April 11, 2021 Taos, New Mexico

The Harwood Museum of Art

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Saturday, October 10, 2009 - Sunday, January 24, 2010

Desert Passage: Anne Ausloos, Jeroen van Westen and Gerco de Ruijter

Gallery: Joyce and Sherman Scott Gallery
Untitled, Gergo de Ruijter, 2007
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Desert Passage is an exhibition which explores issues of land, water, and culture specific to the arid environment of the southwestern high desert of New Mexico. The three participating artists, Gerco de Ruijter (The Netherlands), Jeroen van Westen (The Netherlands), and Anne Ausloos (Belgium), all have exhibited extensively in Europe and beyond.

The exhibition developed after years of work, many trips to New Mexico and an artist published book also entitled Desert Passage. The goal of the project was to investigate the enormous difference as well as the surprising similarities between the Dutch (wet) lowlands and the New Mexico (dry) high desert. The contrast between the Dutch polder system and the Hispanic acequia system became subject for each of these artists. The Dutch practically drown in water and have to create structures to manage and release its abundance, while the New Mexicans are plagued by drought and have created efficient irrigation systems to lead the little water there is to the places where it can be best used. Both the Dutch and New Mexicans have created democratic organizations for their water management. In both places, nature itself plays a dominant role and often disturbs these human regulating measures. In the desert, the scarce water suddenly forces a path through a dry arroyo, causing it to overflow and deliver flash floods. A little rainfall can create new and unique pathways that remain visible for scores of years.

The three artists work with land and water in their own unique way. Creating strong images, beautiful sounds, thoughtful observations and fascinating installations. It is also hard work: Gerco de Ruijter spends long days flying his kite in unstable winds of the high desert and sometimes has to fight hard to prevent his camera from diving and crashing into a canyon wall; he hikes mile after mile and climbs steep canyon walls to retrieve his camera and kite. Anne Ausloos also hikes for hours on end to collect, greenish, red, copper, white and mustard-colored dirt to create colored tracks in the dull grey badlands, or fill vessels with miniatures of the desert. Jeroen van Westen’s camera and microphone capture the subtle life of the dry still lands.

Since the introduction of these artists to the New Mexican desert several years ago, Westen, Ruijter and Ausloos have developed complex projects, each with a unique methodology that offer a critical view of the intersection between water, land, and the people and culture of the region. The contrast between the wet lush Dutch landscape and the dry sparse New Mexican high desert makes these artists keen observers of this unique environment. This Harwood exhibition is the first time the artwork from this multi-year project has be shown.

Anne Ausloos (b. 1954) lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. Her work explores the raw material of the desert – clay, sand, earth – by experimenting with the natural transformation of the material as it is exposed to water, heat, light or gravity. The affects of time and these physical forces are documented with photography creating a record of the process that reveal curled tendrils of mud, or striations of colored earth that mimics the monolithic cliffs of the southwestern desert. Her process drives her projects, and her results are beautiful and unexpected, making objective and almost “scientific” the interaction between the materials of the desert and the forces of nature. Ausloos is currently an artist in residence at the Harwood Museum of Art and as part of her residency will create new work for this exhibition. The exhibition will also include some of her other documented projects.

Gerco de Ruijter (b. 1951) lives and works in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He has been working and exhibiting as an artist for over 30 years in Europe and internationally. Ruijter documents the landscape by the unique method of flying a camera secured to a kite several hundred feet above the earth. This perspective, devoid of horizon, abstracts the landscape and showcases land, water, sand and human footprint in stunning large format photographs. For this exhibition, the work of many trips to the desert will be on display.

Jeroen van Westen (b. 1955) lives and works in Enschede, The Netherlands, and considers himself a “reader of the landscape”. Westen has been working and exhibiting as an artist for 30 years in The Netherlands and Europe. In 2005 he was introduced to the Desert Southwest as an artist in resident at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Since that time, Westen has returned to New Mexico to “read the landscape” and interpret the interactions of nature and culture in this unique environment. The Harwood exhibition includes a multi-media installation that explores the relationship between land, water and the people and cultures of New Mexico.