Edward Burtynsky – Industrial Abstract

Edward Burtynsky – Industrial Abstract

Edward Burtynsky’s principal subject over the last decade or so has been the industrial landscape, or more specifically, large-scale, frequently aerial views of major industrial operations, grids, excavations, or industrial waste sites. The photographs in his current show at Von Lintel continue in this vein – part of a larger project Burtynsky has titled (not surprisingly), Anthropocene. What is fascinating about the current body of work is that it returns us to the roots of visual abstraction, even the notion of landscape itself. The history of 20th century abstraction begins in landscape (e.g., Picasso’s proto-Cubist Horta landscape studies; and arguably before that). It could be argued that our entire notion of visual abstraction, of visual description, is rooted in our apprehension and appreciation of landscape as referring to a larger notion of environment and exterior surroundings generally. It is the way we define a world within our scope and grasp; also our place in it. Not unlike some of that pre- and early Cubist work, Burtynsky’s angled, aerial perspectives tease our perceptions of foreground and horizon-line, flatten surfaces and ambiguously shadow contours. More to the point, the photographs emphasize a further extension of the peculiarly human impulse to demarcate place – and the human place within it – through aggressive mark-making. Consider the stark quasi-Cartesian geometries of the ‘Salt Pans’ at Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat (2016) or the flattened, almost Tanguy-esque desert of Silver Lake Operations #16 (2007, above) interrupted by a kind of ‘flying’ spiral festoon. Considered in the aggregate, the Anthropocene makes the notion of an earthwork or land art seem almost redundant. Humankind’s ever more aggressive industrial-scale excavations and exploitation of mineral and other resources have dramatically transformed vast swaths of the earth’s surface. Our single-minded predations have changed the way we see landscape and in turn ourselves. ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ as a biblical prophet once wrote. In the end, too, apparently – and beyond this terrifying beauty, it means still less.

Von Lintel Gallery
  2685 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Show runs thru April 22, 2017