World has engirdled the planet; self-contradictory though it sounds, earth is increasingly world. In principle, the planet is now both wholly world and wholly earth ... Yet at the same time viewed from the vantage point of earth there is nothing but earth. A man is himself flesh and blood. Buildings, bodies, brainwaves - everything of world is wholly continuous with the substance of earth. World may be a special case of earth, but is not in principal different from it. Earth sets about reclaiming its aberrant hubris-driven civil offspring with an implacable calm, for all world is earth.
(Savage Fields, Dennis Lee, 1977)
Tim Westbury's installation at Stride Gallery conceptualizes "worlds" view of "earth", and its determined drive to overwhelm "earth". In Dennis Lee's book Savage Fields, from which the title of this installation comes, this is a continuous battle with neither "world" nor "earth" achieving stable ground. The term "Savage Fields" is derived from sub-atomic physics. It describes the overlap of particles in the midst of two opposite but oscillating electromagnetic fields occupying the same space. The particles are patterned by the fact of their existence in both fields simultaneously (Westbury (1992). Concurrently, consciously dominated civilized "world" is, instinctually driven, "natural earth", and vice versa. Both may constitute planet. Thus, diagramming perhaps, the fundamental structure of being in our era; a planet engaged in struggle, war and movement, with rare moments of respite (Lee, (1977).
Distant possessiveness, a heritage of the white Europeans who accidentally discovered terra nova five hundred years ago, permeates the gallery space. Densely populated with sixteen sculptures, three large colour photographs (30" x 50"), twenty-two laser prints (11" x 8.5") and three enlarged catalogues of planet projections (16" x 20"), a survey of the installation offers one image after another of intentions to claim, since the age of discovery and before. From our present satellite-fed, computer generated images to one of the earliest surviving maps (a cadastral survey for the purpose of taxing property, Babylonia, 2300 BC), cartography has been a powerful economic and political tool. Sea charts were once jealously guarded and shrouded in mystery as keys to empires and wealth. Not until after the Second World War were accurate maps produced of global geography (Brown, (1979).
Twenty, 3D terrestrial globes (potent symbols of property), are coupled in a variety of permutations with remnants of our consumer society. Copper, fluorescent tubes, paint, circuit boards, a wheel cover, mirror and numerous other cast-offs from our industrial culture, undergo alchemical transformations in Westbury's meticulously stacked and balanced three dimensional works. Seeming as precarious as the borders of state delineated on these recent and historical spheres, each sculptural component of the installation is located at intersections of imaginary parallels and meridians, coursing diagonally across the gallery floor.
In the northern hemisphere of this quietly gridded installation Terra Nova (47" x 20" x 20") is sited. An old world globe on a spring and wheel cover, in the interior of a hemisphere reflects Westbury's concern after a George Bush speech on the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bush spoke of the beginnings of a "New World Order". Greek, Roman, Hapsburgian, Prussian, British, American and other empires; different titles, different boundaries for similar actions of domination and control. In Terra Nova the historical globe bounces out of consumer waste (wheel cover) from the New World, a half shell of a recent globe; the narrative repeating itself with different lines drawn. This particular piece has a varied history itself. Initially the hemisphere was whole; a section of a sculpture for Westbury's graduation exhibition (Alberta College of Art, 1989). Then it was installed at a Graceland Art Rodeo where it toppled from its heights and almost injured a fellow artist. Some of the broken parts found their way into the first manifestation of Terra Nova in a First Night exhibition. Here, the old world globe was stolen. Westbury replaced the stolen globe and installed it again at Stride Gallery.
The motions of Terra Nova's components reflects Westbury's openness to the kinetics of his work. A mobility of form and receptivity to the potential of found materials revolves within his own desire to present questions to his viewers. Questions of commonly accepted structures, ideas and forms thematically flows through Savage Fields. Is our visual construction of the planet an accurate one, or is it composed solely through the authority of economic powers? Images of the planet are now commonly used to represent environmental wholeness, and yet that image has been given by structures which currently and historically consume, without amendment.
Westbury parallels nuclear proliferation with a basic human death impulse, and space programs with a life impulse, or in Jungian terms, a desire for transcendence (rockets). Both programs coincide in a determined will towards control of space. Frontiers, coastlines and outer space, until recently, could only be charted through actual experience and human observation. Now, satellites circle the planet, delineating and computing, centimeter by centimeter, the data of our geography (NCAR). Does this compress the planet or is this technological age expressing the immensity of terra firma in a distinctive way? A flick of the switch, a number pressed, sets remoteness at hand. This sense of global expansion by technology is echoed in Radii (24" x 18" x 18"); a fluorescent tube coruscates around a sphere suggesting a larger rather than smaller world through technology (Westbury, 1992).
Continuing along the imaginary grid, the viewer comes to the installation's two-dimensional components, Old Worlds and Earths, an assembly of twenty-two laser prints (11” x 8''). Remote positions are assumed in these views, as in the sculptures. The artist's mark is not in evidence. A recollection of Duchampian intentions, Westbury renders his hand invisible. Found images, primarily from Scientific American, have been scanned into a computer and brought into a systematic coherence. Historical views of this planet challenge accepted notions of how we see our "earth". In production of such illustrated histories, man measures and draws up the guidelines for everything that is. The relationship to that which is, is one that becomes, in its decisive unfolding, a confrontation of worldviews (Heidegger, 1977). A compendium of images from the installation unfolds accordian style in a forty page book (edition of five), hand-bound by the artist. Atlas contains a chronological array of globes and maps illustrating the progressive discoveries, expansions and measuring of our "worlds" view of" earth".
Born during the week between the first Russian and the first American in space, Westbury feels profoundly the influences of technology. The intense implications for the first astronauts in their initial view of terra firma from space, (a blue sphere amidst an unknown void) contains a possible analogy for his personal cosmology; that there is an initial nothingness which remains and everything we do to fill it is provisional and transient. Westbury also carries a hope that there is a basic human good that will triumph (Westbury, 1992). It is in that will which Westbury intends to raise questions, in this case through one of the obvious phenomenons of the age, the proliferation of science and technology. It is potentially one of the essences which form this era. Reflecting this, Westbury's Savage Fields offers, paradoxically, a very quiet "world" view of" earth". The 'savage" is perceived by this reader in the apparent absence of signs of" earth", as well as in the stillness of 'world's' view of "earth", a picture of a moving, living organism ... held.
from a conversation with the artist, October 1992
Brown, Lloyd A. The Story of Maps, New York. N.Y., Dover Publications, Inc. 1979.
Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays,
New York, N. Y., Harper and Row. Publishers, 1977.
Lee, Dennis. Savage Fields. An Essay in Literature and Cosmology,
Toronto, House of Anansi Press Ltd., 1977.
NCAR - National Centre for Atmospheric Research.