New York

Hamish Fulton

John Weber Gallery

Hamish Fulton and his occasional traveling companion Richard Long have been, like Braque and Picasso, so roped together that, to a casual glance, it is sometimes difficult to see where one’s photographic work ends and the other’s begins. Both artists tend to walk in the remote corners of the world; but Long uses the walk to document the elemental or sculptural gesture, beating out his own paths and making material “cuts” in the landscape, while Fulton treads quietly, little more than a silent witness to the nature that becomes annotated in his captions. “Day 11,” he begins, in support of one image, “No eye—the direction of listening.”

Fulton does not necessarily avoid the signs of other people as if he were the discoverer of some mythical virgin territory. He may show us the already trodden paths (Drum, 1979 and ’87), the cairn marking a lonely route (Rain, 1985), or a sculpted shrine in the woods (Kubi Kiri Jizo, 1986). These are the cumulative signs of the anonymous nomad who wanders out into loneliness in order to find a way back to his center, mapping the passage of his absence rather than documenting the material evidence of his having-been-there. Fulton may return to territories he had visited earlier—for example, the Tarahumara Sierra, Mexico, in Drum—possibly to reassure himself that they are still there in reality as they are in memory or in the photograph. For photographs are not of the living; they are a museum of the dead for memory, and perhaps they really do kill and steal the soul of things. In Fulton’s work the photographic image is unspectacular and represents the fugitive side of experience, making it tangential to the tradition of pictorialist photography. It is designed to function with verbal descriptions of the circuit of the walk; but the disparity between words and image is keenly felt as an echo of the disaster of language in general—its inability to measure the depth of experience. Perhaps this is why Fulton is concerned with equating the angle at which the photograph is shot with the viewer’s angle of vision: Rain, which has no horizon, and Seven Paces at Midnight June 21 Northern Iceland 1987, which features a cairn in the foreground, are hung close to the floor, while Skylines Campfire Drawings Mexico 1987 (five drawings of mountain skylines) and the panoramic Solstice Full Moon June 1986 are positioned a little higher than eye level.

The panoramic view is one of the strongest and most particular features of Fulton’s work. It is his clearest expression of the horizon as something that exists solely as a visual and mental abstraction—a place where different qualities meet and interact but that, constantly shifting, constantly out of reach, is actually no place at all. Landscape is largely a figment of the imagination, and the physical horizon becomes a metaphor for the horizon of thought, no more tangible than the exotic terrains and other pasts conjured in the mind by the names of places cited in the passage from walk to work. Although Fulton’s strategy may be open to accusations of a failure to confront the reality of man’s conflict with nature in our present world, his work nevertheless evokes a sense of the fragility of nature’s ecologies and Western technology’s irresponsible attitudes to them.

Jean Fisher