A landscape painter crosses boundaries in search of a composition, treating the land as an aesthetic subject, and thereby released from the constructs of land ownership. The information being created by Earth-observing systems is similarly agnostic to boundaries. A satellite's gaze transgresses legal boundaries while continuously capturing environmental data. The result is an open model of landscape, with resolution that allows us to have a complex, physical encounter with a foreign landscape that parallels traditional picture making sur le motif.
I use property data to identify large tracts of undeveloped land. As an initial subject, I settled on an expansive property near the Cisnes river in a remote area of southern Chile. Aster GDEM V2 elevation data of the region is used as basis for a polygon model of the terrain, and solar position data allows me to simulate the interaction of light and surface at a specific day and time. A virtual reality headset allows me to explore this terrain model, trekking freely across the landscape at human scale. Despite an uncanny environment, the process is still familiar; I find a composition, frame a virtual camera, adjust lens and exposure, and use it to create a rendered image. The result is a shadow, artifact of presence cast on artifact of place.
In a well known painting by Guercino (c. 1620), Shepherds gather at a tomb in a pastoral landscape. A skull on the tomb speaks its inscription, "Even in Arcadia, there am I", an intimation of the universality of death. The scene is premised on a narrative in Virgil's Eclogues. A remote enclave of the Peloponnese, Arcadia is framed as a utopian alternative to the urban culture of Hellenistic Greece. The introduction of this memento mori is meant to undermine the pastoral ideal. In the most analyzed rendering of the scene, by Poussin (1637-38), the shepherd touches the inscription. He seems to trace his own shadow on the tomb, a dark figure that stands in for Guercino’s skull. He crosses the boundary of Arcadian life to make contact with this reminder of his mortality, yet his gesture also evokes the prehistoric discovery of painting, which presumably was a statement of existence.1
We seek utopia as a way to escape death in all its subtle manifestations, but mortality violates the premise of the Neolithic paradise myth that drives that utopian ideal in the West.2 Berger notes that Poussin was a contemporary of Descartes, and sees in his shepherd an attempt to reconcile the alienation between self and nature that is exemplified by the Cartesian division.3 So I embrace my instinct for incursion, forcing my way into this uneasy dialogue.