Text by Justin Hoffmann 2006
Text by Justin Hoffmann
(translated from german by Bernard Schütze)
in Eve K. Tremblay, Tales Without Grounds
Eve K. Tremblay’s Bio-Tech Visions
The photographs in the “Tales without Grounds” series were all taken at the same site.
This place, and what it reveals, as well as the actions carried out by the depicted persons are equally significant for the content of the works. In combination they create the impression that these photographs consist of visions of a future world. What exactly makes these pictures, which were after all taken in real places, appear so futuristic. The photographs are not in fact the result of a digital imaging: the sites are really as shown, the human figures are made of flesh and blood, and the light and colour components are not at all artificial. So what is it that makes these depictions into visions, into metaphors of tomorrow’s agriculture. One reason is that the agricultural business that Eve K. Tremblay selected must actually be a very modern, forward-looking enterprise which applies hydroculture to grow its produce. Though the large water surface, which serves as the floor of the spacious and partially transparent building, appears peculiar to us, it is probably more common than we think. An astonishment that is basically indicative of our ignorance regarding current tendencies in food production. Tremblay’s demonstration of the building’s size, which is more reminiscent of big industrial factory buildings than classical greenhouses, heightens this sense of bafflement. The manner in which the depicted situations are often photographed provides a view into the depths of the space and opens up an extreme perspective. The building’s architecture, with its visible pillars and joists, supports this impression: the construction is represented so as to visibly render its size and spatial structure. The sense of width is further underscored through the vast cultivation area and the plants, which are grown—mass production style—at regular intervals. The fact that there are only plants and no machines or robots in this giant factory hall, is irritating. For one usually associates such large-scale interior spaces with other forms of industrial production.
The connection between high-tech industry and agriculture arouses fears and apprehensions that can take on a dystopian character. Ecologically engaged people repeatedly warn us of the consequences of industrialized agriculture, especially if it is associated with genetic engineering and biotechnology experiments. The clothing that the persons in the photographs wear, also points in this direction. Overalls and caps to protect one’s hair are reminiscent of the workwear used in chemistry labs, where workers handle corrosive fluids and toxic fumes. In viewing these photographs several science fiction films spring to mind. The wide open and stark clinical environment evokes the spaces in Andrew Niccol’s film “Gattaca,” which depicts a working world that is organized according to biotechnological principles. Factories in which strange living beings are bred, remind one of David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. Or one may recall the immense and mysterious Albertan farmland in the X-Files TV series, where extraterrestrial plants and bees, whose sting is deadly to humans, are bred. It is not by chance that viewers associate film sequences with Eve K. Tremblay’s photographs. The pictures evidently reference a narrative. Various characters, who are engaged in mysterious actions, emerge without fully disclosing what they are up to. What is this young girl doing in these surroundings? Is she a farm labourer? But why doesn’t she wear protective clothing like the other workers or researchers? The title “Tales without Grounds” underscores the enigmatic quality of these works. “Without grounds” indicates that the photographs do not lend themselves to a clear-cut interpretation. Regardless of the title, the viewer nevertheless seeks explanations and interpretive links, such as those mentioned above. In any case, the works weave a web of memorable associations that is stretched along the tension points generated between agriculture and technology, and between humans and nature.
The works by the Canadian artist, who works primarily with photography, invariably lead to comparisons with the so-called Vancouver Fab 5 (Wall, Graham, Douglas, Wallace, Lum). Even the more so, if one recalls that the narrative component also plays an important role in Jeff Wall’s photographs. The pictures are like a snapshot, a frozen moment of a particular story, the past and future of which is left up to the viewer to determine. With him the depicted figures are also actors who follow the artist’s detailed instructions. The space, lighting and picture composition are all precisely determined. Nothing is left to chance here. However, in regards to content Eve K.Tremblay’s and Jeff Wall’s works are quite different. Tremblay’s visual language—particularly when viewed in a comparative perspective—is distinctly poetic (which cannot be solely attributed to her francophone origins). And reflections about a technologized agriculture have never been the object of the famous Vancouver artist’s works.