By James D. Campbell
Patrick Mikhail Gallery
March 7 – April 19, 2012
Meadow (pronunciation: /'mɛdəʊ/noun: a piece of grassland, especially one used for hay: a meadow ready for cutting [mass noun]: 143 acres of meadow and pasture; a piece of low ground near a river: a pleasant campsite in a meadow, complete with sparkling stream. Derivatives: meadowy (adjective)
– Oxford Dictionary online
In this exhibition of new photo-based works, Jessica Auer injects a full dosage of the uncanny into what seem at first idyllic ‘meadows’ placed geographically far above the fray. In works so large – one is laminated onto a complete wall of the gallery space – that we effortlessly project inside them. Being lifted onto their thresholds, we seem to be looking across and down upon them, as though from an aerial perspective.
These vast spaces seem inhabited by primeval memories and experiences, and occupied by hungry ghosts and huge silences that assail us from every angle. The many position points in space that Auer assumed in documenting them somehow dovetail with our own in the exhibition hall without anchoring us to the ground. Instead, we float through them in space like disembodied beings. The exhibition’s title, Meadow, derives from the pursuit of the artist’s family name and history. She sought out places in Europe that are essentially meadows. Auer’s own name is implicated and her vantage points inside these meadows comes to mirror our own – a kind of reverse osmosis.
“I recently learned that my name roughly translates as ‘from the meadow’. Fascinated by this mythology, I embarked on an European journey to investigate the landscape that my name is derived from. Presented as photographic installation, Meadow brings the gallery visitor into the realm of an idyllic landscape, recalling the representation of landscape through painting, photography and literature.”
In earlier work, Auer would have placed us on the edge of the abyss, inducing vertigo. Here, she holds us back from the brink, affording us the sense of an anti-vertigo vertigo. We are inside sites that give us the eerie illusion of supernatural spaces that are, in fact, heavily travelled and mnemonically known. Think of the meadow landscapes as outscale History Paintings.
We don’t literally see the human passage here but we recognize that we, ourselves, have been transformed into tourists, into voyeurs. The meadow contains us, even as we are poised on its threshold. Psychologically, this makes for an experience that is not altogether one of sweetness and light, but more of a pleasant haunting. If, as some commentators avow, the meadow is here the site of the photographer’s personal mythology, and the folklore of the moment wherein she found herself caught up, then so too the viewer experiences something primeval as he/she projects within them. The meadow, traditionally understood as an innocuous place, is here far from ‘meadowy’. Instead, it reads as a strange anomaly in the landscape, and our emplacement within it means we are embedded in a field of fluid and unsettling dreams.
James D. Campbell is a writer on art and a curator based in Montreal. He is the author of well over 100 catalogues and books on art and artists. Recent and upcoming publications include monographs on painters Paul Bureau, Michel Daigneault and Mirana Zuger. Campbell also contributes frequently to many art magazines, including Frieze, Border Crossings, Canadian Art and others.