Pete Hay on Solastalgia

The following text was written by Pete Hay for the exhibition ‘ Solastalgia’, at Landscape Art Research Queenstown (LARQ), 2015. 

 

There is tragedy in belonging. We have a deep need ‘to come from’, to have a locus for dwelling, as the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, has said. Call it home. Call it place.

But place is fluid. It is always in the process of becoming something else, vanishing from us, all those beloved reference points in the land, the markers that secure our identify, falling away. There is a word that sums the melancholic slipperiness of place. It is ‘solastalgia’.

This is a word that is known to Ilona Schneider. And the thoughts I have penned above are familiar to her, too. She even knows her Heidegger. All this shapes her art. She brings these ideas and her photographer’s art here to the West Coast, here where, she says, ‘you can shake somebody’s hand and be truthful’.

Ilona is an artist of industrial landscapes, landscapes that, yes, are ‘vanishing from us’ as post-industrial technologies sweep away old ways of doing, making, being. Though the planet can breathe somewhat easier on that account, there were real human lives and fixed and unchangeable identities invested in those old hard ways of doing, making, being.

Where better to read the landscape as history than Tasmania’s West Coast? It is the human imprint that attracts Ilona, for it is the human imprint that makes of the land a story that is ours; that renders it our dwelling place. There is always human intentionality in the subjects of Ilona’s art – nothing is ‘just there’; it was chosen by people going about the business of living. It embodies an investment of human meaning and, sometimes, love.

Ilona sets out to photograph industrial devastation with empathy. Her art constitutes a visual reference point for dialogue; for a reconsideration of the new land-aesthetic stereotypes. ‘The aesthetic dissonances of altered landscape’ is how she has herself described her art’s focus. She seeks – her own beautiful phrase – ‘the strange beauty of decay and exhausted earth’. And this is slightly different. She seeks, in fact, to transcend dissonance.

Ilona’s images take that ‘strange beauty’ and endow her subjects with dignity. Descending into Queenstown she is taken by the sinuous beauty in the hypnotic winding of the road. And she sees that which endures within inevitable change.

She brings no dispassionate eye to her art. She is engaged. My own sympathies are a little different: I have a passionate interest in natural history. For Ilona, though, history is human story. It’s about where we live, where we do and make, where we make, especially, home. She unfashionably acknowledges nostalgia – she regrets the passing of industrial place. ‘When it’s gone it’s as if part of you dies’, she says. ‘There’s no place to go back to’. ‘I still don’t understand’, she says, ‘why towns die’.

Ilona Schneider takes her camera and probes the very core of industrial change, the beauty there, and the sadness. And in the doing she denies, in part, the ruthlessness inherent within the vector of change.

Pete Hay