At first glance, the work of James Geurts may not be what you expect to see at Zhulong Gallery. The relatively new exhibition space calls itself “the new light on Dragon street.” It differentiates itself from most of the other galleries by outwardly embracing new media, and work that interacts with contemporary technology. Saturday’s launch of Re-Surveying: Measuring Site utilized landscape art, photography, and public works.
Geurts is based in both Melbourne and London. Geurts’ vision is related to the shape of the earth itself, while he also ties in complexities of the human understanding of time and space. His presence in Dallas offers a different perspective on new media than the one to which we’ve been accustomed.
Geurts resuscitates anachronistic technologies that seem a far cry from new media–until you take another look. For instance, an old wooden surveyor’s tripod—with a telescope cased in resin—has the gallery audience thinking about plumbing up, leveling the ground, and certainly, surveying. But is it a “new media” piece? Could serene landscapes lit by fluorescent light, line drawings, and prints be considered the same?
A variety of light boxes warms up the gallery hall. A floating projection of a world map on the façade glows from the inside and street-side alike. Video loops of the salt left by the tidelines flicker on the back wall, breathing quietly in subdued colors.
By contrast, an artificial lightning bolt strikes the concrete floor. The vertical line of yellow neon-filled tubes hum with electric light. The bolt is actually the shape of the International Date Line (IDL), or the imaginary line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that separates one calendar day from the next. If you look a little closer, the neon designation is echoed across the room, inside the lens of the surveyor’s telescope. The shape is mirrored in micro-scale. But the tiny yellow line stands only an inch tall. You see it dancing on the end of the telescope, but it’s an illusionary shape that disappears if you stick your finger in it. Once gone, your eyes can’t stop seeing the apparition. The dateline in Geurts’ work is as refracted and illusionary in your experience at the gallery as it is as a concept for guiding how humans actually define time along meridian lines.
“If you have a globe and you shine the light of the sun on it, it’s not that shape,” explains Geurts. “We created the date line. So the work is fed by this concept of time—that humans can not understand the landscape without this kind of symbol. What was a straight line has slowly formed into this architectonic, phenomenal, structured geometry.”
“A lot of these works are these kinds of impossible propositions. We’re trying to physicalize that which is just a perceptual phenomenon,” Geurts says.
Geurts has been all over the map to encapsulate the bizarre illusions on which we depend to understand the world—time, space, gravity, light, and weather; vanishing points and horizon lines. Starting with geographical impetus, Geurts takes his process into the landscape and allows his work to interact with it.
He shoots Polaroids and opens them up on site, so the salt or wind or rain can mix with the chemicals to create a uniquely eroded image. He exposes the circuit board of his video camera to the elements, in order to manipulate it or, “paint with the circuits.” He searches for an image through the lens that “is more of a conversation with the landscape than just a neat effect,” he says.
At Zhulong, Geurts worked with director Aja Martin to construct an exhibit that works with the architecture of the space. While the show was intended as a survey of Geurts’ work, it also included as many as six pieces he created while living as an artist-in-residency in Dallas last month.
For this show, he created a map of longitudinal data, using cubes to mark the places on the globe where the tiny images were created: a pictorial survey of his site-practice around the world. Geurts’ work is first and foremost global. For his 90 Degrees Equatorial Project, he hauled a sculpture in his backpack to four locations equally spaced by 90 degrees on the Earth’s equator.
Geurts’ made a trek to Quito, Ecuador in order to place the sculpture at the highest point above sea level located on Earth’s equator. He considered the altitude sickness a welcome expansion of consciousness; a new way to experience the landscape and the Earth’s forces.
His work lists materials outside of the usual, such as “solar light,” “summer solstice, “dry river bed,” and “water gravity.” In one instance, a light aircraft draws lines across a landscape.
In mixing terms like “architectonic phenomena,” “psycho-geographical richness,” and “lucid drawing,” Geurts is creating a new vocabulary for landscape art. For Drawing In, Drawing Out, he spent five hours meditating in “lucid drawing” mode as the massive tide went out at Sydney Harbor. He captured a sort of topographical rendering of his vision of the tide. He did the same when the tide returned to shore, and he paired the images to reveal the happenstance of parallels and overlaps in the two drawings. In them, a revelation of the happenstance of parallels and overlaps in the two drawings.
Geurts collects conceptual side-effects of his travels. He employs ideas specific to the site in which he works, implements local materials, and interacts with artists in the community he is visiting. He hitchhikes at low tide on the back of a coconut truck, just to get his sculpture to the exact destination in where he feels it should be photographed.
His activity is similar in Dallas. He takes long walks around the city, visits the strange landscape of the Trinity, and allows Dallas to enter his work. In Dallas, Geurts says, the “weather culture” mostly focuses on the sun.
Geurts is interested in solar panels not only for their function, but also as aesthetic objects to be exhibited and examined up close. Some of his works include panels that gather energy during the day, which in turn, run the exhibit at night. He is amazed at how many suppliers of solar panels are in North Texas. (A quick search lists 224 installers in Dallas alone.)
Geurts’ conceptual land art often takes him to the depths of nature. In Dallas he spends more time in the city, in order to fully understand the urban relationship with the Trinity River.
Geurts interviewed Dallas residents and spent time conceptualizing the city’s river as well as the highways that have replaced it. “[The river is] on the periphery, separated from the life of the city with this giant flood plain, but there’s so much control of the water upstream, that it’s not a real concern,” Geurts says. “It’s fascinating. I like to study how that affects public consciousness.”
Geurts hopes to return next year to develop public works in the Dallas area based on his study and survey. While reflecting on Dallas, he makes one observation in particular that stands out: “I can feel the absence of nature—of a water body or river—when I go to a place.”
Re-Surveying: Measuring Site will be on display at Zhulong through Oct. 11.