In praise of ‘stupidity’/amazement: towards an alternative contextual understanding for contemporary ‘landscape’ art.
(Unpublished essay from 2003, which tries to find a context for work then being done by members of LAND2)
Few academics working in the relevant fields would dismiss out of hand the claim that the experience of ‘landscape’ remains important for many individuals in contemporary British society, however that ‘importance’ might be understood. Occasionally events reinforce this sense of the value of ‘natural landscape’ in the lives of individuals. A report of the events surrounding the death of Christopher Gray in early October 2001 suggest an unexpected degree of respect and even admiration for a man taking a course of action which, in other circumstances, might have evoked either pity or revulsion. Gray, a fifty-six year old insurance underwriter, left his job in East Sussex and travelled to the southernmost tip of the Isle of Skye, where he spread out thirteen bin liners under some trees overlooking the Sound of Sleat and lay down to die. His remains were only discovered two weeks later. Kirsty Scott wrote in the Guardian, ‘If there is a good place to die, Christopher Gray might just have found it’. Both Gray’s action and Scott’s response may be taken as testifying to the strength of feeling landscape can still evoke. (1)
While there is no way of knowing what motivated Gray’s actions, both these and Scott’s response raise questions about the ‘quasi-eschatological vision’ of ‘vanishing wilderness and the end of nature’ said to inform the work of artists featured in the concluding chapter of Malcolm Andrews Landscape and Western Art, now regarded as a standard undergraduate text on the subject. (2) The notion that ‘wilderness’ and ‘solitude’ are ‘becoming extinct’ is perhaps indicative of a particular, distanced and ‘urban’ view of nature. Although those who feel compelled to see nature in this light, for whatever reason, will certainly find plenty of evidence to support it, for those who live and work in, for example, the Western Highlands of Scotland, the central issues are not the ‘disappearance’ of wilderness and nature – still one of the major determining factors in their lives – but rather the disappearance of economic systems and social infrastructures that sustain human communities. Because of their economic marginality such communities regularly face the prospect of seeing what remains of their ‘local’ culture reduced precisely to the ‘wilderness’ and silence which are the hallmark of the search for solitude. In short, the ‘quasi-eschatological vision’ identified by Andrews is only one of a complex of often contradictory relationships between those concerned with ‘landscape’ and the cultural forms in which those concerns appear.
Explanatory theories concerning contemporary art have a good deal to tell us about such relationships, although not necessarily explicitly. In what must be one of the more unusual authorial eccentricities of recent years, Donald Kuspit, a veteran art critic and champion of ‘landscape’ painting, relegated an extraordinary defence of the ‘stupidity’ of ‘traditional’ creativity, and painting in particular, to a five and a half page footnote. Working from Winnicott, Kuspit defends the role of art as a means of allowing individuals to develop ‘their “creative apperception” of their environment’. (3) His argument is of interest here in so far as it points to an understanding of ‘landscape’ art that is radical in the proper sense of that word, without conforming either to the official orthodoxies of ‘advanced art’ in Britain or the attitudes of ‘New Genre Public Art’ typified by Lucy R. Lippard’s The Lure of the Local.
In my view, however, Kuspit’s argument needs to be expanded by drawing on the work of John Llewelyn if we wish to understand the current value of the ‘stupidity’ of the painter in relation to ‘landscape’. (4) Llewelyn’s articulation of the relationship between ‘stupidity’ and amazement in renewing what has become ‘banal’ can be read as supporting Kuspit’s argument and so as extending it into a more general, philosophically grounded, position. (5) In my view it is through an engagement with the ‘banal’ that certain painters and, I would argue, artists producing photographically-generated work, engage with issues of what is traditionally called the ‘landscape’ in ways which are important, even ‘radical’, in a contemporary context. (6)
The engagement with ‘landscape issues’ by current artists will be clear even to those who pay scant attention to contemporary art. In addition to the wide range of work exhibited in diverse exhibitions such as The Map is Not the Territory (7), Landing (8), Picturesque (9) and Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home (10), work concerned in some way with ‘landscape’ – for example by Per Kirkeby, Eileen Lawrence, Kjell Pahr-Iversen, Michael Porter, Susan Derges, Peter Doig, Joan Nelson, Jem Southam, Joyce Lyon, Carol Rhodes, George Shaw, Michael Raedecker, Dirk Skreber and Paul Morrison – is proof enough that it remains the basis for a very diverse body of contemporary work. What is at issue here is not the establishment of a ‘contemporary landscape aesthetics’, not least because there is no evidence that any such unified aesthetic exists, but the possibility that contemporary ‘landscape’ art, regardless of whether or not we enjoy it aesthetically, is engaged with considerations that inevitably lead to reflection on, and perhaps major reconsider of, our experience and understanding of the increasingly problematic issue of our relationship to ‘nature’ and ‘the natural’.
Historically, a significant change of orientation by ‘landscape’ artists was signalled through Conceptualism’s engagement with environmental issues, forming one important aspect of the anti-Modernism of c.1965-1980, a change that was by no means simply reversed by the “return” of painting in the 1980s. (11) Thomas McEvilley’s discussion of Julian Schnabel’s Fox Farm paintings, first published in 1989, is indicative of attitudes prevelant in Euro-American culture by the last decade of the twentieth century. (12) McEvilley locates these paintings in terms of a growing unease that ‘the traditional distinction between nature and culture is breaking down’. One, by no means unfamiliar, aspect of this breakdown was the recognition that ‘culture has come up with instruments of destruction that dwarf even those natural destructive marvels, the tidal wave, hurricane, earthquake, volcano, and twister’. Once a bulwark against nature, culture now looked ‘hopelessly to nature’ to provide some cure for its own excesses. However, if it was accepted that there was no longer anything that could be called ‘nature’ – either in line with the ‘deconstructive’ view that sees ‘nature’ as simply another ideological term or, more pragmatically, because cultural manipulation of the natural world had reached a level that rendered distinction between the two terms all but meaningless – this only reinforced a growing sense of anxiety about the ‘natural’ as AIDS joined environmental issues an indicative topic in contemporary art.
McEvilley’s support for Schnabel’s ‘conceptual paintings’ is typical of a ‘post-modern’ approach that still underpins the current work of the painter Paul Morrison. Morrison’s images mix elements taken from ‘natural’ landscapes in ways which have ‘little to do with Nature’, being reduced to ‘cultural codes’ which ‘invade the space of innocent reverie’. In Sue Hubbard’s terms, these are images of ‘impossibility and frustration’, ‘landscapes from the end of history consisting of graphic images where nothing “real” could live or flourish’ and, in consequence, ‘resonant with a sense of loss’ that accompanies the assumption that any dream of future unity can only come a culture clearly unable to deliver any such thing. (13) However, as I have already indicated, there is an alternative approach to representations of landscape that avoids this ‘postmodern’ view, one for which a broadly ‘phenomenological’ tradition of thinking remains important. This category of work is, arguably, of particular importance in that it avoids the tendency towards the quasi-eschatological vision which Andrews’ text tacitly supports and which, in the last analysis, also underwrites the moralising Protestant ethos implicit in Lippard’s The Lue of the Local, an orientation that has been clearly located within the larger history of an iconoclastic fear of the mediating image by Andrew Graham-Dixon. (14)
Work located in this alternative category can be characterised as ‘stupid’ in two senses: in the particular ironic sense deployed by Kuspit and Llewelyn, but also in recognition of an opposition to the growing orthodoxy within academia that refuses to give serious attention to art that does not tacitly illustrate an ‘advanced’ theoretical stance. While ‘stupid’ artists will, if pressed, identify authors they regard as important – typically perhaps Gaston Bachelard, Peter Bishop, Edward S. Casey, Maurice Merleau-Ponty or Christopher Tilley – such texts play a supporting role in relation to engagement with the ‘natural world’ through “creative apperception”. To put this in other terms, while the work produced by such artists draws on a range of theoretical positions, it does not prioratize the signalling of a theoretical position to a ‘vangard’ auience. However, the work can also be understood as mounting a defence of a particular concern with ‘landscape’ that responds to Derrida’s assertion that: ‘There is no outside-text’, by insisting that ‘however difficult the subsequent questions of interpretation there is still the presumption of a visible externality. (15) In doing so these artists align themselves with Kate Soper’s questioning of the either/or dualism which situates ‘”postmodern” critical theory’ in simple opposition to deep ecology, in so far as each camp attempts to establish a dogmatic and mutually-exclusive view of how ‘nature’ is to be understood ‘after modernism’. (16)
The insistence on a shared visible externality, however problematic, may be particularly important if its its implications are seen to reach beyond struggles for authority within the culture industry, given that our survival may finally depend on our collective ability to affirm a common interdependence within that shared, and increasingly fragile, externality, traditionally called the ‘natural’ world. This requires a culture that resiss those who speak from the sectarianism of exclusive, often profoundly Puritanical and increasingly violent, sections of the traditional monotheisms on the one hand or, on the other, from what can be seen as the profoundly cynical positioning within global markets of ideas that merges ‘deconstructive’ intellectual theories with the equally ‘deconstructive’ social programme at the heart of corporate global capitalism. (17) In this context care as to how we understand and respond to ‘nature’ and the ‘natural’ may be a condition of species’ survival. This care is, of course, linked to one of the tasks the Western artist has traditionally been educated to undertake – the production of ‘art as phenomenological pencil-sharpener’ as Nick de Ville has ideosyncratically described it – and contemporary artists ‘stupidly’ in engaging with ‘landscape’ may contribute to this awareness. (18)
If we see representation of ‘landscape’ as an engagement with issues of placing, of our complex location in the contemporary world – a location firmly grounded, as Merleau-Ponty made clear, in our immediate bodily being in the world – the contemporary relevance of ‘landscape’ art should be clear. David Simpson has indicated the extent to which ‘being placed’ has become a ubiquitous concern. We now map our personal ‘positions’ in terms of an ever-expanding matrix of reference points; anything from our place of birth, our ethnicity, political loyalties, gender and spiritual orientation to ‘life-style choices’ – holiday destinations, diet regimes and so on. (19) Simpson sees this as indicative of a profound anxiety regarding our place in the world, one ‘local effect’ of more general anxieties identified here in terms of the concerns expressed by McEvilley in the late 1980s. This concern has developed, historically speaking, in parallel with shifts by which ‘landscape’ as an aesthetic term became increasingly problematic, given the practical consequences of the degradation of the ‘natural’ world. This problematisation requires, in turn, that we develop an overview of the multiple connections between an ever-expanding number of disciplines – including the environmental sciences, a variety of geographies, sociology, psychology and various branches of the arts and humanities – as they engage with that need. However, it may also be necessary to return with critical solicitude to apparently superceeded assumptions about ‘landscape’ – if only because we cannot know ‘where we are’ unless we have a clear understanding of ‘where we have come from’.
Art rethinking ‘landscape’ – some contemporary examples
‘Stupid’ art dealing with ‘landscape’ inevitably demonstrates some level of ‘critical engagement’ of the European landscape tradition, however tacit, often deploying a ‘testimonial imagination’ in its relation to that tradition. (20) In doing so it contests the claim that ‘landscape’ as a term should be abandoned as inextricably bound up with a particular masculine vision generated by aesthetes, antiquarians and the landed gentry, and thus inseperable from the social conditions of the emerging capitalist world and, as a result, merely the product of a particular class and gender. (21) While the readings informing this condemnatory understanding of ‘landscape’ are in no sense wrong, they rest on an understanding of painting that constrains it within myopic explanations that fail to give appropriate creatit to visual intelligence. (22) Even where such condemnatory readings are balanced by an understanding of how, for example, eighteenth-century English garden designers deployed a more natural and irregular arrangement to represent English tolerance and liberty in deliberate contrast to the formal gardens of French autocracy, it tends to reductivism. In contrast, we need to grasp the meanings inherent in the reading of dew and the poetics of refraction in Constable’s painting made by Peter Bishop (23), or more generally in Yves Bonnefoy’s understanding of the ‘poetics of painting’ as they apply to landscape. (24)
The complex relationships between ‘landscape’, memory, loss, recuperation and identity that animates ‘testimonial imagination’ animates the work of a number of younger artists. This is clearly demonstrated by the work of Judith Tucker whose paintings, based on drawings made at coastal sites, develop important insights into the paradoxical nature of ‘perceptual painting’ in relation to the issues of memory, belonging and loss involved in metaphors rooted in ‘landscape’, issues central to our self-understanding. (Interestingly, these issues have been explored in theoretical terms by Griselda Pollock, from whose thinking Tucker draws some support). (25) Rather than simply assume the loss of ‘the natural’, as many ‘post-modernist’ artists do, Tucker builds into her working process a premeditated distance from her source material – often ‘the edges and boundaries of the land, the folds, fissures and cracks in a cliff face’ – so as to acknowledge the complexity of ‘the metropolitan/urban relationship with a construct of “nature” as a locus for desire’; one that situates the work as distanced from nature, but without denying the visual externality from which it in part derives. (26) Tucker notes that: ‘this paradox of distancing and then attempting to connect across that distance opens up the opportunity to consider the work in terms of belonging, longing, sensuality and desire, that of a radical playing with archaic identifications between land and the feminine and, in doing so, creates a tension that becomes the subject of the work’. (27) Tucker’s working hypothesis would seem to exactly parallel one identified by David Simpson in relation to ‘situatedness’, where he writes that: ‘our problem is not so much one of deciding between absolute agency (I make my world, create my situation) and complete passivity (I am forced to be what I am) …; it is more a matter of figuring out how to respond to the acceptance that we are always in both positions at once …’ (28) This acknowledgement of the paradoxical ‘both / and’ position central to the complexity of our relationship to culture (as ‘agency’?) and nature (as ‘passivity’?) – one which stops short of either collapsing or negating one term in favour of the other, is a central characteristic of the work that concerns me here.
An understanding of the complex relationship of memory and place to questions of history and identity is often focused by awareness of the problematic, shifting nature of terms denoting aspects of ‘landscape’. Whatever our particular perspective on the sociological and historical contexts informing the term, the condemnatory view of ‘landscape’ is, strictly speaking, usually appropriate only when applied to panoramic, idealised landscapes which served a particular ideological definition of taste in a specific historical context. There remained (and, more importantly, there still remain) other, more everyday, understandings of ‘landscape’ images as ‘actual portraits of views, often representations of enclosed, occluded landscapes, with no great depth of field’. The majority of landscapes, mundane representations of “mere places” that exhibited not the ideal but the accidental forms of nature, were seen as an inferior record of environment of no interest to the man of taste. None the less, these remained ‘landscape’ in the wider sense. It is often this second, overlooked sense of ‘landscape’ as “mere place”, along with all that is lost, repressed or marginalized by that designation, that is of particular interest to contemporary artists. (It is also here, within the context of contemporary thinking, that a rigorous phenomenology of imaginative art is shown to regain its ethical dimension). (29)
One response to the negative view of the seventeenth century revival of the term ‘landscape’ is to keep in mind that there were, even then, two categories of landscape: firstly, the ideal landscape designed to appeal to the financially independent man of taste and, secondly, the mundane, literal, everyday landscape which, it was acknowledged, might appeal to ‘women and the vulgar’. Typically, an artist like Sian Bonnell approaches the contemporary ‘landscape’ from a perspective which enables her to understand her environment in terms that deliberately cultivate an exploration of this second, traditionally ‘inferior’, sense of ‘landscape’. As a result, her understanding of what constitutes ‘landscape’ is ultimately closer to a much earlier, and largely forgotten, Anglo-Saxon use of the word. Barbara Bender reminds us that this earlier usage is related to the German term ‘Landschaft – meaning a sheaf, a patch of ground, something small-scale that corresponded to a peasant’s perception, a mere fragment of a feudal estate, an inset in a Breughel landscape’. (30) This is a ‘close-up’, ‘domestic’, ‘small-scale’ view of the land as immediate environment; one experientially closer to our relationship to a family back garden, a vegetable plot or an allotment, the favoured corner of the local park. If artists like Bonnell are categorised as dealing with contemporary ‘landscape’, as seems appropriate, then it is important that we understand the word ‘landscape’ here as closer to that archaic sense of an intimate relationship to a particular ‘patch of land’, rather than to the seventeenth century ideal or, indeed, its modern equivalents the national park or ’area of outstanding beauty’.
When thinking about some aspects of contemporary ‘landscape’ art it may be useful to remember Stephanie Ross’s argument that ‘landscape’-based environmental art be seen as an avant-garde form of gardening. Ross argues that environmental art rearticulates strategies which can be related to traditions of landscape gardening which, at least in eighteenth-century England, was itself considered as a fine art on a par with painting and poetry. (31) To link contemporary ‘landscape’ work to such an argument may seem to contradict my earlier claim that many contemporary artists tend to prioritise concerns that belong to a mundane, rather than a ‘high’ or ‘ideal’, tradition of landscape. However, as Ross reminds us, eighteenth-century landscape had more than one model, and there is still more than one prototype for our current understanding of the garden.
The ideal Western European garden (and through it the ideal ‘landscape’), ultimately has its roots in ‘sacred groves and Nymphaeum dedicated to the pagan deities’; while the mundane garden has always been rooted in ‘utilitarian kitchen and medical gardens’ – gardens, that is, created primarily to serve practical concerns of human welfare. (These utilitarian gardens are part of a tradition that is, at least in part, rooted in the practicalities of Christian monastic life). What an artist like Bonnell has in common with the first, ‘high art’, tradition of gardening – with its artful arrangements of statues, grottoes, obelisks, fountains, hermitages, follies, hidden ditches, bridges – is the organisation of meanings in and through the structuring of the landscape; in her case via the placing of objects to create systems of analogy. That these objects are deliberately drawn from among mundane cultural artifacts at the opposite end of the cultural spectrum to those of ‘high art’ can be seen as both a continuation and a critique of that tradition. The work Bonnell made in Holland, with its ‘sculptural’ arrangement of food and flowers, perfectly illustrates this play between the two traditions, although it is a form of play that remains ultimately subversive. Her most recent work, with its exotic colour play on popular science fiction, perfectly balances an appeal to longing for the numinous in landscape against our contemporary culture’s ingrained scepticism with regard to any kind of pantheistic resonance in art.
What Bonnell develops in terms of the second, mundane, tradition of the garden is a commitment to the interplay between the everyday world of mundane work, including nurture, child care and the work of cultivation, and the organic world. (32) Consequently, the underlying strength of her work is, as I understand it, her ability to redeploy some of the rhetorical strategies which were used to generate what Ross calls ‘the symbolic powers of eighteenth-century English gardens’; but to do so while working in ways which emphasis the mundane landscape as ‘plot of land’ or worked fragment, in the tradition of a perception of the land which is oriented by the taken-for-granted, routinely utilitarian , bodily work traditionally associated with either women or the ‘labouring classes’. One way in which to locate work like Bonnell’s more fully, as an example of the richness of certain forms of contemporary art practice (drawing on Ross’s original and provocative argument), is to examine the ways in which such practice both relates to, and radically departs from, that of an established ‘land artist’ like Richard Long.
After ‘landscape’, after Romanticism?
The critic Robert Rosenblum has described Richard Long as a rare type of contemporary artist; rare in that he is a particular type of Romantic, working without irony, and concerned with continuing ‘those endless magical communions with nature by walking it, touching, feeling and accumulating’. Long appears to Rosenblum, together with artists like Wolfgang Laib, as part of an ‘ecological last gasp of communion with the pure and beautiful stuff of nature. (33) While Bonnell also works without irony, she differs from Long in using humour or incongruity to create a distance from any directly Romantic reading of her work – as when a magnificent detail of spiral fossil is paired with a cheap, metal dinosaur-shaped cookie cutter or an alien life-form in a wood turns out to be a rabbit-shaped jelly. Rather than taking sides in the ‘either / or’ stand off between Romanticism and irony assumed by Rosenblum, she deploys a ‘both / and’ approach in which the childlike sense of wonder so prized by Romanticism is held in check by the deployment of a sense of incongruity or humour. If her subjects often preserve something of the sense of ‘communications with nature by walking it, touching, feeling and accumulating’, this is as much the result of an almost loving attention to small scale elements within the landscape through careful attention to focus and framing, and by the use of objects which have to do with the ‘naturalness’ of play or nurture, as any explicit emphasis on ‘the pure and beautiful stuff of nature’.
Peter Bishop reminds us of another aspect of Long’s perceived Romanticism, drawing attention to the way in which, for example, both Long and Constable have ‘been invoked in the same breath’; where both artists are seen as sharing a ‘deeply geological, archaeological and archetypal vision’. What the work of these two artists is assumed to share is a sense that ‘space and time unite in a feeling of enormous extension, continuity and coherence’, so that the ‘uncertainties of contemporary cultural and psychological fragmentation are bypassed or shrunk to an insignificant layer in geological time. (34) An observation that can be seen as being of particular relevance, for example, to our understanding of Bonnell’s Fossil series as both a continuation and a critique of Romantic attitudes. This sense of holding both continuation and critique in friendly exchange is for me taken up in the rather different context of Daro Montag’s work which, while literally indexing the processes of microorganisms in a way that is as exact as that of any scientist, does so in ways which often produce images which seem to reference Romantic or pantheistic transcendence. While Montag’s Bioglyphs work with natural processes in such a way that the decay of a man-made product through biological exchange produces beauty, in Bonnell’s work it is the references to childhood that reintroduce a sense of fragility and transitoriness, along side that of wonder, in the face of natural or geological time. (Tucker’s choice of the rock strata of the sea shore as the site for her creation ‘from memory’ of another, imagined yet bodily place deploys yet another strategy with regard to the Romantic issue of ‘geological time’).
Arguably the work of an artist like Bonnell can be seen in terms of an attempt both to engage with something of the Romantic tradition perpetuated by Long and Fulton – although within distinct limits derived from her own experience – and, at the same time, to keep some distance from the sense of a ‘high ritual’ or ‘transcendent poetics’ which pervade their visual rhetoric. (While a sense of both ritual and poetry are often present in her work, they come modified by a very clear sense of the child’s ‘let’s pretend that’ which, psychologically, might be linked to James Hillman’s concept of art as ‘healing fiction’). (35) Rather than seeking out distant, high or lonely places which carry a sense of the exotic, spiritual or sublime, as a sign of an archetypal ‘nature’ in which to trace, as Long does, a minimal, abstract sign of ordering intellect (straight line, circle, etc.), Bonnell is happy to work with everyday objects in a mundane, worked, even taken-for-granted, rural landscape; to engage with a fragment of natural environment, a thicket, patch of wet grass or corner of a field; or with the ‘enclosed or occluded landscape’ identified by Burrell, particularly when working on the sea shore.
Having made these points, however, it is important to keep in mind that Long has quite explicitly refuted the claim that he is a Romantic, insisting that he is what can only be called a ‘realist’:
“My work is real, not illusory or conceptual. It is about real stones, real time, real actions”.
“My work is not urban, nor is it romantic. It is the laying down of modern ideas in the only practical places to take them”. (36)
The difficulty with this statement is that the notion of the ‘real’ here is highly problematic. I would suggest, however, that if we substitute the word ‘literal’ for the word ‘real’’, it becomes considerably easier to make sense of this statement. This substitution also illuminates the key difference between Bonnell’s interventions or placements in the ’natural’ world and those made by Long. If Long is a ‘literalist’ in relation to the objects he manipulates, Bonnell uses objects to create ‘fictions’. This difference between the two artists is best indicated by reference to James Hillman’s discussion of the psychological functions of fiction. Hillman writes:
“As we muse over a memory, it becomes an image, shedding its literal historical facticity, slipping its causal chains, and opening into the stuff of which art is made. The art of healing is healing into art. Of course, not literally …” (37)
Long is not directly concerned with memory (although much of the aura that clings to his land pieces stems, in my view, from our memories, cultural or personal, of remote Romantic landscape sites) but, for example, with the literal reality of geometric forms made, for example, with real stones in real time. While Long conforms to a ‘what you see is what you get’ approach that derives from Minimalism, Bonnell constantly invites us to ‘see through’ the literal elements of her work (in both senses of that phrase) to the meanings conjured up in her playful, but never less than serious, fictions. In this her orientation is, in my view, representative of that of many of the best younger contemporary artists engaging with ‘landscape’.
Placing the ubiquitous ‘nomad’
An artist like the ‘landscape’ painter Andrea Thoma, a German national educated in France, Germany and the United States and now living and teaching in England might be said to represent – albeit in a somewhat extreme form – the way in which many artists find themselves positioned in relation to place in our contemporary hybrid culture. In certain important respects a person with her background is now typical rather than atypical, in so far as it is those who have lived their entire lives in one, usually rural, location informed by a culture of relative continuity who are now the true ‘exotics’. In this context we may need to ask to what extent the understanding set out in Heidegger’s Building Dwelling Thinking can still be taken as authoritative?
Arguably Heidegger presents an understanding of dwelling that is now too ‘masculine’, too fixed, too overtly heroic, to help us to understand the existential world in which we find ourselves. While Heidegger’s ‘simple oneness of the four we call the fourfold’ (made up of Earth, Sky, Mortals and Divinities), together with his emphasis on ‘dwelling’ as ‘sparing and preserving’, has by no means become irrelevant, none the less fails to find an appropriate place for some of the particular qualities of dwelling – the act of walking, or gardening, as particular forms of pleasurable discipline which are not ‘building’ in Heidegger’s sense, but which none the less are inseparable from dwelling of another kind. His stress on Mortals as being only able to come to dwelling in so far as they are able to ‘save the earth’ now has a proprietary ring which is wholly at odds with, for example, the thinking of ‘deep’ ecology. It is the constructed bridge which provides Heidegger with his prime example of the way in which ‘building belongs to dwelling’. But this appears to exclude, in ways that walking or gardening do not, complexities of pleasurable relationship with the life of plants and animals alongside Mortals, on Earth, under the Sky, and before the Divinities. Much of what I take to be the most valuable contemporary art, whether it deals implicitly or explicitly with ‘landscape’, with our place in the world, addresses issues of becoming which Heidegger’s model of dwelling would seem to exclude. (38)
When painters like Andrea Thoma or Judith Tucker engage with ‘landscape’, it is somehow inevitable that something of these issues presses in upon them in one way or another. Like many of the best of their contemporaries they are too honest, too clear sighted about the world in which we find ourselves, to wish to produce an art which seeks to validate the promise of transcendence seemingly offered by the ‘sublime’ – even if they were to believe that such a possibility remained open to them. Yet they are equally aware of the actuality of that sense of wonder and reconciliation that, through art, can secretly permeate and temporally ‘redeem’ what comes to us through day to day attention to the mundane, the ordinary, if only by moments. Consequently, they cannot wholly abandon all aspiration to an art that might still somehow serve ‘becoming other’ through its function as a ‘healing fiction’. For Tucker the solution has been to produce what can only be described as images which offer us a sense the sublime that is both present and, simultaneously, cancelled out. Her images seem to me to represent an acknowledgement of our being tied to an endless crossing and recrossing of the borderlines between the particular ‘here’ of the body and the ungraspable ‘there’ of the life world, each with their own intertwined times and materialities, their own configurations of memory, power and promise of identity, of a provisional ‘coming home’ that can never be concluded this side of death. It is the opportunity to engage with such work, and with that of other artists similarly engaged the the complexities of our relationship to ‘landscape’ (some of whom are named here), that sustains the claims of ‘landscape’ as a serious genre for contemporary art.
1. Kirsty Scott ‘Daughter solves body mystery on day before burial’ in The Guardian Thursday January 16th. 2003 p. 8.
2. Malcolm Andrews landscape and Western Art (1999) Oxford: Oxford University Press p.222
3. Donald Kuspit The Rebirth of Painting in the Late Twentieth Century (2000) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press pp. 224 & 227  Ibid. p. 224
4. John Llewelyn The HypoCritical Imagination: Between Kant and levinas (2000) London: Routledge pp. 196-197
5. Ibid. p. 224
6. I am using the term ‘radical’ here to signal, among other things, an orientation that includes, as Terry Eagleton reminds us, a sense of tradition. See Terry Eagleton The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996) London: Blackwell p.ix
7. England and Co. , London 5th. Oct. – 16th. Nov. 2002
8. A collaborative exhibition of work by artists working with geographers held at the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, June 19th. – July 27th. 2002
9. Tulie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle January 11 th. – March 16th. 2003
10. Touring exhibition. Wolverhampton Art Gallery 18 Jan – 2 March 2003; The Nunnery, London 8th Mar – 19 April 2003; Northern gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland 2 May – 7 June 2003 and Herbert Read Gallery, Canterbury 30 Sept – 24 oct 2003.
11. By the early 1980s there was also a growing critical literature dealing with the history of landscape painting from a perspective which saw ‘nature’ and ‘naturalness’ as problematic concepts to be linked to the cultural representations of social institutions and apparatuses and to economic policies.
12. Thomas McEvilley The Exile’s Return: Towards a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era (1993) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press pp. 208-209
13. Sue Hubbard Chora (1999) London: Chora p.20
14. See the first chapter, ‘Dreams and Hammers’ of Andrew Graham-Dixon A History of British Art (1996) London: BBC Worldwide Ltd. pp.14-45
15. See John A. Smith ‘Three Images of the Visual’ in Visual Culture (ed. Chris Jenks) (1995) London: Routledge p. 246
16. See Kate Soper ‘Nature/”Nature”’ in FutureNature: nature, science, culture (eds. G. Robertson et. alia) (1996 ) London: Routledge p. 22
17. Mats Alvesson and Kaj Skoldberg Reflexive Methodology (2000) London: SAGE Publications Inc. pp.158-161
18. Nick de Ville ‘The Artist as Witness’ in Drawing Fire Vol. 2 no. 5 p.26
19. David Simpson Situatedness, or Why we Keep Saying Where We’re Coming From (2002) Durham and London: Duke University Press
20. ‘…that is, the power to bear witness to “exemplary” narratives legacied by our cultural memories and traditions’. Richard Kearney Poetics of Imagining: from Husserl to Lyotard (1991) London: Routledge p.220
21. I have in mind here a ‘school’ of landscape studies that includes such scholars as John Barrell, Ann Bermingham, James Turner, David Solkin and Michael Rosenthal.
22. Indicated by Ann Bermingham’s treatment of ‘landscapre painting’ as ‘ideological in that it presents an illusionary account of the real landscape’. AnnBermingham landscape and Ideology; the English Rustic Tradition., 1740-1860 (1987) London: Thames and Hudson p. 3
23. Originally published as ‘Dew and the Poetics of Refraction: John Constable and the Animation of the World’ in Sphinx 5 (1993) and reworked as a chapter in Peter Bishop An Archetypal Constable: National Identity and the Geography of Nostalgia (1995) Madision & Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickingson University Press, pp. 88-111
24. See Yves Bonnefoy The Lure and Truth of Painting: Selected Essays on Art (1995) Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press
25. In ‘Lydia Bauman: The Poetic Image in the Field of the Uncanny’ in Lydia Bauman, Landscapes Warsaw: Zacheta Gallery 1997
26. Judith Tucker Caesura (2002) Leeds: University of Leeds pp.2-3
27. Ibid p.4
28. David Simpson Situatedness, or Why We Keep Saying Where We’re Coming From (2002) Durham and London: Duke University Press p. 35
29. See, for example, chapter ten of John Llewelyn The HypoCritical Imagination: Between Kant and Levinas (2000) London: Routledge
30. Barbara Bender Landscape:Politics and Perspectives Providence & Oxford, Berg Publishers Ltd. 1993 p.2
31. See Stephanie Ross ‘Gardens, earthworks, and environmental art’ in Landscape, natural beauty and the arts eds. S. Kemal & I. Gaskell Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993 pp.158-182. The quotations from Ross below are all taken from this article.
32. This emphasis is common to a number of women artists, for example the painter Andrea Thoma. See my ‘Andrea Thoma’s Thought Dwellings’ in Dialogue in Place: Joyce Lyon and Andrea Thoma Bretton Hall College of the University of Leeds in association with the University of Minnesota, 2000, pp.20-24
33. Robert Rosenblum ‘Towards a Definition of New Art’ in New Art eds. A. Papadakis, C.Farrow & N. Hodges, London, Academy Editions 1991 p. 48
34. Peter Bishop An Archetypal Constable: National Identity and the Geography of Nostalgia Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995 p. 198
35. James Hillman Healing Fiction Texas, Spring Publications Inc. 1983
36. Quoted by John T. Paoletti in ‘Richard Long: Art in the Nature of Things’ Art Monthly No. 101 Nov. 1986 p.5
37. James Hillman Healing Fiction op.cit. pp42-43
38. See the essays ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ and ‘The Thing’ in Martin Heidegger Poetry Language Thought (trans. Albert Hofstadter) New York, Harper and Row 1975