Unfamiliar territory: Ruffin Gallery expands the horizon

Still from Greg Stimac's video, Peeling Out.

Tap into your mental art file and pull up something labeled “landscape.” Got it? Whatever it is you’re envisioning, I guarantee it looks nothing like what’s on display in “Landscape,” a group exhibition at the University of Virginia’s Ruffin Gallery.

Curated by Emily Schroeder– a Chicago-based artist and graduate student in Urban Planning and Policy– the 12-artist show considers landscape from a more figurative, less literal perspective. The exhibition includes a vinyl disc of soundscapes, a post-apocalyptic prose piece, and numerous video and multi-media works, plus paintings, drawings, and sculpture, which taken together highlight the changing landscape of contemporary art. And in a concrete way, the show itself creates a landscape within the gallery’s confines.

Only a handful of works feature nature or outdoor vistas with distant horizons (you know, what you imagined above)–and these veer into unexpected territory. In Nick Lesley’s video piece, “Leaves Interlaced,” what appears to be a wall of ivy turns out to be separate images digitally stitched together to yield leaves that move in subtly disconcerting ways.

Greg Stimac’s video, “Peeling Out” (perhaps the most un-green art piece ever made), presents successive scenes of lovely highway and byway vistas where cars and trucks rev their engines before burning rubber. Each squealy-wheeled short chapter ends with black marks on pavement and clouds of exhaust swirling in the air. The human imposition on the natural world is simultaneously aesthetically interesting and awful.

Two of the show’s strongest works incorporate intentionally crude re-creations of nature. In Devlin Shea’s poignant “Deer and Lynx,” layered line drawings and stop-motion animation create a visual poem of death and decay, sweetened further by a melancholy piano piece.

Jesse Avina’s “Napalm Bombing, Take 2!,” on the other hand, resembles a teenaged boy’s re-imagining of Viet Nam (think Max’s play at the end of Rushmore). Over and over, a model airplane, rigged on ropes, bounces above a tabletop tropical forest as fireballs explode beneath it. Quick cuts between front and side views escalate the video’s energy, but Avina almost imperceptibly shifts to slow motion with each explosion. The contrast between the organic beauty of the fireballs and the artificiality of the constructed set is enthralling.

The competing soundtracks make Ruffin sound like an arty equivalent of a Las Vegas casino, and the two-dimensional works get lost amid the motion-oriented pieces. Nevertheless, “Landscape” offers surprising outlooks and insights. Certainly, it’s not your grandpa’s Hudson River School.

"Landscape" is on view at the University of Virginia's Ruffin Gallery through February 20. 197 Culbreth Road. 924-6123.

1 comment

Agreed, I spent the most time with the "Deer and Lynx" piece and "Naplam Bombing". I was intrigued by the process that surrounds making the video and enjoyed the movement around the constructed sets. Thanks for the Niche tip. I think you will enjoy "Leadership, Oliphant Cartoons and Sculpture from the Bush Years"