It’s hard to imagine a more opportune moment for ‘making sense’ of environmental issues, which clearly present us all – scientists and non-scientists alike – with a huge challenge. In this regard, Jasmine Targett’s works bridge a crucial gap, presenting complex, disturbing data in lucid, evocative, even surprisingly beautiful form.
Human beings have always tried to tame and exploit nature, but typically, in the past, with some sense of awe. Traditional belief in the spiritual power of the land may underpin later responses like the Enlightenment ‘Sublime,’ or Marcus Clarke’s famous 19th-century lines on the gloomy and mysterious grandeur of the Australian landscape.
For Kant, contemplating fashionable aesthetic categories in 1764, the Sublime involved ‘the feeling of the beauty and dignity of human nature.’ But, post 1945, and especially post 2001, the idea of the Sublime may seem fatally flawed, perhaps even totalitarian, with terms like ‘Shock and Awe’ now coopted by the U.S. military. Yet there still seems to be scope for a contemporary Sublime, for instance in the work of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, who explores environmental and scientific issues, often on a massive scale, as in The Weather Project (2003).
Jasmine Targett’s work grapples with this dilemma in considerable detail and on an intimate scale, implying a 21st-century Sublime with subtler, darker tones. Antarctica, from all accounts (unfortunately I can’t speak from first-hand experience), is a majestic place, exemplifying that combination of awe-inspiring beauty, fear and melancholy that made up the Enlightenment Sublime, and still capable of astonishing contemporary visitors. However –Targett demonstrates – it’s also a fragile ecosystem showing obvious and increasing signs of damage, as temperatures rise, the ice melts, and species disappear at an alarming rate.
Faced with such destruction, it may seem impossible not to succumb to despair – or at least melancholy – that richer, more energetic concept central to Kant’s idea of the Sublime. But this artist suggest another, more productive approach. For, in a final paradox, the works in this exhibition also project considerable beauty – in the vivid colours of Targett’s glowing temperature maps. It may remain debatable whether these responses constitute a transcendent Kantian gesture, bitter-sweet mourning for what’s already irrevocably lost, or a vital redemptive act.
Exhibition footage taken from Wonderland, presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, 2012.