The Earthen Vision of Annika Legzdins
Annika Legzdins’ mythic imagery bespeaks of an animistic communion with the forces of the natural environment. They remind the viewer of Northop Fryes’s idea that the central symbolism and the central conception of myths and rituals is that a renewal in time is normally thought of as renewal of time. The recalling and the recapitulation of places within time is captured in Annika Legzdins’ Hagestad series. It was created during a walk in the nature reserve in Southern Sweden called Hagestad by the Baltic Sea. Legzdins was using an old Box Camera, Kodak Brownie Model C Six-20 ( 1953-1957), which her mother gave her when Annika was 9 years old. Using this camera Legzdins, as she says, tried to see the growth and the greens from their perspective. The result offers us sensations and breathtaking views, vertiginous and strong flows of cascading roots and branches, imagery that is simultaneously benign and awesome.
Our perception of the work’s diminutive format forces our concentration and encourages the mind to conceive of the images before it in new unexpected ways. The small scale induces the eye to take in both the realities of the imagination as well as the reality recorded by the action of film. Identifiable and localized place becomes transcendent space while historical and indexical time freezes and shift into primordial and immemorial time. Legzdins’ work celebrates and heralds the imaginative patterns of the movements of natural forces. Her work with its pantheistic aura might easily be traced to the deep empathy with nature and to a pre-Edenic sense of oneness with the environment. Legzdins’ images are evocation of the deep symbolism of birth, disappearance and rebirth embedded within the cycles of nature.
The artist’s works transmutes and transforms: the materiality of the world so fervently recorded becomes transubstantiated into the world of pure presence. The pictorial codes of mimesis and representation are re-represented through the lens of Friedrich von Schelling’s natur-philosophie. Through this ideological framework a deep coherence is send as “self-reflection”—reflection because that is necessarily part of Nature. Such is the mystery of multi-valent visual drama, such is Legzdins’ talent as firmly committed and uniquely perceptive artist. For through her exploration of environmental issues she arouses subliminal readings of trauma as well as that of transcendence.
Legzdins’ earthen vision has something profound to say about our planetary circumstance. Heidegger’s philosophical distinction between “earth” and the “world” is useful here. In The Fate of Place Edward Casey examines Heideggerian thought with some lucidity. The distinction in the philosopher’s thought is made between what we name the world, which is characterized by expansiveness, broad paths and spaciousness, as it embraces and allows the earth to be. The earth, by contrast with the world, is constricted. It is seen and sensed as being allowed to emerge into the Open [ness] of the world, with its aspect of self-seclusion intact. The earth is allowed to be sheltering and grounding to man precisely because it is emplaced within the world. Thus, as Caley points out, this reciprocal influence takes place through a mutual solitude of one and the other, yet conflict is always prevalent.
Yet another level, with their multiple readings of materiality and immateriality, they are truly involved about what Simon Schama, in Landscape and memory, calls landschaft, the Germanic root of the Dutch landchap, which ”…signifies a unit of occupation… as much as anything that might be a pleasing object of depiction. ”At first it appears that Legzdins’ images involve the viewer in the notion of a site for contemplation, rather than a place where man’s events unfolds teleologically. Thus, it appears that a depiction of the history of place is replaced or supplanted in her work with the idea of space itself as an occupier of the imaginal mind.
What is remarkable in Legzdins’ compact and sumptuous site photography is the way she demarcates not only a passage of time from the past into the present and beyond, into the future, it is the way that sense of futurity is depicted and sensed, phenomenologically and ontologically in her work. Legzdins’ photographs illuminate through their presence the conundrums and deep enigma of what life could possibly be about other than to live fully up to the moment which we meet and are met in a time that has been allowed for that very purpose.
The universal language which Annika Legzdins speaks in her art is one of supplements and incremental reading rather than one of directness and of complete texts. The evident purposeful play of absence and presence is allowed its full presence in her work which, in turn, charges it with a deep sense of authenticity. Both for her and for the viewer her small photographs are lush evocations of earth and Nature. Taken low to the ground, in the ground, these images ask the viewer to become grounded so to speak, within the experience of being embedded in the factness of the land, of its tenacity and majesty. On another level, Legzdins’ images have a near epic seep and they are anything but about materiality. Instead, a transformative emphasis on the transience of life pervades much of her imagery and infuses the photographer’s spaces with a sense of foreboding and anticipation.
John Austin is an art writer living and working in Manhattan