The world-landscape

Defined as “a stretch of land that one can take in at one glance” and at the same time as a “genre in painting,”1 the notion of landscape expresses a duality between the visible (donné à voir, lit. offered to view – trans.) land and its artistic interpretation. As Baudelaire puts it, “If a certain assemblage of trees, of mountains, of waters, and of houses that we call a landscape is beautiful, it is not because of itself, but through me.”2 Nature and culture have inhabited the landscape from the very inception of thought, of observation, contemplation, reflection, and more substantially, of being.

As “heritage of being,” the landscape seems to have lost its original coordinates in order to be gradually characterized as a “heritage of possession,” in parallel with the metamorphosis which has gone from the “natural” to the “anthropic.” In this process, the natural landscape, the territory of freedom and life, has been gradually transformed: its evolutionary dynamics have been accelerated by adding to the number of accidental catastrophes (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods) those produced by anthropic activity (destruction, fires, deforestation, excavations, pollution). More than ever, the landscape has become a reflection of social transformations and a disquieting witness to a possible extinction.

One may wonder whether today’s artist does not sometimes mimic the process of extinction that unfolds around us at an ever more rapid pace. The artist’s anxieties translate into ephemeral works, showing territories adrift (Isabelle Krieg, Catharina Van Eetvelde) or expressing the gridlock in which humankind finds itself between the expansion of knowledge and the concern for preservation (Julien Loustau), or yet the definitive loss of bearings (Fiona Tan).

Beyond this observation, the artist is at one with the landscape, allowing it to speak. Acting upon the landscape as something other than a predator, the artist inscribes in it signs of a new alliance. Thus, while certain artists (such as Michael and Barbara Leisgen) pursue this idea proper to Land Art, others invent new modes of representation of the world. Cartographic elements are thus altered and subverted in favor of perceptual measurement. Topographic values and their traditional representations are inverted (Neal Beggs) in order to restore landscape to its original diversity—an expression of our own inner diversity.

1 Flammarion Quillet Dictionary, 1983. (The Oxford English Dictionary defines landscape as: (1) A picture representing natural inland scenery; (2) A view or prospect of natural inland scenery, such as can be taken in at a glance from one point of view. – Trans.)

2 Charles Baudelaire, Curiosité esthétiques, Paris: Garnier frères, 1980.

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