My aim is to raise awareness by means of suggesting; provoking deeper thought.
The notion of the world as a blank sheet on which humanity may inscribe its will with impunity is no longer tenable. The felling of primordial forests and the introduction of alien species, industrial pollution and the burning of fossil fuels, agricultural mismanagement and pesticides, rampant consumerism and inordinate waste… they have all taken their toll. And continue to do so. What was once seen as progress – the taming of Nature in the interests of economic advancement – is looking increasingly like ecological vandalism. Too late, we are learning that human beings are not separate from the world, detached and omnipotent, but integrally and intimately a part of it. Too late, we are coming to understand that what we have done may not be undone.
It is the concept of that which cannot be undone that informs the work of the Argentinian artist Ingrid Weyland. In her images, crumpled paper – the kind of thing one tosses into the wastebasket without a second thought – becomes an emblem of casual destruction. It is a subtle device that insinuates its message into one’s consciousness, there to mutely insist on the irreversibility of a thoughtless act. She avoids the spectacle of ecological disaster to which we can all too easily become inured, numbed into indifference. Her hybrid works, part pictorial part sculptural, are delicate visual evocations that speak to the fragility of life and the vulnerability we share with the planet we call home.
What drew you to make photographs?
By profession, I’m a graphic designer, but art has always been a part of my life from the very beginning. I lived with my grandparents from my early teens, one was a sculptor and painter, and the other an architect. I grew up among coloured pencils, art papers, blueprints, inks, clay… My passion for form, image, and composition came about thanks to them.
I was always interested in photography but, in Argentina at that time, it was not available as a university degree course. However, once I had established my own design studio, it felt quite natural that I would start to take courses in photography.
What sort of photographic work did you begin making?
For several years I made portraits, especially of my daughter. I began to notice recurring themes in this work and realised that, without consciously looking for it, I was exploring the concepts of memory and female family ties. These concepts were invariably immersed in nature, allowing me to explore the connections between character and environment.
What draws you to the landscape as a subject?
In 2019, I had the opportunity to travel from the south of Argentina to the Greenland ice sheet. These were unspoiled landscapes, almost surreal, where the immensity of the land reveals itself. Here, I found myself once again forging an intimate connection with my surroundings.
For me, Nature has always been an emotional haven, a place of silence and solitude. I guess it was a kind of escape from the pressures of family life. Surrounded by landscape, I felt I could breathe. I could think more clearly, and replenish my energy. I felt empowered.
The natural world as a haven is an interesting idea. What does that feel like?
On one of my trips to Iceland, I was walking all alone through a green valley beside a crystal-clear river. I stopped at a small rock and started shooting… And I completely lost track of time. The world around me vanished and I entered a dream-like state. Later, after what had felt like several hours, I abruptly ‘woke up’. I am not sure quite what happened during that period of time, I only know that I had never before felt that sense of calmness, wellbeing, and communion with nature.
Photographing scenery like this is a profound experience and requires a sort of meditative concentration. Now, when I arrive in a new place and before I start shooting, I take time to connect with the environment, becoming familiar with its sounds, scents, atmosphere…
What ideas led you to begin ‘Topographies of Fragility’?
My first trip to Iceland was love at first sight. I had never before been anywhere like it. The landscape has a powerful, exuberant energy about it. It made me think of a primordial era when Nature was untouched by human beings. However, on my third trip to Iceland, I was overwhelmed by the changes that had taken place since my first visit in 2015. Iceland had become a tourist hotspot, and I was saddened to see the way that visitors had failed to respect boundaries and abide by the environmental regulations, and the way this was having a visible impact on the landscape. And, at that moment, I was struck by a sense of urgency to inspire change: it would no longer be enough to simply show beautiful landscapes.
What led you to recognise a metaphorical connection between landscape and paper?
Towards the end of 2019, I travelled for eight days in a wooden boat on the waters around Greenland. I found the emptiness strangely fulfilling. We were sailing among giant icebergs, each with its own character: tabular, domed, pinnacled… and there was a particularly huge and majestic one that was remarkably faceted, with light reflected from it in different ways. It reminded me of crumpled paper. And the word ‘paper’ kept going round and round in my head…
How did that translate into your artmaking?
At home I work in a small study. At the end of 2019, I was having a tidy up when I realised I needed to get rid of a pile of failed prints to make space. It took me a while to do this because I loved my landscapes, but finally I took one, crumpled it, and threw it in the bin. To me it felt like a sacrifice, and when I walked over and looked at the creased paper, it occurred to me that there was a parallel between my crumpled image and the way we humans treat nature as though it’s something disposable. The word ‘paper’ began once more to reverberate in my head.
[Left] © Ingrid Weyland ‘Topographies of Fragility XVIII’ 2019
[Right] © Ingrid Weyland ‘Topographies of Fragility XVII’ 2019
I started thinking about the vulnerability of nature, and the way in which crumpling up my photographic prints reshaped them so that they became something altogether different. It suggested an analogy with the way we humans reshape and damage our environment, often with irreversible consequences. The initial stages of the ‘Topographies of Fragility’ series emerged directly from experimenting with that gesture of screwing up a print and tossing it into the trash can. Crumpled worlds…
How did that idea evolve?
I was looking for a way to convey both beauty and decay at the same time. I wanted my work to remind people of the impact each individual has on the planet. I wanted to make them stop and think about what humans stand to lose as a result of climate change. In ‘Topographies of Fragility’ I combine conventional landscape photography with prints that have been violently reshaped through my act of crushing.
Could you talk me through that process?
I begin by carefully selecting which landscape from my archive of images is to be sacrificed. This is an emotional process because I feel that once I destroy one of these images, I can no longer think of it the way it had been; it can never ‘recover’. There are a few images that I keep to one side: images I love and do not dare to alter. These I preserve.
I print my main (pristine) image on fine-art paper and then make copies on various types of stock using different methods of printing. I always experiment with how I crumple the paper as each type of stock reacts differently. I start lightly; the paper resists at first. It fights back, it does not want to be destroyed, but in the end, it has to give in… There is something very powerful in the fact that it is my hands that undertake this process of damaging my own photographs depicting places of natural beauty.
In between trying alternative ways of crumpling the prints, I lay them on top of the pristine photographic print of the same scene and rephotograph it. I want to highlight the beauty of nature and the ravages of the human at the same time in the hope that we might preserve what little remains untouched.
What is the most surprising response you have had to ‘Topographies of Fragility’?
A couple of school teachers have written saying that my work inspired them to put this method into practice in their classrooms. Their students took sheets of paper and scrunched them up before trying to flatten them out again, observing how the creases remain and cannot be undone. This then led to a broader discussion about irreversible change. I found that very moving.
The final series I would like to discuss is ‘Eye of Fire’. What ideas are you exploring here?
I love to experiment. I have been exploring other material qualities as ways to continue thinking about the environment, incorporating new processes such as embroidery, sewing, tearing, burning, and even constructing or inventing my own landscapes.
[Left] © Ingrid Weyland ‘Eye of Fire III’ 2021
[Right] © Ingrid Weyland ‘Eye of Fire II’ 2021
I have always been attracted by the hypnotic quality of fire. One can stare for hours at a fire burning in the grate, yet this same fire burns whole forests, something that is happening more and more frequently around the world. We have recently been having wildfires in the north and south of Argentina, where hundreds of thousands of hectares have been burned, killing wildlife and wrecking crops. It occurred to me that the burning of paper and the decimation of forests were essentially the same, albeit on different scales: deforming, reducing, and transforming what was once pristine.
In what ways can art help avert the ecological threats we face as a planet and as a species?
My aim is to raise awareness by means of suggesting; provoking deeper thought. I steer away from crude representations of environmental damage, preferring to play with the fragility of paper as a metaphor through which to encourage the viewer to relate his or her own personal vulnerabilities to those of the landscape before their eyes.
This is different from the way these issues are represented in the media. It is too easy for people to become desensitised when they are saturated by that kind of blunt imagery. Mine is a different approach that seeks to raise awareness through art.
You have described your approach as situated within the concept of ‘expanded photography’. What do you mean by this?
I realised that photography alone was not enough to translate my concerns, so I decided to try new, expanded forms of expression by manipulating my prints. I love to experiment and go beyond the limits of photography and, indeed, my own limits. Expanded photography, where the medium merges with other areas of the visual arts, is the direction I have taken. Expanded photography calls for the viewer to spend longer observing and interpreting the image in front of them. This prolonged time between observing and processing what is before their eyes enables the viewer to imaginatively contemplate their own experience of nature. It requires an active participation by the viewer. I believe this is what my art does: it adds an extra layer of depth to the process of looking and seeing.
Has the Covid-19 global pandemic changed the way you work or the direction you are taking?
I began this series at the very end of 2019, just before the pandemic started. On the one hand, I was unable to travel abroad to explore new landscapes. But, on the other hand, it forced me to stay at home for long periods, allowing me time to experiment with the images in my archive. It proved a good way of making use of what I already had.
But I also knew that if I am to make a stronger impact, I should learn more about climate change. So, during the pandemic, I took an online course on the Arctic climate. The Arctic and Antarctic areas play key roles in the future of the environment, helping to keep our planet’s climate in balance. I have not yet visited Antarctica, but hope to be able to do so soon!
What have you learned in the process of making these photographs?
Images are very powerful and can stay in the mind of the viewer for many years. They can encourage self-reflection and envision a world in harmony with nature. Now more than ever, I believe that art, with its emotional resonance, can be an effective advocate for engaging climate change – across society and, hopefully, to those in government. Photographers have the power to plant the seed of an idea that can blossom into action.
Ingrid Weyland was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1969. In 1992, she received a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the University of Buenos Aires. She later studied photography in workshops run by notable practitioners including Angela Copello, Ana Sánchez Zinny, Raquel Bigio, Fabiana Barreda, Inés Miguens, Diego Ortiz Mugica, Juan Brath, Martín Estol, María Elena Mendez, and Verónica Fieiras.
Ingrid Weyland has presented solo exhibitions in London and New York City, with a forthcoming exhibition in Buenos Aires scheduled for October 2022. Her work has featured in more than twenty group exhibitions in Argentina, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, and USA. In 2020, she was one of the winners of Decade of Change by 1854 British Journal of Photography. In 2021, she won the Ashurst Emerging Artist Photography Prize (London, UK), The Rhonda Wilson Award and the Klomp-Ching ‘Fresh’ People’s Choice Award (New York, USA), a Critic’s Choice Award from LensCulture (online), and an honourable mention in the Fine Art section of the Julia Margaret Cameron Awards. In 2022, she was Juror’s Pick in the LensCulture Art Photography Awards (online). She lives and works in Buenos Aires.
photo: Agustina Ruiz
This interview is a Talking Pictures original.