SCENIC VIEWS Review

by Alison Moffett, Artist and AA Histories & Theories Studies course tutor
03 February 2014 Schleicher Lange, Berlin  

The Land of Counterpane:

When I was sick and lay a-bed,

 I had two pillows at my head,

 And all my toys beside me lay,

 To keep me happy all the day.

  

And sometimes for an hour or so

 I watched my leaden soldiers go,

 With different uniforms and drills,

 Among the bed-clothes, through the hills; 

 

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets

 All up and down among the sheets;

 Or brought my trees and houses out,

 And planted cities all about.

  

I was the giant great and still

 That sits upon the pillow-hill,

 And sees before him, dale and plain,

 The pleasant land of counterpane.

- Robert Louis Stevenson - (1)

  Fundamentally, the Scenic View series starts with identical sheets of paper: two pieces of student graph A4 paper, remarkably unremarkable. Then comes the act of creation: one piece is crumpled as if to be discarded. This everyday action of casual disposal is so familiar that it serves to highlight, by contrast, the great mental leap needed to create something completely other, an immense and untamed landscape. And yet, it is only the matter of a moment and we become Stevenson’s giant, looking down on a counterpane world made of paper.Visually representing this shift in point of view takes rather more time.
Much like the familiarity of crumpling waste paper, the action of drawing carries within it an immediacy that is readily understood within its simplicity of mark making and material, in this case, graphite. As the act of drawing is ‘known’ so too is understood the embedded time spent in making within each map. The actual trekking of a mountain range forms a very personal knowledge of landscape, as does meticulously shading the contours of the crumpled paper terrain. This experiential knowledge, one of close looking and traversing, is very separate to that of the logical understanding found within a map. But, it is only within the act of mapping that the creation of a landscape can be both illustrated and logically understood. In this there is a small sadness, for while the magic of transformation from rubbish to topography is set free to be read by all, it is at the same time tamed by the rules of measurement and order: the cold practicality of the coordinate system.   However, applying the rules of mapping to our crumpled paper terrain functions in a legitimising way, allowing it to exist outside of nursery rhymes. It is the grid that serves as the broker in the deal. This grid carries a dual nature: it is at once a helpful tool of translation, the mapmaker’s guide, breaking up the image into smaller, more easily translatable pieces, as well as the aforementioned coordinate system, applying order and measurement, a net of ownership laid across the disorderly unknown. But, of course, this grid is inherently bound to the material itself: graph paper. In some ways, therefore, it is always there, but functioning differently within the two halves: the crumpled landscape graph is slightly distorted, following topography; the drawn representation is slightly distorted, following the grid. It is only within the combination of the dual actions of the grid with the empathetic understanding of the drawing process that the map serves to authenticate the creation of a new landscape, while the landscape gives rise and meaning to the drawing. But, this reflective relationship is never perfect: our understanding and comprehension of the world is always incomplete and as the titles allude, these are but constructions, or scenic views, a volunteered comprehension of the unknown.
[caption id="attachment_2748" align="alignnone" width="360"] Scenic View 01 and 11: Moffett's paired artworks are comprised of a sheet of crumpled graph paper on top, and the mapping of this landscape through drawing on the bottom[/caption]   Like the College of Cartographers who ‘set up a map of the Empire which had the size of the Empire itself and coincided with it point by point’, there is a ridiculousness to this attempt at representation that is the servant to magic for ‘succeeding generations understood that this widespread map was useless and not without impiety they abandoned it to the inclemencies of the sun and the winters.’ (2) Thus returning the attempt at constructed order and logic back to chaos.   (1) Robert Louis Stevenson. “The Land of Counterpane” in A Child’s Garden of Verse, (New York: Charles Scribner’s sons, 1905), 18. (2) Jorge Luis Borges. Museum: “On Rigor in Science” in Dreamtigers, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964), 90.   For more information: Alison Moffett's website Alison Moffett interviewed in the Guardian Schleicher Lange Gallery Alison Moffett on Projects Review 2010-11 Press Release for 'A Room with a View' exhibition