Glenn Lewis | Borrowed Landscape

March 1–31, 2018

“My recent work presents pots and photographs in a kind of marriage. They point to a contrast between the rock-like materiality of the pots and the ephemeral representation of the photograph, the old and the relatively new: a way to encompass both in ourlife and world. At the same time, the clay used in making the pottery, is the product of the weathering of the rock which is also the subjects of the photographs.”

In some of my previous work I have tried to express my perceptions of place. In Vancouver, I was attuned poetically to places along East Hastings that I responded to in photographs and ceramic bowls. I have also made pots and photographs in response to garden features in both Japan and China.

In 2016, I went to Medicine Hat and the Medalta Museum as a resident to make some pottery, fire them in a wood-fired kiln, and make clay tests. I had only been to Banff and Calgary before. Medicine Hat, in Southern Alberta, is a fairly dry landscape, mostly flat or gently rolling, beige and yellowish, with a few poplars scattered in the land. During my time there, I visited two amazing parks: Writing on Stone and Red Rock Coulee. I took the photographs there included in this exhibition.

Writing on Stone Park on the slow and meandering Milk River, is close to the border of Montana. Set back from the river, rising on both sides, are extremely weathered, low, pale sandstone buttes and hoodoos (strange vertical circular sandstone structures; water-, ice- and wind- eroded, left from the melting of the ice sheets at the end of the last Ice Age.) The cliffs, covered in irregular fissures, holes and pock marks, are the remains of a coastal shelf of a large inland sea from 85 million years ago.

Writing on Stone Park contains the greatest concentration of inscribed rock drawings or petroglyphs on the North American plains. There are thousands of petroglyph works. The area was part of the traditional native Blackfoot tribes who were responsible for most of the incised rock drawing. There is evidence of inhabitants as long ago as 9,000 years. The rock drawings date from prior to the introduction of horses to fairly recent historical time where horses, wagons and rifles are evident in the rock drawings. These drawings tell stories of daily life, battles, hunting, and the spirits they found in this landscape of unusual towering cliffs and strange hoodoos.

Red Rock Coulee, located closer to Medicine Hat, is a low-rise viewpoint in the rolling to flat landscape. The dark ground is barely covered bedrock frosted with what appears to be a white salt. Strewn haphazardly around the relatively small area of hill and coulee are both small and huge reddish, rounded and layered boulders, seemingly manufactured in their regular and broken shapes. The boulders are composed of sediment deposits from layers of fossilized shells, leaves and bones from the bottom of the sea millions of years ago.

In this eerie, bare landscape, these forms are astonishing and otherworldly. I had never seen anything like this before and both locations left me with powerful, sublime impressions of wonder.

My photographs capture some of these impressions and were the inspirations for the pottery I made at Medalta. Combining these pots contingently with the photographs are the poetic response I hope will give a rendition of some of my feelings about this landscape.

“Temporality is neither chronology nor history. It is not constituted by events as ‘isolated happenings, succeeding one another frame by frame…strung out in time like beads on a thread’. Instead, temporality is a sort of general quality of the landscape, ‘immanent in the passage of events’: experienced rather than measured, as ‘each event encompasses a pattern of retentions from the past and protentions for the future’. Any pre-sent moment is not separated by a ‘chronological barrier’ from other moments, but instead ‘gathers the past and the future into itself, like refractions in a crystal ball’.”1

In my introduction to several previous exhibitions I have discussed that I think art and craft are reunited again, similar to how the ancient Greeks did in their concept of techni. According to Heidegger the ancient Greek word τέχνη (techni), “means neither art nor craft, but, rather, to let something as this or that appear”, ….“to bring forth or to create”.2 This includes the intent and effort to create something using inert material, such as making a painting, a pair of shoes, a piece of sculpture, an item of furniture, a weapon, or a meal, etc., that didn’t make a division between art and craft. The effort was to create things. The pot in front of the photograph acts out its archetypical thingness, gathering the past and future of the landscape into itself. The chronological moments in the life of the landscape is so overlaid and vast it becomes a virtually timeless gathering.

Today we are now in a new hand-made economy. Judy Hong, a senior equity research analyst at Goldman Sachs Research, said there is a demand for artisanal products. “We’re in the midst of a craft revolution. We’re seeing explosive growth in many consumer product categories. We really think that craft revolution will be a global phenomenon over the next 10 years.”3

Crafting is probably as old as mankind itself. Stone tools, spear heads, clothing baskets, cave painting, and rock drawing (petroglyphs) were human’s early creations, with pottery not far behind. I see our creative work these days as a creative continuum, extending from hobbies to high art with lots of crafts, arts, concepts and individual and community movement within its parameters. Consequently, it can be seen from study and history that the crafting continuum is fundamental to our existence and our pleasure. I think it’s important to emphasize the handmade authenticity of things in our present circumstance of digital and virtual realities.

My recent work presents pots and photographs in a kind of marriage. They point to a contrast between the rock-like materiality of the pots and the ephemeral representation of the photograph, the old and the relatively new: a way to encompass both in our life and world. At the same time, the clay used in making the pottery, is the product of the weathering of the rock which is also the subjects of the photographs.

The connection between the pots and the photographs, as I have arranged them, is a metaphorical and poetic relationship. Initially, both subjects are apparently conventional, like the source of any poetic and artistic consideration. One of the metaphors is embedded in the material – the stone of the pot and the representation of the landscape. The material of the pot referenced in the photograph creates a metaphor that oscillates between the place and the pot. As Paul Galvez writes, “form and content for a split second interpenetrate….”4

The referential and documentary aspect of the photograph can also produce a sense of ‘remote viewing’. In Wordsworth’s observation, in On Tintern Abbey, ‘we see into the life of things’; through recollection, memory itself is ‘a dwelling place’.5 Like memory, the photographic image constitutes a space/place of its own. Photography often shares with landscape painting an artistic sense of composition and totalization, the painting and photograph as a totalizing perception from an elevated position, as it were.

The first use of the word “landscape” in the 17th century (landskip, an anglicization of the Dutch landschap) was purely a term for works of art, and shortly after to describe vistas in poetry. It only later became a term for real views of the land.6 In their gardening, the Japanese use a technique called “borrowed landscape”, borrowing landscape features from adjacent properties, usually mountains and hills, trees, temples and bushes that can be seen from the garden. Similarly, my pots are borrowing the landscape shown in the photograph, and in the process, giving the images, so to speak, skin and bone.

–Glenn Lewis, 2018

Born in Chemainus, British Columbia in 1935, Glenn Lewis is an innovative first-generation conceptual mixed media artist and a central figure in Vancouver’s experimental art scene of the 1960’s and ’70s. He was involved in a number of artists’ collectives and artist-run centres, which included Intermedia, the New Era Social Club and the Western Front as one of its founders. Lewis has worked with pottery, sculpture, performance, correspondence, photographs, video, horticulture and installation since his early career, questioning the dichotomy between the static and the transient, conventional objects and art, social obligation and natural instinct, function and wonder. He was awarded the prestigious Emily Award from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2000 and received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2017. His work is part of several private and public collections in Canada, USA, Japan, England, and France, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

1. Dean Hicks, “The Temporality of the Landscape Revisited”, Norwegian Archaeological Review, 2016, p.4.
2. Martin Heidegger, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking”, commentary and translation by Adam Bobeck.
3. Stephen Thorne, “How Canadian craft producers are making their mark on the business world,” Ottawa Citizen, Sept 16, 2017.
4. Paul Galvez, “Inner States (on Gustave Courbet)”, Artform, May 2008, p.345-6.
5. William Wordsworth, Ode on Immortality, And, Lines on Tintern Abbey, 1798.
6. ‘Landscape Painting’, Wikipedia.