From somewhere nearby, bird songs are heard along with the continual soft shushing of wind through trees and the sounds of water trickling in streams or rushing over rocks – in an art gallery.
As Marten Berkman describes his exhibit to the 30 or 40 gathered around him, his three-year-old daughter, Willow, dances around his legs and exclaims, “Come and see, Daddy!”
There is laughter and delighted smiles all around and, for a few moments,
Berkman centers his attention on his daughter before retracing his thoughts.
In the artist’s life, natural landscapes have also beckoned him to “come and see”.
At the age of eight or 10, Berkman took his first landscape photo, which he still has in his studio. He remembers …
“It was the beach, the ocean and a wave curling under a very sombre sky,” he says, his voice drifting off somewhere momentarily … then, “I’ll never forget the feeling.”
He’s been capturing landscapes on film ever since.
“Remote Sensibility,” Berkman explains, “is about becoming aware of our true nature as humans … of life on earth.”
This is evident in Sya, a life-sized photograph, on mylar, of the artist’s seven-year-old daughter, Sya. Children, especially, seem drawn to this, intrigued by the oval of light that glows above her head and by the circles of light that glow in each of her palms.
Berkman says that the halo represents “our spiritual side” and the light in her palms represents the dichotomy of our human experience: our involvement with the natural world contrasted with our involvement in the urban world of industry and technology.
“I use eclectic media to explore what’s meaningful to me … to reflect the land as it touches me.
“Our connection to the land,” he says, has been “since we started picking up tools.”
One photographic piece, which is part of the trilogy Matter Transformed by Life and Time, displays a blade in obsidian waves, with a rough-hewn wooden handle.
Berkman says he uses “the tools of media to dissolve boundaries” and to provide “a tactile sense of places”.
He says he finds it “ironic and intriguing that we make decisions about the natural world”.
“Suppose … imagine,” he says, “you were making a decision about the future of a family … but you never met the people.” Now, he says, “imagine making that same decision if it were your family.”
His piece, Impermanence, Perpetuity, draws 10 or more, at a time, who don 3D glasses and become completely silent watchers before a high-definition, stereoscopic video of Arctic, boreal and urban environments.
The video is blurred without the 3D glasses that bring everything into focus, a message that reminds us that if we really see what surrounds us that life itself would come into focus.
Boreal landscapes of mountains and trees, of grassy fields, of rushing water and wind and birds, contrast the urban landscapes of steel and machinery; of grinding metal and concrete and glass: two landscapes in motion, one created for us and one that we create ourselves.
The video is in still images, which Berkman says “allows people to be still”.
They are very still … almost motionless, and they are slow to move on from watching and listening to the ever-changing landscapes.
Berkman says Remote Sensibility is his “response to our tendency as a culture to consider the land in entirely quantifiable terms – hence ‘sensibility’.”
And he is delighted at the response to his work. He recalls one note in the visitor’s book from a 10-year-old boy saying that he liked that he “could just be there”.
Remote Sensibility can be seen and heard – experienced – at the Yukon Arts Centre Public Gallery until May 24.
To learn more about this artist, visit www.martenberkman.com.