Works of art that address the notion of the sublime in the face of nature often focus on dramatic, at times hyperbolic, scenarios. Yet, the photographs of the natural world mounted in “Apprehensions: Eamon Mac Mahon, Jon Wyatt, Chris Bennett,” at Toronto’s Circuit Gallery, consider the sublime as a kind of arresting vision that leaves little in the way of exaggeration or embellishment, and prompt viewers to consider their connection to a given landscape.
The photographs included in the exhibition reveal hushed landscapes almost entirely devoid of human activity, yet they seem to allude to mankind through its exclusion. The show spans a diverse grouping of works by three contemporary photographers with complimentary motivations. Chris Bennett’s deeply intimate, almost voyeuristic images feature barely discernable woodlands and muffled mosses found in the Pacific Northwest. Bennett says of this “Darkwood” series, “I have a simultaneous respect, wonder and fear for this landscape and is an attempt to create images that convey the psychological space between my real and imagined fear.”
Eamon Mac Mahon’s spectacular perspectives of undulating topography, frequently taken from elevated viewpoints, respond to the physical evidence of the symbiotic relationship between man and nature; the works evidence beauty and decay. Jon Wyatt creates black-and-white photographs of verdant, overwhelming vegetation in Samoa, an aggressive plant species that resulted from the destructive 2009 earthquake and tsunami there. “The vines surge over the landscape in the shape of a vast breaking wave, an inundation of vegetation and a striking echo of the tsunami,” Wyatt has explained. Each of these artist’s works suggests the precarious relationship between the natural and the man-made, and the junctions where they inevitably meet.
Appearing as a vehicle for considering our relationship to the natural world, the sublime is articulated in the hands of these three artists as a fleeting phenomenon that is hard to define. It is presented as a destabilizing state that induces a response of apprehension in the face of a volatile landscape that obscures just as much as it reveals; one which we both desire to understand and master, as well as willingly embrace as mysterious and awe-inducing. Nature appears here in all its unwieldy abundance, at once ominous and intriguing. The works engage in an uneasy struggle to reclaim the civilized world, even while still being deeply affected by it. The question posed by these photographers, then, does not seem to be so much, how did we get to this point? or where do we go from here? but rather, how can we come to terms with our paradoxical position as at once entirely insignificant within and, at the same time, extraordinarily consequential to the natural world?
“Apprehensions: Eamon Mac Mahon, Jon Wyatt, Chris Bennett” is on view at Circuit Gallery, Toronto, Nov. 26–Dec. 19, 2015.