Tim Maslen and Jennifer Mehra are Australians who live and work in the UK and have appropriately developed their body of work based on the experiences of disjunction one feels when removed from their familiar physical environment. Their artificial landscapes act as metaphors for the difficulty humans have in overcoming epistemological delusion and acknowledging the fact that life in the world is a unitary experience. We can see Maslen and Mehras work as a kind of ritual to help us reconcile ourselves with our origins.
Tim Maslen and Jennifer Mehra are Australians, who have worked in the U.K for the last eight years. Like many expatriates before them, the disjunctive experience of living outside their own physical and cultural context has provided the starting point for their work – or, perhaps more accurately, the experience of expatriation has provided a fertile context to further explore some long-standing issues. Quite appropriately, one such issue is landscape.
Landscape has dominated Australian art since European settlement. There is good reason for this: one can't live in Australia without being conscious of landscape. Nonetheless, there is a tendency to take this for granted, especially in the cities. But go and live in Europe – London, for example – and the power and significance of the Australian landscape is thrown into high relief. Where the Australian landscape – even much of Sydney Harbour – is raw, elemental and pristine, the European landscape has been worked and re-worked, built over and layered to such an extent that landscape as a primal experience is no longer available.
On a residency in the Azores in 1999 (to make a piece of public art, Tree Fountain), Maslen and Mehra spent time exploring the ruins of villages destroyed by an earthquake. Trees and grass now thrust up through the collapsed masonry as nature reclaims its realm. The experience has driven much of their recent work – artificial landscapes which act as metaphors for the difficulty humans have in overcoming epistemological delusion and acknowledging the fact that life in the world is a unitary experience.
While Maslen and Mehra's work can be read as a meditation on the resilience of nature and a dialectic about false consciousness, it is first and foremost an experience. As a result, their fantastical landscapes remain open-ended, allowing people to respond spontaneously and according to their own experience. Just as our ancestors used art as part of rituals to propitiate an apparently hostile and arbitrary nature, perhaps we can see Maslen and Mehra's work as a kind of ritual to help us reconcile ourselves with our origins. And just as the people whom we might today describe as artists were actually shamans facilitating emotional and spiritual journeys, so Maslen and Mehra's work might be seen as a re-visiting of the artist-as-shaman: the person whose social role it is to facilitate a re-connection with the creatures we are – once the layers of civilisation have been peeled back or perhaps simply broken apart by resurgent nature.