by Melody Hall

Prix Pictet: Disorder
Museum of Photographic Arts San Diego, CA

In a recent visit to the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, I discovered Prix Pictet. An evolving collective of nominated artists using photography as a basis for their environmental art. Artists are nominated each round, thus far 6, Space, Consumption, Power, Growth, Earth, Water, and Disorder.

This cycle, Disorder, were views of the world and how each artist interpreted the word. Some like, Alixandra Fazzina, documented disorder with refugees fleeting their home into the unknown hands of smugglers. Then others like Maxim Dondyuk shot raging images of chaos and fires set by Molotov cocktails in the Ukraine. This is the kind of devastation that changes lives, of the subjects, photographers and viewers. 

As I walked through the gallery, my eyes were forcefully pulled to very large prints on my right. Their were three prints that filled the gallery wall from top to bottom it seemed. It was an image of red, white and blue flowers being blown up against a pitch black background. Each image progressed the once recognizable roses into bits and pieces, confetti exploding out like the big bang. 

In the accompanying pamphlet, it says Gersht’s work is a reminder of the impermanence of innocence and beauty. The red, white and blue represent the French painter, Henri Fantin- Latour, famous for his floral still life paintings. This body of work was some what of an ode to Latour perhaps. 

I am overwhelmed by the size. I can see every detail. It’s clear, clean and centered. I am attracted to it because the prints are a frozen moment of an explosion. I love a good explosion. That and it was so big, it demanded my attention. I gave it and I walked away unimpressed by the message and the images overall. I feel like they were a little more on the sensationalist side of attention grabbing. 

The art that stood out to me the most was also large. Actually it was much much larger. Much much more interesting to view and read. Yang Yongliang and his Artificial Wonderland. An artist hailing from Shanghai China, Yang Yongliang uses images of landscapes both natural and man made. He borrows from his Chinese culture and uses the Soon Dynasty master paintings as a backdrop, “Travelers Among Mountains and Streams” (Faun Kuan) and “Wintery Forest in the Snow” (Anonymous). 

From afar, the work looks like one point perspective, Chinese illustration of the mountains and streams. As the viewer comes closer to see the details, there comes a slight shock of disbelief. It’s not in fact trees and mist in mountains, but architectural elements stacked upon each other creating this landscape. It’t mind blowing because of the details. Power lines, skyscrapers, factories, cranes and more buildings in between those. 

It’s almost never ending, a long Gliclee print that took up many feet of the gallery wall. I was lost in his world, his Artificial Wonderland. I felt like our world could be headed towards this toxic mesh of technology, Steele and smog. It was scary and it did feel imprisoning. I worry about the future, for all of us and our children. As beautiful as this art was, it was overwhelming in a different way than Gersht’s flowers. It was alarming, it put the environment back on the front burner, so to speak. It was a bittersweet eye opener on urban development.

The showing tours around the world and brings awareness to sustainability and puts the environment in the spot light. It’s often hard to look at devastation without feeling some guilt as a human being. I am not always sure why I have this feeling, but I assume it means I am human and I am already an integral part of this self inflicted war on humanity.

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