Edi Hirose and Nancy La Rosa
Moving Mountains: Extractive Landscapes from Peru
University of Texas Visual Arts Center
Climate change is not something that can be denied. It is something that can be backed by science and evidence. It can also not be denied that we are partially to blame for it. We have for decades payed little attention to how we have treated our environment. Edi Hirose and Nancy La Rosa’s Moving Mountains: Extractive Landscapes from Peru is a photography exhibition that was on view at the University of Texas’ Visual Arts Center from September 23rd until December 10th of 2016. The artists document this destruction of the natural world through a collection of information including video, research, photographs, and prints. This is the first time that the work has made it state side, offering us a glimpse at the environmental realities Peru faces. The work focuses on the radically changing topography around Peru as mining and lumber companies strip the land’s natural beauty in order to extract precious metals and materials from underground. This is perhaps all the more relevant as we have recently reached a “carbon tipping point” according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and organization that measures the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory. It was at Scripps that for the first time in its history the levels of carbon in the atmosphere did not fall below 400 ppm (parts per million). A point many climate scientist say will be nearly impossible to recover from.
Moving Mountains: Extractive Landscapes form Peru is a multi-media and discipline exhibit that presents you with a straight forward view of what is happening. Hirose and La Rosa’s work seems more like a research project, or a documentation, than an art exhibit. As you enter the space the artists reminds you of the old proverb “moving mountains is a miraculous feat”, of which Hirose and La Rosa show us is no longer the case when humans are involved by displaying photographs of the Peruvian landscape with vast areas of earth that have been carved away by the mining and lumber corporations. We see areas of land once abundant in greenery now barren and unfamiliar. The photographs could be a picture from Mars or some other unknown alien planet. Though they choose to document their home country these images are representative of a number of countries who are also dealing with the positives and negatives of globalization. Hirose and La Rosa’s works are universal in that their images depict a scene that can be found all over the world.
Their photographs depict an environment that was once the lush home of the Incan people a civilization who were famed for their farming ability, and who built beautiful massive cities that blended with nature ( such as the mountain fortress Machu Picchu). The land is stripped of its natural beauty and replaced by mineral mines and literal mountains of dirt removed from the Earth. There are also images of areas once covered in jungle that have been totally eradicated, the only evidence of a forest once existing are tree stumps and piles of logs. The mines and excavated landscapes often butting up against towns or the remaining fertile and green jungle. These images creates a grim contrast between the natural landscape and this new alien one created by industry. The artists emphasize the actuality of the situation. This is apparent in the photographs in which there seems to be no planning or set up of shots, instead the viewer is presented with the rawness of what is happening, as if these were taken by the foreman to show his boss. This style adds a immediacy to the image that reflects the impact of industry. Much like the process of destroying these landscapes there is nothing complicated about the photographs, which contributes to the message the artist wants to send, that these are landscapes that can quickly be destroyed and we are not sure of the consequences.
Hirose and La Rosa’s photographs approach the subject almost like journalists, simply wanting to convey the truth of what is happening in their home country. Some of the images focus on the new alien landscape and its “unnaturalness”. There are close ups of rock cut away by tools. One such untitled work taken from the bottom of one of the mines, it depicts a large rock wall spotted with workers as they chip away at the earth, showing us the physicality of the corporations presence on the landscape. Other photographs depict the effects mining has on the population of these once natural environments. Like the shanty towns that have appeared in order to support the industry. One photograph even depicts makeshift shacks mixed in with larger processing warehouses run all the way up to the edge of the carved landscape. Hirose and La Rosa use the camera as a vehicle of truth. There photographs are not those of an artist, as in they don’t attempt to make the subject more than it is. Instead they produce a very straight forward photograph, they are pictures that seem to create a log of the current environment. It is as if they are creating a record for use to look back at and go “oh yea, thats when we fucked everything up”.
Overall it is a physical representation of the negative impact we are having on our home planet, laid out simply and easily read for us to contemplate. Hirose and La Rosa want us to leave the exhibit with a greater sense of awareness for what is going on in not only their native country, but all across the world. They want to show us through documentation the effects of carelessness for our environment, and the impact we as humans have on our habitat. As the first step to fixing a problem is being aware that there is one.