtaposing still-life landscape and the human body, Sarah Fuller’s display inspires a shift in perspective on  human action and the environment.
Juxtaposing still-life landscape and the human body, Sarah Fuller’s display inspires a shift in perspective on human action and the environment. (Sam Koebrich)

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Empty but refined, solitary yet comforting — Wish You Were Here: Interventions into Landscape, at the Union Gallery, blends minimalism with substance.

Five artists contribute to the multi-faceted exhibit, which, as the exhibit’s program puts it, is meant to explore the “modes of engaging with our surroundings through the tourist’s gaze.” All the pieces, from photography to video, seem to portray an individual’s impact on their surroundings.

Perhaps this is best exhibited by Susan Dobson’s large, minimalistic prints.

Each photo depicts a gateway to an unidentifiable warehouse. Images of industrial smog and labour might be the beholder’s first thought.

After a glance, however, the images seem to depict anything but that. They begin to show comfort in the simple and predictable.

The warehouse wall towers over an accent flowerpot or lawn chair, with only an empty parking lot and a blue sky there to complement them. We’re meant to focus specifically on the quintessential root of the subject rather then its surroundings.

Ben Darrah’s painting seems eerily similar to Dobson’s photography. A printed lawn chair sits in front of a landscape. This simplicity asserts the observer’s perspective as a subject rather than as a distracting entity.

Maria Whiteman’s Hiking Through the Suburbs series is interesting, though the weakest of the show.

The photos, depicting a figure exploring what remains of the natural world in a series of cookie-cutter houses and planned developments, lack clarity or simplicity.

The tourist-y take on human construction seems desperate to appeal to minimalism, but ultimately fails to carry any weight in its execution.

Sarah Fuller’s Experiments into Landscape series redeems the show.

Her work features two monitors each displaying a mountainous landscape in still, as a young but unidentifiable woman performs handstands that mirror the height of the landscape.

The sound of crunching snow as the actor walks in and out of frame, compared to the vastness of the peaks, is inspiring.

The artist convincingly demonstrates that while no human will manage to create anything as monumental as a mountain, our actions can stand just as tall if viewed from the right perspective.

Susi Brister’s photo J and Horses in Snow in Snow is perhaps the most notable single photo of the show. Depicted is what’s presumably a person beneath a blanket embossed with horses running through a snowy field. The subject huddles upon similarly contrasting ground.

Only their figure, and a tip of hair, is distinguishable.

The piece represents loneliness with a subtle hint of sarcasm — perhaps the artists’ own thoughts on the feeling.

Raw in form but refined in message, perhaps the Pink Floyd-inspired naming of Wish You Were Here is meant to depict just that — humanity’s existence, experienced through the loneliness within the surroundings.

The exhibit will be on display at Union Gallery until Sept. 20.

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