onsite 33: on land
What is landscape? The discussion of landscape, in contrast to land, geology, dirt and soil, is often one of aesthetics. And, conventionally, aesthetics seem to be dissociated from politics, social conditions and most things unpalatable.
It is possible that ‘landscape’ is a screen or mask that beautifies a set of ugly exploitations. The greening of oil sands tailing ponds, much advertised as remediated landscapes of grasslands and marshes, presents landscape practices that excuse industrialised extractive industries. The relationship is quantified as surface area: so many hectares of remediated land vs hectares of open pits. I’m not sure it is exactly about numbers. Is there ever a time when landscape is more than a historical record and is not just a panacea, but is a solution?
‘Landscape’ is sometimes understood as a designed condition that mediates between malign forces of nature and the more controllable forces of human settlement. We hold the lines on the map to our hearts and minds, despite their irrelevance to things such as weather, or jihad, or chemical spills: on site there is a different reality, a different ‘landscape’ and it is one we don’t quite understand and certainly can’t control. Very easily one can be in the wrong place in the wrong landscape through sheer bad timing.
And then there is the beautiful ‘landscape’ of the Red River that flows through Winnipeg, currently being dragged for murdered aboriginal girls. Or BC Highway 16, the Highway of Tears, a stunningly beautiful landscape across northern British Columbia that is forever blackened, not by fire, but by systemic racialised abuse. These are landscapes of fear.
Landscape is the tag by which we transform land – that mysterious entity of climate, geology and potential resources – into some sort of human endeavour, the unfamiliar made familiar by applying rules which make us feel that we can own the environment.
Although the word landscape, like the word architecture, appears frequently as a metaphor for social relations, we would like to look here at actual land and landscape: subversive landscapes, landscapes of exclusion and privilege, landscapes used as social tools for social order, landscapes of intent.
What do they look like? How do they work? What is landscape for?
Entries by Category
40 Most Recent Entries
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- Dillon Marsh: Assimilation, from the Landmarks series
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