Edward Burtynsky

China Recycling #9, Circuit Boards/Guiyu,2000, Guangdong Province, 2004

Exhibition print, 122x147 cm

Courtesy of the artist

“While in the past, people would interpret anomalous climatic phenomena as a sign of the Lord’s punishment, today we know that such phenomena are not necessarily accidental, nor are they an expression of His wrath: they are largely a result of man’s actions. Although the extent of man’s influence on the climate is still a subject of contention, it is undeniable that these two factors are interrelated: in the last decade, the average temperature of the world has risen rapidly, and in the last two decades of the 20th century there has been a great increase both in polluting industrial activities and in the use of transportation vehicles. Moreover, international attempts to reach accords regarding the decrease in manufacturing and pollution have failed, and not surprisingly. Powerful forces of interest, industrialists and capital owners, mainly in the United States, have consistently hampered such attempts. The so-called problem of “nature”, that needs to be analyzed in “technological” or “scientific” terms, is, in fact, a social, economic and even political problem, and therefore the solution needs to be political.”

From “Red-Green”, by Avner De-Shalit.

“Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work”, says Burtynsky. “I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.

These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire - a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”

In an interview with John K. Grand, Burtynsky described his works as being on the borderline between merely aesthetic works and works that call for social activism: “Someone originally referred to my work as a subliminal activism--something that is not overt, but that says, ‘What are we doing?’ and that questions where we are going. Art does not provide an answer (…) What art can now do is present an individual perception about what is actually going on. One actually begins to see things and understand the world in a way that clarifies in ways that words cannot. The object is not to be “liberated,” it is to simply show what exists.”