One for the Mind, Two for the Eye and Seven (Plus or Minus Two) For The World, 2009-2010

Each diptych: two ink-jet prints (62 cm x 52 cm) and two frames (edition of 5 + 2 AP)  |  All Rights Reserved | Miguel Santos © 1993 - 2024  |

On Miguel Santos’s landscape diptychs

Juliet Flower MacCannell

When in the eighteenth century Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed a new sense of Nature – as dynamic and discordant, rather than static and cyclical (a Nature not eternal, that is) –  he adopted a vertical perspective to make the case. His fictional character Saint Preux, perched on a mountaintop, encompasses all of Nature in a single glance. From this celestial vantage point, he discovers that Nature has no nature and is everywhere in contradiction with itself: clouds and dark storms here, sunshine there; barren, icy landforms in one area contrast starkly with lush green meadows in another.

The brilliance of Miguel Santos’s series of landscape diptychs is that it needs no such semi-divine or elevated viewpoint to offer us a Nature equally dynamic, inherently subject to change, and shot through with temporality.

Using montage and fade-in combined, Santos locates his landscapes within a firmly human horizontal. At first glance they appear as familiar as what we have all witnessed through speeding automobile and train windows. But something in them uncannily prevents us from viewing them as merely inert, if beautiful, objects of passing perception.

The series of oppositions Santos selects – of dry desert juxtaposed to icy mountain, as in diptychs 1, 9 and 10 – supplement the conflicting landscapes with further internal contradictions, like the tufts of green vegetation that sprout miraculously from the desert wastes, or the rainbow that emerges from barren rock in diptych 5. In diptych 3, the desert scene on the left is bereft of all natural growth. But the fade-in from the right of a different kind of desert landscape transplants vegetation into it, while it also injects industry and human work – barbed wire, telephone poles – and therefore time into a landscape otherwise utterly devoid of it. 

History also shows up in Santos’s images. In diptych 4, we find twin vanishing points: one, that of the parallel railroad tracks reaching to meet at the horizon; the other, a divided paved highway whose edges and center line all disappear into a different horizon. Since the highway in North America has largely displaced the railroad as a means of conveyance of people and goods this diptych recalls for us the transience of all human inroads into natural landscapes: that this highway, too, may ultimately fade away.

What emerges thus is a portrait of a fragile yet mobile Nature, alive to amendment by the artist’s vision, no matter how devoid of life or how inanimate it at first appears to be. Miguel Santos’s diptychs produce in us a unique, vibrant intensification to the experience of the natural landscape.