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Toni Hafkenscheid, "Motel," 2004, C-print. Image Courtesy Toni Hafkenscheid
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"Landscape Generator (detail)"
Tim van Wijk, "Landscape Generator (detail)," 2004. Image Courtesy Tim van Wijk.
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Tim van Wijk, "Landscape Generator," 2004, kinetic sculpture. Image Courtesy Tim van Wijk.
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Toni Hafkenscheid, "River Road," 2004, C-print, Image Courtesy Toni Hafkenscheid.
AKA Gallery, Saskatoon
Mar 30 – May 5, 2007
By Steven Ross Smith
The enduring process of rendering a view of nature into art is re-focused through a 21st-century lens in a two-artist exhibition titled Handheld Landscape at AKA Gallery in Saskatoon. Toronto’s Toni Hafkenscheid and B.C.-based artist Tim van Wijk use photographic and sculptural/dioramic media, respectively, and the term ‘handheld’ signifies a “theme of re-visioning the landscape into pocket-size portions.” The reduction is more conceptual than actual here.
Hafkenscheid’s 12 colour print photographs, each 30 by 30 inches, were photographed between 2000 and 2005. Each is a landscape rendered with a distancing perspective, and miniaturization of the subject. In six of the images the gaze is downward - the narrow depth of field and soft focus at the edges draw the eye toward the subject. Diggers is a photograph of a huge urban construction pit. Two yellow and red earth diggers sit far down in the pit, rendered with highly saturated colours and a perspective, making the powerful machines look like toys. The city skyline hovers in soft focus at the top of the frame.
In Train + Gun a high-angle shot shows two boys sitting on their pick-up truck tail-gate, at a river’s edge, beneath a massive train bridge with a passing red locomotive. One of the men is shooting a rifle toward and beneath the bridge. The men and vehicle seem miniaturized, but their actions speak more sizeably of our attitude to nature, and the train accentuates man-machine intrusion on the environment.
These and the remaining ten photographs of urban and natural environments have sufficient content to engage the viewer’s curiosity and lead to further contemplation, though the ones without people are the least compelling. Hafkenscheid’s photos, with or without people, symbolize how humans view, use, and alter the landscape.
Tim van Wijk’s Landscape Generator offers a completely different take – nature becomes a toy or a machine, a diorama with moving parts. The artist describes the generator as a “hand-cranked, multi-planar, sliding-perspective technology.” It’s a large construction made primarily of wood, but also using aluminum and Styrofoam – approximately five feet wide by seven feet high by five feet deep. Seven layers of vista are viewed from the front through a gold frame containing a screen shaped like a car windshield cleared by a wiper-blade.
The rotating layers consist of, from nearest to furthest away: a three-dimensional construction of trees and human junk; next are two planes of cut-out trees; then a wide 3D landscape featuring trees, rivers, bush, deer, an industrial plant, and more human junk such as abandoned cars, tires, and scrap bits of technology. Next are more flat painted trees, followed by painted mountains complete with clear-cuts and power lines, and finally a painted sky. The layers can be rotated by a crank on the back of the unit, engaging large blue gears to turn the planes. The viewer can’t rotate and view the changes at the same time –emphasizing the fact that we humans are often unaware of our effect on nature. Watching the landscape move from the front, it shifts as if viewed from a passing vehicle, each layer rotating independently at a different speed. The closest objects move by most quickly and the distant ones most slowly, so there is a sense of the viewer being both a consumer of, and transient in, nature. And the piece, a big wind-up toy, suggests that nature is ours to play with.
While the subject of this work is in the way humans alter landscapes and the resulting ecological dilemmas, the success of this show lies in how the playful, thought-provoking images make us stand back, while simultaneously implicating us, making us self-conscious of our attitude to the land itself.