Savage Fields

Stride Gallery, Calgary - October 9 to 31, 1992

artist statement

The map is not the territory. 

             Alfred Korzybski

The title of this installation is taken from Canadian writer and critic Dennis Lee's book Savage Fields (1977). In this text, Lee examines the cosmological relationships between two continuously interpenetrating forces which he dubs world and earth - perhaps more often discussed in terms of culture and nature or civilization and barbarism. Lee examines this familiar, on-going metaphoric dualism from a contemporary stand point, arriving at the conclusion that the two opposing forces are destined to forever intersect one another and that finally they may begin to resolve themselves in a third conception, a synthesis which he terms planet: 


“Planet obliges us to see it as world and earth simultaneously. Planet must a/so be seen as the field of interplay of world and earth. It is that field which has the character of strife. lnstinctually-driven planet coincides at every point with consciousness-driven planet. The fields of world and earth race through, seize and spin each thing that is, creating a perpetual fluctuation in its charge and specific antagonism”. 


The use of "savage field" to designate this site of interaction between world and earth is derived from sub-atomic physics. It describes the overlap of particles in the midst of two opposite but identically oscillating electromagnetic fields, occupying the same space. The particles are patterned by the fact of their existence in both fields simultaneously. 


My reading of Savage Fields led to the first use of globe imagery in my work several years ago. Since then, globes and two-dimensional representations of the planet have assumed meaning for me as symbols of our planet as the site for the recognition - and a potential reconciliation - of conflicting forces. 


While initially spurred by glib pronouncements of "the new world order," this current body of work has begun increasingly to make sense in light of reactions to the recognition of the quincentenary of the white, European "discovery" of the New World. Thinking about how our mentally constructed image of the planetary environment has evolved in the course of that intervening 500 year period is the source of these Savage Fields. 


As a collection of many different representations of the planet, these works symbolize the interaction of earth and world at a microcosmic level as well as at the more self-evident macrocosmic one. How does a personal, psychological world picture relate to the various geophysical portraits so familiar to us as world maps and globes? What ideological structures implicitly support and so dictate our perceptions of the ultimately communal global environment? Is our image of earth "small and blue and beautiful," glowing in the infinite blackness of space, like the photographs taken by the Apollo astronauts? Or is it dissected by imposed, frequently changing political boundaries as any atlas would lead us to think? Questions like these are a subtext to this work. 


These works point ironically outside of the context in which they are presented to much more stereotypical and authoritative depictions of maps and globes: in the school classroom, and in the vicinity of powerful men. 


The globe on a teacher's desk seems to signify the latest, official world view. We are all first taught to visualize the planet as a neat, politically divided entity while being indoctrinated with our own sense of nationalistic pride and good citizenship. Later on, a more unified geographical perspective may be presented as well, though even then the adage that "there is no history but geography" is usually at least strongly implied in western educational doctrine. 


In the case of the globes which appear frequently in both portraits and still-lites from the "age of discovery," there can be no disputing the sense of possession that they are intended to imply. Oil painting's cultural highpoint was reached coincidentally with the birth of both European colonialism and monopoly capitalism. The perfectly rendered globe, amidst the other trappings of new found wealth from the New World, clearly indicates the sense of personal ownership and power that patrons wished to impress upon the viewer. And now, in the contemporary mass media, the globe has become entrenched as a frequent and conventional symbol that alludes to wealth and superiority. 


These representations of the planet seem to be seriously out of date - they are no longer able to convey how I think we must conceive of ourselves as related to the planet which we inhabit - and consequently my use of them throughout this whole body of work strives to subvert their original intentions. The planet has been changed irrevocably by all of those processes set in motion little more than five hundred years ago by the search for a short cut from Europe to the great wealth of the Orient. The results to date of this type of objectification of the earth itself and the native inhabitants encountered along the way, seem to be more evident to us with each passing day. We know now that the earth is responding to the massive changes wrought on it by colonialism and the paired advances of technology and free-market, consumer-driven capitalism. But the long term, cumulative effects of our attempts to subdue and profit from nature are yet to seen. 


Almost as if in response, images of the earth as it appears from space are now also very much in evidence - as an obvious signifier of the "environmentally friendly." This latest depiction of the planet is fast becoming as familiar to us as every preceding one. However, these two-dimensional photographic depictions of Earth reveal the implicit artificiality of the three-dimensional terrestrial globe - a stereotypical representation of World. 


These two divergent yet intersecting views are ultimately only reconcilable in the dark of the individual mind, as our own unique composite image of planet is forever changing. Ideally the works in Savage Fields are able to embody some of these submerged processes in the viewer.