Posts Tagged ‘MIT Press’

REVIEWED BY MELISSA S. RAGAIN

FROM THE DECEMBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In 2000, the German artist Reinhard Reitzenstein suspended a tree from a pair of abandoned hydroelectric towers in La Gabelle Park in Quebec. Hung upside down, the 55-foot spruce tree contrasts tragicomically with the immense structures beside it, as though they had seized the tree and subjected it to this humiliating inversion. This arresting image flips (quite literally) our expectations of the landscape, even a human-altered landscape like the escarpment of a hydroelectric dam, and dramatizes the clear-cutting that makes such sublime industrial monuments possible. Reitzenstein relies on those expectations in order to subvert them. The cultural baggage of landscape, both pictures of the landscape and the land’s design as an aesthetic object, is the ground against which a work like Transformer appears. The urgency of climate change and mass extinction has made it necessary for anyone who works with natural materials or images to rethink the historical conventions that govern our perceptions of the natural world.

I was choosing a new survey text for my course Contemporary Art and Ecology when I was commissioned to review Mark Cheetham’s new book, Landscape into Eco Art. To judge by the title and the array of evocative illustrations, it looked like a viable candidate to replace my go-to anthology, Jeffrey Kastner’s Nature (The MIT Press, 2012). Though Kastner’s book offers an excellent selection of short primary documents perfect for an undergraduate seminar, it lacks what many art history textbooks offer: the lure of chronology, the analysis of individual artworks, and an authoritative narrative to help navigate the last 50 years of ecological art making. And yet, as I thumbed through Cheetham’s Landscape into Eco Art, I began to realize that it was not a survey text. Neither was it the kind of fine-grained history of a single object or movement we have come to expect in contemporary art history. Other texts in the genre take the standard contemporary art historical model of diving deep into a subject only to pop back out of it again with a new perspective on the long history of contemporary practices. For instance, James Nisbet’s Ecologies, Environments, and Energy Systems in Art of the 1960s and 1970s (The MIT Press, 2014) tells a history of land art and systems thinking by tethering it to a lengthy analysis of Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977). Similarly, Suzaan Boettger’s Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties (University of California Press, 2003) takes a wide-angle lens to land art in a chronological survey of the era’s greatest moments to shed light on the complex network of artists, gallerists, and collectors who motivated land art’s monumental minimalism.

Instead, Landscape into Eco Art might be more readily compared to work in environmental aesthetics, a subfield of (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The lago at Roberto Burle Marx’s Sítio, which he composed by eye from truckloads of species collected during his botanical expeditions. Image courtesy Julian Raxworthy.

It’s time for landscape architects to re-embrace what makes them fundamentally different.

 

Since its inception, it’s been hard to find much agreement in landscape architecture over the profession’s purpose and how it should work. For some contemporary designers, landscape architecture, in theory if a bit less in practice, is most visible when ecological systems are designed and deployed to remediate the earth, water, air, and biomes, often at an infrastructural scale. And yet, a profession wholly obsessed with infrastructure would to seem to miss the trees for the forest.

The Australian landscape architect Julian Raxworthy posits a way forward in his new book, Overgrown: Practices Between Landscape Architecture and Gardening, published by The MIT Press. Landscape architects, he notes, have retreated from the defining element of their corner of the spatial world: the development and management of planting design. Plants, he argues, are defined by their growth over time and the maintenance used to train them. Gardeners (whose ranks Raxworthy once populated) haven’t lost track of this fact. Growth is landscape architecture’s fundamental currency. From there, he launches into a populist call to tear down the blue collar/white collar divide between gardeners and landscape architects. Raxworthy (who is headed to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after living in Cape Town, South Africa, for five years, teaching at the University of Cape Town) seems to admire messiness and rebellion against the bespoke and delicate. That preference is not surprising if you chat him up about his days as a music writer in the 1980s in Sydney, attending shows by Public Enemy and Dead Kennedys. Of one of his case study projects (created by a designer who never studied landscape architecture), he writes: “As a gardener rather than a landscape architect, the only plans Korte produced for the project were to satisfy the authorities. All other decisions arose organically through spending four years on site with a gang of four young German laborers who had returned from Brazil and smoked marijuana constantly. He looked back on this way of working with some nostalgia, saying that this time on site was the height of his career.” (more…)

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