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Modern landscapes on display at VSW


Visual Studies Workshop's current exhibit, "Land Form," is full of fascinating vistas that reject classical depictions of landscapes in favor of reflecting the rapid, and at times disturbing, shifts in physical, cultural, and psychological terrain.

When you take the staircase up from the workshop's main entrance on Prince Street, you're immediately confronted by what appears to be a pixelated black and white forest of pines that fill the opposite wall. Step closer to this mural-sized work by Katie Efstathiou, and the monumental forms dissolve into a prismatic dot matrix that overlaps to create a twinkling, patterned field of wheels and stars. "Bridger Range" is named for the subsection of the Rocky Mountains where Efstathiou shot this image with a camera mounted to a remote control helicopter.

Provided information points out that her technique poses a unique challenge — she's photographing without the benefit of being able to see what she's shooting. "Efstathiou simply steers her imaging device over topography in hopes she will capture details not otherwise available to her," the wall text states.

Turn to the right to encounter Carolyn Janssen's epic cyberscapes, which combine landscape, self-portraiture, religion, science fiction, and digital kitsch. Three fantastical, digital composite images feature mountains and bodies of water made up of hundreds of snapshots and crowded with cloned images of the artist. "Massive Failure" strikes a keen balance between utopian dream world and a bizarre dystopia — plants and objects ring a reflective pool where tiny figures frolic in the shadow of towering peaks, but upon closer inspection, the ranges resolve into veritable trash heaps.

Turn around and head toward the gallery proper, outside of which you can check out work by Thomas Albdorf, who reduces the mighty Austrian Alps as the staging and backdrop for his true subject: constructed forms.

Nearby, a computer monitor is available for visitors to scroll through Martin Brink's "2014 Walks," a PDF photobook that pairs simple black and white photos taken on daily walks with URL headlines containing the word "walk," corresponding to the day each image was shot.

Brink's concept and execution are wonderfully uncomplicated. His images range from bleak coastal pathways to sun-and-shadow dappled wood trails, and each gains a new connotation from the headlines, which by turns allude to health tips, concepts of freedom ("Michigan Cop Stops Black Man for Walking With Hands in his Pockets in the Freezing Cold"), environmental concerns ("China Asks Citizens to Walk and Ride Bikes to Cut Smog"), political matters, and this gonzo tech world of ours ("'Walk' Your Drone With a Dog Leash"; "Walk and Work in This Human-Sized Hamster Wheel).

Inside the gallery space itself is a room-wrapping installation of a selection of photographs from "Quaking Aspen: A Lyric Complaint," Gary Metz's significant 1970's oeuvre. Metz sought to challenge the first 100 years of landscape photography, "which had placed a major emphasis on depicting nature as sublime, heroic, and unspoiled," the provided information states.

Metz was less interested in the glorification of nature than in depicting everyday American vernacular. Stacked rows of small, grayscale images picture piles of industrial material set against the backdrop of hills; a stray dog running along a high, frame-dominating cinderblock wall; automobiles; and rural landscapes disrupted by mismatched structures. Metz's undramatic framing of the mundane focuses on the shapes and patterns of man's presence, though people themselves aren't pictured.

Wall text states that while his contemporaries were recognized for "similar investigations" and featured in the Eastman Museum's 1975 exhibition "New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape," Metz never received that level of acknowledgement.

By contrast, the four images from Anastasia Samoylova's "Landscape Sublime" project read as highly dramatic crashes of weather and terrain. To create each photograph, Samoylova printed images onto 3D table top assemblages, which are then styled with studio lights, mirrors, and other commercial photography tools, "forming a multi-layer interrogation of 'picturesque' aesthetics," the wall text states. Folds in the rephotographed images, which are clustered and staged in a dark room, lend the illusion of multiple realms coming into close proximity with one another in the vacuum of space.

A wall-mounted screen shows Mark Dorf's videos "Untitled #56" from the series "//_PATH" and "Untitled GIFS" from the series "Emergence." In each, a still image of a copse of tall trees is by turns interrupted by a contrasting digital element: a twirling topographic map, a color-shifting house shape, and an angled mirror or portal with a scrolling scene of ferns. Dorf's work, which utilizes applied charting and graphing of visual data, "offers a poignant metaphor for the control we impose upon the physical world," the provided info says.

Situated on the floor in the center of the space, Lionel Bayol-Themines's "High Land" is a playful if ominous hybrid of photo and sculpture. His digitally altered images of the snowy Alps are pasted to thick board, which is positioned to resemble the peaks of a mountain range. Echoing the possibly ineffectual response to global climate change, Bayol-Themines counteracts the changes he induces to the imagery by re-creating the physical arrangement of the mountains," the provided info states. The act is "a symbolic and futile attempt of resuscitating the land from the damage that human activity has wrought upon it."