Alien Landscapes


Edi Hirose and Nancy La Rosa

Moving Mountains: Extractive Landscapes from Peru

University of Texas Visual Arts Center

Alien Landscapes

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.


Dylan Draper


A Perspective on Objects and Their Values at Points in Time

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Dylan Draper interviewing Jennifer Masley


A Perspective on Objects and Their Values at Points in Time

Jennifer is a recent graduate of the Texas State BFA program with a concentration in Ceramics. I am lucky enough as a fellow Ceramics major to have seen her work progress and the range of her ability in the medium. Her thesis work consisted of 4 ceramic vessels modeled after the ancient amphoras, a once functional vessel that now can only be found in museum collections around the world. Her work dealt with fact that the once functional vessels are now perceived very differently as we have come to associate them with the pedestal and fine art institutions. Jennifer reminds us that just because an object is functional it is not disqualified from being considered fine art as well as our ever changing perceptions of ‘art’ and how we cannot help but view things through a contemporary lens.

D: So your Thesis work up in the gallery right now, can you tell me a little bit about what led you to the work?

J: I guess my initial reason was just an impulse to make an amphora but overtime thinking about these objects and hearing other artist talk about their work, it just inspired me more to talk about my feelings about clay and how I respect certain parts of ceramics that are not as appreciated in the art world.

D: Are you talking about functional works vs sculptures and stuff?

J: Yeah.

D: I was going to ask about that because a lot of work in your past has been sculptural and I was wondering why you chose this functional object to focus on in your final semester. Was it because it fit into this concept you wanted to explore or it was the drive to make something you appreciated?

J: Well the initial concept was since they were functional objects and now they are in a museum they are no longer viewed as functional objects anymore and viewed more sculptural so it’s like this grey area between pottery and sculpture.

D: So what was your goal in displaying the works the way you did. As in these functional works that are no longer functional.

J: Well in one of my final critiques leading up to making those decisions we were talking about how display is kind of a pretend way of giving value, like putting it on a pedestal gives it a different feel and meaning than putting something on the ground. And then the one that I smashed it had cracks running down it all ready and I didn’t have a lot of solutions for covering that up so I figured breaking it would be one of those things, like breaking something in a gallery has a different context than breaking something at home, so it became more of a statement.

D: Interesting. Can you tell me how your work has your work progressed through undergrad? I guess what  attracted you to ceramics? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do?

J: I did ceramics in community college and really liked it. When I got to Texas State I was originally a sculpture major, But I had a feeling I would want to use a kiln for thesis so I decided to switch over. And I also just wanted to learn more about the material and get better at it, as well as develop conceptually.

D: Well now that your not tied to ceramics since your graduating is there something your interested in experimenting with now, like a different medium?

J: Yeah, I took a painting class last semester and I was playing with abstracted imagery but also using the material in a sculpturally way, so I have some ideas for paintings.

D: Is that oil paint?

J: Yeah

D: Very cool. I know you have probably gotten this a lot recently so I am sorry, but whats next?

J: (Haha) I didn’t plan on a lot for after graduation. I am not planning on going straight to grad school so I am not sure what is going to happen in the next year. So I don’t know, I think having an open plan leaves room for opportunities.

D: Say it’s 20 years down the line and everything goes the way you want it to, what would be your ideal set up? What kind of stuff would you want to be making, where would you be working?

J: An ideal situation would be working in the middle of nowhere (haha), just making stuff and sleeping in, being able to buy food and all that. Ive always said if I sold something for a million dollars it would be the last thing I sold and I would just be in the middle of no where making stuff for myself.

D:(Haha) that’s really cool. A lot of your work seems like an experiment, your always trying new techniques and sort of pushing the limits of what clay can do, like melted paper clay pot in you show, can you talk about this and how it fits into your practice?

J: I think just clay in general has so many things to it, there is so much to explore. I just have a tendency to want to do something, like I don’t know if I have an idea I want to explore it and if that idea turns into something interesting then I want to keep exploring that too, or I don’t know I just want to follow my curiosities I guess. I started off with figurative work and I slowly became more abstract, and I guess I’m looking more at the clay now and what it can do.

D: Where does the creative process start for you? From a sketch book, or just making things and seeing where they go?

J: I think it starts off with mini experiments, like right now I am experiment with Egyptian paste. Like I don’t know what that does or even what it looks like. But depending on how it works out I will explore that more. But I do get inspired by other artist so thats fun to do and see how they did their work.

D: So how do you know when a work is finished is something you just kinda feel out or is something where you have a decided end you are trying to reach?

J: I think, hmmmm, I don’t know, sometimes I keep adding to things and if it feels like to much or if there is still room to work Ill keep working on it but sometimes ill just leave something a lone and it will become cold for me so thats a finished sculpture haha.

D: Do you have a favorite work you’ve made?

J: I guess my favorite right now is the green amphora that slumped over.

D: Why do you like it so much?

J: I don’t know I guess it was an experiment that went right and I was not sure what was going to happen to it. I got a lot of feedback and people didn’t want me to fire it, so glazing it and firing it was a rebellious thing but then it worked out so then it was like a prideful piece

D: Can you tell me about some of the influences on your work? Artist or otherwise?

J: One big influence was Nicole Cherubini, she made amphora forms but she was talking about the line of craft and function in art which I was sort of talking about to but her work is more playful and she puts more materials in it and treats the clay more rough. Yeah I think she would be the biggest one.

D: Do you identify with a certain type of work or groups of artist or anything?

J: Im not really sure how to answer that question, like there is a lot of new work that is coming out and I am not sure if there is a category for it yet but I think ceramics is becoming more self aware and artist are playing with the material more and I think that is like a new genre coming out so I like that and i guess I would like to fit into that group.

D: Do you think being in Texas has an influence on your practice?

J: Yes? Not style wise maybe but there is a lot of art in Texas. Especially like San Marcos, we have Eye of the Dog and there are a lot of people around to bounce ideas off of with different levels of experience. And being around Austin there are a lot of working artist that have there clubs and stuff so I think its a pretty decent community.

D: Staying in Texas or going somewhere else?

J: Umm I want to move away but I don’t know if ill come back or not. I am sure I will. It seem like everybody comes back to Texas eventually haha.

D: Haha that seems to be what every one says. Thanks Jenn. Congratulation on your show.


Art in Texas

I think our class got much more out of our visit to San Antonio than we did in Austin. Artpace is a great space with a fantastic program. It was awesome to have a chance to talk with artist as they where still working on their pieces for the show. I think it gave the Art History majors in our class a good look into the variation of processes and work styles of different artist. It was also nice to see how the residency programs function and all the resources allocated to the artist. It also seems like a great opportunity for Texas artist as you can apply rather than being chose by the curator and one of the residents is always a Texas based artist (because we are the best). I also enjoyed to see how they were working with the local community, as we had a group of high school students with us as well. It was my second time visiting Artpace and enjoyed it as much if not more than my first visit. I also really enjoy Sala Diaz because of its grassroots feel. It was refreshing to go to an artist run space rather than the multi million dollar galleries we are used to thinking about when we view art. I found it a much more interesting space than big medium in Austin. I feel like it broke the model of the gallery, it was much more relaxed and approachable. I also really enjoyed hearing Buster Graybill talk as I come from a similar background of working in the country and took away a lot from his ideas about creating art and not being limited by your available materials. 1476998964015.jpeg

Dylan Draper

Description and Interpretation

In last Tuesday’s class we talked about description and interpretation in art and their importance in informing us about a work. We discussed how description is an important way to identify the features in a work of art. It serves as a way to analyze something for what is being directly presented to the viewer through the elements of design. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the choices that artist made in order to communicate something. Joseph Mallard’s essay over Turner’s Slave Ship was a excellent example how language can be used to convey the tone of a painting as well as its appearance. We also discussed the role of interpretation in a critique, and how the voice of the author can play a part in our understanding of a work. While not necessarily based in fact, drawing conclusions can help lead us to a deeper appreciation of a work of art. Such as in Allan Sekulas writing on a photographic triptych in which he infers the intentions of the artists choices in the photographs in order to try and gain and greater understanding of the work. In class we talked about how criticism can can be used as a way to retrieve information that is hidden from plain view. Interpretation allows us to fill in the blanks in order to form an opinion of a work of art that goes beyond an appreciation of beauty or craftsmanship. Together description and interpretation is the basis for a formal critique, both are necessary in order to describe a work and convey what its purpose is.


Matthew Draper

Is Art Criticism essential?

Art criticism has historically been an important part of the art world, such as Clement Greenberg’s influence on the success of the abstract expressionist. But is art criticism an essential part of this world? Does it exist in its own sphere, isolated from the real world as Ben Davis expresses in his Theses on Art and Class? I am not convinced that art does or should fit in this separate sphere, untethered from the same rules of the “non-art” world as Davis puts it. While critique is an important step in an artists development of their work and practice, is a critic an important player in the game of art as a whole? Must you be well versed in the historical context of the art world in order to have an opinion about it or the contemporary art which feeds it? The argument can be made that this academic approach to the visual arts has made a significant impact on contemporary art that exists within the institution. But an argument can also be made that this has ungrounded art from being relatable, that it has driven art to be only obtainable and understood to those who exist within its sphere.

So is art criticism an essential part of this world? It has certainly had an impact on it, and has shaped the way art is approached. And while the role of a critic in this visual arts sphere, which they have created, is in a state constant flux as the art world changes around it, the critics have engrained themselves into this world for better or worse.

Dylan Draper