Pictures of Hell
April 3 - June 13, 2015
Gallery Luisotti is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, Mark Ruwedel: Pictures of Hell. In celebration of the release of Ruwedel’s 2014 publication, Pictures of Hell, the gallery will feature a selection of Ruwedel’s photographs of places in the American and Canadian West that have been named for the presumed proximity to El Diablo. These “geographies of hell,” in essayist Chiara Siravo’s words, offer viewers a survey of settlement and exploration in the American West that is equally absurd and sublime.
Clarence King, writing for Overland Monthly in 1870, described the landscape surrounding Shoshone Falls (in present day Idaho_ as a desolate waste, an “abyss” of “blackened ruins,” “a frightful glimpse of the Inferno” Such descriptions were common amongst Euro-American explorers of the American West in the 19th century. King, on orders to survey the 40th parallel, would produce a report for congress in 1868, illustrated with photographs by Timothy O’Sullivan. So began a history of exploring, naming, and documenting the western American landscape that implied it was a place yet to be tamed by culture, industry, and Christianity. As George Stewart elaborated in his Names on the Land (1945), “However profane he might be in speech, the American did not apply the name of God to places. When he wished to give any idea of the supernatural, he resorted to the Devil.”
Pictures of Hell features images from Ruwedel’s ambitious project to document those sites in the American West that have been named after Hell, the Devil, in addition to other infernal references. Central to the exhibition will be a typology of images depicting Hells’ or Devils’ Gates. Commonly used in naming narrow passages between canyon walls, the Gates, one assumes from the title might lead to successive levels of The Inferno, or, apparently, California. As will be evident in additional works exhibited in the exhibition, the Devil is a real estate baron, holding amongst his properties: a speedway, a golf course, a playground, several kitchens and gardens, numerous creeks, canyons, and holes, a punchbowl, a bench, a throne, a few acres, and most whimsically, a dance floor.
Ruwedel highlights place names by adding them to the matte surface beneath his photographs, a clear formal reference to his forebearers such as O’Sullivan. Yet to name and discover is only one part of Ruwedel’s project. Typical of his work more broadly, Ruwedel maintains awareness that to name a place is to alter it, and numerous of his Pictures of Hell reinforce this transformation by featuring aspects of modern humanity’s mark upon the land. As such, Ruwedel is mcuh as a conceptualist (his work reminiscent of Richard Long or Hamish Fulton) as he is a conscientious landscape photographer (much like his peer, Robert Adams).