Photographer Andreas Rutkauskas is an experienced hiker, and has been hiking since long before it became fashionable. When he stayed in the Banff Centre during a residency last year, he set off on treks through the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains, all by himself, on expeditions which could last all day. Which caused a bit of a stir at the Banff Centre. “The first thing they told us during our orientation at the Banff Centre was to never go on hikes by ourselves,” recalls Rutkauskas. A bit of a problem, since the artist planned to do exactly that: set off on long walks, alone with his camera, and capture the majesty of the Rockies.
In the end the authorities relented. After all, Rutkauskas wasn’t going ‘totally’ solo. For this particular project, the artist brought along a fully loaded GPS, filled with data he had collected based on some virtual trips he took through the Rocky Mountains using Google Earth. In fact, Rutkauskas had already been “virtually there”, which is also the title of his solo exhibition at Galerie Projex-Mtl.
There is a long history of photographing unexplored nature: adventurers and surveyors documented the “Wild West”, romantics like Caspar David Friedrich and Bierstadt created idyllic, mythical landscapes, environmental advocates like Anselm Adams captured Mother Nature at her grandest. And now this tradition continues with Andreas Rutkauskas, who has made Google Earth his photographer’s assistant and co-author.
Rutkauskas became intrigued by the near-realistic images Google Earth was able to create and decided to incorporate these virtual vistas into his body of work. His stay at the Banff Centre opened him up to exploring other methods of documenting his experience is the mountains besides photography. For example, Rutkauskas kept a precise GPS log of his treks – a ping every three seconds – and he transformed this data into two artworks: a beautiful hard-cover book, divided into chapters as though it was a narrative of an early adventurer at the Western frontier. But instead of text the book is filled with pages of raw GPS data. You can actually reconstitute the exact route Rutkauskas took, check where he rested, when he slowed down and when he picked up his pace. But it’s not the artist telling the story, it’s the machine, speaking in its exacting robot voice.
Using the GPS data Rutkauskas also created large format drawings which at first glance appear to be gestural, abstract calligraphy, but are in fact the trace of his journey: a lighter line when he walked fast, a darker line when he walked more slowly.
But my favourites remain the photographic duos, though the artist feels they may be “too didactic”: Rutkauskas’ sublime, detailed, textured large format photographs of the Rockies, teamed up with the exact same view of the mountains created with Google Earth. Both images are displayed side by side, and it takes you a moment to process what you’re looking at. But when it hits you that both images are of the same place – one “real” and one “virtual” – the effect is absolutely absorbing. You can spend ages comparing the parallels of the images and spot where the software diverged and interpreted lakes into shadows, sedimentary rock into mud, trees into meadows. It is at once awesome and disturbing how close Google Earth gets to re-creating the Rockies. And, of course, the comparison also demonstrates the fatal flaw of any machine: it cannot capture the mountain’s soul. That is better left to those who possess one themselves.
May 6 – June 12, 2010
repost from the Belgo Report