Jason Gowans


Jason Gowans: Landscape # 2 (from series “5 Landscape Modes“, 2012). Images courtesy the artist.Jason Gowans: Landscape # 2 (from series “5 Landscape Modes“, 2012). Images courtesy the artist.

By Hannah Reinhart

Jason Gowans
Gallery Fukai
Dec. 7, 2012 – Jan. 12, 2013

In his 1971 film La Région Centrale, artist Michael Snow transports viewers across a barren, northern landscape through the eye of a continuously moving robotic camera. The camera dips, rotates and circles at varying speeds and in every direction, forcing us to consider the unique ability of cinema, and photography's inability, to capture the breadth of such an environment. In his latest exhibition, 5 Landscape Modes, Vancouver-based Jason Gowans asks whether the idea of landscape can be represented without referencing actual sites. Drawing from Robert Smithson’s ‘non-site’ sculptures, Gowans utilizes a multitude of photographic imagery to construct collaged maquettes that reference the tradition of landscape photography without being bound to a specific place or moment. Through careful manipulation, these images speaks to our fascination with capturing an experience through photography, the limitations of the photographic medium to translate that experience and the notion of photographic ‘truth’.

Landscape #4: Jason Gowans: Landscape #4 (from the series “5 Landscape Modes”, 2012).Jason Gowans: Landscape #4 (from the series “5 Landscape Modes”, 2012). To create these new works, Gowans brought together found negatives, images from the Internet and his own photographs to build dynamic and complex landscapes unrecognizable to the viewer. Inspired by the set construction of old Western films, these maquettes also combine the characteristics of being representative of something they are not and of symbolizing the exploration of an untouched, wild frontier – an obsession of early photography.

Atypical of traditional landscape photography, Gowans' scenes are not completely devoid of human presence. Two hikers appear insignificant amid the layered expanses around them and, in other works, a pickaxe or windsock act as subtle markers of human footprints. As the opportunity to discover untouched wilderness has all but disappeared, this impetus to document unfamiliar surroundings continues in the form of the tourist gaze. Gowans’ compositions emphasize the cropped, fragmented and subjectively framed nature of photographs as a reminder that the tourist experience is closely mediated by sight. The maquettes are photographed and displayed in the exhibition as two-dimensional works, seemingly floating in the centre of their frames. In this way, Gowans sets up scenes that make us want to walk around and explore, looking for clues as to how these sets are stitched together and propped up to create the facade. Due to the ease with which photographs are altered and manipulated, they have no more claim to truth than movie sets, emphasized in this case by the frustration of being unable to move around them.

Weaving together photographs of contrasting angles, shadows and light, Gowans’ layered arrangements address the dynamic nature of landscape and the futility of attempting to translate an experience to a rectilinear plane. His landscape modes are in part a reaction to feeling overwhelmed by one’s surroundings, taking photographs, but then finding the results underwhelming. Their unexpected shifts in lighting and shade, and deceivingly simple compositions, give the illusion that time is unfolding in front of our eyes, while the decision not to display the maquettes themselves only emphasizes their flatness. In the end, we are intentionally left with images we can’t quite connect with. These works are not about the experience of being in nature. Rather, they critically examine photography’s inability to re-create what is really a spatio-temporal experience.