Approaching Biocenology: The Science of Landscape
A Statement

We have some technologies for aiding our quest toward consciousness, toward life-death-life cycle affirmation. These are the technologies of symbol making, experiencing community as spirit, infusing wildness with cultivation, blending the natural and the cultural with conscience. These technologies make each of us everyday artists.

I like to explore different landscape representations to express my personal experiences and cultural interactions with geography. I am interested in the conflicts which arise from our expectations about land use, expectations shaped by idealized art and design images and our vernacular urban setting. By employing the approach of pattern and decoration, I would like to create a different language referring to many traditions including maps, classical and middle eastern mosaics, decorative art, textile design, indigenous paintings and shrine technologies of many cultures. The term biocenology characterizes this interface of cultural and natural systems because it is the study of communities and member interactions in nature; it is an exploration of systems, part of the science of ecology.

Currently I work with acrylic, encaustic, mixed media and printmaking approaches. Some paintings feature topographic maps which I image onto handmade paper. Others incorporate shapes or formal structures. Upon this layer, I lay acrylic or encaustic washes; sometimes more than one to build luminosity and relate to the landscape. Then I add stamped images of animals such as fish, birds and eggs and seeds, using brilliantly colored and iridescent pigments derived from mica. Texts may be included. With these techniques, I am trying to express the complexity of overlapping multiplicity and the tendency of natural processes to pursue cycles of life.

Topographic maps appeal to me because they are created by physically active scientists and engineers who document the terrain directly by walking on it. Intimacy with a place affects our relationship to it. I try to see as much as I can most of the places I depict. During a residency at North Cascades National Park in Washington State in 2006, I received a topographic map drawn by park staff in 1976. This map shows landmarks which no longer exist due to erosion and other natural effects. I was struck by the temporal nature of this document and the evasiveness of the geography to reinforce a static view. Similarly, the events of the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980 revealed a dramatic transformation erasing park boundaries and property lines as well as the picturesque image of an idealized mountain. Visiting the Korean South Sea area in June 2011, I witnessed the dramatic impact of Typhoon Maeri with massive flooding and loss of life and livelihood. Yet traditional technologies refined over hundreds of years had by the 8th Century CE managed flooding, soil retention and, at Bulguk-sa, a Buddhist temple community complex, the urban comfort of tens of thousands of people in a concentrated area.

In its relentless desire for control, the Western landscape tradition distances the viewer from the outdoors and people, offering a timeless illusion. Visual traditions and themes create a kind of language that exerts a powerful effect on social consciousness. Artists choose particular traditions and themes to explore and alter these ranges of expression. Much of my work over the past thirty years expresses the theme – Land Use: An Alchemical Treatise to explore the connections between our belief systems about society and how we treat the planet, each other. I want to create new narratives that reaffirm our ties to where we live, people who came before, the planet, nature and its cycles.

Alice Dubiel January 2015