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Cultural Landscapes BlogArt and responsible landscape development: A plea for landscape art

Art and responsible landscape development: A plea for landscape art

22 September 2015/by Lars Fischer/Tags: landscape development, landscapes art,

Landscapes are spaces that have been appropriated, imprinted, and divided through the efforts of humans. Whether farmer, forester, fisher, conservationist, local politician, tourism manager or simply a resident, such people put value on and use the natural and culturally created potential of landscapes in very different ways that seem to inevitably lead to conflict. Thus, it would appear that a responsible approach to landscape development can only be successfully brought into existence through a process of collective debate, discussion and even argument between various kinds of people. Landscape art offers myriad possibilities for providing potent impulses that can enable people with their own specific ideas, experiences, and knowledge to take part in the debates and discourse on how to shape the landscapes they are involved in.
Art and responsible landscape development: A plea for landscape art

The success story of landscape conservation not only in Germany but also in the industrialized West since the end of the 19th century is closely linked to representation of the special aesthetic value of nature and landscapes provided by painters, writers, and photographers. During a time of rapid industrialization, however, it was landscape painting that especially acquired a trend-setting function of conveying a new social relationship to nature that was taking hold in civil society at the time and laid the groundwork for the designation of the first national parks, natural preserves, and protected landscapes. Without the effective, public expression of the wealth of possibilities for aesthetic experience that nature and landscapes make available to humankind, it is likely that these conservation efforts would never have occurred. The appreciation that many people express from the late 19th century until now concerning landscapes, and which motivates them to work towards their protection and care, has found an invaluable resource here.

Since the end of the 20th century, in the face of deep-rooted changes in landscapes caused by human activities – loss of biological species and natural habitats, climate change, industrialized landscapes, the transition from fossil and nuclear to other fuels, and soil degradation are just some examples here – there has been a sensed need to establish new social relationships in caring for nature and landscapes, often going under the catchword sustainability. Thus, we may ask ourselves the question of whether art can also in this epoch contribute effective means to support people in their endeavors towards creating new ways of connecting to nature and formulating sustainable approaches to developing their landscapes. Where classical landscape painting, land art, natural and environmental are able to cross over into landscape art, it seems likely that this will become possible.

Landscape art is aimed at setting in motion a critical debate, taking landscapes as spaces which have already been shaped by humans as the baseline for future shaping of them, using the greatest variety of artistic forms and media and, first and foremost relying on and combining the experience and knowledge of the people who work and live in such landscapes. A primary feature of landscape art is its discursive character, as actors who are involved in a particular landscape have their own historically developed kinds of special knowledge, perspectives on life, and interests which they carry into debate with others regarding the already existing natural and culturally created settings with which they are concerned.

The process of acquiring such knowledge and turning into aethetic forms that can further this public discourse is dynamic and open, aided by the multidimensionality and even contradictoriness of landscape art. The spectrum of landscape art is quite wide, reaching from work about the sound of landscapes (e.g., Über den Hörwert [On the value of listening], Helmut Lemke, D/GB) and communally oriented socio-ecological interventions (Wild and Productive, Kerry Morrison and Alicia Prowse, GB) to the mapping of landscapes (Galerie für Landschaftskunst [Gallery for Landscape Art], Till Krause, D) and site-specific installations (Marc Dion USA). Also such undertakings as Talking Whilst Walking (Jon Anderson, GB) or Ich bin gern Bauer und möchte es auch gerne bleiben (I like being a farmer and I would like to stay one, Antje Schiffers, Thomas Sprenger, D) can also find their place here.

Perceiving the sensory qualities of landscapes, exposing their pre-inscribed connotations, scrutinizing their existing ways of seeing, expressing landscape relationships for which words or clear concepts have not yet been found, and imagining future landscape qualities: these are some of the themes and challenges to be publicly addressed in order for a contemporary approach to responsibly dealing with our landscapes to come into being. And landscape art appears to be an appropriate instrument to achieve this, especially because it has the capacity to build bridges towards forms of educating ourselves about landscapes, without which taking of responsibility for stewardship of landscapes is likely to be unrealizable.

Lars Fischer
Office for Landscape Communication


This blog contribution is part of a series on the science and practice of landscape stewardship and will be further elaborated in the course of a book chapter.
We are looking for real-world cases of good practices that exemplify the principles of landscape stewardship and that serve as a model to inspire implementation in other landscapes. Please share examples or thoughts by adding a comment!



Photo and subtitle: Tramper Feld (Hitchhiker’s Field)

Landscape art project near Eberswalde (Germany) that is part of a research project regarding the adaptation of land usage in light of impacts due to climate change. Public site inspection for the installation Tramper Feld zwischen Kuppe 78 m ü. NHN und Senke 69 m ü. NHN laut Google. Vom Wert des Bodens (Hitchhiker’s Field, between a hillock 78 meters above sea level and a hollow 69 meters above sea level, according to Google. From Value of the Soil), by Christiane Wartenberg, Lars Fischer, Tobias Hartmann und Kenneth Anders (March 2013).

Photo credits: K. Anders

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