Yesterday we saw the Anthropocene exhibit at the AGO which showcased Edward Burtynsky’s photos and videos from Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier. It was eye opening and disturbing to see the radically altered landscapes wrought by human activity. Some of the subjects included mining, deforestation, landfills, urban development, coral bleaching, and reshaping of coastal outlines. The exhibit also included AR installations of the last Northern White Rhino Male (who passed away this year) and the largest collection of confiscated elephant ivory tusks.
At the exhibit, Mack and I felt the curious tension of appreciating the beauty of Burtynsky’s images while feeling troubled by the destruction they represented. Part of this was down to Burtynsky’s eye for composition, but I’m also reminded of something a former art teacher told me: there are no straight lines in nature. In the human mind there exists a desire for simplicity, rhythm and order, and in many of the manufactured landscapes there were clear demarcations and geometric order.
In a way, I see Burtynsky’s work as a modern counterpart to JMW Turner’s paintings of Industrial Age England. Turner was unabashed in his celebration of progress. Burtynsky’s photographs are more ambiguous and they reveal the dark side of capitalism and progress.