"Nature," Donna Haraway writes, "cannot pre-exist
its construction." Through representation nature is "made
to speak," but to give "voice to Nature" is
to immediately evoke the impossible, "that which we desire,
but cannot have."
Lost Lake is an installation by Chris Welsby composed
of a sixteen monitor video wall layed flat on the floor of the
gallery. The monitors construct a grid of abstract forms that
depict the reflective surface of a lake. The viewer must attend
to nature's "making," or representation, both rhetorically
and materially. Nature only "speaks" when subject to
a language, or process of use through time. This process is emblematic
of the ecological and technological conditions/representations
of nature, that are inseparable from Haraway's tension between
how nature is spoken of, or spoken for (giving "voice to
The "mirror images" of the surface of the lake suggest a nature
found and, as proposed by the work's title, a nature lost. Filmed
with a 16mm camera, then looped through video disc, the lake's
delicately rippling surface fills the frame (the curvilinear
of the video monitors adds to this undulation of form).
Nature, concurrent to the loop of video images, is a flow of
information mutating to abstraction. The audio – track of the
of wind on the lake's surface is severed by planes passing overhead;
this serves as a guide to technological intervention. The sound
track is also accompanied by the droning of fans (used for cooling)
beneath the video wall.
As with all landscapes, Lost Lake is concerned with concepts
and constructs of space and time. Nature as an abstract form is
shaped by the transparency and reflectivity of the movement of
water. This abstraction, occurring largely through optical reflection
– colours on the lake's surface – allows the viewer to reproduce
the adjacent landscape: the absolute greens and sturdy browns
of the surrounding forest with the coupling essence of blue sky.
These abstract elements structure the relations between illusion
and reality; space and time work to restore the "completeness"
of the separate parts.
The conceptual patterns of the grid initiate engagement. The
viewer moves around the lake/monitors, for it is the video wall,
flat on its back, that constructs the space of nature by setting
everything in motion – surface and light – while also "losing"
the natural, reflective illusion of the surface, hence its closeness.
Therefore, on the one hand, light is revealed as a natural necessity
to nature (the reflection), and, on the other, a primary material
component of this piece (the monitors). But, Narcissus can no
longer find his form in this watery surface.
Influenced by the tenets of structural film (in fact, Welsby
was an active practitioner during the 1970/80s in England), the
installation reveals a primary emphasis on real time, the joining
of abstraction and representation, and an interest in the forms
of perception opened up by cinematic space. Welsby's exploration
of nature is also influenced by Dutch artist, Jan Dibbets (who
lived in England during the late 1960s). Welsby shares with Dibbets
a phenomenological directness and simplicity in representing nature,
that draws from a "classicism" of concepts and materials,
especially elements of light.
But as we leave the Old World and retreat to the New, the North
American conceptual terms of nationalism occur more sharply through
public association with landscape images. Nature and culture,
traditional and modern, are featured through a rhetorical association
of colonial and national conditions of settlement and expansion,
the nature of wilderness, the removal of Native culture from the
landscape, and much more. Nature spoiled is conflated with nature
saved, or this "lost and found." This representational
logic often ends as a romantic nationalism (and also spiritualism);
for example, the concepts found in the paintings of the Group
of Seven, or further south the writings of Henry David Thoreau,
as well as the late nineteenth century paintings of the Hudson
River school. These writings and paintings (as they consider wilderness
and settlement) incur a sense of possession of nature, but also
loss, that is a desire and memory of nature without imperfection.
For example, as Henry David Thoreau writes:
"A lake is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder
measures the depth of his own nature." As he continues
addressing his beloved Walden (his "pond"): "a
perfect forest mirror.... Nothing so fair, so pure, ... as
a lake, perchance,
lies on the surface of the earth. Sky water. It needs no fence....
It is a mirror which no stone can crack ... a mirror in which
all impurity presented to it sinks."
The conditions of lost is of a nature never fully experienced
(or Haraway's "that which we desire but cannot have")
because of the changing material and political realities. The
contemporary social histories of nature are never a "pure"
category, but embedded with social histories: the ambivalences
of natural and cultural landscapes, the marginalization of Native
peoples, and the practices and "voices" of resource
capitalism and environmentalism, amongst others. Who can speak
as nature's representative? These "voices" are the mirror
images – the grid of reflections in Lost Lake – that imply
technological intervention, as well as social and political contexts
that shape the meaning of nature, consequently its interpretation