The 27th of February saw the opening of an exciting exhibition at Flowers Gallery (Hoxton, London) – Edmund Clark and ‘The Mountains of Majeed’.
Clark’s photography occupies the top floor of the gallery, whilst on the ground floor, the expressive paintings of Peter Schmersal (modern re-workings of old masterpieces) complement the striking images upstairs.
Clark’s work forms a reflection on the end of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ at the U.S. military base of Bagram in Afghanistan. Bagram Airfield is the largest American base in Afghanistan, formerly home to 40,000 people, and synonymous with the occupying force. Pictures of the military base itself, and the murals depicted on its walls, form the main part of the exhibition.
His work depicts the experiences of the personnel and contractors who served in the operations – most without ever actively engaging the enemy.
The base is dominated by the blue hills of the Hindu Kush Mountains, a view depicted in my favourite image of the exhibition – an imposing concrete wall confronting the viewer face-on, and the softly-dominating mountains behind. Looking at this photograph, I felt like I was gazing at an old master painting; in the richness and delicacy of the blue tones of the concrete – almost velveteen in appearance. The faint mountains only add to the strange abstraction of the image, so serene and so beautiful, yet hiding deeper narratives, secrets and fears. These are the ‘blue hills of memory’ which crop up again and again in art history (think Leonardo Da Vinci’s Virgin on the Rocks, or Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child), and all-throughout Clark’s photographs.
With the double-appropriation of these mountains, both in the colourful, romanticised murals inside the military base (by an artist named Majeed), and in Clark’s artwork, they remain firmly out of ‘Western’ reach – images rather than reality. The incongruity of the child-like murals also point towards the dystopian juncture between the man-made, military environment of the interior of Bagram, and the quiet, contemplative views beyond its walls.
It was this dichotomy I found particularly interesting: of the man-made and the natural; appropriation and distance; time-passed and time-present.
But in asking how we can bridge these gaps, how we can re-enter into a conversation with the lost subject – ‘the other’, Clark’s photography points towards a synthesis. It forces the viewer to reorganise their own expectations of, and experiences of the ‘high art’ in front of them. Who, for example, expects to see a field of rubbish and barbed wire, the inside of an air-base, or an American GI and his dog, calmly depicted on a modern-art gallery’s walls? It is only from this point however, at which one assumes gaps in knowledge… that we can enter into new forms of understanding.
This was the lesson I took from both artists work that day, but particularly from Clark’s photography: the necessity of attempting ‘conversation’ and active interaction, even if the responses are not immediately clear. With persistence, determination and an open approach to knowledge – beautiful art and understanding can happen.
The Exhibition runs until 4th April, 2015. Entrance is free.
For more information, please see: http://www.flowersgallery.com/exhibitions/flowers/2015/edmund-clark/
Amelia Carruthers is a Bristol based writer and editor, interested in the arts, history and philosophy. She is passionate about art, literature and creative endeavours – activities which she believes should be accessible to as many people as possible.
After completing an MA in Art History, History and Philosophy at the University of St. Andrews, Amelia moved to Bristol, where she achieved an M.Phil in Modern History. She currently works as a writer and editor for an independent publishing company, as well as blogging for the Huffington Post. For more information, please see: http://www.ameliacarruthers.com