David Maisel: Landscapes Abstraction and Mineral Blooms

Riley —  April 12, 2010 — 1 Comment

David Maisel is a provocative and versatile photographer who lies to blur the line between ethics and art.  He has done several projects that feature landscapes that have been damaged or destroyed by human processes and influence.  “His large-scaled photographs show the physical impact on the land from industrial efforts such as mining, logging, water reclamation, and military testing. Because these sites are often remote and inaccessible, Maisel frequently works from an aerial perspective, thereby permitting images and photographic evidence that would be otherwise unattainable.”

The most beautiful and bizarre of these projects is called Terminal Mirage.  It features aerial photographs of the great salt lake, in Utah, an incredibly mineral rich area.  The minerals from the soil, and more toxic chemicals and materials from human waste dumping, leach into the water, tinting it remarkably vibrant colors.

Some of the photos contain roads or other features that give some reference point, but more often than not the landscape composition gives only an abstract image, devoid of scale or interpretive signposts.  This creates a dichotomy of perspective, where the viewer is pulled between viewing the photograph as a beautiful, artistic image, and viewing it as a deeply unhealthy and damaged landscape.

Maisel’s latest project is called Library of Dust, and maintains the same ethical-artistic approach to photography while taking a darker path.  “The series depicts individual copper canisters, each containing the cremated remains of patients from a state-run psychiatric hospital, whose bodies have been unclaimed by their families. The canisters are now blooming with colorful secondary minerals as the copper undergoes physical and chemical transformations.  Sublimely beautiful, yet disquieting, the enigmatic photographs are meditations on issues of matter and spirit.”

These corroded, colorful canisters with their original copper peeking through reminds me of the work of Dennis Evans.  They have tactile and almost arcane elements, and would fit perfectly alongside Evans’ mysterious, fantastical multimedia paintings.

Maisel’s work, like Chris Jordan’s, is compelling because of the way it contains disquieting truths about the world within a superficially beautiful photograph; it is pleasing to the eye, but troubling to the mind.  Art doesn’t have to be just about aesthetics.  Great art can change the world.

www.davidmaisel.com

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Riley

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Riley MacPhee is a recent graduate of Pomona College with a B.A. in Environmental Design and a minor in Philosophy, and has been writing for the JA blog for the last 3 years. He is passionate about architecture and design, and will be applying to M.Arch programs in the fall.

One response to David Maisel: Landscapes Abstraction and Mineral Blooms

  1. 

    Thank you for the posting on my work. It might be interesting to note that I was trained as an architect (though I never practiced professionally), and that study really informs how I make pictures.

    The aerial view, for example, has always seemed to me to correspond to the position offered by the architect’s plan. And I think that much of my work has a lot to do with the notion of the section– an imagined cut that architects make through buildings, a device by which to comprehend structure, composition, and function.

    Cheers,
    David Maisel

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