Crater Glacier in Washington, USA is a geologically young glacier that formed following the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helen’s volcano in 1980. In the years since it has continued to develop, with each new instance of volcanic activity prompting a change in form: advancing and splitting, squeezing and compressing, thickening and melting to result in the landscape of vast ridges and deep valleys that captured in the aerial views of Holdsworth’s latest body of work, Forms. In these images, however, the terrain is not quite as it first appears. What are perceived to be ridges in one image are read as valleys when this same image is flipped 180⁰, rendering actual geological form impossible for the viewer to determine. Presented as two orientations of the same view side-by-side, the Forms FTP diptychs reveal a phenomenon known to cartographers as False Topographic Perception. Describing the confusion of convex or concave surfaces in the mind’s eye, this phenomenon is common to remote sensing images, such as aerial views captured by satellites or, as in this case, from an aircraft.
In his decision to engage with this phenomenon, Holdsworth instigates a consciousness of perception that expands upon the interest in photography, mapping and the virtual that he has developed throughout his career. While investigating the relationship between abstraction and perception, Holdsworth engaged with a mode of critical discourse that emerged in the 1960s and was characterized by artists looking to new studies and theories on the limitations of perception and applying these to expand the parameters of abstraction in art practice. Often they did so by appropriating models such as alternating perspective figures or stereoscopic images, whose function was to illustrate the faculties at work in resolving conflicting two-dimensional forms on a two-dimensional plane, into a three-dimensional form in the mind’s eye.
Looking to Robert Smithson’s work on enantiomorphic chambers as a precedent, in Forms FTP Holdsworth sought to explore what happens to perception of the two-dimensional landscape when the conditions required for reconciling images are deliberately withheld. Working in Smithson’s vocabulary of the crystalline, the entropic, and the geological, he presents a landscape without usual markers of mass or scale – a landscape which therefore appears to be without centre, without space, and without time. Here the photograph acts not as an index of geography but as a foil for a virtual landscape that doubles, shifts and slips beyond mental grasp, invoking a cognitive processes that is at one lucid and foggy, recalling Smithson’s descriptions of thinking around abstract geology wherein ‘mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason’. Presenting these images of Crater Glacier in such a way that simultaneously conjures and reveals False Topographic Perception Phenomenon, Holdsworth highlights the feedback loop that occurs between retinal fusion, the formulation of the image in the mind’s eye, and the gradual awareness thereof, locating Forms as a work not on the surface of the plane but within the third space of the virtual.
Location: Mount St. Helens, USA
Text: Emma Lewis