Edward Burtynsky: The Human Signature

4 out of 5 stars
Edward Burtynsky: The Human Signature

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Edward Burtynsky’s new show is dominated by a six-metre-long photograph of a quarry. A massive orange digger sits in the middle, but it looks like a toy in its surroundings. Burtynsky fans’ spidey senses go on high alert: EB is showing us the rape of the earth by man. Well, he is, technically. But this quarry is for Carrara marble: the stuff of posh worktops and naff showers. It’s nice to think of the image sitting in the middle of Mayfair, London’s heartland of monied poor taste, and it’s typical of Burtynsky’s tricksiness that although the photograph is stunning in all its crisp detail and overwhelming size, it resists simplistic interpretation. Burtynsky finds beauty in ugly places. Part of this is scale, of course. If you photograph a phosphor mine from thousands of feet up, you can appreciate its delicate striations as abstract design. He finds pictorial resonances between a Kenyan landfill and a glittering underwater coral reef, and fossil-like whorls in a Russian potash facility. All of this seduces us, because we’re used to thinking that if something is beautiful it must have some redeeming qualities. It’s basically an aesthetic switch-up of the corporate defence. Yes, our mine/quarry/smoking dump/leaking complex is a poisonous eyesore, but it’s vital for everyone’s future security and economic wellbeing, so it’s NOT ALL BAD. Burtynsky plays with this paradox constantly. Plus his art is kind of corporate, anyway. You can imagine it hanging in the lobby, behind the coiffed receptionists, near the Carrara marble loos, among the movers and shakers waiting for their limos, all metaphorically thousands of feet above the earth.


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