What pushes me to explore remote places is my nostalgia for regions that are still completely natural. Places that are untouched, where humans have hardly intervened. I’m fascinated by how people manage to endure and survive in spite of circumstances that are often rough and rigorous.
(Scarlett Hooft Graafland)
Scarlett Hooft Graafland’s surreal, dream-like photographs provide the lasting record of her carefully choreographed, site-specific sculptural interventions and performances in some of the most isolated corners of the earth. The exhibition Discovery draws together more than a decade of exploration, from the salt desert of Bolivia to the desolate Canadian Arctic, the island of Madagascar and the remote shores of Vanuatu, where her interactions reflect an exchange between the boundless realm of nature and the relative confines of culture. This is her first solo exhibition with Flowers Gallery.
Hooft Graafland’s images emphasize the ‘natural strangeness’ of the landscape with uncanny juxtapositions of everyday objects and materials. Local customs and stories are interwoven throughout her work, re-interpreting and re-imagining mythologies related to the landscape. Rich, earthy pools of spices gather within blinding white salt flats in Carpet; balloon-clad figures stand against striking azure skies in Burka Balloons and Salt Steps; and bare, surrealistically detached legs wrap playfully around a giant, spiked desert cactus in Discovery.
Hooft Graafland’s sculptural arrangements exist only briefly, or for the duration of the photograph, anchoring each image to the time and place of its execution and dispersing back into the environment without trace. Marked by an economy of means, (each photograph is produced with only a handful of local materials) her images, with their otherworldly beauty and gentle humour, nonetheless evoke broad global topics touching on cultural and environmental issues. In Turtle, a nude female figure crouches beneath the shield of a turtle on the island of Madagascar, its protective arc mirroring the rhythmic undulations of the volcanic backdrop and accentuating the fragile nature of survival on the planet. In the pastoral desert scene of Still Life with Camel photographed in the United Arab Emirates, two men and a camel swathed in candy-coloured pink cloth are surrounded by tyre tracks and scattered debris. The same pink cloth binds a solitary figure seeking refuge within a Swedish forest in Touching Base, directing attention towards contemporary global issues of displacement.
Philosopher Maarten Doorman has described her working process as an attempt to seek “maximum authenticity” in a world where “everything is forever being photographed”. He says: “Hooft Graafland, with her analogue camera and anthropological patience, reclaims landscapes and fleeting civilizations from an indifferent visual culture.” 1 Central to this process is a sense of exchange and collaboration; Hooft Graafland often works with local assistants, inviting mutual trust and cooperation with unknown people who share local knowledge, participate in the process of production, or perform for the camera.
One of the most recent projects to be included in this exhibition involved a journey to the South Pacific Ocean nation of Vanuatu and the South American city of Lima, following a path set by 18th Century British explorer Captain James Cook and his progeny. In Resolution, the narrative shifts fluidly between past and present as a descendent of the chief of the tribe that welcomed Captain Cook onto Malekula Island centuries ago holds a yellow replica of Cook’s ship the HMS Resolution.