Infinite Boundaries – Tyniec’s Desert Project by Robert Morgan, 2000

While viewing the recent desert photographs of Jan Tyniec, I recalled a concert given by the composer John Cage some years ago in New York. One of the compositions consisted of a series of desert cacti electrically wired so that when the performers plucked the needles, the action would induce various harmonic sounds. Following the concert, there was an opportunity to ask questions of the composer. One irate audience member remarked that the system employed in the performance should have been elucidated in the program notes. Cage paused for a moment, as if to create an aura of silence, before responding. In simple terms, he stated that it was not necessary to know the system. What was important was the engagement of the listener with the sound — that if one really paid attention to the sound, the system did not really matter.

Jan Tyniec’s photographs have the capacity to incite a profound silence. One may speculate as to whether the photographer has employed a system — a conceptual construct in taking these pictures. They appear profoundly empty. Their emptiness holds the quality of a metaphor, a state of mind found in many forms of Eastern thought. Yet Tyniec’s emptiness is coming from a Western point of view, where the word “infinity” is more likely to be used. His photographs represent a pictorial vision in search of a new subjectivity.

Tyniec began as a painter whose point of view gradually drifted toward photography. He understands that the medium, whether painting or photography, is concurrent to the idea, that it cannot be avoided. The process of working with the medium should be made clear, particularly when making a reduced visual statement. This again is close to certain ideas found in Eastern thought, particularly in Taoism. To know is the beginning of how not to know. To get to the essential structure of the event, it is necessary to come to terms with the process of unknowing within the context of a definitive and authentic pictorial language.

Tyniec makes it clear in the desert photographs that these images – subtlety textured and sensual — exist both in reference to a physical place and a literal state of mind. He is interested in the expansiveness of the desert landscape as perceived through the camera’s viewfinder. There is a real effort — a physical endurance — required in order for Tyniec to realize these photographs. The artist will go for days on his own, trudging through dunes and shifting sands in various parts of the world, in order to find the right image.

What is the right image? For Tyniec it is the most intuitive image, a state of mind that embodies unknowing within the act of perceiving. It is the moment of being alert to the experience where the eye and mind conjugate with the physical reality of place.

One might ask why so many prophets and pilgrims with various mystical propensities and religious faiths have gone to the desert. From Moses to Muhammad, from Thomas Merton to Saint John of Patmos, the desert has been a place of solace, a sanctuary within the relatively infinite modus operandi of space and time. In the late sixties Earth artists Michael Heizer and Walter de Maria gravitated toward the Mohave Desert in order to construct imageless works of art in what art historian Rosalind Krauss called “the expanded field.” British conceptual artists, such as Hamish Fulton and Richard Long, went on walks through isolated deserts and high mountain plateaus.

Tyniec photographs the limitlessness of the desert in much the same way that he photographed the sky in a series of prints made three years earlier. His explorations of pictorial space go beyond conventional boundaries of landscape photography. The desert photographs are processed without cropping the image. Tyniec insists on capturing the moment of the phenomenon as he sees it, without muddling the experiential effect in the retentive anxiety of the darkroom.

It has come to the point in today’s hypermediated world that to believe in an image is, in itself, a significant action. This is precisely what gives these Desert images their extraordinary beauty and conceptual credibility and what makes Tyniec’s recent work so inexorably rich.

Robert C. Morgan
August 2000