Leah Gilliam: Agenda for a Landscape
July 12 – September 22 2002
For Agenda for a Landscape, Leah Gilliam recreates the widely publicized 1997 NASA Mars Pathfinder mission, developing a site that draws inspiration from a specific moment in American history while simultaneously revealing her own unique interpretation of that history. In an event emblematic of the global cultural fascination with outer space, tens of millions of viewers around the world watched as the Pathfinder space craft landed on Mars on July 4, 1997, and the Sojourner rover (a remotely operated vehicular robot named in honor of Sojourner Truth, the outspoken ex-slave and abolitionist) began its journey. Conducting experiments and gathering images of the surface of Mars, the Pathfinder returned 2.3 billion bits of information, including more than 16,500 images from the lander and 550 images obtained by the Sojourner rover before contact was lost.
Drawing from this massive archive, Gilliam combines found imagery with footage she shot herself to create a “media landscape” of Mars. Interested in discarded or obsolete technologies and their output, Gilliam puts these images-once widely viewed but now largely forgotten-back into the public realm. In so doing, she taps into viewers’ memories of the event and asks us to consider the cultural role these images play. Gilliam deliberately manipulates the existing documentation of the Martian landscape, interspersing it with her own digitally processed footage of the Hudson River Valley, in order to foreground the strangeness of Sojourner’s telerobotic eye. In Gillam’s hands, the seemingly straightforward genre of landscape (picture the Hudson River painters with their easels perched overlooking the valley) becomes an exploration of the constructedness of image making, calling attention to multiple layers of mediation involved in all forms of mechanical representation, from surveillance cameras to robots on Mars.
Gilliam’s is a contemporary landscape, relying on technological tools for both its source material and its final presentation, suggesting a new genre of landscape art that responds to the impact of new media on cultural representation. She underscores landscape as culturally and socially specific, imbued with the immediate concerns of a given time, as well as with historical narratives that accumulate in the retelling. Through her in-depth consideration of the Sojourner as a vehicle of exploration, Gilliam examines issues of control and agency with respect to technology, critiques the idea of cyberspace as the free play of identity with little or no relationship to the real, and explores how meaning, knowledge, and presence are produced across distance.
Organized by Mark Tribe of Rhizome.org in collaboration with Anne Ellegood, Associate Curator, New Museum.