Brooke Sauvage visits an exhibition that reimagines Carleton Watkins’ nineteenth-century photographs as sugar-coated landscapes.
Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman
Martine Chaisson Gallery
727 Camp Street
December 1, 2015 - January 30, 2016
Who says Manifest Destiny is dead?
In the mid-nineteenth century, landscape photographer Carleton Watkins was commissioned by corporate interests to spur enthusiasm for American expansion to the West. Some of his photographs, made in the era of Manifest Destiny, ironically ended up persuading Abraham Lincoln to preserve the Yosemite Valley, setting the stage for the creation of the National Parks system. In “Processed Views,” Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman join forces to invert Watkins’ photography into landscapes composed of technicolored junk food; they substitute Cheetos, marshmallows, and white bread for majestic lands to demonstrate the nefarious effects of a hyper-commercialized food industry on our relationship to nature and our bodies.
Unlike Watkins, Ciurej and Lochman were not paid by corporations to advertise the natural splendor of processed food; rather, their pointed selection of ingredients spanning General Mills Trix Fruitalicious Swirls and Blue 1 dye (C37H34N2Na2O9S3) is a satirical swipe at the companies behind America’s food-related epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The surreal landscapes resemble the sets of a children’s television show dreamt up on an acid trip. Swirling rainbow bluffs encircle a milky lake in the visually dreamy Fruit Loops Landscape. In Moonlight over Bologna, a gleaming moon hangs high over the rubbery meat, an unnatural beige color, that glistens in folds over another mock lake.
If Watkins’ photos once helped to define the need for protected national parks, could photos of teeth washed up by a Coca-Cola sea affect the insidiousness of our junk food addiction? “Processed Views” succeeds in its capacity to both entice and repulse the viewer, highlighting corporations’ insatiable appetites, willfully indulged at the expense of citizens.