The Sainsbury Centre’s latest exhibition is more about thinking than spectating. Welcoming us are questions scribbled across a white wall: “What is landscape?”.
We start at “the edge of landscape”: a room of paintings ranging from landscapes with an abstract quality to Mubin Orhon’s explosive abstracts, whose presence within a landscape exhibition in itself provokes thought.
All works in this section are concerned with the idea of landscape rather than the physicality of it. Charles Maussion, for instance, strips back the image of a landscape to an arrangement of tone and shape; he considers the visual, space and temporality. His works are still, unsettling and ineffable, and inspire us to think about our surroundings in a strangely lyrical way.
If the atmosphere is too heavy and conceptual, perhaps for younger spectators, this is rectified by an interactive landscape-building section. Participants can work towards a collective “soft landscape”, or attempt their own version of the microscopic Chinese art form of Penjing. This is a brilliant initiative, synthesising the exhibition’s sophisticated ideas with craft-based entertainment.
Perhaps the highlight is Lee Grandjean’s visually fascinating installation, “From the Deep Woods”. Exemplifying his love of paradox, Granjean mixes rural and urban waste, balancing branches into a staggered arrangement of lilting figures, each adorned with clusters of crushed cans. The result is meandering woodland where the various landscapes of our modern lives collide.
Epitomical of the exhibition’s array of ideas is the short film “Wolf” which is projected onto a wall. It uses the story of the last wolf in Sutherland being killed by hunters to examine human destruction of nature. It comprises of stunning shots, ranging from sweeping scenes of rural Scotland to close-ups of a trembling leaf, and reminds us of the ceaseless possibilities of our landscape.
Slow and transcendental music accompanies the film, lingering within the space between other installations. It is tricky to escape the contemplative feeling this inspires, particularly when returning to the white wall of questions with a clearer understanding of the complexity behind that pressing question: just what is landscape?