Seeing the forest for the frieze

The must-see work in the Asheville Art Museum’s latest exhibition, Time is of the Essence: Contemporary Landscape Art, is the film Hidden Inside Mountains by Laurie Anderson.

Ken Fandell’s striking photo collage, “All the Skies Above.”

Yes, that Laurie Anderson, the performance artist of 1980s “O Superman” fame. But fans of the pioneering musician know that violin and keyboards are only two of the media at which she is adept. As a person who migrates toward paintings, drawings or prints (and someone who can sometimes lose interest quickly in video works), I was surprised to find myself mesmerized by Mountains. Within the film (commissioned for the 2005 World Expo in Aichi, Japan), Anderson presents 12 stories depicting human connection to place and the passing of time. Like a cinematic answer to Proust (the French novelist who penned In Search of Lost Time), the project references art history, dream sequences and indicators of the seasons. In one of the loveliest images, two white-clad women serenely occupy a quiet white space.

If it comes as a surprise that film figures into a landscape exhibit, this show (like others organized by adventurous guest curator Ann Batchelder) pushes the boundaries of perception. Here, contemporary artists explore the juxtaposition of not just trees and blossoms, but time and space—and the universal human concern for those forces.

German-born feminist artist Kiki Smith finds affirmation in the natural world. Her work, “Tidal,” a 13-foot accordion book, depicts the power of the full moon on both the ocean’s tides and the female body. Meanwhile, award-winning photographer Richard Misrach concerns himself with erosion and decay. His disturbing work bears witness to wetlands destroyed by oil companies. In “Swamp and Pipeline near Geismar, Louisiana,” the whole scene appears covered in a deep, bilious green snow. From the same area, known as “Cancer Alley,” Misrach captures a deceptively pleasant, fog-shrouded body of water. The photograph title, “Hazardous Waste Containment Site, Dow Chemical Corporation, Mississippi River, Plaquemine, Louisiana,” says it all.

More uplifting is “All the Skies Above,” a huge photograph by Ken Fandell. The seamless collage of aerial shots calls to mind the romantic painted domes of Baroque palaces. Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto delves into the unchanging qualities of the sea, presented in a series of starkly minimal images.

Closer to home is Vietnam Memorial designer Maya Lin’s topographic sculpture of the French Broad River, formed with thousands of straight pins. Remember, this exhibit is about covering new ground in nature art. But, whether of nearby landscapes or those farther afield, all of the images from Time is of the Essence are intended to inspire and challenge us to a deeper appreciation of the natural world.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville painter and writer.]


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who: Time is of the Essence: Contemporary Landscape Art
what: An unusual look at multimedia landscape art, curated by Ann Batchelder
where: Asheville Art Museum
when: On display through Sunday, June 22 ($6 admission,  253-3227)

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