The enigmatic “photos of the Earth” by Tanoa Sasraku


BRISTOL, ENGLAND — Terratypes: Tanoa Sasraku’s solo exhibition ‘Earth Photos’ at Spike Island takes its title from a new term coined by the artist, used to describe his process of imprinting the earth. The coinage references early photographic techniques such as the daguerreotype and tintype, and alludes to how Sasraku creates portraits both of and from the landscapes she works with.

The works in the exhibition grew out of Sasraku’s engagement with Dartmoor – the huge moorland in south-west England near which she grew up – and the Scottish Highlands, the site of a recent residency. To create her Terratypes, she begins by rubbing virgin newsprint with pigments derived from raw materials that she draws from these landscapes, such as ochre, graphite and manganese. She then binds several layers of newspaper with an industrial sewing machine, creating a sewn seam around the edge. Next, she soaks the sutured stacks of paper in a body of water, such as a swampy pond. Finally, the layers are torn into strips and manipulated to create abstract patterns and areas of contrast.

Installation view of Tanoa Sasraku, TerratypesSpike Island, Bristol

They are works imbued with a sense of place. In some of the Terratypes, such as “Mire Horse” (2022), dried debris from the bogs and moors is visible, caught in the fringes around the edge of each piece, indicating a life cycle of immersion and re-emergence from the landscape. . Some of the artwork in the show is explicitly inspired by Sasraku’s embodied personal experiences in the places of his childhood. For example, “Mire Horse” evokes the memory of falling into a Dartmoor bog and encountering the decaying body of a horse. Composed of a series of Terratypes, the elements of the work take their forms from a pixelated outline of a horse’s head, distributed on the wall of the gallery like a puzzle to be reassembled. A quote from the artist in an exhibition label reads: “The work reflects the death and decay essential to the life cycle of the Moors and Highlanders”.

In Terratypes, a relatively simple idea is effectively developed in several directions to fill the exhibition space. The large-scale collection of five independent works titled Liths which occupy the center of the gallery are firmly rooted in the mural Terratypes and the artist’s process of making. To create these more sculptural pieces, Sasraku began by scanning fragments of saturated newspaper torn from the surfaces of the Terratypes, then printed the high-resolution images onto large sheets of handmade Japanese paper, mounted back-to-back and framed in a substantial black wooden material. supports.

Tanoa Sasraku, (left) “Gradient Gate (Terratype)” (2021), embossed newsprint, thread, toner, filled Torbay red sandstone, Devon seawater; (right) “Red Dry-Cell” (2022), patinated cast bronze, glued resin, drilled Quiraing red ocher

Enlarged to the extreme, the scraps of paper take on the textural quality of rock; the series transforms these disposable remains into monoliths imbued with mystery and power, achieving a transformation from the ephemeral to the monumental. Alluding to the numerous standing stones that punctuate the landscapes of south-west England and the Scottish Highlands, the artist sees the Liths as portals or doors to alternative landscapes, emphasizing the sense of wonder to be discovered in rural locations.

Sasraku designs the exhibition convincingly as an electric circuit, channeling shared energy around the space. Many Terratypes have titles that suggest circuit board technology, such as “Grey Wet-Cell” (2022) and “Yellow Gate (Terratype)” (2022); “Gates” are a fundamental part of programming that is essential to every circuit function. Terratype shapes and networks of sewn lines allude to microchips, networks and SIM cards alike.

Sasraku’s works can be seen as a way to store or even encrypt information about a location. Rather than containing numerical data, however, they are infused with geographic and geological information through the artist’s process of rubbing fodder pigments onto the surface of the newsprint. In a wall tag, she explains that Terratype’s pieces “represent a pixelated or digitized flow of energy or electricity, linking the works in the exhibition in a circuit that, at times, oscillates in speed and intensity.” .

Tanoa Sasraku, “Lith (5)” (2022), inkjet prints on Kozo paper, mounted on aluminum, enclosed in a painted OSB and wooden frame

The paper works are also offset by a series of cast bronze wall sculptures that cradle pieces of sought-after pigments. Small and rectangular, they refer to the “Baghdad battery”, a clay pot and stopper dating from c. 150 BCE, which was believed to have the power to raise the dead. Sasraku sees these bronzes as “activating batteries,” energizing the other works in the exhibition and binding them together. She sees strong parallels between electrical charges and spiritual energy, or energy fields emanating from landscapes.

There’s nothing twee or folksy about Sasraku’s engagement with these landscapes. Rather, they employ a degree of abstraction and move away from figurative representation rarely found in visual explorations of the rural world. Her practice includes a deep material and embodied entanglement with place, bringing together digital and handmade creative processes. By finding new ways to read and map landscapes, she disrupts our expectations of the rural and opens up latent memories, mythologies and energies within these places.

Tanoa Sasraku, (left) “Yellow Gate (Terratype)” (2021), newsprint, yarn, graphite, filled Sligichan yellow ocher, fixative spray, Sligichan River water; (right) “Grey Wet-Cell” (2022), patinated cast bronze, glued resin, forged Fremington gray graphite

Tanoa Sasraku: Terratypes continues to Spike Island (133 Cumberland Road, Bristol, England) until July 17. The exhibit was curated by Spike Island director Robert Leckie with assistant curator Rosa Tyhurst.


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