Tara Smith, curator of Lassen (This Is Emergency), the (postponed) public installation of artist Małgorzata Stankiewicz’s work to be presented on billboards in Toronto, shares some texts that illuminate the themes explored in the work, and Smith’s thinking around them.
I first learned of Małgorzata Stankiewicz’s work in Amsterdam, chatting with the wonderful artist and publisher Delphine Bedel about Meta/Books’ newly released title Lassen (2019). I instantly fell in love, and it now sits on my bookshelf as a favourite photobook. Often drawn to process and experimentation, I’m seduced by its beauty, abstraction and otherworldly colours but also how it tackles complex issues around landscape photography, conservation, the climate crisis, and the role mass media plays in contributing to our understanding of the issues. The book is accompanied by two commissioned essays, “On and On Until the Last Tilt” by Krzysztof Candrowicz, and “The Vulnerability of Landscape” by Danaé Panchaud.
Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (2004)1 remains a timely and inspiring collection of essays on activism. It points to Lassen’s larger questions about action and how humankind deals with the overwhelming urgency of its future. Here Solnit illustrates hope and creativity as a way of life and a way to create change, through the stories of grassroots movements.
In another piece by Solnit, “Every Corner is Alive, Eliot Porter as an Environmentalist and an Artist,” from Storming the Gates of Paradise, Landscapes for Politics (2007)2, she discusses the problematic yet vital role photography has played in the history of land conservation in the United States, through Porter’s work and that of his contemporaries, including Ansel Adams.
In the New Yorker article “How to Write About a Vanishing World,” author Elizabeth Kolbert looks at a number of examples of how scientists write about their research and the messages they send. She states, “Hope and its doleful twin, Hopelessness, might be thought of as the co-muses of the modern eco-narrative.”
Thinking about how Stankiewicz uses the language of landscape photography within her analogue experimentations and their resultant abstraction, Eva Respini’s “On Defiance: Experimentation as Resistance” (Aperture: On Feminism, No. 225, Winter 2016, pp 100–7)3, provides an excellent look at women artists over the decades who have moved away from making purely representational images.
Lastly, I often spend my evenings with my four-year-old son reading books that I hope will inspire a life-long interest in animals, plants, and ecosystems. The Lost Words (2017)4, written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris, is a beautiful children’s book that celebrates forty common words concerning nature that have been dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, replaced by words such as “attachment,” “blog,” and “voicemail.” The book’s concept is a clear example of issues addressed in Lassen. The following is an excerpt from a poem in the book, titled “lark”:
Right now I need you, for my sadness has come again
and my heart grows flatter – so I’m coming to find
you by following your song,
Keeping on into deep space, past dying stars and
exploding suns, to where at last, little astronaut,
you sing your heart out at all dark matter.
1. Solnit’s Hope in the Dark available in multiple formats at the Toronto Public Library
2. Solnit’s Storming the Gates available in multiple formats at the Toronto Public Library
3. Issues of Aperture available in multiple formats at the Toronto Public Library
4. The Lost Words available in multiple formats at the Toronto Public Library
Tara Smith is the Programs Director of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.