On the cover: the constructed photographs of James Casabere | December 2021 | Visual arts | Hudson Valley
At first glance, the bright palette and plastic foliage of James Casebere’s house Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY) # 12, suggests an idealized world, almost Lego-like, but with fires about to consume country homes while windmills stop. What at first seems playful and innocent is in fact a scathing commentary on the death of the American dream, the net result of capitalism, and impending doom. “I was trying to respond to the anxiety about the future generated by the double crisis of the Great Recession, the consequences of global warming and the absurdity of our oil-based economy,” Casabere said. Produced in 2011, Landscape is a premonitory and heartbreaking look at our current reality of ten years ago.
Casebere has been making and photographing models since 1975, its pioneering work predating what came to be called constructed photography. Originally, he shot in film and then went digital. For this work, he incorporated more detail than previous projects and adopted model building materials, constructing a large landscape with plaster, wire mesh, and cheesecloth covered with grasses and foliage designed for model train enthusiasts.
“The pandemic has reinforced my desire to affect people’s lives more directly and leave the illusion behind,” he says. “Architectural photography is never the same as the thing itself, it is often an abstraction or an idealization. Discovering the emotional architecture of Luis Barragan and Mathias Goeritz reinforced my desire to create rather than simply invoke feelings of refuge, consolation, loneliness, security and spirituality.
As a multimedia artist, Casebere says he always thought more in three dimensions than in two, and that he had to create an object first. “When taking a photo of a building, many other questions come into play: there is the question of time – the before and after, the control of light and its illusions, the emotional impact and the reproducibility. There is also the drama of the shoot. With the digital revolution, our relationship to photography has changed, and we take the lie created for granted.
Casebere has had a studio in Columbia County for the past six years. (His large-scale installation, Solo Pavilion for Two or Three, which was unveiled at PS21 in Chatham in May, will be on display until 2022.) Like many other artists, he has come to the upstate for escape and recharge your batteries. “While working here, my experience changed with post-pandemic gatherings and artistic events,” he says. “There is a shared desire to participate in meaningful dialogue that is always at hand, if hidden. ”