WARREN VANCE: Encyclopaedia Lands



30 May – 24 Jun 2012

By Wendy Walker, 2012

Occupying a space between memory and fantasy, Warren Vance’s latest series Encyclopaedia Lands features his particular form of minimal collage. Using nineteenth-century atlas maps – of Assyria, Britannia, Asia Minor, Canada et al – as an ambivalent spatial ground, Vance’s allusive collage elements might include a sprinkling of sequins, a glacier, an eighteenth century pavilion or an alpine village. 

The notion of voyaging, of global travel consistently recurs in Vance’s work; the 2010 series Voyage d’ illumination for example, presented perforated and backlit, eighteenth-century European travel destinations – associated with the Grand Tour – that suggested fairy lights or astral activity (although as Vance notes, the inquiry that still remains is that of the individual’s struggle to attain human illumination). In the new body of work Encyclopaedia Lands, the weighty and elaborately carved, open door of Cave is a threshold to alternative (mapped) worlds.

It is apparent that Vance eschews the more customary collagist practice of ‘pictorial information overload, of angst ridden and anxiety states’, in favour of ‘more poetic essences’. Certainly his reference points tend towards the poetic – from the contemporary work of Leonard Cohen to Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). He is drawn to Hopkins’ concept of ‘inscape’ – the poet’s term for the combination of characteristics that confers a sense of uniqueness. ‘My work’, Vance says, ‘does not constitute a commentary on pop consumerism. It is an attempt to rediscover the natural world.’ 

The boxes of Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), a merging of the fantastical and the disjunctive, which Vance describes as kind of ‘celestial voyaging,’ have also provided inspiration. Cornell’s assemblages represented a transformation of everyday materials – pages from old books, inexpensive trinkets, old buttons or keys, twigs, seashells and so on – that resonate with Vance’s desire for a sense of enchantment. 

For Vance, Encyclopaedia Lands’ series of collages is a ‘cartography of childhood’, which charts ‘the moments of first contact with formative knowledge gathered by young children, when processing visual information of foreign lands. The fragments of association are intermittent or often mismatched, and may well seem misconstrued to adult eyes and ears. They are nevertheless charged with curiosity and wonder from piecing together wider knowledge of an expanding world, viewed as something unfolding and exotic.’

note: All unattributed quotes are from email communications with Warren Vance in March-April 2012