When thinking of landscapes, tendencies are to think of panoramas that are real. Scenes of the Pacific Ocean, for example, the Grand Canyon’s red rocks, Nebraska’s plains or the Omaha skyline. But what about places that we have yet to discover? Places that are only in the imagination?
Is it possible to create landscapes that are waiting to be uncovered? Artist Reagan Pufall creates such landscapes often with both a warning and a sign of hope. A double-sided coin.
Pufall’s exhibition Artificial Landscapes, which opened at Fred Simon Gallery and closes December 6, infuses his own imagination with sci-fi inspiration. Using photography printed on aluminum, he displays what may become of future landscapes due to human intervention.
Terraforming is the manipulation of land or environments to sustain life. Some of the environments in Artificial Landscapes show remnants of human life. Other works split away from our direct interactions.
Smoke, fog or mist cover some of his landscapes with their rocky terrain, remains of buildings half-lit by moons, suns and planets. Aside from his own creativity, Pufall pulls from sci-fi movies and books. He brings his landscapes into creation by studying and using methods that sci-fi filmmakers use in order to shape his forbidding terraforms.
“Watching the behind the scenes or director’s edits of the movies shows you how certain landscapes were created for the scenes, or the places and landscapes they go to film,” Pufall said of one of his untitled landscapes, a whirlwind of dense fog, blue scenery and thoughts of deep blue oceans or space.
Surprisingly enough, it turns out that the fog in the work is not even real. Pufall uses simple science to create it… in a fish tank. Pufall explains, “So at the bottom of the tank, I used cold salt water with blue paint in it.”
After the first step of the set-up is complete, he adds some white paint into it. When this is done, Pufall proceeds to add clear warm water on top of it all.
“I then mix the white paint with a stick,” he said. Mixing dabs of white paint in the warm water creates an atmosphere in the tank. Then slowly stirring the heavier batch of paint in the denser water, Pufall creates the illusion of a whirlwind of fog.
Taking time to look at the series of the cloud photographs, it is possible to see the real human intervention of the created landscape. At certain points you can see that there are strings attached to the clouds.
“I used cotton balls with lighting set up around to give the soft cotton balls shadows,” Pufall said. It is not difficult to decipher what materials were possibly used in this landscape. However, some of the human errors used to create the cloud effect are part of the dismayed illusion of his worlds.
Once the viewer begins to get lost in what or where these clouds come from, the glimmer of the strings used to hold up the storm of cotton is noticed, making the mind clash with the imagination.
This reality check contributes to Pufall’s message of doom for the viewer. A loss of the imagination’s ephemeral beauty now turns into a reality or fraud. A loss of the future.
Using gems, rocks, and foil, along with lighting, helps create his earth-like landscapes. Keeping a more neutral color palette allows the imagery to be more believable.
Some of the images are harder to capture because of so much layering. The landscapes created in the tank can get blurry. This is due to a layer of glass to shoot through, paint debris and then of course, the water. Some works show architecture that might seem familiar. Perhaps a factory that polluted the environment and lead to a demise of some sort.
His landscapes give a critique of the lack of space programs, such as the Space Shuttle that ran from 1981-2011, which would give hope of the future through space exploration. “You would think that programs like this should be more invested in,” he said.
One photograph shows what seems to be melting ice, while another shows lonely mountains of dirt and rock. As a visionary, Pufall seems to say that the way we are treating the world, one would think of more ways to sustain a good environment on the rock we live on.
Regarding sustainability, Pufall said that space mining could be a real possible solution. Perhaps digging into the vast resources in space would stop the mining and exploitation of the Earth’s resources.
Understanding the way Pufall works in Artificial Landscapes to create a narrative using the same techniques as filmmakers along with his own skill and material is impressive. To dig deeper into the meaning of the work re-introduces ideas of hope rather than doom for future terraforming. The terraforming that is not only in his studio, but also for our current world and worlds that we have yet to discover…and create.
Artificial Landscapes is open until December 6 at the Fred Simon Gallery in downtown Omaha. The Fred Simon Gallery is located in the Nebraska Arts Council office on 1004 Farnam. Hours are from 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.artscouncil.nebrasaka.gov.