Culture & Communication
BY BRETT VAN ORT
Accompanying Exhibition at VII Gallery, DUMBO, Brooklyn
April 18-May 24, 2013
|One of the most brutal legacies of modern warfare is the landmine. The Earth is littered with over 100 million of these weapons of destruction with most of them remaining active and therefore potentially lethal long after the conflict or war is over. Every year these munitions severely maim or kill thousands of defenseless citizens worldwide, including children. In the 1990s, over 150 countries signed the Ottawa Treaty calling for the « Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. » Among the 35 countries that abstained from signing the treaty were the United States, China, India, and Iran.Born and raised in Texas, American photographer Brett Van Ort has always been fascinated by land and how we use it to both our benefit and detriment. That has pushed him towards exploring landscapes that on the surface appear pristine, but, in fact, are manipulated and altered by man.
In Minescape (Daylight Books, March 2013), Brett Van Ort documents the legacy of land warfare on the social and natural landscape of Bosnia that continues to render many portions of the country impassable seventeen years after the conclusion of the Yugoslav wars.Van Ort presents meticulously composed, painterly photographs of large swaths of the bucolic countryside of Bosnia that are still infected by munitions and landmines. The beauty of this landscape that he documents with his camera belies the horrors that lie beneath its surface, making the work deeply unsettling and disturbing.
There is an intended ironic element to Van Ort’s project. The fear that keeps Bosnians away from these un-cleared areas has had the unintended consequence of reviving the environment. Without manipulation by man, nature is now thriving here. Van Ort is not endorsing the idea of the landmine as a tool of preservation, but he is interested in the « poetic irony of weaponizing nature to protect it from ourselves. »
What adds to the book’s inventive and compelling approach is the inclusion of Van Ort’s photographs of the mines. They are presented here against a stark white background resembling product shots in an advertisement. Each mine is showcased along with details such as the name of the mine, the manufacturer, the explosive charge, the kill radius, the blast radius, the approximate cost to produce it and notes about what harm it can inflict on its victim. Additional images show clinically chilling photographs of prosthetic arms, fingers, and metal joints that remind us of the human costs of the mines.
Van Ort chose the terrain of Bosnia, as it resembles parts of North America, such as The Sierra Nevada mountains. It is his hope that in presenting an environment that is less « exoticized » and more familiar to the West it will give people pause and move them to action to stop the production and distribution of mines. He intentionally does not present graphic photographs of people injured by mines, as he wants the viewer to be the human element in this interaction with the work. The book includes an interview Van Ort conducted with a former captain in the Bosnian army who was injured by a landmine and is confined to a lifetime of pain and suffering.
About the Artist:
Brett was born in Washington D.C. and raised and schooled in Texas. He moved to Los Angeles, California after obtaining an undergraduate degree in film from T.C.U. He worked as a camera assistant and camera operator for several years on various films, television shows and documentaries, most notably Errol Morris’ Oscar winning The Fog of War. Working on that film pushed him away from narrative film structure and closer to the documentary. Van Ort moved to London in 2008 and received his M.A. in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication shortly thereafter.
Spending his summers on the farm where his mother grew up instilled in him a great respect for nature from a young age. Van Ort has always been interested in land, the outdoors and how we as humans use the environment to our benefit and detriment. Many of his personal projects focus on the landscape, interaction with our environment, and what is concealed by nature. He moved back to Los Angeles in 2012 to continue a project about toxic soil in America and the destruction of the high desert by the housing crisis.
Pbk, 12 x 10 in.
72 pgs / 30 color
Artist Website: www.brettvanort.com
About the Publisher: Daylight is a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing art and photography books. By exploring the documentary mode along with the more conceptual concerns of fine art, Daylight’s uniquely collectible publications work to revitalize the relationship between art, photography, and the world-at-large. For more information, visit: www.daylightbooks.org.