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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 LISA OWENS VIANI

A retired cranberry bog inspires an innovative approach to wetland restoration.

FROM THE JANUARY 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

In 2005, Glorianna Davenport began to think about retiring the cranberry farm she owned in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In the late 1980s, the 600-acre farm was producing 1 percent of Ocean Spray’s cranberry harvest, but Davenport had become concerned about the amount of pesticides being used—and the way those pesticides were applied. “Because cranberries are grown on former wetlands, we had to farm with helicopters,” Davenport says. “And spraying chemicals from helicopters is not really great in a densely populated area.” Davenport, a visiting scientist at the MIT Media Laboratory, whose husband bought the cranberry farm in the early 1980s, could also see the handwriting on the wall for older cranberry farms, with new cultivars producing five times as many berries, farmed in places easier to access than wetlands and river bottoms. “The industry was changing pretty radically,” Davenport says. “The way we had been farming was really the legacy of another era.”

Davenport learned that a nearby cranberry farm had been restored back to wetlands—said to be the first project of its kind in the United States—and that she was eligible for assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program, which pays farmers to take land out of production to preserve, restore, and enhance wetlands on their properties. The program was established by the 1990 Farm Bill. In 2008, Davenport decided to retire from MIT to undertake the restoration of Tidmarsh Farms. With federal and state funding in hand, she began working with the state’s Department of Fish and Game to pull together an interdisciplinary team of state and federal scientists and river, wetland, and other experts to help restore the bog at Tidmarsh Farms, an effort that took several years.

Ten thousand years ago, glaciers moved down across the northeastern United States, then retreated. As they did, big chunks of ice were left, forming (more…)

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