Landscape as a metaphor

by Varun Gupta

The next time you are on the road, as you take in the great outdoors—take a breath and reflect on the weight that our collective human existence has left on the landscape in front of you. The dubious history of colonisation, the denial of land to the indigenous and of course the destruction of the environment in the name of progress has all permanently scarred the landscape. At a time, where almost no space remains ‘pristine,’ artists have taken to constructing imaginary environs as metaphors to explore the impact of history, culture and politics. The collective longing of the urbane for the landscape that was is reflected by a series of photographic artworks that meditate on our past and make you question the nature of truth.


Italian artists Filippo Menichetti and Martin Errichiello explore the so-called economic miracle in 1960’s Italy that looked to homogenise the country by way of modernization—through a fictionalised landscape they present the tension between what was and what shall become; Bangerang artist Peta Clancy photographs a massacre site on Dja Dja Wurrung Country now submerged underwater, a metaphor for the denial of the history of frontier violence in Australia; and Nanna Heitman documents the people and landscape of the Yenisei river, a home for displaced and nomadic peoples who were outcast by mainstream society or escaping persecution.


At the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, six artists have been invited to create work that both responds to and is installed within this constructed, picturesque landscape. Nearby, Amanda Williams brings a feminist perspective to landscape photography and, in his PHOTO 2021 commission Economics of Minerals, James Tylor draws attention to the impact of mining by super-imposing silver geometric shapes—referencing the apparatus of mining—onto stark black & white photos of a landscape ravaged by excavation.


The online exhibition You Are Here features, amongst others, the haunting photographs of Nici Cumpston, Ophelia Bakowski’s poetic photographs that invite you to suspend reality, and the intricate layered work of Anne Zahalka, which presents a tongue-in-cheek look at landscape and fauna, and challenges our own desire to ‘consume’ nature as voyeurs.



—Varun Gupta, Co-Founder & Biennale Director, Chennai Photo Biennale, India

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Founding Partners
  • Bowness Family Foundation
  • Naomi Milgrom Foundation
Major Government Partners
  • City of Melbourne Arts Grants Program
  • Creative Victoria
Major Partners
  • Maddocks

PHOTO Australia respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we work and live, and the rich and diverse Indigenous cultures across what is now called Australia. For over 60,000 years, Indigenous arts and culture have thrived on this sacred land, and we honour Elders and cultural leaders past and present. This was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

01–24 March