Sticks, Stones & Bones
Images from Transient Landscapes

In the early nineties I began to photograph in Eastern Europe. I was fascinated
by the atmosphere of suspended time caused by the isolation of the iron
curtain. Czech author, Milan Kundera, declares that the Czech word lítost has
no exact translation in other languages. He describes lítost as, "...a feeling as
infinite as an open accordion, a feeling that is the synthesis of many others:
grief, sympathy, remorse, and an indefinable longing." Many changes took
place in the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution. I witnessed a culture in
transition and I found myself transformed by my experiences there. The
changes effected both positive and negative results. I began photographing
with a sense of nostalgia and regret for the things, both good and bad that
would disappear under the onslaught of change.

In 1993 I photographed a group of scarecrows that appeared to be advancing
or dancing towards an isolated house in the Czech countryside. This was the
beginning of a fascination with the beautiful and haunting sentinels of the field
created by the older generation of women, known as ‘babickas’
(grandmothers), in the countryside of Central Europe. Each year the carefully
created figures of scarecrows declined significantly. They are now replaced
with simple constructions of sticks, twine and plastic bottles, lacking the craft
and anthropomorphous characteristics of the former scarecrows. I began to
travel further and further east less inhabited and accessible areas of Slovakia,
Hungary and Poland to find examples of traditional crafts. As the generation of
older women ages the art of scarecrow making seems to be disappearing.
This is only one example of what is lost in the east/west cultural shuffle. As
more time is consumed by modernization and its detractions (i.e. TV, movies,
and time saving devices) it seems that less time is devoted to simple but
creative crafts in everyday life.

I am also investigating elements of wabi – sabi in the landscape. Author of a
book on Wabi – sabi, Leonard Koren, defines this Japanese aesthetic as “… a
beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”  Wabi - sabi is
derived in part from elements of Zen and Taoism. The tenets of Wabi – sabi
include: intrinsic simplicity, intuition rather than logic, acceptance of the
inevitable, the value or beauty of the inconspicuous and overlooked detail, that
nature reclaims manmade elements in the end, and that things are either
devolving towards, or evolving from, nothingness. Wabi – Sabi and Litost
seem to be intricately related aesthetics. In the development of the Wabi –
Sabi, the religious hermit was strongly associated with its emergent
foundation. In his solitary existence in nature he meditated on the details of the
inevitable cycles in nature from bloom to wither. For me the scarecrow in the
field is a representation of the Zen hermit. All change is inevitable, things
change or decay, are lost, and are swept away by death and/or evolution. This
is to be both regretted and celebrated.

ANNETTE ELIZABETH FOURNET