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SUSANNAH MARTIN

PRIMORDIAL TOURISTS

"In every human heart, lives something of the longing
to return to his place of origin,
after all the alienation from God and from ourselves
to find our way back to our eternal home"

Felix Schlösser


The history of the painted nude in landscape documents exactly this eternal longing. Setting aside for a moment, any erotic motivations, the nude has always also been a symbol for man in his purist form, his original form, his primordial form. Stripped of all social indicators; clothing, possessions , etc., he exists independent of identity in a time of pure being. Being is our eternal home. Nature does not possess an identity, it is. The nude in a natural setting has always been associated with our return to a time of pure being, a return home.

I have always been fascinated by how artists throughout human history have chosen to represent our interconnection with nature through the nude and how these choices reflect their epoch. For the primordial artist, nature was home. When he drew images of man and beasts on cave walls with charcoal and fat, he was merely recording his daily experience in his natural environment. That his stick-figure hunters and their voluptuous mates should be as nude as the animals he observed was never in question.

The human form in ancient Egyptian art shows to what degree man still felt at home in his unity with the forces of the universe, all of which he identified in an endlessly complex network of gods and deities of nature. Although he knew that his every movement took place in a state of interdependence, his feeling of separateness was slowly being made apparent through the introduction of a delicate sheath of cloth around his hips. Regardless of how thin and translucent the fabric, or how faithfully it clings to his form, the statement is irrefutable and irreversible; the separation of man and nature is inevitable.

By 400BC, the Greeks had brought the nude to its most elegant perfection and removed it firmly from any contact with earth and animal life. No God would need to hunt for his food himself and the beauty of a human athlete could grace nothing less than center stage in the amphitheater. Mans´ separation was established, his position was now far above and in command.

Following this terrifying proclamation of independence from nature, came a long period of silence regarding how the nude should be represented, known as the dark ages. The Renaissance began with a resounding affirmation of ancient Greek philosophy. Man was once again the apotheosis of beauty and yet was forced to unify with newly formed Christian ideals. Man must be seen as part of all creation though made in the image of the father.

Slow attempts were made to re-unify the nude with nature which came in two categories; references to Greek mythology or biblical illustration. These two varieties competed for center stage until a new agitator began to appear on the horizon: industrialization. The artists of the Romantic movement, living at the dawn of the industrial revolution sensed what was coming and with visions of Rousseaus noble savage fresh in their minds vehemently tried to bind humanity to his natural origin through music, poetry and painting. A new concept of the nude began to emerge, born of its´ Greek mother and biblical father, but more human and contemporary: The Bather, a man or a woman, made timeless through nudity, unadorned in non-heroic interaction with nature. The Bather is a direct descendant of the hunters of Lascaux and has remained throughout the centuries a link to primordial man.

It is no wonder that we associate The Bather with the romantic movement but he would reach his apex of popularity in the late 19th century just as industry was in its most powerful and destructive phase of expansion. But while the 19th century could still represent a plausible bather in a secluded natural setting, the 20th century witnessed the collapse of this ( selbstverständlichkeit) naturalness. The modern psychosis began; our human psyche split between the fear of loss of origin and the exhilarating thrill of technological advancement. A plausible union of man and nature in art could no longer be taken for granted. The absurdity of the image grew in direct proportion with the advance of science and urban sprawl The invention of photography pulled artists into realism and then pushed them into abstraction.

Nature is no longer home to us, she is much more a tourist destination. Certainly no representation of the nude in landscape in the 21st century can escape conveying our extreme estrangement from nature, intentional or not. There is an unavoidable strangeness or feeling of dislocation which envelopes the most sincere attempt at harmony. How absurd man seems stripped of his possessions and identity crutches and yet it is indisputable, he gains strength, clarity and beauty whenwe contemplate him abstractly , as a phenomenon of nature. My experimentation with contemporising the nude in landscape takes place within this framework of tension between these two poles of self-perception.

It is the rise of the virtual world which has permitted artists to bypass any mandate of plausibility in representational painting. If man can now appear as an intergalactic android engaged in battle with an alien species he may also go bathingin a local stream. It IS realism, if we accept that realism now includes virtual realism, that is it incorporates a high degree of improbability, a hyperbolic realism. Man may return once again to his original landscape, his eternal home, all be it this time as a tourist, a primordial tourist.

Susannah Martin