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amy landsberg Natural Forces july 2021
Detail of Amy Landesberg's ink-on-paper "Submerged (caustics)."

Review: Water, water everywhere in Amy Landesberg’s “Natural Forces”

Amy Landesberg, whose Natural Forces exhibition is at Whitespace through July 17, has long engaged with issues of fluidity and liquefaction — metaphorically in the design firm Liquid Inc., in which she partnered in the 1990s, and literally in this most recent artistic investigation of the impact of water on its surroundings.

Landesberg bases her ink-on-paper drawings (in which the ink composing them, she points out, is 95 percent water) on a variety of visual sources: scientific illustration, GPS data or her own photography. The drawings are representational, but the scale of the area being represented is far from obvious.

amy landesberg natural forces july 2021
“Bark & Lichen.”

The sheer range of forces Landesberg cites makes it difficult to discern, in a few cases, what property or effect of water is involved: “Fungal growth as on water-damaged surfaces, topographic changes through erosion, formations of airborne water vapor, the geometry of light passing through water (caustics), the deformation of clay through shrinkage at its loss” and so on.

By and large, though, the relationship between image, title and natural force alluded to or depicted is fairly evident. Drought is just short of self-evident, as the image almost certain relates to the cracked surface of dried-out clay soil. In like fashion, Submerged (caustics) could almost be described as scientific romanticism — its depiction of underwater distortions as light filters through water is precise but the overall effect of the composition is a feeling of uncanniness. In parallel fashion, Silt (Sapelo) is probably the loveliest evocation of a thoroughly unromantic phenomenon that a picture of silt has ever accomplished.

The most luscious effects are wrought from the Atlanta artist’s renderings of lichens, particularly in the dimensionality of Carl’s Lichen, although the juxtaposition and unexpectedly large scale of Bark and Lichen also create a dazzling effect.

The depiction of small things at a relatively large scale and large things at a relatively modest one is a repeated characteristic of this show: Maelstrom I (Mold Storm) and Maelstrom II (Mold Scape) suggest immense weather systems rather than the patterns created by mold growth in damp surroundings.

amy landesberg natural forces july 2012
“Maelstrom I (Mold Storm).”

In fact, the series that most resembles enlargements of some tiny pattern is apparently based on maps or aerial photos of patterns of erosion (at least, that’s what’s suggested by such titles as Erosion III (Basin and Range: Snake, Wheeler, Burbank, Confusion and thereabout).  

The most striking effect of all in these drawings is the superposition of the ink on patterns of punctures created by hand embossing from the back with a hammer and sharpened nail. According to Landesberg’s statement, “Each of thousands of embossing marks and their associated points of ink quantify the action; and the work thereby aspires to a suggestion of the passage of time.”

Regardless of whether it succeeds in this goal, Natural Forces creates a powerful focus of interest that constitutes a major part of what makes these drawings singular, compelling works of art.