Ed Schad Reviews "John Divola: As Far as I Could Get" for ARTslanT

"Walks Through a Strange Country," by Ed Schad, ARTslanT

During the later 18th century and into the 19th, most of Europe took to the countryside.

It is not clear how the trend emerged, but when people started to walk, they really started to walk. Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), speculated that poet William Wordsworth walked 180,000 miles during his lifetime. Art historian Kenneth Clark, amongst others, located this new fervor in the decline of religion, a spiritual vacuum that found expression in a new belief in the divinity of nature. Accompanied by ambivalence over the outcome of the French Revolution where idealism turned from hope to beheadings to Napoléon, this belief was accompanied by disillusionment, a lack of faith in earthly institutions. Some of the most arresting romantic images of the time (as in Caspar David Friedrich) feature the ruins of castles and abbeys lit dramatic by the divine light and landscape of the sky and mountains.

In the 1970s, America also had that strange mix of ambivalence and new religion which sends people into the hinterlands, this time in cars rather than on foot. Jarring events followed the Summer of Love and the revolutions of the 1960s: the Manson Murders, Kent State, the Munich Massacre, Watergate, the fall of Saigon, and the shame of Richard Nixon. Cities suffered a financial crunch and were unable to control crime. Land artists left urban areas and took their egos, ready to assert themselves onto nature. At the same time, photographers Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Joe Deal, and Lewis Baltz steered their camera towards the unapologetic documentation of the American West (and cities and people within the West) as an evolving historical reality. Humans loomed large in the landscape, quite the opposite of the sublime where they were small enough for the comparative friction to create a beautiful spark. The sublime of Ansel Adams (which he got from John Muir via Ralph Waldo Emerson, who subsequently got it from a misinterpretation of Wordsworth) was tested, proved artificially constructed, and destroyed.