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First major solo museum exhibition for Mark Tribe opens at the Corcoran Gallery of Art
Mark Tribe, 4348-4352 (detail), from the Plein Air series, 2014. UV print on Dibond. 55" × 84". Courtesy of the artist.

WASHINGTON, DC.- Mark Tribe: Plein Air explores the aesthetics and representation of aerial views in landscape photography through the virtual lens of computer simulation. Opened yesterday at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design, this exhibition is the latest in the Corcoran’s NOW series and represents the first major solo museum exhibition for the artist.

Exhibiting all new work commissioned by the Corcoran, Plein Air includes nine large-scale images created with found software that uses geospatial data and fractal algorithms to create digital simulations of real landscapes. Tribe’s shaped prints were made using a UV inkjet printing process on Dibond, a durable aluminum composite material, so that they appear to hover over the gallery wall. UV inks solidify when exposed to ultraviolet light, which allows high quality printing on nonabsorbent materials like Dibond.

Plein Air—a French expression that refers to painting outdoors in the open air—alters our perceptions, presenting outdoor landscapes from a “drone’s eye view,” a machinic perspective that is playing an increasingly important role in contemporary culture. Tribe pictures a computer-generated world in which familiar environments appear distant, almost foreign. Unlike traditional depictions of landscapes in art, these aerial views abstract what we know. They do not reproduce our “natural” terrestrial viewpoint. There is no ground underfoot, no place to stand, and often no visible horizon. Tribe’s landscapes are idealized and pristine, what he calls “fantastic projections.”

These images grew from concepts Tribe first examined in his 2012 project Rare Earth, which considered aestheticized landscapes as a symbolic setting for paramilitary fantasy, particularly as used in combat video games. Plein Air provides an aerial view of such idealized, virtual worlds, which are often depicted as verdant, unspoiled, and edenic places that, according to Tribe, “may be symptomatic of a longing for a time before we started to destroy the land.”

“Plein Air collapses the boundary between the actual and the virtual—the abstract and the representational—in ways that challenge the basic premise of photography,” says exhibition curator Philip Brookman, chief curator and head of research at the Corcoran. “This project pushes some of the technological boundaries of image making and at the same time connects Tribe’s innovative practices to the historical conventions of landscape painting and photography.”

Photography, particularly landscape photography, is as much about projection as it is about representation. The camera captures images, but it also projects power: not only the power to see and to imagine, but also the power to picture the land, to investigate the story of its past, and to delineate its future. First made from balloons in the mid-19th century, aerial photographs developed significantly during the First World War, when it was used for reconnaissance. In 1968, orbiting astronauts first photographed an iconic view of Earth rising over a barren moon—an image that forever changed our notion of landscape as a subject. Since then, military applications of aerial imaging technology expanded exponentially, from spy planes to satellites and, most recently, drones. In Plein Air Tribe presents a catalogue of virtual landscapes that appear to have been shot by drones. He interrogates, frames, and implicitly critiques the ways in which landscape images are used to expand territories and defend geopolitical interests. By using software to generate his uncanny panoramas from data, Tribe suggests that the hovering lenses of unmanned devices produce images that can be as powerfully seductive as they are artificial. “We are entering a new era in which aerial imaging, facilitated by satellites, geospatial simulation technologies, and drones, is proliferating and becoming remarkably sophisticated,” says Tribe.

Mark Tribe is Chair of the MFA Fine Arts Department at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His art explores the intersection of media, technologies, and politics. His photographs, installations, videos, and performances are exhibited widely, including recent solo projects at Momenta Art in New York, the San Diego Museum of Art, G-MK in Zagreb, and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. Tribe is the author of two books, The Port Huron Project: Reenactments of New Left Protest Speeches (Charta, 2010) and New Media Art (Taschen, 2006), as well as numerous articles. In 1996, Tribe founded Rhizome, a nonprofit organization that supports the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology.

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