Tristram Lansdowne


Tristram Lansdowne: Axis Mundi (2012). Watercolour on paper, 44 x 33 inches. Images courtesy LE Gallery, Toronto.Tristram Lansdowne: Axis Mundi (2012). Watercolour on paper, 44 x 33 inches. Images courtesy LE Gallery, Toronto.

By Krystina Mierins

Tristram Lansdowne
LE Gallery
Oct. 3  – 28, 2012

Tristram Lansdowne has created beautiful unpopulated islands of fantasy. When looking at these works, it is immediately apparent that the artist has fused architectural and natural forms, but it is the realization that he has also skewed and blended various eras that separates these places from the world we know. This phantasmagoria was emphasized by the show’s title Fata Morgana, a type of mirage in which distant objects are projected, albeit with significant distortions, and appear much closer than they are.

In this work, the artist continues his exploration of permanence and function in built environments. Previously, this has entailed depictions of imagined archaeologies of contemporary sites, but here the stratification is not about stripping away and erosion, but rather building up and layering.

Tristram Lansdowne: Fountain #2 (2012). Watercolour on paper, 20 x 14 inches.Tristram Lansdowne: Fountain #2 (2012). Watercolour on paper, 20 x 14 inches.Axis Mundi (all works 2012) combines a natural rock formation and Moshe Safdie’s Habitat ’67 to create an upwards spiral that brings to mind the Tower of Babel or Tatlin’s Tower. Pink clouds drift around the summit, contrasting with the soft green of the sky. The edifice appears to be inhabited as curtains hang in the windows of well-kept apartments, and yet the image is hauntingly bereft of people. In the foreground, water pours into Habitat ’67 causing it to seem as though the towering island is sinking into the sea. This theme of destruction is influenced by Paul Crutzen’s concept of the Anthropocene that describes the current geological era in which human activities have had a harmful effect on the Earth’s atmosphere.

The largest watercolour in the show, Protectorate, depicts a sprawling, horizontally oriented island that appears to be emerging from the water. Place and time confounds as the remnants of a classically inspired arched niche abuts the cave dwellings of troglodytes. Above this, a green, geologically inspired form balloons and billows into the sky. A cutaway inspired by scientific illustrations from the 17th Century, particularly those by Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher, reveals its interior. Although many of Kircher’s ideas are now recognized as nonsensical, he is known for curious images depicting his speculations into the workings behind what is visible. Lansdowne uses this device to expose an interior composed of foreboding smoke or tempestuous clouds that starkly contrast the still waters surrounding the island.

The haunting sense of devastation in the works on paper is distinct from the inconspicuous Operation Friedensreich, a sculptural work that initially appears to be a squared off support column at the centre of the gallery. Closer examination reveals small windows that allow viewers to see living plants inside the seemingly necessary pillar. This piece was inspired by artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser who believed that architecture should facilitate the coexistence of humans and nature. As one peers through the small apertures, one sees an unending tangle of plant life. Lansdowne has incorporated a series of angled mirrors that confound clarity as to where the greenery ends and the reflections begin. Perhaps more surprising is the moment the viewer sees their own eye reflected back at them from the midst of this jungle. This curious architectural feature is completed by the sound of the trickling water that sustains the plants. This piece enchants, but becomes unsettling when one considers the implications of a man-made object containing and constricting the verdant plant life.

The artist’s architecturally inspired ‘mirages’ combine a multitude of times and places in meticulously composed works that incite narratives of imagined worlds. Lansdowne leaves viewers pondering enigmatic relationships between the hidden and visible.