Lewis deSoto’s ARBOL/ARDOR
Chandra Cerrito Gallery
By ANTHONY TORRES, FEB. 2017
Lewis deSoto is a multimedia artist best known for his installation, sculpture, photography and video-based creations. His work is often situated in an interrogation and quest to reconcile his inner and outer worlds; in particular, his Native American ancestry, which instilled in him a respect for the land and a critical view of cultural imperialism.
ARBOR/ARDOR at Chandra Cerrito Gallery in Oakland is centered in deSoto’s longtime interest in bodies in spaces — in this case, landscape.
Informed by the tradition of Earth Art and sympathetic identification with practitioners such as Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Long, and Robert Smithson, deSoto’s photography-based presentation operates within the intersection of human activity, time, and landscape, and in evidentiary traces left by the human body in expanses of the land.
ARBOR/ARDOR is a self-reflexive presentation that features works spanning decades in which the presence of trees is central to the construction of images that incorporate deSoto’s performative acts in particular spaces.
To a certain extent, these images can be thought of as autobiographic exercises that reflect his concerns and conceptual affinity with land art, conceptual art, and performance, and additionally, his overarching concern with the land and environment as situating and sustaining human consciousness.
As significant as these concerns may be, they are informed and nuanced by an expansion of the tradition of modernist art practices that focused on perfecting and advancing the medium of photography, through the liberation of photography from taxonomies and constraints of designations identified as landscape, documentary, photojournalistic, and “scientific.”
Although deSoto’s images reference and partake of techniques rooted in this history, and the creation of images identifiable with established elements that formed the medium of photography: contrasting light, photographic point of view, and image cropping; and genres and movements in the history of art: landscape, still-life, conceptual art, and minimalist currents; here, they speak of aesthetic production that moves beyond the wholly hermetic, in favor of stressing the exploration of an individual artistic practice located within the complex juncture between personal history, art, and culture(s).
The work comments on modes of representation in an expansive cultural field that locates deSoto’s individual subjectivity within the environments displayed in the work, and in so doing, forms a self-reflexive space that recognizes and problematizes the myth that photographs are unmediated, self-sufficient, or are somehow, “objective” images.
In this context, undermined is the notion that photographs speak a universally recognizable language, capable of transcending the specificities of individuals in culture — an ideological remnant of a romantic globalized Western cultural history of art.
That said, Lewis deSoto seems more concerned with the function of photography-based images as instruments for contemplating the complexity of subjectivity in relation to natural environments, and relies on technical and formal manipulation of film and video as a means of addressing the interconnection between bodies and spaces.
In Witness, for example, a video produced in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap hills, we see the artist practicing standing meditation, looking out at the scene and listening to a constellation of sounds: the wind, birds, and airplanes. The “scene” was recorded with a 1080i camera and Crown binaural microphone in order to duplicate the spatial sites/sights and sounds deSoto saw and heard, so as to enable viewers to partake of the artist’s sensory experience on a video format monitor.
In this case, the various elements are orchestrated so that meanings are produced by using the productive capacities of the media to (re)present the world as an object of aesthetic revelation and contemplation within the shared space of the humanly engaged exhibition environment, received and translated differently over time through vehicles of visual and audio technologies.
In ARBOL/ARDOR, what is contextualized and revealed in the images of humanly engaged environments is the contradictory space of artistic production itself: life activity—labor—as a force of imaginative creativity that utilizes, resists, and transforms the constraints of physical materiality and historical tradition by bringing into existence something that did not previously exist, by means of engaging particular technologies, specific spaces, and moments in time to construct and (re)present the world, and our place in it. WM
Anthony Torres is an independent scholar, art writer, and art appraiser. He has curated and traveled numerous exhibitions, and published extensively in Artweek, New Art Examiner, Art Papers and others. Additionally he researched and wrote the “Illustrated Chronology” and essay “Negotiating Space: The Sketch Books,” for the book, Frank Lobdell: The Art of Making and Meaning (2003).
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