Leah Schretenthaler was born and raised in Hawaii. She completed her BFA degree from the University of South Dakota and holds a Masters degree in art education from Boston University. She is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her work uses traditional photography, video, and metal casting to create images. Through her art practice, her research presents a connection between land, material, and performance. Her work has been displayed nationally and internationally including Hawaii, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, New York, Wisconsin, and Spain.
The Invasive Species of the Built Environment
The land of Hawaii is vast, luxurious, and idyllic but, past the wanderlust images, the land is very controversial. The growing population and tourism continue to threaten the space and its ability to accommodate all the occupants. From the research telescopes on the mountain of Maunakea on the Big Island, to the crumbling rail project on Oahu believed to fix the traffic problem, these infrastructures have augmented the land. The industrial growth happening in Hawaii goes beyond simply manipulating the landscape; it destroys the historical records and spiritual places that have existed there for millions of years.
Through these photographs the attention focuses on the spaces that these infrastructures impede on the natural environment, instead of colors of idyllic Hawaii. Using silver gelatin prints which consist of selected, man-made spaces that have attempted to be removed, create a burnt and sometimes empty area. The use of a laser cutter to cut the structure from the landscape leaves scars upon the image. The removed spaces aid in seeing what Hawaii would be like without these impositions. These areas that have been removed from the images are not being replaced with anything, and therefore communicate the natural impingement this structure has on the environment even if it were to be removed. However, in the process of trying to remove these objects, it has weakened the paper and metaphorically weakened the landscape it is trying to depict. The areas that have not been completely removed leaves a faint and thin layer of paper residue. The structures still exist and can never be completely erased. However, it draws attention to what is becoming the built environment in Hawaii.
These invasive infrastructures have impinged on the natural environment. Although these images discuss visually the reality of Hawaii, it brings to light that this is not a one-state problem. Much like the invasive species that we eradicate from our gardens and fields, so too should we approach these human invasions onto the landscape. No longer should humanity build for the sake of building; but should instead question the social and political concerns that exist in the natural world.
To view more of Leah Schretenthaler’s work please visit her website.