Erin Beetlestone is a visual artist who explores the mind and emotion through landscapes. Her new upcoming exhibition Arcadia is a photographic project created within the Alver Valley Forest, an area of natural beauty near Gosport in Hampshire. It will display an installation of large prints that portrays the relationship with herself and the forest that she visited regularly with her parents. The name Arcadia is defined as being idyllically simple, untroubled and seen as perfect. It has become a poetic ideal meaning “utopia.” It was chosen to represent this project because the series is about how Beetlestone observes the space, finding ‘magic’ within the forest which is idyllic and surreal to her. Quite often we can become switched off from nature but for Beetlestone, nature plays a big part within her practice as well as her everyday life. She photographs in a way that she can explore her relationship with nature and connect on a deeper level. Beetlestone was interested in how the landscape can evoke and revive such memories, she started revisiting Alver Valley Forest as a place where this can be explored. The photographs made within this landscape are a response to this and an attempt to capture a sense of how the forest as a place, and her memories of it, seem to become entwined in the present.
By familiarising herself and becoming open to reminiscing with the attached emotions to the landscape, she makes photographs in a very particular way, which is found within one certain spot in the forest. The photographs are flat and dense with no composition shown. Her attempts to capture this complex relationship result in images that are less about portraying natural beauty of the landscape but responding to the hidden forces that are significant within it.
The main themes that are explored in Arcadia are memory and the unconscious. Beetlestone recaptures moments in time, looking at the space as she did when she was a child, which to her is seen as magical. Around the exhibition space, you will find leaves and branches from the forest itself as well as different pieces of sound which Beetlestone recorded whilst walking around the forest. Secondly, there will be a lot of shadow with limited specks of light that will shine around you while you move to different areas. This will create the feeling of a sunny day, with the light flicking through the trees. All of these concepts will surround the images and exhibition space, which gives the project a sense of essence and feeling. This emphasises the imagination to believe as if you were really there. Beetlestone’s work links very closely with photographers Thomas Struth and Jem Southam who have been inspired throughout the work in a visual and conceptual way. These artists explore the way we observe a space and how we view land, for example Struth focuses on the emphasis of stillness and the absence of people. They are oddly disorienting in their clarity and detail which allows the viewers to find the image so complex that you could look at them forever and never see anything, other than a forest.
Beetlestone series of images will be installed within the same exhibition space as Thomas Struth’s series New Pictures from Paradise. Struth’s work links with an interest in contemporary society, he created a title that communicated that the pictures were not focused on botany. Visually, both series from Beetlestone and Struth compliment each other very well. However, compared to Beetlestone, Struth’s work is about precise observation and human imagination. But it also links with political and cultural themes, such as photographing different rainforests around the world in New Pictures from Paradise. Struth was intrigued by Mayan culture and its complicated relationship to nature. He had first planned to make an expedition to the tropical rainforests of Central America as early as 1982. However, he was more interested in the kinds of observation or experience that the work could stimulate. The photographs made in the rainforests of Peru and Brazil connect with the idea of a vigorous Latin American culture whilst the images made in the pine forests of Bavaria illustrate the growing importance of the idea of the forest.
Erin Beetlestone’s work is about personal experiences, exploring memory and what it portrays. When photographing, she is not sure if she is capturing a specific memory or perhaps just her imagination. She believes the public who are viewing her photographs are able to reminisce on their own childhood. They might think back to places they found magical and what is seen as Arcadia in their eyes. Throughout the making of this project Beetlestone said that even though she is growing older, Alver Valley does not seem to have changed. She now wants to share her unconscious experience through her photographs and share them to all.
The exhibition will take place in London at the Hayward Gallery, opening 4th August – 10th October 2020. Exhibited in a large open space, this will draw you into the powerful visuals of exciting, upcoming photographer Erin Beetlestone and well-loved contemporary photographer, Thomas Struth.