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Field Notes (after Baines)

Oil on canvas


Thomas Baines - painter, explorer, amateur scientist – has an extensive oeuvre depicting his 1850’s travels in southern Africa. Each painting in this piece takes as reference a specific point of colour from the sky and ground of an individual Baines work, and merges them in a simple gradation to eliminate the horizon.


Horizons, Hito Steyerl (2011) writes, have been integral to our traditional sense of orientation. Modern concepts of time and space are fundamentally based on the idea of a straight and stable line perceived by an observer from an always stable ground, within which ‘things can be made visible’. To see is to know and to grasp and to hold, and thus inherent to any optics of expansion and colonisation are the principles of intelligibility and possession. Horizons are also the means to calculate possible futures. ‘[L]inear perspective not only transforms space, but also introduces the notion of a linear time, which allows mathematical prediction and, with it, linear progress.’

But linear perspective is a construction and an abstraction, requiring the flattening of the curvature of the earth, and the invention of a single monocular, immobile viewpoint constituted as natural and normative. Linear perspective, in other words, does not correspond to any actual subjective perception, and its instigation of a scientifically objective ‘god trick’ - the conquering gaze from no-where as Donna Harraway refers to it - is suspect too.

Referencing the abstract colour field paintings of high modernism, 'Field Notes (after Baines)', reframes the modernist yearning for a transcendent abstraction that envelops the viewer at close range, into a different kind of representational freedom: a dispersed, deterritorialized perspectivism with multiple possible points of view.

Hito Steyerl (2011) ‘In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective’, e-flux issue # 24

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