What is reality? How do we build the one we live in? Have you ever asked yourself this? How real are the places you visit? What about the places you haven't been? You'll never see all of the natural world, and you'll only really know the places you've been. The rest? Someone has made them up for you, relayed them back, with photographs, stories and maps.
The rain forests? The mountains? Are they there before you arrive? Are they different now that you've seen them? Will they be there tomorrow when you're gone? How will you remember them? Will they look different in your memory? Will your memory become your sketchbook? Your photographs? Your dreams?
When a tree falls, when the night comes, and you're not there to see it change, did it happen? Even in nature, what is real? In Mark Tribe: New Landscapes at Zhulong Gallery, these questions of authenticity seem at the forefront of an exhibition that attempts to "reframe the pictorial traditions of landscape art through contemporary technology."
Pulling from different series of Tribe's work, the exhibition contains drone photography, video work, and high resolution stills from video games. The mediations on militaristic habits, whether it be drone land plotting, combat training sites, or warfare video games feel equally distant and unreal. The natural world feels distant and abstracted. That some of the most lush, vivid images are from the games is hardly unintentional, as Tribe draws attention to the destructive human habits that make it necessary to build alternate realities.
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The drone photography is large, and printed in irregular polygonal prints, which is meant to call attention to the original state of these images as sets of data that are then interpreted as images first by a computer, and then, in turn, reinterpreted first as data and then as image by your brain. It's the same thing landscape artists have been doing for centuries, since JW Turner, although today the tactics of aerial imaging may be a little less personal, a little more stringent.
Tribe, whose work spans photography, performance, installation and video, is known for his interest in media technology and politics, and much of his work deals with the politics of organizational structures. He's used maps in conjunction with photo projects; he's explored the way television and Web sites spread news or distort it. And here we see his interest in the way that land is recorded and militarized.
To stand in the center of Zhulong Gallery, and look toward the back is every kind of mind game. You hold much of the room in the periphery, looking back at a lush green screen where the breeze breathes through the trees, but lose focus and your eyes will see an array of dead branches and out of the corner of your eye, a bird's eye view of indistinct mountainous landscapes.
What is real? And how do we inhabit it? Or distance ourselves from it? How do we use it? Abuse it?