The Land Between Us: power, place and dislocation

Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

Untill 23rd January 2010

The Land between Us combines a variety of landscapes from the Whitworth’s fine collection with a selection of more recent and contemporary works, examining landscape as a genre and the places and power associated with it.

In Olafur Eliasson’s The Forked Forrest Path, Birch and Sycamore branches are woven into dense forest, creating an entrance to the exhibition that is both playful and unsettling. Beyond this is a diverse selection of works ranging from a Rembrandt etching to Black Audio Film Collective’s Handsworth Songs.

A key theme is change; both in the landscapes themselves and who is representing them. William Holman Hunt’s idyllic Holy Land portrayed in The Plain of Rephaim from Zion, Jerusalem contrasts sharply with Larissa Sansour’s video work Soup over Bethlehem which examines the complex politics of contemporary Palestine.

Equally striking though are the continuities. J.M.W Turner’s rendition of Conway Castle, Caernarvonshire, a structure built in the 13th century to control and monitor local people, sits adjacent to Donavan Wylie’s South Armagh, Golf 40, West View 2007, a photograph of a British Army watchtower in Northern Ireland constructed for a similar purpose in more recent times.

By placing these works next to each other, the exhibition forces the viewer to confront the tensions between them and to look beyond to the power structures that influenced them. It’s a simple idea but creates a context for a radical re-examination of these works that manages to be both subtle and intellectually challenging whilst remaining accessible.

The Land Between Us is a curatorial marvel that should be viewed by all interested in the art and politics of land and landscape.

By Kenn Taylor

This review appeared in Aesthetica magazine December 2010.