This April Cornell will celebrate Sustainability Month for the thirteenth consecutive year. Interns at the Johnson are looking at works in the Museum’s permanent collection for the perspectives they offer about pressing environmental issues.

Angela Chang ’22 is the Museum’s rights and reproductions intern for 2020–21.

Marcia Resnick’s Landscape/Loftscape #5 is a study in facsimiles. Produced in 1976, the black-and-white work is a juxtaposition of a pair of photographs, similarly composed, of vegetable life emerging from a stark black setting. Similar at first glance, the two seem to diverge only in the form of vegetation. On the left, palm leaves jut out in haphazard directions, while on the right, wedge-shaped leaves convey that same disordered energy. Resnick’s Landscape/Loftscape series is a play on our trust in photographic authenticity. The wedge-leaf photograph is, in fact, a staged re-creation of the palm leaves seen on the left, which Resnick photographed during her travels.1 When I discovered the geographical differences between these two photographs, I was reminded of the ways in which our rapidly changing environment has forced us to rely on a similar artifice.

As the pandemic-induced lockdown from last March wore on, the numerous succulents and “staycation” posts springing up across social media felt like the expression of a collective quarantine fatigue. I wondered if Resnick, who photographed Landscape/Loftscape while living in her New York loft, was driven by a similar yearning to re-create what had suddenly become intangible.2 More popularly known for her photographs of musicians such as Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop, Resnick here and elsewhere uses her medium as a way of deconstructing memories and narratives, delving beyond the immediate image into a realm of introspection.

During her graduate studies at the California Institute of the Arts, Resnick experimented with photography under the guidance of conceptual artists such as John Baldessari, whose non-medium specific course, “Post-Studio Art,” established the tradition of conceptual critique at the institute.3 Influenced by the dry humor in Baldessari’s found photography and the practice of “manipulative photography” practiced on the West Coast, Resnick began to create photographs that “looked at the incongruous side of events” through blurring the line between truth and fiction.4 After Resnick’s return to the East Coast, this practice of using photography as something other than a documentative medium found its way into her series Landscape/Loftscape. The series recalls Baldessari’s juxtapositional series Blasted Allegories with its comparison of objects that are simultaneously dissimilar but congruous.5 Resnick herself states that “a re-creation of Texas is just as much Texas as the photograph of Texas.”6 After all, if a photograph is just a representation, the wedge-leaves are as representative of wild shrubbery as the palm.

As a year of stay-at-home restrictions wore on, for many, this practice of re-creating places and times then out of reach became a way of dealing with the collective restlessness. But while pondering the implications of our new reality, I couldn’t help but remember that there is another looming threat to Resnick’s wild palm. In mid-September 2020, the sight of a smoke-engulfed sun gave those of us on the East Coast an unsettling reminder of the wildfires that had been plaguing the West Coast since the summer. Elevated in October to the status of a gigafire, by December the blazes in California destroyed over 4 million acres, overshadowed only by the 46 million razed in the Australian bushfires of this past year. Attributed to irresponsible forest management and rising temperatures, these wildfires and their impacts—weeks of thick smoke congesting Californian skies and subsequent deaths attributed to poor air quality—are a reminder that the consequences of human-induced climate change are the loss of irrecoverable biodiversity and even human health.

Seen in light of present-day events, Landscape/Loftscape #5 feels like a quiet warning against a future when the image on the left has become a memory of the past, and the “fiction” on the right is our reality. There is, however, a silver lining to the pandemic-era popularity of gardening and state parks. Perhaps taking the time to slow down and focus on the wildlife thriving just outside of our doors will give us a newfound appreciation for the value of nature’s influence on our well-being. It remains up to us as to whether appreciation can translate into meaningful urgency, and whether we can continue to have a choice between the fabricated and natural realities of Resnick’s landscapes.

NOTES

1. Sweetman, Alan. “Marcia Resnick: An Interview.” Exposure: The Journal of the Society for Photographic Education 16, no. 2 (Summer 1978): 6–16.
2. Ibid.
3. Greenberger, Alex. “Was John Baldessari the 20th Century’s Most Important Art Professor?” ARTnews.com, January 9, 2020. https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/john-baldessari-calarts-ucla-teaching-1202674779/.
4. Resnick, Marcia. “Bad Girl: An Interview with Marcia Resnick.” Interview by Sarah Coleman. Transcript, April 19, 2017. https://theliteratelens.com/2017/04/19/bad-girl-an-interview-with-marcia-resnick/.
5. Foster, Hal. “John Baldessari’s ‘Blasted Allegories.’” Artforum, October 1979.
6. Sweetman, op. cit.