Exhibit Explores Jersey Landscapes

Artist Matthew Jensen trekked through four local landscapes in search of natural wonder. His exhibit opens at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey on April 14.

Artist Matthew Jensen explored the forest at Watching Reservation.
Artist Matthew Jensen explored the "folding forest" at Watchung Reservation.
Photo by Matthew Jensen

Over the course of one year, artist Matthew Jensen trekked through four popular New Jersey destinations, photographing his journey and collecting artifacts. The result is “Park Wonder: Rediscovering Four New Jersey Landscapes,” an exhibit at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in Summit. The exhibit runs April 14 to July 23, with an opening reception on April 20.

Camera in hand, Jensen, 36, would take public transportation from Brooklyn, where he lives, to either Watchung Reservation, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Sandy Hook or the banks of the Passaic River— the four landscapes he explores in the exhibit.

“I’m trying to foster deeper connections between people and the parks and landscapes closest to them,” says Jensen.

It was important to Jensen that the sites he focused on were accessible via public transportation.

“So by the end of a project I’ll end up with the art, but I’ll also end up with a conversation about how to get there and the obstacles of getting there, things that a city might be doing wrong or forgetting about,” Jensen explains.

He scoured these landscapes collecting artifacts such as animal teeth, broken pottery, toys and bullets.

“I’ve got this amazing collection, kind of like my own little historical society for these four places,” says Jensen.

He snapped photos along the way, too. But Jensen’s method of landscape photography is a bit unconventional. Typically, he explains, photographers are focused on capturing a striking sunset or dramatic clouds—but not Jensen.

“My walks are sunny nice days, and that kind of light is limiting, it doesn’t give you drama it gives you a very real sense of being there,” says Jensen. “I generally look for things that are impressive and amazing and beautiful, but that are just there in front of you and they just need to be revealed through a camera.”

The exhibit will display Jensen’s collection of artifacts and photographs alongside a research corner filled with the books Jensen used to understand the significance of these landscapes.

He also created his own reference book with five essays by environmentalists and journalists, including Ian Frazier of the New Yorker and Hazel England of the Great Swamp Watershed Association, both of whom are familiar with the terrain. Photographs of his journey and walk maps he designed of each landscape are also included.

Those eager for adventure can join Jensen on 90-minute art walks through these landscapes in May and June.

Jensen hopes to stir an increased awareness and interest in local landscapes through the exhibit.

“That, for me, is a really important form of environmentalism,” says Jensen. “You don’t have to always be traveling to exotic places or the Grand Canyon to experience landscape.”

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