Using the dramatic landscape of Iceland as a backdrop, Lisa Tomasetti’s latest series of photographs, Happy After Ever: North of the Equator, continues her exploration into the work of the Dutch Masters and ideas of permanence, but with a shift from the studio into the landscape.
“A lot of my work is studio-based and I hardly ever do landscape, so I really wanted to go somewhere that is on the edge in so many ways, on the edge of brilliance, of beauty and also on the edge of ‘I hope humans look after this place’,” she explains.
Digital photography has many benefits but it also raises questions and concerns about its legacy and it’s this that interests Tomasetti. Through her practice she explores the value of photography and seeks to reaffirm the lasting power of the photographic image. Tomasetti places the figure in inhospitable, timeless environments, to reflect on what constitutes lasting value in art-making and deliberate on whether or not digital photography will be a lasting cultural artefact.
Featuring her daughter Matilda, who has been Tomasetti’s muse for many years, the photographs in Happy After Ever: North of the Equator – currently showing at BMG Art – capture the precarious nature of the landscape, commenting on the fragility of the environment versus the potential decay of the photographic image. The pair travelled to Iceland in 2019, when these images were captured.
“I wanted to go somewhere that reminded me of nothing else. There is nothing about that place where you think ‘that reminds me of Italy or that looks like Canada’,” says Tomasetti.
Dressed in turn-of-the-century clothes, Matilda appears like she has stepped out of a Dutch Masters painting into a fragile and dramatic environment. The Dutch Masters epitomise longevity in terms of the imagery and quality of their work, and Tomasetti uses this concept to explore the fragile nature of our environment and that of visual expression in the digital age. There is something ethereal about these images, where at times you are not quite sure what you are looking at. For example, the work Poppy appears at first glance to be a poppy in a sea of darkness but is in fact Matilda in a red dress in the volcanic landscape of Iceland.
Showing alongside Tomasetti’s incredible suite of photographs are ceramics by Sam Gold and pencil drawings by Barbara Chalk. Gold’s exquisite sculptural works and Chalk’s detailed drawings are the perfect fit for Tomasetti’s dramatic landscapes. Apart from a few pops of colour, mostly through Matilda’s dress in the photographs, the aesthetic of the exhibition is mostly black and white.
Like Tomasetti, Gold explores the notion of artefacts, however while Tomasetti is looking at whether digital photography is a lasting artefact, Gold is exploring how the objects we live with become artefacts imbued with stories and intimate acts of meaning. Gold is interested in the malleability of clay, creating works which have a certain physicality about them and which are embedded with obvious signs of mark making and gesture.
Chalk’s drawings are also influenced by nature and beauty, as well time spent browsing the internet during the COVID lockdown. Works such as The Quick Brown Fox and Lazy Dog are references to the qwerty keyboard that remains a common part of our texting and email lives. Chalk is attracted to the medium of ballpoint pen on board, which she uses to create these works, enjoying the discipline of the medium which allows no margin for error.
While the artists on display are working in a range of media and exploring different ideas in their practice, exhibiting their works together creates a calming and meditative aesthetic. Whether it be the Dutch Masters set in Iceland, the organic forms of clay or the reflections of the digital world during COVID, these artists invite us into their world, sharing insights into legacy, longevity and how we navigate life on this planet.
Lisa Tomasetti’s Happy After Ever: North of the Equator, Sam Gold’s Bodies Made of Bodies, and Barbara Chalk’s Works on Paper are at BMG Art in Marleston until April 3.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.