"}
Visual

Black Maps

Terrifying terrains of the American landscape

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I’m fairly certain the students sitting quietly in the corners of WWU’s Western Gallery last Thursday weren’t there studying photographer David Maisel’s “Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime” when I stopped by to peruse the exhibit. The first tipoff was that the textbooks they were clutching on their laps had nothing at all to do with art, and everything to do with math.

That said, the gallery was blissfully quiet—a condition perfect for memorizing the many vagaries of the laws of calculus, and also for ruminating on how the photographer whose work was on display managed to turn manmade disasters into eerily eye-catching works of art.

“Black Maps,” which is presented in conjunction with the “Vanishing Ice” exhibit currently on display at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, also takes a closer look at the long-lasting effects humans have had on the environment.

Maisel’s large-scale images of impacted zones in the United States tackle topics such as mining and overpopulation, but do so in ways both subtle and, as mentioned in the exhibit’s subtitle, sublime.

“‘Black Maps’ leads the viewer on a hallucinatory journey through terrains that have been radically altered by environmental issues and transformed by human agency,” reads the press release for the exhibit. “Maisel’s aerial images of environmentally impacted zones frame the issues of contemporary landscape with equal measures of documentation and metaphor, beauty and despair.”
Some of the birds-eye views are realistic in nature. A handful of photos from both “The Mining Project” and “American Mines” series feature forays into what seems to be Middle Earth. Much as the rings in a tree denote how much time the plant has spent on the planet, the circular swirls of roads and craters delving ever-deeper into the Earth’s crust are an alarming reminder of what humans are willing to do to get to the elements they’re seeking.

Many of the photos, however, have pigments in various shades (blood-red, icy blue, burnt umber, etc.) that have been added by the artist, making them much more abstract, and giving beauty to what ultimately are horrific scenes of environmental destruction.

In regards to the two series of photos depicting the effects of mining—which the Environmental Protection Agency has asserted is our country’s largest source of toxic pollution—Maisel notes he’s not necessarily trying to be a harbinger of doom.

“These sites are contemplative gardens of our time,” he says, “places that offer the opportunity to reflect on who and what we are collectively as a society.”

In addition to the focus on mining, another series in the exhibit includes “The Lake Project,” which focuses on Owens Lake, a natural glacial lake drained at the end of the 20th century to supply water to Los Angeles that is now a desolate lakebed spewing carcinogenic dust clouds.

“Oblivion” is comprised of a trio of tonally reversed aerial views of Los Angeles. In the black-and-white photos, roads and freeways criss-cross like veins run amok, and crowded streets and suburbs make it clear that people are in control here, not nature.

Finally, “Terminal Mirage” focuses on a series of photos take near the Great Salt Lake. Depicting the area as a combination of natural wonder and manmade atrocities, viewers will be hard-pressed to figure out which colors point to naturally occurring organic matter and which are the after-effects of industry.

Despite its grim subject matter, “Black Maps”—much like “Vanishing Ice”—manages to deftly combine art and education. I hope the students who head to the Western Gallery for study breaks consider that, too.

SVCR-0604_GritsGlamour_770x150-CW
More Visual...
Voyager
The art of transition

“Thus did Odin establish that all dead men should be burned, and their belongings laid with them upon the pile, and the ashes be cast into the sea…“ recounts the saga of the Norse Vikings.

So perhaps it was no surprise when Steve Jensen’s best friend, dying of AIDS, asked him to…

more »
A Family Affair
Welcome to Tillie Lace Gallery

The first time painter Cooper Lanza and her daughter Morgan entered 1415 13th Street, it was for an opening reception at the former Lucia Douglas Gallery.

Lanza says she was struck by the high ceilings, clean industrial lines and the way the light filtered through the windows at the…

more »
A Child's Touch
Arts in action at Lowell Elementary

With remodels and an expansion, so much at Bellingham’s Lowell Elementary School is shiny and new. That’s nice and all, but the school still needed a child’s touch.

With contributions from all 285 students, the walls and schoolyard at Lowell now have some much-needed color. Three…

more »
Events
Today
Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Wednesday Market

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Brewers Cruise

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Music at Maritime

6:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

The Gun Show

8:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bow Little Market

1:00pm|Belfast Feed Store

Garden Dedication

3:00pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Blues, Brews & BBQ

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Vintner Dinner

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Riverwalk Park

Move to Amend

6:00pm|Mount Vernon

Fiction Writing Group

6:00pm|Village Books,

Elizabeth Park Concert Series

6:00pm|Elizabeth Park

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Northwood Steak and Crab Andrew Subin
Friday
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

What's Next?

9:00am|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Wild Things

9:30am|Lake Padden

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Barbecues and Beach Parties

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

Summer Concert Series Finale

6:00pm|Seafarers Park

Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Final Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

Final Dancing on the Green

7:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Wine and Music

7:00pm|Artifacts Cafe and Wine Bar

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Doubles

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Northwood Steak and Crab Artifacts Wine Bar 5 Point Film Festival Andrew Subin Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Swinomish 2016 Village Books