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'Take/Aim' at Arizona State Univeristy's Northlight Gallery

Image from Erika Larsen's The Hunt Series
By Christopher J Johnson

Arizona State University’s Northlight Gallery
In collaboration with Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art
Curated by: William LeGoullon
October 21st – December 2nd 2016

Book Review Take/Aim Arizona State University’s Northlight Gallery By Christopher J Johnson Hunting is, perhaps, the oldest artist-rendered profession that we have a record of.

Exhibiting artists include: 
Andrea Tese
Brian Lesteberg
Brooks Dierdorff
Dave Imms
Erika Larsen
Jason Vaughn
Jesse Burke
Joe Mannino
Jordan Baumgarten
Michael Tummings

"Hunting is, perhaps, the oldest artist-rendered profession that we have a record of. Significant when we consider that Thales, the first “philosopher” became a philosopher when he proved that nature could be overcome, diverting the flow of a river to gain a strategic military advantage; previous to this action rivers were thought unalterable because they flowed by will of a god and, therefore – logically, to the mind of pre-Socratic thought, couldn’t be altered by human endeavor…

I expound on this action of Thales’ because it occurs to me that it can illustrate one of the reasons why hunting took up such an early role in our arts and culture as a species, not because of the bottom line of sustenance, but rather as the burgeoning of humanity’s view towards their relationship with nature; to overcome the bear, the antelope and the hare were human feats that, despite whatever long-term effects they may have or have had, instilled upon us a sense of control – an early shaping of what we might now call culture; by which I mean those things which have evolved into the paradigm of a reality that rests atop the actuality of things; humanity as cultivator, shaper and, of course, hunter; humanity as custodian of nature.

hide. By Jason Vaughn. Trema Förlag, 2015.

Hunting is like cooking, not so much in the act, but rather in the number of cultural customs that have sprung up around it; for instance, the Midwestern tendency to make hunting and, in particular, deer hunting, a family pastime (as seen, conceptually, in the works of Jason Vaughn) or the rich garb that is associated with fox and pheasant hunting in Europe (such as can be seen in the images of Michael Tummings) or the necessity of hunting when species become overcrowded or sickly with a disease that could spread to others within that species.

No doubt you have already conjured a Pieter Bruegel painting in your mind as you read these words or, if you are very lucky, a luminous blue painted tile on white porcelain such as one finds in traditional British costumes depicting hunters returning home or flushing a bird or resting before a fire or overtaking the horizon on horseback, replete with fox and hounds, like a long cloud hovering just where the ground meets the sky…

When hunting enters the realm of the photographic arts our illusions are stripped away; the visceral experience of it comes to the fore and the separation between man and nature is made almost absurd; the blood of the deer and the blood of the hunter fall upon the snow in the same shade, the men and women who hide in their deer stands and the fowl who hides in the weeds do so for the same purpose, to survive.

Hidden. By Michael TummingsKehrer Verlag, 2016.

Through photographs the illusion of hunting is lost, just as humankind and their endeavors are lost in a David Caspar Friedrich painting; we just don’t hold up to the scale of nature, it has a grace beyond what we could expect to achieve and that, save for some very clever and instinctual tricks of our hands – which are so much more graceful at times than our active thoughts are even capable of – culture itself moves us further and further away from even the basest connection with.

This is what I see in photographs of hunting, either a culture embraces nature through the act of adorning themselves in leaves and wooden hiding places or they pull themselves clean through nature and instead breed dogs, dresses in bright red (too cover the blood, of course) and etching the act itself into the plates of their firearms and so, makes hunting not about nature, but rather about what man (more often, men) does with man; a fraternity that isn’t about nature, but about culture." —CHRISTOPHER J JOHNSON