Impressions of Flat Earth

We see with our brains, not our eyes. Furthermore, the brain makes up most of what it sees based on its assumptions and adapted learning, and thus we don’t see all that much of the world, in reality — the brain creates it for us. The eyes only concern themselves with discrepancies. The things that are out of place, or said in a different way, the crack in things the brain had expected to be smooth. In Lois Conner’s Flat Earth, this crack challenges us to really see what is in front of us.

Lois Conner, Flat Earth Exhibition, 2022, Image: Troels Steenholdt Heiredal © Lois Conner, Penumbra Foundation

The banquet view camera used for these works favors the horizon with its elongated format, here 7x17in. It stretches our view while simultaneously compressing the landscape, to fit within this tight window. Though the camera was never meant to see so far, it was developed to capture the participants of eloquent banquets. The horizon was never in its future until Lois Conner started to point it towards the landscape, fragmenting it before bringing it back together.

Lois Conner, Flat Earth Exhibition Installation, 2022, Image: Troels Steenholdt Heiredal © Lois Conner, Penumbra Foundation

The presence of the horizon, cutting through the photos, unfolds the landscape onto a flat plane — transforms it into a parallel movement rather than a turning of the head. And this puts the photos within another horizontal movement, of our body in front of them. Starting in the near range of boulders almost close enough to touch, we move across them, as Conner moves us out over the edge. The ground drops below us and we are placed in a state of levitation. I find myself both within and above the landscape, see it below my feet.

Sometimes I get an external hyper awareness of myself
almost as if I’m seeing myself from the outside
observing rather than being
in me
something about
the landscape and the horizon
has always been able to help pull me
back to myself down through my head into my body

Lois Conner, Flat Earth Exhibition, 2022, Image: Troels Steenholdt Heiredal © Lois Conner, Penumbra Foundation

The elongated view through the landscape is achieved through the layout of the photos end to end. Rather than attempting a smooth panoramic view as known by Muybridge’s 1878 panorama from Nob Hill in San Francisco or the panoramas now created at a simple continuous movement of your phone, both attempting to stitch the image together smoothly, here there’s a constant interruption in the frames. These works are built in sections, often with slight internal overlays between subjects or sudden cuts that present the appearance of shadows coming out of nowhere. And so rather than with most landscape photographs, which only act as a reference for the depicted, you need to have a relationship to that landscape to re-experience it when you’re standing before a photo of it. Here all of these little irregularities force you to truly see the photos, individually and connected, to fill in the gaps and make you work on/ within the landscapes.

When faced with an unknown
landscape that falls
short of triggering an internal
rebuilding of itself within
you, it closes itself off from
you. it’s too perfect
……it’s contained
within itself and
becomes inaccessible,
………………………a mere image

Lois Conner, Flat Earth Exhibition, 2022, Image: Troels Steenholdt Heiredal © Lois Conner, Penumbra Foundation

The cracks between the distinct photos trigger us to reconstruct the landscapes within us when relating the distinct frames to each other. It’s the discrepancy that engages the eyes, telling the brain here’s something you need to consider, and then you enter the work. The crack allows us to consider the works as both individual and collective. It introduces a shorter duration/ aspect of time. All landscapes are liquid over time, what is captured is only a very brief moment of this geographical time, given the method of photography employed here, there will have been a period of time between capturing the distinct frames. When looking at the photos we are seeing both the geological time of landscape and the human time of movement within it.

The landscape construction becomes majestic, while actually never taking up much physical space. These are still quite intimate objects, forcing you to get close to them to see the details. This also brings you close enough to notice the delicate platinum print process used, which embeds the landscapes within the paper.

Lois Conner, Flat Earth Exhibition, 2022, Image: Troels Steenholdt Heiredal © Lois Conner, Penumbra Foundation

By placing the photos horizontally and not hanging them on the wall as is typical, you look down into the landscape, rather than out onto it. One triptych is placed freestanding in the space; a close up which does not have any visible horizon and thus no easy way up. Rather than the artist deciding this for us by the orientation on the wall, it is left open to us. As we walk around it, it constantly shifts and changes and points back to this idea of how little do we actually see? How dependent have we grown to the horizon to show us which way is up?

I’ve always considered the horizon⁠⁠
to be made from water⁠⁠
I guess growing up in Denmark⁠⁠
where the water is always there⁠⁠
and the fields are broken up ⁠⁠
by treelines breaking the wind⁠⁠
and protect what we sow⁠⁠
it makes sense that we feel⁠⁠
the landscape to be constructed⁠⁠
by us ⁠⁠
and only the water will not allow us to⁠⁠

I’ve always loved the horizon⁠⁠
it gives you something⁠⁠
to come back to ⁠⁠
……………..to come back ⁠⁠
……………..to yourself ⁠⁠
standing tall as the grass⁠⁠
……………..as the perpendicular ⁠⁠
……………..to this⁠
……………..to think⁠⁠
……………..to be ⁠⁠
within yourself and out there⁠⁠
at the same time⁠⁠

Lois Conner, Flat Earth Exhibition, 2022, Image: Troels Steenholdt Heiredal © Lois Conner, Penumbra Foundation

The photographs seem to almost hover in the space, so gently are they held by the wooden boxes created by the exhibition's curator Leandro Villaro. The wooden legs somehow feel more like tentacles floating down from the boxes than trunks holding them up. It provides an organic feel to the otherwise extremely geometric and controlled layout, through which the distinct landscapes are brought into a larger conversation with each other’s geographies. As if the same landscape observed from different vantage points would provide wildly different views.

Lois Conner, Flat Earth Exhibition, 2022, Image: Troels Steenholdt Heiredal © Lois Conner, Penumbra Foundation

The closeness of the boxes makes it feel like one could jump from one to the other in a blink of an eye. It’s the same crack internally here elongated and stretched. That brings all of the distinct geographies into a larger conversation about belonging. How do we see ourselves within a landscape? And what have our landscapes built in us over geological time?

Lois Conner, Flat Earth Exhibition, 2022, Image: Troels Steenholdt Heiredal © Lois Conner, Penumbra Foundation

collage⁠
landscape overlapped⁠
the way we experience ⁠
not continual ⁠
more like fragments ⁠
between the ground we stand on⁠
………..the ground we look out on⁠
………..raising in front of us⁠⁠
falling
apar to create
to build to something
our bodies will pick up on
and maybe tell us in a few days

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