Landscape in a Digital World: Lucia Kempkes' Ethereal Spaces

by Genevieve Lipinsky de Orlov

In our current Post-Internet cultural moment, Lucia Kempkes’ largely analog practice offers an unusual approach to the digital and its visual language, specifically through her focus on the natural world. Though her extensive networks of careful, detailed lines and immersive organic forms grow out of the long history of draughtsmanship and possess an undeniable physical presence of the artist’s painstaking hand, Kempkes imitates the digital in form: images overlaid, floating, their flatness receding into intangible space, blurred as though a paused .MP4 file.

Like a cluttered desktop or a carefully orchestrated computer video work (think Sondra Perry, Miao Ying, Nicole Miller) Kempkes situates us in a familiar digital language, but challenges that language. The “data” we expect from such language is replaced with muted landscape and undulating patterns rendered tediously in graphite. The work is, thereby, distanced from an explicitly recognizable digital aesthetic, yet its relationship to the digital, undeniable, albeit nuanced, is precisely what encourages us to reflect on and rethink space—both real and digital—and landscape as Kempkes imagines.

Kempkes’ approach results in a masterful environment of opposition and tension—between analog and digital, natural and computer-generated—in which we become enveloped. The unrelenting repetition in her Parallax stereograms is cinematic, like a series of frames on a reel of film, but relates directly to her digital video work as well, mimicking landscape interrupted through the window of a moving car. While the stereograms are very much drawings in the traditional sense, they prompt us to question how we conceive of digital imagery and how it is, and can be, created.

Like Kempkes’ drawings, her videos abstract and digitally-alter the natural world, rendering it almost indistinguishable and guiding the eye, instead, on a rhythmic meditation. Our experience of landscape is transformed; it becomes new, foreign, stripped of its extensive historical and familiar associations. And both components of Kempkes’ practice, drawing and video, are responsible for this, they inform and require one another to transport us into these imagined environments and immerse us in inquiries into the relationship between the digital and natural worlds.

The o.T. Landschaft series, too, plays with our perception of landscape and the medium of drawing. These works, however, possess very few formal qualities of landscape, or drawing, for that matter. Initially, we rely largely on the series’ title to understand its subject. We encounter flat, monochromatic surfaces that have been manipulated into textured topographies: the paper is folded, crinkled and bent to create lines and forms, highlights and shadows, peaks and valleys. They are “drawings” insofar as they hang on the wall, but relate more closely to sculpture, a challenge of traditional formats in the vein of Eva Hesse’s Hang Up, Jay DeFeo’s The Rose or Rauschenberg’s Combines.

Kempkes’ freestanding drawing and “paper objects” are perhaps the most radical of this type. They alter real space and, when installed, they physically consume the gallery, successfully creating an immersive imagined environment. The work requires our participation and encourages us to examine our relationship to both the natural world and to artwork. Kempkes’ untraditional installations also pose questions about the limitations of the gallery space, how art is displayed and how we interact with it in a gallery context.

Most striking about Kempkes’ body of work, though, is her loyalty to her medium, and her interpretation and manipulation of that medium. When so much of our daily lives are saturated with computer-generated, digitally-altered and mechanically produced imagery, visual work that requires the physical labor of the human hand so explicitly—while maintaining a relationship to digital aesthetics and practices—offers a refreshing lens through which we can think differently about and experience anew our surroundings, our digital lives and, in Kempkes’ work, the natural world. Kempkes’ distinct presence further invites us to interrogate our own understanding of our bodies in space: when confronted with Kempkes’ environments, we return to the world around us with a heightened sense of its potential and our existence within it.