Isolation and Landscape

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Untitled #21
landscape, hill, brush, trees, pond,assemblage, fragile, encased, miniature, mixed media, model, maquette, environment, preservation, contoured, assemblage, landscape,glass case
description

In Douglas Walker's Untitled #21, a small, fragile landscape is displayed under glass. It shows a natural landscape that has been created artificially and locked under a protective case. We can look at nature in this way, but we cannot touch it. Sometimes we put things in glass cases to protect them from us, and sometimes we seal things away to protect ourselves from the contents.

Walker's landscape is artificial.  It is not a andscape made up of living things. This may mean that the glass is there to protect us, since this landscape cannot be "killed." At the same time, it is small and fragile, and we could easily damage it even though it is not made up of living things. Perhaps what Walker is suggesting, then, is that we have an awkward relationship to the land.  We want to admire it for its beauty, but by getting too close to it we can change it or even damage it.

This work uses a  techniqueAny method of working with art materials to produce an art object. Often implied is the sense that techniques are carefully studied, exacting, or traditional, but this is not necessarily the case. Examples include basketry, blotting, carving, constructing, découpage, embossing, encaustic, exquisite corpse, firing, folding, hatching, kerning, laminating, marbling, modeling, necking. (artlex.com)   that other artists have used in different ways.  By taking a familiar thing – a landscape - and scaling it down, Walker is making it unfamiliar. Untitled #21 is one of a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of simulated landscapes placed on a pedestal and under glass by Walker. Critic Michèle Thériault says Walker’s cases and pedestals “… seem valued for their ‘pastness,’ though not a past that desires to be nostalgically recovered, but one that is conveyed as distance and that affects our sense of place or displacement in the  contemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (Artlex.com)  world…. No greater  contextThe varied circumstances in which a work of art is (or was) produced and interpreted. There are three arenas to these circumstances, each of them highly complex. The first pertains to the artist: attitudes, beliefs, interests, values, intentions and purposes, education and training, and biography (including psychology). The second is the setting in which the work was produced: the apparent function of the work (to adorn, beautify, express, illustrate, mediate, persuade, record, redefine reality, or redefine art), religious and philosophical convictions, sociopolitical and economic structures, and even climate and geography. Third is the field of the work's reception and interpretation: the traditions it is intended to serve, the mind-set it adheres to (ritualistic, perceptual, rational, and emotive), and, perhaps most importantly, the colour of the lenses through which the work is being scrutinized — i.e., the interpretive mode (artistic biography, psychological approaches, political criticism, feminism, cultural history, intellectual history, formalism, structuralism, semiotics, hermeneutics, post-structuralism and deconstruction, reception theory, concepts of periodicity [stylistic pendulum swinging], and other chronological and contextual considerations. Context is much more than the matter of the artist's circumstances alone. (Artlex.com)  encompasses them or rationalizes them. These pieces achieve a most exquisite sense of unresolve.” (Thériault, 1992)

By changing our relationship to the size of the landscape, and creating it of artificial materials, and then presenting it as a museum piece, Walker is suggesting that we take a second (and maybe a third) look at our relationship with environment and nature.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Douglas Walker is changing our view of land in Untitled #21 by taking something bigger than us and making it smaller. Can you think of something you might be able to make smaller? What would its new size tell us about our relationship to it?
  • There is an artist named Claes Oldenburg, who made very large versions of small objects. Find out more about Claes Oldenburg's work.  How is his work of making things larger different from Walker's work of making things smaller? You can use the websites below to start your research:
Studio Activity

The environment

Douglas Walker's Untitled #21 presents, a small, fragile landscape displayed under glass.  Go out into nature and make notes about how your environment feels to you.

  • Take special care not to damage anything you find, but write down how the things around you feel to touch, how the air smells, the kinds of colours you see and how bright the location is, as well as any sounds you hear.
  • Who uses this place?
  • What is this it used for?
  • Does this place mean anything to specific people?

Your story

  • Write a story about yourself.
  • Imagine that you are having an ordinary day until you find something that is much smaller than it should be. How do you react?
  • What is the object, and how is it changed by being smaller?
  • Can it ever return to its normal size, or has it always been this size?
  • Prepare your artwork in large format, or try using a tiny format.
References

Campbell, Nancy.  ‘Douglas Walker, S.L. Simpson Gallery.’  C Magazine, #24, Winter, 1990.

Cooper, Dennis.  ‘Douglas Walker, 49th Parallel.’  Artforum, January, 1989.

Dault, Gary Michael. ‘Bunkers for Boys: Douglas Walker.’ C Magazine, Summer, 1986. Retrieved from the Internet March 20, 2009. http://ccca.finearts.yorku.ca/c/writing/d/dault/dau024t.html

Grenville, Bruce. ‘Douglas Walker, S. L. Simpson Gallery.’ Vanguard, September/October, 1987. Retrieved from the Internet, March 20, 2009. http://www.douglaswalker.ca/press/grnvl.vng.87.pdf

Mays, John Bentley.  ‘Doug Walker: New Works at YYZ.’  The Globe and Mail, June 6, 1985.

Sankey, Gretchen.  ‘Thoughts on the paintings of Doug Walker.’  Lola, Summer, 1999.

Thériault, Michèle. ‘Perspective 90.’ quoted in Douglas Walker: A Future in Ruins.  Exhibition catalogue, Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1992.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning