file under: #mountains #territory mutations #remote #human #inventiveness #landscape
No Ordinary Land is a collaborative project by Laura McPhee and Virginia Beahan that was published by the Aperture Foundation and exhibited at the Burden Gallery in New York City. A traveling exhibition was featured in sixteen major venues including the Columbus Museum of Art, the Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum at Cornell University, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and Vision Gallery, in Jerusalem, Israel. Beahan and McPhee each received John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowships and New England Council for the Arts Grants to support this work, and it resides in the collections of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Getty Center, and Houston Museum of Fine Arts.
Laura McPhee and Virginia Beahan describe their collaboration and No Ordinary Land:
“We have photographed the landscape in collaboration for over a decade. In our pictures, we looked at areas as remote and geologically youthful as Iceland and as densely populated and industrially developed as New Jersey. In between, we made pictures in Sri Lanka, Italy, Costa Rica and Hawaii. Our work is about human inventiveness in shaping the elements both physically and metaphorically and we strive to represent multiple possibilities for understanding landscape.
When we started this work, we began in Iceland, attracted by the knowledge that Iceland is a geological anomaly, a hot spot on a spreading center, a place where it is possible to see the earth at a point of origin, in the actual process of formation. As we worked, we learned that we are absorbed by the long paradoxical conversation between people and the environments in which they live and this became the dialogue we sought to evoke. We saw this expressed in the tenuous quality of Iceland’s major road, in the geothermal pumping station which supplies all of Reykjavik’s hot water, in the electrical generating station built directly over the center of the mid-Atlantic Ridge at the place where Europe and America divide.
As we have traveled and photographed, it has become our view that no part of the earth’s surface is unaltered by human activity. We have come to see landscape as a peculiarly human construct, places as much created in the mind of the visitor as true reflections of what is there. For us it is the combination of the imaginative and the unpredicted with the facts of places and objects that draw us to certain locations: the tracks of farm vehicles turned white by fallen petals, green fishing net spread over the land to stop erosion, a canoe hidden among exposed tufa formations in a lake drained to supply drinking water to Los Angeles. Nature and the human hand, historic and geologic time are inextricably bound.
We both participate in every aspect of this work. We use an 8”x10” inch view camera that allows us to photograph together in a way that would not be possible with a hand-held camera. Collaboration has been the source of a rich and continuous dialogue that has been aesthetically and conceptually revealing, and has helped to inform both our teaching and the art we make as individuals.”