Witness Series
My studio practice centrally configures landscape history and collage history. I bring disparate histories together to question assumptions about the meaning and definitions of each genre while reflecting on the present conditions of the planet. The Witness series comes out of a low-waste studio process I pioneered: interlocking collage or puzzle-piece-fit collage. Interlocking collage yields little waste as a collage process because each item is cut from a pair of pages identically and then exchanged—I utilize all collage-related byproducts in the making of the Witness series.
The Witness series gets its name from a statement made by Rene Magritte:
Pushed from the earth toward the sun, a tree is an image of certain happiness. To perceive this image, we must be immobile like a tree.  When we are moving, it is the tree that becomes a spectator. It is witness, equally, in the shape of chairs, tables and doors to the more or less agitated spectacle of our life. The tree having become a coffin disappears into the earth.  And when it is transformed into fire, it vanishes into air.[1]
I named the series Witness to call attention to post-industrial global land treatment and the climate crisis in the age of the Anthropocene. On the surface, the Witness series explores how one art-historical tradition outfits the other. But the Witness series is also an indictment regarding the surreal way consumer-driven culture has addressed environmental concerns—sustained ignorance about the cost of mass consumption and its resource-dependent materiality. "Witness" because to cut an image from one source leaves a hole in another. We can see the void in the things we consume if we know how to look or take notice. To make the Witness parings, I select auction house catalogs of furniture and pre-nineteenth century landscape paintings—unwanted things. I cut out selections of negative spaces or parts of furniture and supplant these shapes into selected landscape images and vice versa. I take great care to cut out the precise shapes twice from both sources and then trade the shapes of land imagery for the removed areas of man-made objects. These exchanges obtain co-dependent diptych displacements—synthetically balanced views of the natural world with less waste.
Todd Bartel
Watertown, MA, 2007, (updated April 2021)
[1] Quoted in Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, p. 109