Maslen & Mehra: Culture Lens Nature Mirror
Text by John K Grande
Maslen & Mehra have built up a collaborative practice as a duo that involves site intervention, the locating of mirror outline forms – human and animal - in a variety of urban, and rural spaces. Challenging our reading of the photograph as a neutral document that records an objective truth, these photo-works of mirror forms interject a human cultural dialogue in diverse environs. Highway 190 Death Valley (2008) incorporates four mirror people, three of whom look very urban as if returning or going to work, while another medic-like personage carries an object. In Hells Gate, Death Valley (2005) we see a solitary mirror form casting a shadow on the red rock and sand landscape. Aesthetics go feral here, for what could be a beatific wild landscape is peopled by a contradictory urban intervention. ‘What is civilized?’, this photograph demands? The artists' intervention is an occupation of space and alters the way we read the pristine landscape. The suggestion is that we read content in nature much as we read advertising - editing it down, rendering it comprehensible, just as the Romantics once did in the early 19th century.
In their work, Maslen and Mehra have used mirror forms of soldiers, animals, birds of prey, or urban personages. The inclusion is a removal of sorts, for it transposes another reading onto the spaces Maslen and Mehra’s mirror spirit invaders inhabit as visual icons for a moment in time. The result is a mirror inversion of ghost-like forms. A subtle critique of the culture nature interchange in contemporary society, Maslen and Mehras’ situational mirror inversions of ghost-like forms are sited in seemingly interchangeable forums. As a nature, culture exchange. These photographs challenge any objective reading of body – human or animal – and of environment.
Using a medium-format camera, Maslen & Mehra cause us to re-interpret environments as subjective spaces onto which we layer meanings, interpretations and worldviews. The Horrock’s Beach Road, Western Australia images come close to being sculptural interventions. An empty natural field of vision now has one person, and this alters our reading of the sparse tree, field and white cloud contents of this photo. The same applies to Inferno Crater, Waimangu, New Zealand (2006), where four of these mirror figures occupy a dried out, cracking clay shoreline like ghosts from an Ibsen play. Again, culture invades nature. Yet culture is nature, Maslen and Mehras’ Durst Lambda print photographs suggest.
Maslen and Mehras’ situationist photographs affirm the fragile ephemerality of our relation to nature’s energies. What was objective becomes subjective. We become aware that our reading of these photo-works is construed by our perception, memory, and cultural baggage. Maslen and Mehra remove that cultural baggage and question our precepts as to what environments, cultural stereotypes and indoctrinated worldviews are, or potentially could be. The control levers over what our potential reading of nature as capital can be, or ever was, are taken away. We come to recognize that transforming environments and the use of nature as capital are endemically linked to the theological and historical viewpoints in which we are unconsciously indoctrinated to believe. Habitat, whether in Death Valley, Ramsay Island, New Zealand, Paris, London or Berlin is a place we read through images. Those images are constructs. Like these mirror humans and environments that inhabit Maslen and Mehras’ photo interventions, culture and nature are interchangeable. The impermanence, and temporary nature of these set-ups challenge us with living and sensitive metaphors for the nature culture gap, personified in photos about life on earth.
John K. Grande has curated several editions of Earth Art at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. Recent books include Dialogues in Diversity; Art from Marginal to Mainstream (Pari Publishing, Italy) Bob Verschueren, Natura Humana (Editions Mardaga, Belgium) and The Landscape Changes (Prospect/Gaspereau Press, Canada). Eco-Art, co-curated with Peter Selz is on view at the Pori Art Museum in Finland until June 2011. www.grandescritique.com