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Bonsai Landscape

In Bonita Ely’s sculptural installation, 'Bonsai Landscape', ecological concerns are examined along with issues of surveillance.The artwork's sculptural component improvises upon the shape of a grove of trees on the mountainside behind the Brigham Young University's Museum of Art. Live video and time lapse documentation of this landmark is accompanied by a radio scanner broadcasting air traffic control in the area. Landscape, rather than being ‘natural’ or ‘neutral’, is overlaid with meaning. The projection of symbolic significance onto landscape, often in the form of an imaginative narrative as a means of establishing a sense of community, belonging and territory, is a universal cultural practice.
In 'Bonsai Landscape', a section of the landscape is made ‘knowable’ to us by a reduction of scale, and obsessive surveillance. We can navigate this form easily, mirroring the control and commodification of nature. But despite this obsessive attention, the specificity of the actual grove of trees remains unattainable.The installation on close inspection is made up of two views of the location's vernacular environment, urban and rural, which point to the differences between our imaginative projections onto the natural environment, and our actual habitation of it. The ironic reference to exotic Japanese cultural practices in the title, 'Bonsai Landscape' emphasises this fantasy.In selecting a section of the landscape that, like Leonardo da Vinci's stains on the wall suggests a representational image, the artist also suggests that meaning can conceivably be ascribed to any physical feature (one need only consider the myths that have been generated about the nearby Timpanogos Caves). This complicates our metaphorical relationship to the natural environment, but also importantly emphasises that landscape is a cultural construct, as well as a natural phenomenon.

 
 
   
 

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