In ‘The making of the landscape’ Matthew Smith explores how our ideas of landscape and in particular the rural are mediated through the reductive lens of mass culture.

‘The making of the landscape’ is Smith’s first solo exhibition at Vane, consisting of drawn, photographic and painted works produced over the last decade. Smith’s projects in sculpture, drawing, photography and video share a concern with fictionalised and idealised representations of nature and of place, rejecting the idea of one all-encompassing original ‘nature’ in favour of infinite interpretations, copies and inventions of the natural. He takes as subject matter the utopian pastoral scenes of advertising, food packaging, maps, postcards, tourist brochures or the disjunctions that often exist between the images of billboard advertising and the locations of those billboards. Smith explores, reveals and navigates a way through these myriad natures.

The ongoing Junction series (2010-) depicts the length of the M1 motorway, with each work representing one junction. The project uses the M1 motorway as a device for viewing the landscape of England with the landscape becoming an event in automotive space. A series of journeys were undertaken and black and white photographs taken of the signage along the roadside which were then hand coloured using inks. Referencing early Victorian postcards, the unreal feel of the hand coloured images reflects the hyper-real motorway environment. The works use the antiquated conventions of the tourist postcard – a memento of a particular place – to depict the generic environment of the motorway. With the focus on the signage, the image of the sign for a place is made to stand in for the actual experience of the place.

Corporate Landscape 2 (2010) is made up from corporate logos depicting snow-capped mountains. Images of the natural landscape are endlessly deployed in order to sell us all manner of products from motor vehicles to cheese. These images are used to connote ruggedness, naturalness and permanence, for beverage companies, banks, clothing brands, financial service providers, and multinational entertainment companies. The drawing links together the individual logos to create a graphic mountain range or horizon line, a faked topography that rises and falls creating its own peaks, ravines and valleys. The rising and falling line of the horizon is reminiscent of a graph used to plot the financial progress of a business or the stock markets, thus forming a picture of the corporate landscape.

The Untitled (1:25000) ANW series of drawings (1999) use the convention of the contour line from map-making to create an imaginary landscape. Drawn by hand these landscapes develop organically continuing from one sheet in the series to the next. The drawings mimic the techniques of the map, our traditional means of navigation and orientation, yet their form is used to negate the very purpose of the medium.

Smith’s Ectopia drawings (2000) re-configure the coastline of England to form a new uncanny island, one that is both strange and familiar. Metamorphosing the familiar shape of England into an unsettling and ambiguous form, the viewer engages with the pieces through the act of recognition, as familiar fragments of coastline come into focus. In turn, this recognition process is undermined by sections that resist identification.

The two British Wildlife drawings (2005) appear similar to museum dioramas: they catalogue the different species of mammals resident in the British Isles, using the convention of the silhouette found in wildlife identification books. The animals are arranged along the derelict remnants of a dry-stone wall and set against an indistinct murky backdrop that suggests something just out of sight over the horizon lending the works a sinister and disturbing atmosphere. The uniformity of the creatures’ rendering makes no distinction between the ‘common’ and ‘endangered’.

Smith questions how such images inform our experience of the natural world and how these manipulated representations become part of our understanding of the reality around us. He reveals our belief in nature as something seemingly more authentic and more ‘real’ than our man-made, urban environment to be a nostalgic hankering after some imaginary idealised past way of living.

Read Alan Smith’s essay The making of the landscape