Curated by Juan Canela.
Walking with Images
If I close my eyes at any point during the day, under any circumstance, I can clearly visualise images that have been etched into my memory. Sometimes they are important ones that bring comfort, that are capable of transporting us to a moment in our lives that makes us feel safe. I like to think of them as a sort of vital pedestal; a base to lean on for support in order to carry on walking.
The first time I saw the drawings of Irene Kopelman (Córdoba, Argentina, 1974) I thought about those pedestal-images. I'm not sure why, but the delicate lines, the abstraction of the shapes, their connection to nature, or their consistent presence made me think about those forms that I accumulate and carry. It might not be a coincidence, it might have something to do with the fact that her practice is closely connected to the moment when thought and production of knowledge take form. Upon contemplating them, one wonder where they came from, where their origin lies, how they were conformed. They are usually intriguing images that pique our interest. We recognise familiar shapes that we cannot however fully identify. Drawing is an essential element in her work, a medium that articulates thought and allows for the investigation of the notion of the model: attempts to organise life that are the consequence of the human need to study, understand, and order the complexity of the world. These drawings question this, and hint at the impossibility of boxing said complexity into overly narrow categories and divisions.
Kopelman took an early interest in the idea of landscape, so it is no surprise to know that she developed this project in the Alps, the epitome of natural environment, the collective imaginary's postcard image of a landscape. In October of 2012, she went to a residency at the Laurenz Foundation in Basel, where research for this project began. The following summer, once the snow on the mountaintops disappeared, she made her first expeditions to the glaciers of the Alps, an experience that marked the beginning of what was to become On Glaciers and Avalanches. When I first spoke to Irene about the project, one of those image-pedestals immediately came to mind: the Aneto glacier. Located in the Benasque Valley in the middle of the Pyrenees, it was a constant presence in most of my childhood summers. It is a mutant and unstable image that changes according to the moment of the day, the light shining on it, or the place from which it is viewed. But also because, year after year, the glacier's surface is diminishing due to global warming. The retreat of the glaciers is a measure of environmental changes as well as the irreversible effect of humanity on the planet.
While walking in the mountains, one feels insignificant. The mountain prevails, it imposes itself, always. The volumes of rock, ice, and vegetation that surround us reminds our essence that we are part of an ungraspable whole with which we need to establish a dialogue. During her walks, Kopelman join different scientists as they attempt to understand the landscape, decode it and learn how it functions. Knowledge shared with these specialists gives her the possibility to access the landscape as an artist, to know what to draw in a place that has already been studied and explored in every aspect, run through by civilisation, and represented in every possible way. The walks, conversations, and experiences in the mountains become a point of access to a great open-air laboratory, allowing her to think up a concrete methodology. One that leads her to carefully observe isolated elements of the landscape, different atomised conglomerates that reveal both its complexity and the working process taking place within it. The lines that attempt to replicate lichens, moraine, the shapes of the glacier, the tension between ice and rock, or the various types of trees on the mountainside become witnesses of a history that reveals natural, social, or political aspects that define this place in particular, but which relate to many others.
Whilst in this case the drawings mediate between the mountain and the human, diluting the division between culture and nature, the exhibition is the device– or one of them– which makes them public. We, artist and curator, reflect on how to exhibit a work such as this one where time, climate, process, dialogue, and context carry such specific weight, and on the relation between, on the one hand, this methodology, research and production process in the mountains, and on the other, the procedure of conceiving an exhibition space that might communicate the work to the audience. We have attempted to relocate some of the preoccupations inherent to the work – and to the art practice of Irene Kopelman in general – to our working process when devising and articulating the exhibition.
On Glaciers and Avalanches brings together a series of works that derive from expeditions to glaciers carried out between 2012 and 2014, and others made by the artist over the summer to complete the research, with the collaboration of Institut Kunst in Basel. Various series of drawings, watercolours, and paintings unfold on the walls of CRAC Alsace. A new series of porcelain sculptures are placed on the floor in various parts of the art center, as well as various objects and documents from the scientific expeditions. It is a body of work that covers a field of research that is defined by our relationship with nature and landscape, by an established working routine, a clear practice, and a very precise formalisation. Taking some fixed elements as a starting point, Kopelman yields room to the impossibility of controlling the world, to the ungraspable in knowledge and the need to incorporate other agents into the equation, opening up a range of possibilities to think ourselves in the planet and challenge old dichotomies.
But, which part of what the artist saw on her expeditions ended up on paper and which was omitted? Does she decide or is it the mountains that speak? How can we distribute the works in space so that they may transmit everything they carry? Do we decide or do they?
We cannot be sure of the answers, but perhaps next time you close your eyes, the fragment of a glacier will appear in your mind.
- J. C., August 2017.
On Glaciers and Avalanches is organised with the support of Mondriaan Fund, Foundation Laurenz House, Basel, and with the collaboration of Institut Kunst HGK FHNW, Basel. This exhibition is part of Oh ! Pays-Bas saison culturelle néerlandaise en France 2017-2018.