Towner is delighted to present At Altitude and 5000 is the Best, an exhibition and film installation exploring how our experience of landscape, space and territory has been transformed through new aerial perspectives of the world.
At Altitude presents painting, sculpture, photography and film by artists Jananne Al–Ani, Ken Baird, Tacita Dean, Charles and Ray Eames, Simon Faithfull, Mishka Henner, Dan Holdsworth, Kabir Hussain, Peter Lanyon, Cornelia Parker and Wolfgang Tillmans, with a new site-specific commission by Annabel Howland. In a separate space, Omer Fast’s film installation 5000 Feet is the Best (2011), explores drone warfare from the point of view of the pilots who operate the machines.
An illustration from Thomas Baldwin’s book Airopaidia (1786), “A Circular View from the Balloon at its greatest Elevation” sets the context for At Altitude. The drawing is considered to be one of the first ever ‘real’ aerial views, describing Baldwin’s one day in the air over Chester in 1785. The exhibition then focuses on recent decades, looking at increasingly technological mediations of the landscape and the role of conflict in the elevated view, and how changing methods of observation have inspired and informed artists.
In contrast to Baldwin’s scientific observations, Tacita Dean’s poetic black and white film, A Bag of Air (1995), follows two passengers in a hot air balloon ascending towards the sky to capture a bag of air ‘so intoxicated with the essence of spring that when it is distilled and prepared, it will produce an oil of gold…’. The view is downward in Simon Faithfull’s 30Km (2003), as a camera attached to a small weather balloon soars up to the margins of space, recording the landmark features of England’s south coast in the widening panorama below.
At Altitude presents artists who became aerialists in order to create their work: documentary photographer Ken Baird qualified as a balloonist and light aircraft pilot to take semi-abstract black and white rotated views of the ground below in New Mexico Landscape (Aerial series I, 1977 and II, 1979). Peter Lanyon’s Soaring Flight (1960), is one of many abstract landscape paintings the artist made after he took up gliding, which depict the heady, visceral sensations of being airbourne. Tragically, Lanyon died after crashing his glider in Somerset in 1964.
Jananne Al-Ani’s Shadow Sites I (2010) was developed as part of a larger body of work called The Aesthetics of Disappearance: A Land Without People, in which she uses aerial film to capture desert landscapes and archaeological sites, and marks made on the land by farming, mining and military training. In a region of the opposite extreme, Dan Holdsworth’s large-scale photographic work from his series Blackout (2010), examines the the abstract terrain of the Sólheimajökull glacier in Iceland. Recalling geological survey maps and satellite images of Earth, Holdsworth reverses light and dark, so that the sky becomes black, and the ground stark white.
Drawing on the aerial potential of the nearby Sussex landscape, Towner presents Wolfgang Tillmans’ End of Land I (2002), his large-scale vertiginous photograph of Beachy Head, that presents an aerial perspective of the English Channel, not from the air but from the towering white cliff. This same coastal landscape is the subject for Annabel Howland, with Eastbourne and Towner as the starting points for her new site-specific commission in At Altitude. Taking the local geographical co-ordinates of water, chalk and forest, Howland’s overhead perspectives range from the microscopic and schematic, to the cartographic and aerial in a series of works rendered in a diversity of media.
From a distance of 5000 feet a drone can identify virtually anything. In his renowned video installation 5000 Feet is the Best (2011), Omer Fast weaves together the accounts of a former drone operator now working as a Las Vegas casino security guard, with the uncannily close vision of drones. The work is a seminal exploration of the shifting divisions between reality and representation, truth and memory, where events taking place in faraway landscapes are easily visualised, whilst the consequences of killing at a distance remain hidden.
At Altitude is the fifth exhibition selected by Towner from the Arts Council Collection for the National Partners Programme following We stared at the Moon from the centre of the Sun curated by Haroon Mirza; A Green and Pleasant Land; Now, Today, Tomorrow and Always; A Certain Kind of Light, and the presentation of the Arts Council Collection’s own touring exhibition, One Day Something Happens.
5000 Feet is the Best was acquired for Towner’s Collection, in partnership with the Imperial War Museum, supported through the Moving Image Fund, an Art Fund project conceived in partnership with and supported by Thomas Dane Gallery which is generously supported by Thomas Dane Gallery, Gerry Fox and the Edwin Fox Foundation, The Rothschild Foundation and the Sfumato Foundation together with the galleries who support Art Fund’s Contemporary Fund including Hauser & Wirth, Maureen Paley, Nicholas Logsdail and the Lisson Gallery, Sadie Coles, Victoria Miro and White Cube. Towner, along with the Whitworth in Manchester, was one of the first two venues to be awarded this fund.