I’ve always found the fictional account of the life of Robinson Crusoe more believable, more authentic – more real than the non-fictional, experiential account of Henry David Thoreau in Walden. It is as though the violence of Crusoe’s removal from culture and subsequent complex and unexpected existential epiphanies lend more gravitas to the experience of truly finding an alternative existence away from established culture. It is this same sense of violence that constitutes a large part of the inherent authenticity of a photograph, its decisive plucking from the constant flow of time and space both denying their end – their death – and guaranteeing it.
In a kind of post-Thoreauvian examination of the state of contemporary perceptions of wilderness and nature, Martin Garwood’s Acts of Enclosure sets about creating an alternative environment for the contemplation of our place in nature and the index we leave behind. The opening essay by Christiane Monarchi ends on a humbling and rather emotive point, personifying the woodlands almost as children, semi-satirically questioning whether they will know ‘how to be’ once the current land owners pass on. This removed, slightly incredulous mood is left with the reader for the rest of the book, where the ludicrosity of man’s imposition on nature is exposed with harsh flash lighting and artificial backdrops. Incredible games are played with the items that Martin Garwood finds, juxtaposing them with their environments, creating ritualistic sculptures from remnants of human existence that litter the woods: constantly re-contextualising, through the lens, the ‘readymade’ installations that, for all reasons other than aesthetic, have come to be.
The images are satirical then? Not quite. In fact, the tone and mood of the series as a whole is too sophisticated to label with just one singular description. Some are elegiac, sorrowful images that long for something other, while others are light-hearted and humorous. The space in which the images exist is also hard to place, constantly dancing on the borders of its own self-constructed hinterland between interior and exterior, wilderness and domesticity, nature and culture. The uncoated matte pages of the book do a fine job in trying to contain this fluctuating and delicate world, inviting one to touch the images in a futile attempt to aid comprehension whilst failing to offer anything more than the image-as-object. We fail to comprehend the defamiliarised scenes of banality that are presented, appearing closer to fiction than reality.
Having now seen the work as both exhibition piece and photobook I have formed a confusing relationship with the individual images. Their colours and tone exude a kind of seductiveness that draws me in, through the surface to bathe in their sumptuous richness. I am, however, rejected by the close, claustrophobic, almost flat plane in which the photographs exist – they rebuff my every effort to find them relaxing. They agitate my very being into seeing differently: feeling differently.
I’m not sure whether Acts of Enclosure should be considered a work of fact or fiction, and I wouldn’t want to find an answer for definite. When I first read Robinson Crusoe my old, tatty edition displayed nowhere the author’s name, leaving me, for a few years, suspended in a kind of uncertain disbelief. I wanted to believe this figure really did exist and the events really did happen. My disappointment upon learning of Daniel Defoe’s authorship was on par with my disappointment at the summation of Thoreau’s experiment: his return back to the society he sought refuge from. I do not wish to know what stories precede the individual scenes in the book; I probably wouldn’t believe them anyway.
– review by Ollie Gapper