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Concordia professor talks failure, success, and hunting in upcoming Centennial Lecture

All of Chris Mortenson’s photography work deals with landscape, and people’s perceptions of nature as either authentically “natural” or human-altered, including this piece from "The Air, Thin and Eager Like This."

MOORHEAD, Minn. — Everything did not go as planned for Concordia College photographer and associate professor of art Chris Mortenson as he began his latest project, “The Air, Thin and Eager Like This.”

Rather than giving up on the work, which explores the relationship between people who spend time in landscapes through hunting and the landscapes important to them, Mortenson saw opportunity — something he’ll share in his upcoming Centennial Scholars Lecture at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6, in Room 124 of the Olin Art and Communications Center.

“I see failure as the most important part of making art. It doesn’t always feel the best, but it’s so so so necessary,” Mortenson said, noting that many students are afraid of failure. “My talk will also go over realizing when to cut work and offer yourself a chance to look at the work you make in a different way.”

All of Mortenson’s photography work deals with landscape and people’s perceptions of nature as either authentically “natural” or human-altered. The art of photography has played a role in how Americans think about that duality, Mortenson said, and he uses that history and those images to explore those relationships.

A pond with a visible wake disturbing its surface, from "The Air, Thin and Eager like This."

“This project isn’t about hunting, but rather utilizes hunting — and possibly the heightened feelings the viewer has about hunting — as a way to select who is photographed,” Mortenson said.

Those potentially heightened feelings are the explanation for the photography project’s title, bringing in the charged issues of hunting, land use, and people’s feelings about landscapes they view as their own, he explained.

“Hunting brings out many feelings, both good and bad, but I don’t think there are many people who don’t take a side. So, for me, the air is both literal and figurative,” he said. “The air in the landscape and the space between the viewer and the work. It is charged and feels like sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for something to happen.”

As Mortenson’s project is still in its early stages, his lecture will primarily be a research talk, ending with a visit to the nearby Cyrus M. Running Gallery to look at the work. Centennial Scholars Lectures are an annual tradition at Concordia College and serve to highlight the scholarly achievements of faculty.

“For me, art is a practice in understanding the world around me,” Mortenson said of his photography. “I’m filled with contradictions in what I think and how I experience the world. I make work that visually investigates ideas I want to explore and understand more.”

The event is free and open to the public.

More information:
Christian Mortenson, associate professor of art
Candace Harmon, director of communications and media relations