William Van Beckum

Smoke & Mirrors (Maroon Bells)

2017

17' x 8'

Archival pigment prints on acetate, smartphones, tablets, tvs, steel pipe, sandbags, cable, bulldog clips.

 

Installed for School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibition at Boston Center for the Arts, Cyclorama. Boston, MA.

 

 

The American landscape has been a source of cultural inspiration for as long as artists have worked amongst the woods, rivers, and mountains of North America. My thesis work examines the visual culture of landscape imagery as it relates to landscape tourism, social media, climate change, and the history of landscape art. By referencing and deconstructing the origins of the American landscape tradition, I create an art experience that is both critical and celebratory of the consumptive nature of our relationship to images of nature in an age where the effects of climate change are beginning to be felt.


This work is built around the iconic view of Maroon Bells in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, which is often claimed as the most photographed mountain in America. In my installation, a 17 foot panoramic image made up of dozens of overlapping images printed on acetate creates a disjointed yet structurally cohesive rendering of the iconic mountainscape. Each layer is appropriated from tourists’ photographs of the mountain downloaded from Instagram posts under the hashtag “#maroonbells”. From a distance the image resembles the familiar Maroon Bells composition that has become synonymous with American scenic beauty, but a closer look reveals pixilation and poor alignment, illustrating the inability for traditional photography to communicate the urgency of our environmental predicament.

 

Behind the layers of acetate lays a wall covered in screens displaying additional appropriated content. Smartphones, tablets, and televisions display videos of natural disasters, webcams, and degraded scenic imagery. The screens hide behind the beautiful mountain, almost blending in but ultimately pulling the gaze past the snowcapped mountain and forcing viewers to confront the unpleasant effects an industrialized nation can have on the environment.

 

This experience shatters the notion that landscape imagery exists as a simple celebration of the splendor of nature’s paradise. The screens and the prints in my installation play a pivotal role in forming connections between the idealized landscape and the actualized one. The word “landscape” has a strong connection to scenic images in our cultural lexicon, yet there is more to landscapes than majestic mountains, forests, and seascapes. By placing disaster footage behind a scenic landscape image, I am forcing a connection between the two ideas. The familiar glow of the screens draw viewers past the transparent scenic landscape image and forces them to realize their own complicity in the environmental crisis, questioning the productivity of rephotographing predetermined landscape icons.

 

We are not living in the same version of the American landscape that Thomas Cole painted and Ansel Adams photographed, yet much of our art clings to the nostalgic way that these artists shaped landscape aesthetics. My work is based on the format of this traditional landscape imagery in order to create an accessible art experience, but contains interruptions that explicate the failure of traditional landscape imagery to adequately convey the current state of humans relationship to nature.

©William Van Beckum 2017 all rights reserved. Images may not be used without written permission.

williamvanbeckum@gmail.com