Catherine Hyland is standing atop the Baumgarten mountain station, 2000 meters up. From here, a panoramic view of the Bregenzerwald, a region in the westernmost Austrian state of Vorarlberg, stretches out beneath her. To the north and east, the landscape is softer; the area’s 22 villages sit amongst verdant valleys and undulating hills. To the south and west, the view intensifies, with stretches of dense forest slowly giving way to soaring, jagged peaks flecked in snow.
Hyland is no stranger to vast landscapes. Her ongoing project Universal Experience captures immense vistas in rural China and Mongolia. In each still, Hyland captures details in these arid, sprawling landscapes that highlight humanity’s ongoing attempts to tame and transform them. Whether it is a nondescript, red picket fence demarcating a viewing platform, or a monumental statue of a historical figure, these interventions illustrate her understanding of landscape as, primarily, a cultural construct.
Before arriving in the Bregenzerwald for the Austria: The Art of Discovery commission, Hyland was already intrigued by early tourists’ descriptions of the area as an “enclosed park”. The network of roads weaving their way through the picturesque villages below present a modern-day enclosure for Hyland, who actively avoids premeditated experiences of the places she photographs. Surveying the region from above allows her to escape any restrictions on her understanding of the landscape below.
Words: Hannah Abel-Hirsch
Catherine Hyland spent one week travelling across Austria. She began in the Bregenzerwald, a region in the westernmost Austrian state of Vorarlberg, where she explored the dynamic of chaos and control playing out across the landscape. The project was organised by Studio 1854, with the support of the Austrian National Tourist Office.