by Shirley Madill

After Louis Daguerre's invention of photography, and paralleling 19th-century notions of the sublime in nature, interest in documenting the landscape accelerated amongst photographers as well as painters. The first panoramic photographs appeared in 1840 opening up a new discovery of the horizon and the liberation of the gaze. Panoramic photographs perpetuated an obscure feeling of being 'imprisoned in time'(11). They pretended to be a means towards a deeper and longer-lasting sensory experience, like a physical fragment of a memory, as opposed to the direct objective view (12).

Katarina Matiasek explores ideas about memory and visual space in her photographic practice. After viewing various 18th- and 19th-century paintings and drawings of Hamilton landscapes in the AGH permanent collection, she was drawn to the British artist George Seton's panoramic drawing depicting the City of Hamilton from the famous Niagara Escarpment. She sought to find the same point of view used by Seton. She spent a week in the City photographing two key geographical features - the escarpment and the waterfront. The result is an installation consisting of six panoramic photographs titled ESCARPE: RESPACE.

By definition escarpment geologically is 'a steep descent that separates two relatively level areas of different elevatiions and ages'(13), in other words, a line of erosional loss. The title also evokes hybridity, a scarp being the equivalent to the sinister bend or diagonal line in heraldry implying 'bastardy'(14). In this context, escarpment can reflect the fissures of diverse historical topographies and social spaces, such as natural reserves versus heavy industrial sites within Hamilton.

In her panoramas Matiasek has deliberately obscured some areas of the images through manipulation of the photographic medium. Areas fo the multifaceted landscapes are presented as fading in or out through a bleaching technique. Parts of the images appear as ghosted views delivering different opacities along the width of their format. Each panorama is spatially recombined with other different views and installed vertically and horizontally on a large wall. An 'all view' of the landscape is not possible as we are only able to see a fragment of the photograph at a time. Furthermore, the variation in opacity offers an abrupt shift in perceptual reality, so that the experience of the landscape may be reconstructed in the memory of the observer.

The sense of distance from the subject is reinforced by the disappearance of what we understand as photographic reality. The visible stretches of the photographs ultimately blend in with the white empty wall space around them. The capacity of the original panorama to take the observer into the vicarious realm of landscape experience, and of the sublime, experiences a break or 'escarpment', both formally and sensory, and speaks of the difficult reconstruction of any outside world by our senses.

Buildings can become transparent objects also. When we re-enter the actual landscape outside the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Gallery can be perceived like one of the panorama format representations on view inside, thereby further 'escarping' the scenario. The passing views and structures shown in ESCARPE: RESPACE refer to the vanishing personal places of memory in the present accelerating urban environment, reminding us that this visible silhouette is already somehow gone. Their inherent pictorial absence asks the viewer to actively engage in questions of perceptual reality, site and identity, within the panoramic yet 'broken' installation.

(11) Stephan Oettermann: The Panorama - History of a Mass Medium, 1980 from Katarina Matiasek's artist statement.
(12) Bernd Busch: Exposed World - A Perceptual History of Photography, 1989 from Katarina Matiasek's artist statement.
(13) From the Oxford Dictionary.
(14) Katarina Matiasek's artist statement.

In: Shirley Madill (ed.): Sublime Embrace - Experiencing Consciousness in Contemporary Art. Exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario 2007, pp. 13-17