Preparing to Continue

CRITICS CHOICE: Allen Topolski writes about Circuit Gallery artist Heather Layton‘s body of work entitled “Preparing to Lose” as part of our ongoing blog series.

Heather Layton, Training Exercise #1 (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Training Exercise #1 (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Preparing to Continue
by Allen Topolski

Second place is so tragic. Third and all the rest hardly matter.

The Winter Olympic medal count just ran across the bottom of the TV screen – as if that is all we needed to sum it up. Who decided that the list’s order should be based on the over-all number of metals (US), as opposed to the most gold (Canada)? Aren’t we just altering the data so as to win?

Can’t we just say that ‘trying’ is all that matters and that losing only makes us stronger? Perhaps we’re not trying hard enough though; and who is to say if we are? And wouldn’t that be just a different strategy for winning?

Okay – ‘process.’ We can rest in the comfort of the ongoing. I like process. But process still does imply work toward an end. I’m afraid I have adopted process only because it continually poses the potential to become about trying or winning.

If only we could truly embrace continual transformation as a resolve… (It’s a paradox – I know – but we live plenty of them anyway.) Transition pushed to constancy bears out continuation. If we could desire that as a means of existence, we’d be happy to prepare to lose. Just as happy to practice to win or arrange our own downfall. Because the ‘endings’ would only exist in this scenario as points along a continuum, I guess what I’m talking about is just ‘being’ – but importantly, active ‘being’ and being a part for its own sake.

What Heather Layton is usually ‘talking about’ in her art – and what is so expertly presented in her ‘Preparing to Lose’ series, is ‘active being’ – the constancy or persistence employed by the collective and the splendor of contribution. Forget losing individuality to the collective, it doesn’t happen in the spaces of Heather’s art. If one truly commits to the role of the active participant, one’s desire for individuality – and the pride that comes with it – dissolves with the urge to conquer. Individuality is still there though – determined by fair distribution of different roles and separate objects – the weight of the buckets (Hospice) or the pattern of the bundles (Beautiful Burden).

Layton’s Circuit Gallery drawings look tragic to me – familiar and funny illustrations of futility – but that is only because I remain mired in finality. The parachute softens the landing and upon the landing it immediately becomes the – um, – burden? Nope. It immediately becomes the tool to manage a burden. Objects here are the same as people – they are what they can do or choose to do. By our common standards it may not be the best tool (that would be too similar to winning) and it may not be the best process (that would emphasize trying) but it is what it is and it is pointed not to a result divided and ranked but a shared experience, a story very worthy of telling.

Allen C. Topolski is a practicing artist, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Rochester (Rochester, New York). He teaches a variety of interdisciplinary courses. Topolski was raised in the coal region of central Pennsylvania. He was formally trained in painting and later realized the importance of artifacts from his post-industrial childhood town – they prompted the investigations of nostalgia and domesticity that dominate his work today. Topolski received his BA from Bucknell University and his MFA in 1990 from Penn State University. Topolski has a national exhibition record and is currently involved in a number of public art initiatives in the city of Rochester.


See more work by Heather Layton:

Heather Layton, Pull (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Pull (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Parachute Down (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Parachute Down (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Arsenal (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Heather Layton, Arsenal (from Preparing to Lose), 2008

Featured Artist: Alejandro Cartagena

March 2010

Circuit Gallery is very pleased to present work by Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena from his award winning Lost Rivers series.

Suburbia Mexicana Lost Rivers

Untitled Lost River #10, from the Suburbia Mexicana Project, 2008

Coming from a deeply felt love and concern for the landscape, Cartagena’s Lost Rivers series presents exquisite images of dried-up streams and river beds, visually rich in detail, colour, and light. While aesthetically alluring, these photographs simultaneously offer a poignant social commentary on the ecological and environmental effects of untempered urban expansion.

Lost Rivers is one part of a larger project entitled Suburbia Mexicana: Cause and Effect, which seeks to tell a complex story of contemporary Mexican urban development and expansion: from urban gentrification and inner-city ‘ghettoization,’ to the seemingly unplanned and unhampered suburban sprawl emanating from many of its fast growing cities.

Alejandro Cartagena

from Suburbia Mexicana: Fragmented Cities

In Lost Rivers, Cartagena turns his attention specifically to the unintended environmental consequences of such rapid and unplanned growth, in this case in the region surrounding the northern city of Monterrey. (Monterrey, the third largest city in Mexico, has witnessed explosive growth over the past two decades with a current estimated population of 5.1 million in the metropolitan region). In order to meet increased demand for water from the fast expanding suburbs of Monterrey, many of the region’s rivers were re-routed and dammed, and as a consequence many of the rivers and streams have dried out, or are in the process of drying up.

Suburbia Mexicana Lost Rivers

Untitled Lost River #9, from the Suburbia Mexicana Project, 2008

The images in this series subtly document the direct effects of “wrongly implemented economical strategies” on the local ecosystem, all the while exposing a beauty that, despite this, inheres in the landscape. As the river beds become scars, and trash and graffiti punctuate quasi-picturesque scenes, Cartagena gives us a poignant yet ambivalent testament to the absolute interdependence of humans and our environment.

Suburbia Mexicana

Untitled Lost River #2, from the Suburbia Mexicana Project, 2008



See more photographic work from this series by Alejandro Cartagena available through Circuit Gallery:

Untitled Lost River #4, from the Suburbia Mexicana Series, 2008

Untitled Lost River #4, from the Suburbia Mexicana Project, 2008

Untitled Lost River #3, from the Suburbia Mexicana series

Untitled Lost River #7, from the Suburbia Mexicana Series, 2008

Untitled Lost River #7, from the Suburbia Mexicana Project, 2008

Circuit Gallery artist Alejandro Cartagena APERTURE 2009 Portfolio Prize finalist

Emergence

Untitled Lost River #9, from the Suburbia Mexicana Project

Congratulations to Circuit Gallery artist Alejandro Cartagena, who was selected as a finalist from among the nearly 800 applicants to this year’s APERTURE Portfolio Prize, an international photography competition run by the Aperture Foundation.

Suburbia Mexicana

Untitled Lost River #6, from the Suburbia Mexicana Project, 2008

Read what they have to say about the LOST RIVERS series:

APERTURE Editorial Statement
The photographs in Lost Rivers by Alejandro Cartagena (b. 1977), which are part of a larger body of work entitled Suburbia Mexicana: Cause and Effect, interrogate the interdependence of humans and landscape in the face of urban expansion. Although artists and activists alike have placed intense focus on the negative impact of urban sprawl since the 1960s, Cartagena’s work is unique in its preoccupation with the subtler effects of suburban expansion, largely overlooked but indicative of significant, irrevocable change within a local ecosystem.

The city of Monterrey, at the heart of the Mexican state of Nuevo León, is the third largest city in Mexico, with a population of 3.8 million in the metropolitan region. As Monterrey’s population expands outward from the city center, increased demand for water has necessitated the reallocation of the region’s limited resources. Cartagena explains that, in the last twenty years, many local rivers and streams were “rerouted to dams to supply water for the nine cities of the metropolitan area of Monterrey, or have dried out as suburbia’s approximately 300,000 new houses move closer, destroying vegetation that sheltered and preserved the riverbeds’ running water.” The images in Lost Rivers provide explicit evidence of botched urban development and inadequate economic policy, even as they reveal the beauty to be found within the spoiled landscapes.

Formally, Cartagena’s photographs recall the monumental images of Minor White and Ansel Adams, while simultaneously reaching further back to the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School. The photographs are steeped in the Romantic tradition: sublime landscapes charged with glowing color and rich texture. Cartagena’s sensitive handling of color is evident in his saturated palette, which blends bright green, sienna, and sky blue with the deeper grey and purple notes of tires, spray paint, and bags of litter. The sharply detailed images reveal the lush texture of a bank of swamp greens, as well as the oily surface of a rivulet in the morning light. In many Romantic works, a central human presence unites the composition, serving as an emotional or inspirational keystone to the painting’s moral message. Unlike these scenes, however, Cartagena’s photographs are characterized by their focus on the traces of human presence—trash, graffiti marking a bridge, an empty riverbed—leaving the referent a vacuum.

Cartagena’s deliberate play on these visual tropes renders the desecration of these landscapes aesthetically as well as ethically repugnant. This tension between Romanticism and realism charges Cartagena’s work with both the artist’s love for the landscape and his sadness at its destruction, rendering the photographs simultaneously paean and admonishing elegy.

—JB (Aperture)



See more photographic work from this series by Alejandro Cartagena available through Circuit Gallery:

Alejandro Cartagena, Untitled Lost River #3, from the Suburbia Mexicana series

Untitled Lost River #4, from the Suburbia Mexicana Series, 2008

Untitled Lost River #4, from the Suburbia Mexicana Project, 2008

Untitled Lost River #2, from the Suburbia Mexicana Series, 2008

Untitled Lost River #2, from the Suburbia Mexicana Project, 2008