ARTS + LIFE » VISUAL ART
Renate Aller’s Photographs Describe Stillness and Transition on Earth
published November 30, 2022
by Pamela Polston
To be surrounded by Renate Aller‘s photographs is to feel humbled. Never mind their immense proportions — most are more than seven feet wide — her subjects project the seemingly incontrovertible might of mountains, glaciers, deserts, oceans, swamps. Aller’s lens captures some of the most inhospitable spots on Earth. But it is not her intention to make us feel powerless.
“The Space Between Memory and Expectation” is the evocative title of Aller’s exhibition of 16 archival pigment prints at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. In an artist’s statement she suggests that her works describe both stillness and transition; she references a planet that is continually changing and eroding. The mighty mountain can, and does, move.
“The gradual disappearance of the Earth’s permafrost is a major cause of landslides,” Aller writes. “Entire glaciers, essential sources of drinking water and crop irrigation, disappear and never return. The images in this exhibit create an immersive experience for the viewer and show the interconnectedness of distant environments…”
The German-born, New York-based artist shoots on location — no drone cameras are involved. Filling the museum’s spacious front gallery, the large-format installation directs the viewer’s eye across high, lonely peaks in the Valdez Range in Alaska, the Alps in Europe and the Himalayas in Asia, as well as to a parched-looking Death Valley in California’s Mojave Desert and a dense mangrove swamp in Florida. The images are stunningly sharp — museum text calls them “picture windows” into these landscapes.
In two photographs of the Atlantic Ocean, though, the water itself is obscured. Particularly in “Atlantic Ocean, USA, 2010,” a haze bleaches the barely visible striations of sand, sea and sky into a pastel abstraction.
Only one of Aller’s photos includes people: a child and two adults utterly dwarfed by undulating hills of sand in “Great Sand Dunes, May 2013.” It was shot at the eponymous national park and preserve in southern Colorado.
It’s a shame that the photographs are covered with glass, because it’s impossible to look at them without seeing the gallery reflected — including photos hung on the opposite wall. Then again, it’s also impossible not to see oneself looking. Confronting one’s place — and culpability — in the flux of this shared environment is not a bad thing.
“Aller asks us to immerse ourselves in our surroundings, to notice every fissure, stipple, vein, and crag, with the understanding that this moment she has frozen in time has passed,” writes curator Sarah Freeman, “and we will never experience the same landscape again.”
“The Space Between Memory and Expectation” is on view through February 12.
Pictured: “Grey Glacier, Patagonia, Chile, 2019.”
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