Alex Hartley, the artist responsible for the controversial Nowhere Island Olympic project, proves his salt at Victoria Miro
Alex Hartley: The World is Still Big is an innovative collection of original works that proves his credentials for representing the UK in the major Cultural Olympiad project, Nowhere Island. Hartley’s practice (when he’s not sailing lumps of ice down the English coast, that is) sees him insert precisely engineered models of man-made constructions into wild landscapes, implanting them seamlessly within environments apparently devoid of human intervention. These implants range from physically placing sculpture into the environment, to post-production manipulation of the photographic images, Hartley expertly digging crevices, dips and caves into the flat surface (see ‘The Future is Certain’). Hartley’s work is both clever and fresh, enticing you inwards to peer closely at the work, and also to step back, admiring the magnificently foreign vistas on display.
This exhibition focuses mainly on Hartley’s visits to South America but also his explorations of the Arctic. Much like a David Attenborough documentary, Hartley reveals and illuminates an unknown and exotic world: and, within these alien vistas, Hartley’s interjections of man-made additions are undertaken with such precision as to almost escape detection. A tent, for instance, is expertly blended into an image of a jungle so that it becomes something organic, the elaborate spread of guy ropes giving the impression of roots rather than rudimentary architecture.
His work challenges us to consider how we occupy uninhabited landscapes and wilderness, what our attitudes are to these spaces, and how we, once there, behave or feel. In this, Hartley is influenced by Drop City – the 1965 community created by four artists in a desolate and untouched area of Columbia. One of the first ‘hippy communes’, the artists lived within make-shift shelters constructed from car roofs etc, with the aim of investigating how a community could function in complete isolation.
With this exhibition, Alex Hartley seems to present us with a new way of physically experiencing, as well as thinking about our place within our surroundings. This is a tantalisingly vast and eclectic catalogue of works – one to be admired and envied by fellow artists. The World is Still Big. Words/Photo: Beatrix-Blaise Jacot de Boinod © 2011 ArtLyst