"Moving Mountains: Extractive Landscapes of Peru" at the UT VAC

Edi Hirose's documentation of massive construction projects altering Peru's landscape can put the viewer in a state of visual shock

Untitled from the series Real Estate (Inmobiliaria) by Edi Hirose

Edi Hirose's series Real Estate (Inmobiliaria) consists of three photographs of sites in Lima, Peru, where high-rises are being constructed. Each of the photos is untitled. One, however, is particularly ominous, largely for its emptiness. The image is of a massive hole at the foot of a mountain, angular walls cut out of stone in layers like a ziggurat turned inside out. Machinery dots the inside of the hole and is gathered at its edges. In the background, dozens of colorful homes rise up the mountainside. The image is barren, frightening. It is almost all shades of brown, beige, and gray. Even the mountain looks like a great pile of dirt. There are no trees or plant life. It looks, for all intents and purposes, like a colony on Mars.

In "Moving Mountains: Extractive Landscapes of Peru," Hirose and Nancy La Rosa, both Peruvian, document the work of massive construction projects that drastically alter the surrounding environment, as well as have a dramatic effect on neighboring communities. The artists aim to call attention to the kind of industrial work that takes place around the globe, including in and around Austin, but which often goes unnoticed. These are worthy ends.

However, at the moment I am writing (Nov. 9), I am less interested in the literal subject matter of the untitled photo I describe above than I am in its mood. This may be because the mood of the image seems to so effectively mirror that of what I am seeing in the news today, in addition to reflecting my own state of mind back to myself. As I mentioned, the image is barren – frightening. The substance of industry – brutal and cold – combined with the sparseness of the landscape in the photo, as well as the featureless sky, like dirtied water, beyond the mountain's meandering ridge, combine to a chilling nothingness. It is a bleak world. However luxurious or busy with comforts or bursting with life the coming high-rise may be, its origins are severe, inhuman. Blank.

The photo puts me in visual shock, like trying to wrap my mind around a color beyond my spectrum. I don't feel anything when I look at it. No anger that human endeavor can so blithely act to the detriment of the environment or even other humans. No sadness for the people whose meager homes are in the background of the image, crawling up the brown mountain, perhaps next to be demolished for bigger, shinier structures. No misery for the loss of whatever richer, more ancient, more beautiful thing may have been removed to clear the gaping hole where Hirose's lens was aimed. It's the lack of feeling that is most disturbing about the image and its effect. It is almost as if my apathy is by design. As if the developers who spearheaded this construction project included my depression in their schematics.

The photo was made in 2013. I'd have to imagine that the planned high-rise has long been completed. I want to believe good people make their homes there and that they are living full and happy lives. I want to believe that the destruction Hirose and La Rosa have highlighted in their work has borne some fruit beyond profit and power.

But at this moment, reviewing Hirose's image, I don't believe in anything. I'm too detached. Too delirious. I'm at the brink of indifference, and that may be the worst, most dangerous effect of all.

“Moving Mountains: Extractive Landscapes of Peru”

Mezzanine Gallery, Visual Arts Center, 23rd & Trinity
Through Dec. 10
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