Promised Lands is about perceptions of the contemporary landscape. The 19th century Hudson River School painters established an idealized and romanticized view of the American landscape with their paintings featuring towering mountains, overwhelming sies, vast fields, and endless seas. Especially with regard to the West, the landscape became a symbol for freedom, opportunity, and exploration. Today depictions of landscape often veer toward extremes – either they are of “pure” places that are untainted by human intervention or they represent locations, sometimes exotic, that have been severely compromised by industry and development.
I believe that neither representation is useful because it does not reflect our reality – we live in houses, work in buildings, drive on the road, and enjoy many of the conveniences of modern life – and it seems unlikely that we are prepared to give these amenities up for a return to an Edenic time. Yet, it’s still possible to view the landscape in ways that take into account our hopes and dreams as well as our fears and failures. My photographs invoke romanticized notions of the landscape but also feature man’s impact on the natural world. Sometimes, the effects of modernization seem like slow and inevitable developments onto the land. Other times, urbanization appears to threaten to overtake the landscape. My intent is to question how our perceptions of the landscape have changed over the past two centuries, after we have remade a considerable part of it in our image.
Donna J. Wan investigates of perceptions of landscape. Drawing from the cultural references of the iconic, the monumental, and the symbolic, her photographs also depict man’s impact upon the land. Donna Wan has been working on a series of photographic images that reference the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School, many of which depict the Catskills from a contemporary perspective. During her residency at CPW, she will revisit the landscapes of artists Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Asher Durand, and Jasper Francis Cropsey, including such locations as Catskill Creek, Kaaterskill Falls, and North-South Lake. “I was inspired to revisit this mythologized perception of the landscape”, Donna explains. Her work raises such questions as, “Does land, sea or mountain still represent places we can project our hopes, fears, and desires? Or, have we become alienated from it and only respond strongly to it when we are shown images of its devastation? What does landscape now mean for us?” Born in Taiwan, raised in Queens, NY, and now living in Menlo Park, CA, Donna holds an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.