River to Infinity: Arts Magazine

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

River to Infinity—The Vanishing Points: Andréa Stanislav creates an imaginary landscape that addresses our perception of reality.

By Tamatha Sopinski Perlman

Thoughts of the savage, natural grandeur that is going to come to an end become mingled with splendid anticipations of the triumphant march of civilisation. One feels proud to be a man, and yet at the same time one experiences I cannot say what bitter regret at the power that God has granted us over nature.
—Alexis de Tocqueville

French writer Alexis de Tocqueville pondered the American wilderness during a trip to the United States in the 1830s. In the same decade, American painter Thomas Cole created his seminal series of paintings, The Course of Empire, in which he immortalized five stages of civilization by depicting the same landscape at different points in time—from the pristine in The Savage State (1834), to an empire in ruin in Desolation (1836). This era saw European American settlers forging West with the railroads. The U.S. government was quibbling with Mexico, Britain, and Native Americans over the country’s boundaries. “Manifest Destiny” was the term coined to justify this U.S. expansion. Americans were supposedly fulfilling their divine right by extending the “boundaries of freedom” to both coasts.

Cole and other Hudson River School artists had mixed feelings about the prospect. Standing from vantage points high in the Catskill Mountains, they painted expansive views into those great, unknown lands, celebrating the sublime beauty of untamed nature. However, they also recorded the ever-increasing marks of humanity within the same romantic brushstrokes.

One hundred eighty years later, Twin Cities artist Andréa Stanislav suggests we have physically conquered this great land—from the deserts of the Southwest to the cold winters in the North—yet still cannot reconcile our admiration for natural beauty with our passion for the sleek, man-made world. Addressing the contemporary effects of Manifest Destiny, environmental values, and the vanishing natural world, Stanislav creates a landscape for the twenty-first century in her new Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) show, “River to Infinity—The Vanishing Points.” On view in the MAEP Galleries from January 25 through March 16, this exhibition is the culmination of a series of Stanislav’s reflective, mirrored landscape installations in which she both celebrates and questions contemporary experience.

River to Infinity is a reflective riverscape in which mirrored surfaces and constructs create a multimedia installation, inhabited by strange animal forms. Video images of mirrored obelisks, which the artist had previously set in the Great Salt Flats of Utah, are projected at both ends of the river, keeping the space in constant motion.

Photographs of Native Americans by Edward S. Curtis are transformed from their sepia tones into Warholian “ghost” portraits, printed on reflective surfaces. These images “formally re-contextualize Curtis’s subjects as celebrity icons, and comment ironically on their status as both the artifacts of Manifest Destiny and a reminder of an authentic culture that was its victim,” Stanislav said. The mirrored river creates a never-ending vanishing point, suggesting the West is no longer enough. River to Infinity is an end-stage celebration of the excesses of Western culture, in which Stanislav interprets the past, present, and future.

Mirrored obelisks appear repeatedly in Stanislav’s works. As part of her performance piece, Obelisk Migration (2000), the artist created obelisk sculptures and moved them first to New York City, then to the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. For Siren Song (2002), she brought mirrored obelisk sculptures to Coney Island where they reflected the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. In Bloomington, Indiana, obelisk sculptures were covered in participants’ lipstick prints in 1000 Kisses (2001). And in River to Infinity, the obelisks appear in the video that pays homage to Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film, Zabriskie Point.

Stanislav’s opalescent installations lure and distract viewers in the reflective surfaces of their surroundings, trapping them in a web of complicity. In River to Infinity, viewers/participants enter an interactive environment saturated with reflections, sounds, and images—an experience made profoundly physical through perceptual manipulation. Stanislav said her installations are “metaphysical journeys into contemporary science and culture, executed with both humor and a glam-rock aesthetic.”

“River to Infinity—The Vanishing Points” is full of twists and surprises. Stanislav savors the anxiety and pleasure elicited by anticipating the new, and the satisfaction and apprehension of watching the destruction of the old. As reality becomes redefined through science and technology, the artist suggests we must make a conscious evaluation of the realities we have constructed.

Tamatha Sopinski Perlman is MAEP Program Associate at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Citation: Tamatha Sopinski Perlman, "River to Infinity—The Vanishing Points: Andréa Stanislav creates an imaginary landscape that addresses our perception of reality," Arts 31, No. 1 (January/February 2008):16-17.