The Pharmacy of the Landscape Luis Pérez Oramas

In a series of everyday objects – lighters, matchboxes, credit cards, mouse pads, air fresheners, lamps, books – Luis Molina-Pantin has encountered the landscape. His photographs thus depict these objects as supports for the landscapes found on them. As we can deduce from the list, the repertoire is varied and seems not to contain any meaningful key. What relationship can be established between the series of flames and lights – matches, lighters, lamps – and the other series: books, props for digital writing (mouse pads, credit cards)? And what can be said of the rest: ashtrays holding the residues of fire, or air fresheners that tone down the acidity of smoke?

The repertoire of landscapes is apparently no less heterogeneous: Niagara falls viewed from above on a collectable lighter, a Nineteenth-century military epic against a sloping landscape on a damaged sulfur match box, the tropical scene of some Florida estuary atop a lampshade, a Provencal landscape on an air freshener emanating wafts of lavender, ancient ruins on history books, the Wall of Avila, imposing and faded, on a mouse pad.

These photographs are neutral. They are indifferent. They reveal the imperfection of things, the marks that neglect has left on them, the patina of use, as when the eye falls on a poorly-sewn seam. One might think that these objects exist so that we will see nothing in them, or so as to not be seen: they are objects that silently furnish our existence and no less silently accompany the most automatic gestures of our lives: lighting a cigarette and knocking the ash off of it; moving the mouse; turning on the light; spraying artificial aromas over the nasty odors of the kitchen or bathroom effluvia. In this repertoire of indifference, the presence of books, however, is surprising. It is sufficient to note that they are “school books,” the reading of which is justified only on evenings wrenched from the idleness of childhood on the eve of exams, and to which applies the excellent definition Roland Barthes once offered regarding a painting by Cy Twombly: that in them the essence of those books is revealed, just as the essence of a pair of trousers is not “that carefully prepared and rectilinear object found hanging on the rack, but rather the pile of cloth tossed carelessly on the floor by the hand of an adolescent after he had undressed, shapeless, floppy, indifferent.”

“The essence of an object – Barthes continues – surely has something to do with the way it turns into trash. Itís not necessarily what remains after the object has been used, itís rather what is thrown away in use.”.”1

Molina-Pantin photographs, with a force of clinical eloquence, establish a parallelism between these objects “projected outside of their use”1 and the landscapes which, in order to remain within them, are also stripped of any frequentation or use.

So what do these photos – entitled, precisely, New landscapes – intend to assert about the landscape? What sort of general enunciation about the landscape can be drawn from them?

First and foremost, without a doubt, these are “found landscapes.” Thus in these works there is a double economy of meaning: on the one hand, Molina- Pantin establishes a connection with the landscape through his “object encapsulation,” with a landscape that has become a cliché superimposed on the cliché of the objects that support it. The landscapes that these photos record indirectly by recording objects have been completely neutralized by their inscription in these artifacts, marked by an exclusive “use-value.” It all happens as if the photograph were saying “there is no landscape here”; as if the landscape had been subjected to the effects of a dead memory in the somnolent epidermis of objects that our perception forgets. On the other hand, though, rendering evident that the landscape depends on a profound “formatting” effort; making it clear that the landscape is – as in these photos – the framing of a framing; the figurative inscription of something already previously figured and subjected to representation; inscribed and converted into a conventional gaze by an artificializing visual impulse, it all happens as if these photographs were also saying “this is and has always been the landscape”.2

In reality the landscape has never stopped being a “found landscape.” Which it is in the Cristoforo Sorte’s amazed narration when he contemplates a nighttime fire in Verona and discovers that the same scene had taken place in a Flemish panel inadvertently seen in the Duke of Mantua’s collection;3or in the habitual peregrinations of certain English knights who visited the Roman countryside during the XVIII century equipped with devices that allowed them to stop at various points and see in the landscape the views depicted in the paintings of Claudio di Lorena.

Clearly no real effect can be brought to bear on the landscape. In light of this evidence that the landscape is the unending coda of an “artificialization” of nature, and in light of the history of the landscape as a history of a representations, Plato’s arguments founder. It would not be worthwhile to stigmatize the representation as mendacious, nor to insist that they mislead us, clouding our minds like drugs and making take for true what is false. The landscape is always at a distance, and this truth ends up becoming photographic ostentation in Molina-Pantin’s images.

And undoubtedly, these photos, which juxtapose the landscape with its own commercial depiction, display realistic effects to reveal the precarious, ordinary, discarded, used generic truth of the objects in which it represents itself. The photo “was there,” in this neutral scene where nothing extraordinary demanded it, while it was impossible to insist that it had been there before the landscape that is stigmatized in these objects like a frozen fabrication.

Plato called representation pharmakon, comparing it to a potion that deceives and inebriates us.4 Painting has always been pharmakon, due to its effects on the viewer.5 When around 1830 the deputy Aragó announced Monsieur Daguerre’s extraordinary invention, and terrified painters saw themselves dispossessed of the magic of mimesis due to photography’s unmistakable veracity, the pharmakon – the drug of representation – seemed to have reached its peak.6

In January of 1914, Marcel Duchamp hurried to the Saint Lazare station to catch the train to Rouen for New Year, in the dense mist of that winter. Duchamp recalled, “I also bought a cheap reproduction of a winter evening landscape which I called Pharmacie after adding two little dots, one red and one yellow, in the horizon. There were two little lights in the background of the landscape. If I had made one red and one green, it would have resembled a pharmacy.”7

A pharmacy of the landscape is a landscape found to deconstruct – as Luis Molina-Pantin does – the pharmakon of representation.

1 Cf. Roland Barthes: L’obvie et l’obtus, Essais critiques III, Seuil, Paris, 1982, p.146.

2 Vdr. Alain Roger: Court traité du paysage, Gallimard, Paris, 1997, pp. 11-30.

3 Vdr. Ernst Gombrich: La teoría del arte renacentista y el nacimiento del paisajismo, in Norma y forma, Alianza, Madrid, 1984, pp. 244-245.

4 Cf. Platon: Gorgias, 455d/457a. Vdr. Jacques Derrida: La pharmacie de Platon, in La Dissémination, Seuil, Paris, 1972, pp. 118 et sqs.

5 Vdr. Jacqueline Lichtenstein: La couleur éloquente. Rhétorique et peinture á l’âge classique, Flammarion, Paris, 1989.

6 Vdr. Anne Mc Cauley: Arago, l’invention de la photographie et le politique, in Etudes Photographiques, 2, Mayo, 1997, p. 31.

Cf. Marc Patouche: Marcel Duchamp, Images in Manoeuvres Editions, 1991, p.41.