Complex Landscape

Ingrid Pollard (b. 1953) was recently nominated for the Turner Prize 2022, alongside three other artists: Heather Phillipson, Veronica Ryan and Sin Wai Kin. The Guyanese-born British photographer was selected, in particular, for the exhibition Carbon Slowly Turning at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes – the latest instalment in a career spanning over four decades. Running until 29 May, it taps into key contemporary cultural and environmental dialogues – from unpicking complex notions of British identity to examining the relationship between human bodies, geology and deep time.

MK Gallery’s Head of Exhibitions Fay Blanchard points out that, whilst the current show includes work from across Pollard’s oeuvre, “the exhibition wasn’t conceived as a retrospective. It is very much about looking forward and showcasing the artist’s compelling new work which includes kinetic sculpture, lenticular prints and film. These pieces are placed alongside work from throughout Pollard’s career –unpacking enduring concerns across a wide variety of forms: embossed prints, found objects, wallpaper, artist’s books, as well as photographic prints and hand-tinted images.” As such, the display spans from a flotilla of small ceramic boats to a film meditating on the human body through space and time.

In the 1980s, Pollard’s lens surveyed communities of dancers, actors, writers and theatre companies, as well as scenes from political conferences on women’s liberation and racial equality. By the end of the decade, the artist’s focus had expanded to include the English landscape. Series such as Pastoral Interlude (1987) and Wordsworth’s Heritage (1992) explored race and representation in rural areas – depicting young Black people amidst fields, hilltops and hedgerows. Each shot is accompanied by a thought-provoking text-based caption, such as: “’Pastoral interlude’…it’s as if the black experience is only ever lived within an urban environment. I thought I liked the Lake District; where I wandered lonely as a black face in a sea of white. A visit to the countryside is always accompanied by a feeling of unease; dread…”

Pollard is recognised for a lifelong engagement with the land, drawing attention to both its beauty and fraught relationship with those who try to manage it. Landscape Trauma (2001), for example, is rooted in themes of geology and deep time – ideas which have become more widely understood in recent years, as the scale of human damage in the Anthropocene emerges. At MK Gallery, Pollard’s series of close-up photographs of rock formations is presented on a vast scale – revealing the rippling, mobile patterns left in the Earth’s surface over millions of years. The results are immersive, even multi-sensory. As Blanchard points out: “Pollard plays with scale, from tiny details – requiring the viewer to lean in closely – to large-scale pieces which tower almost like altarpieces. Sound is also important throughout the exhibition, sometimes privately on headphones, sometimes making itself known in the galleries.”

Ingrid Pollard, Carbon Slowly Turning runs at MK Gallery until 29 May. Find out more here.

Words: Greg Thomas

Image Credits:
1. Ingrid Pollard, Parabiosis, 2001, © and courtesy the artist
2. Ingrid Pollard, Self Evident, 1995 (detail), © and courtesy the artist