As the great landscape scholar J.B. Jackson wrote, "Each age sees the world in its own manner and has its own notion of beauty; each of them rediscovers the landscape." In this year's SCOPE: The Southern Landscape—an annual juried show at Visual Art Exchange—we witness 46 views of the landscape by 39 artists from 11 states, including North Carolina. Juried by Nasher Museum of Art curator Marshall Price, this survey includes subjects ranging from natural to postindustrial, as well as from abstract to realistic.
It's not surprising that the majority of the works on display are photographs, since the camera is the quickest way to capture views of a place. Some sights are familiar, such as Eric Raddatz's "One Day in Durham," which focuses on the upper sections of downtown's former green wall and buildings along Parrish Street.
Others are unknown to me, including Carmen Ybarra's "This Must Be the Place," which shows a modest one-story yellow building next to train tracks with a sign that says "Prosperity." The sign suggests a town's name while embracing the subtle irony of the suggestion.
I've always been drawn to commercial signs, and "Formerly Furniture," by Stephen Fletcher, uses one for an interesting meditation on change. No longer functional, the sign once touted messages that have been reduced to blank geometric shapes. The arrow on it is echoed by another arrow on a parking sign, and this purposeless repetition underscores their futility.
Parts of the commercial landscape are also visible in Warren Hicks' "A Lot of Clouds." His focus on the top of a parking-lot light against a dramatic backdrop of sky and clouds creates a relationship between natural and artificial light, where the complexity of the evening sky triumphs over the electric. Hicks' photograph also raises the possibility that this view could be anywhere, not just in the South, gesturing toward the growing similarity of corporate American landscapes.
Critical views of the landscape also are on display. Micah Cash uses flat planes of color to create a tall bridge in "Fort Loudoun." This could be interpreted as an acknowledgement of the erasure of the previous landscape at this site in Tennessee, which was drastically altered by a large hydroelectric dam.
The only video in the exhibition is the most daring entry. For "From Here to There as Place (Readings from Alexander Wilson)," Kellie Bornhoft edited together slices of footage of driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The accompanying audio track adds quotes about the Parkway from writer Alexander Wilson, the people it displaced, and the ways motorists feel while driving on it.
Bornhoft's work made me realize how often we don't notice the ways that landscapes have been modified, and how what seems like natural beauty may be the result of extensive human intervention. J.B. Jackson didn't define landscape as scenery but as "an organization of man-made spaces." It's great to see the artists in SCOPE reckoning with both definitions.