Friday, September 18, 2015

The Changing Space of the Landscape

I categorize my paintings as landscapes,
although hardly of the picturesque tradition.” 
Steven Baris

For the American abstract painter Steven Baris the changing space between the suburbs and countryside has captured his fascination. Exurbia has changed from a rural retreat for the wealthy to the distribution centers that underpin the consumer society of the twenty and twenty first centuries.

As he explained to Culture Confidential’s Marjorie LantaincusDistribution centers… They are also referred to as “logistics centers,” or my favorite, “fulfillment centers.” You probably drive by them all the time; they are those low-lying, often incredibly wide, boxy buildings alongside the highway ringed with scads of loading docks. You see those big 18-wheelers buzzing in and out of them like bees servicing a hive.”

It was a phenomenon Baris became aware of as an art student traveling from the rural countryside of his youth to Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art in the mid 1980’s.

As he old TiltedArc.comI have always been sensitive to my spatial surround. I grew up on various American Indian reservations out West (my father worked for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs) where I lived in relatively unpopulated environments from lush forests to the Great Plains. Moving to the Northeast to attend graduate school, my spatial antennae afforded me a unique perspective on radically different kinds of spaces. Over time I became fascinated by the increasingly built-up regions that lay beyond the urban centers and their contiguous suburbs (often referred to as exurbia). I have witnessed the utter transformation of what was once primarily a world of small towns and countryside into one of ever expanding networks of expressways, corporate centers and big box distribution centers. My work is informed, directly or indirectly, by these highly disorienting places. What I see are entirely new kinds of landscapes–highly engineered and intensely geometricized.”

A landscape that lent itself to a hard edged geometric representation even more visually austere than the usual urban landscape.

As he explains “Houses, office buildings and stores all privilege one of their outer walls as a discernable façade meant to face you as you approach. With most of the distribution centers that I’ve observed it’s impossible to say which wall is supposed to be the front and which is a side or the back. All that matters is where the loading docks are.

An orientation that Baris explained further to “Unlike older spaces that were based on orientation, be it sacred spaces, be it a world where you knew that Jerusalem was over there, or Mecca or some skyscraper in a major city, you always knew where you were planted. Whereas the world I’m looking at is out and beyond all that, there is no orientation, it’s not about orientation. That’s the whole point. So, is this an OK world? Or if not, I don’t know. But there’s hard evidence to me by the fact of how disoriented I am. But at the same time I’m drawn to it like moth to a flame. But, it’s the modern world, look at the internet, there’s no place anymore, it’s a network logic.”

Baris’ current exhibition The Smoothest of All Possible Space is on show at Philadelphia’s Pentimenti Gallery until the 17th of October.

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