Martina Shenal Martina Shenal

Artist Statement

Volcanoes I Have Known (2018- ongoing)

Somewhere, someday

Nishinoshima was formed on November 21, 2013, less than three months after arriving on the island. Facts of matter. Oceanic islands emerge from the sea after intense underwater volcanic eruptions; continental islands remind us that the sea is on top of the earth. One thousand kilometers south of Tokyo, a new island appears—first doubling, and then tripling, its original landmass. An empirical approach gives way to atmospheric, inscrutable results.

Secondary Nature (2012-present)

Through photography I examine human interaction with the landscape- the ways that we alter, mediate, and represent it. I engage an exploratory approach to reveal the intricate systems that act to limit the destructive natural forces in the volcanic landscape of the Japanese archipelago. These islands share an infrastructure that is by necessity conspicuously engineered and endemic to a region besieged by earthquakes, typhoons, mudslides, eruptions and tsunamis. Searching for an idealized landscape on these islands that is reflective of the garden– highly manipulated, tightly controlled and cultivated, I allude to a mediated interaction with the natural world while contextualizing it within a broader topographical and conceptual framework.


Fire mountain
Taller than I am
Hot grass


Vast green and
Soon to be pierced
Targets placed

- Takaha Shugyo (1930- )

I’m drawn to the multiple interpretations implicit in each haiku. As a juxtaposition of images or ideas, this form of Japanese poetry echoes the inherent dualities at play when deciphering photographic images–what is literally inside the frame vs. a fleeting feeling that its meaning resides elsewhere.

These inscriptions in stone appear at the summit of a 580 meter dormant volcano located in the Izu Peninsula on the southeastern coast of Japan. As a shrine and popular pilgrimage site, Mt. Omuro harbors a lush, green archery field inside the volcano. On the second Sunday each February, the interior and exterior grass is set ablaze, an occurrence that has taken place every year for the past eight hundred years.

Produced on a series of islands over a ten year span, this body of work coalesced during a year-long sabbatical based in Fujisawa, Japan. A subset of the series focuses on Mt. Omuro, a dormant volcano and pilgrimage site that features an archery field set inside the extinct volcano. The adaptation of this volcano into a pilgrimage site mirrors the historic 53 Stations of the Tokaido, which passed through this area of the Izu Peninsula south of Edo (Tokyo).

Borrowed Views (2009-2012)

The title Borrowed Views, a translation from Japanese shakkei, references the stylized perspective strategies found in traditional eastern landscape painting and seventeenth century Japanese garden design. The work explores aspects of human intervention within the landscape– intersections of public and private, nature and the built environment, literal and metaphorical boundaries that protect as well as isolate, on a series of remote islands in Japan.

Acknowledging that place suggests an experiential encounter and space points to the unknown, these images invoke the dichotomy of an intimate encounter set against the distanced backdrop of foreign observation. Operating within a perpetually passing moment, they remain ambiguous fragments of the material world.