Political Activity

  1. Just as a landscape is a way in which people and place relate, making landscapes is unavoidably a political activity because implicit in the transformation people bring to a place is the way people are organized in order to do this. However, the set of  representations used to create landscapes tends to eclipse the political dimension.
  2. Landscapes created through representation propose and legitimize the ways people and places are associated, which are susceptible to be used as instruments for  convincing and propaganda for policies that were formulated prior to them.
  3. Metropolises come with the presumption (where the interest of institutions and landscape makers converge) that people are not capable of expressing themselves or  relating to each other in them, that they are only the sum of unrelated individuals who do not know how to behave in the new landscapes of the city.
  4. Point 3 leads to the conviction of understanding public space as a place in which to adapt people to the new landscapes of the city through education. However, it is actually in the pursuit of this objective that the need is seen to erase the cultural baggage these people have, so that they can be taught to fit into the previously represented landscapes of the city’s large green spaces.
  5. The education project shown in Point 4 often produces political conflicts between people and the institution of public space, in which the landscape maker plays a role, no longer of educator, but of integrator of the many discourses of the people in them which are compatible with the one that institutions advocate.
  6. Some creators have thought about using the landscape not to mute or to educate, but on the contrary, to encourage people to express themselves. In such processes, the change in discourse changes the way in which we perceive landscapes.
  7. Paradoxically, the conversion of the city into an exhibition space for the urban spectacle opens spaces where new languages can become visible when the spectacle ages or deteriorates. The city of exhibition becomes volatile and even fragile if its discourse is not constantly nourished.
  8. While landscape has been used as an instrument of conviction and controlling  discourse, a way of thinking is being formulated that tends towards the democratizing potential of landscape. This will lead to a new figure of landscape maker in a process which we will continue to study.

Victor Ténez Ybern, Notes on the Politics of Landscape (2016)

Coloco, Asfalto mon Amour (2013)

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Exchange with the Audience

In other words, the form of the artwork is in the exchange with the audience. In these terms, the artist becomes more a mediator, a person who fosters and provides situations of exchange, than a creator of objects. For Bourriaud, these art practices establish particular social relations for particular people; the artist tries to keep a personal contact with the public that participates in the exchange, fostering what he calls a “friendship culture”, in contraposition to the impersonal, mass production of the culture industries. (…)

It looks like the “friendship culture” of these artworks is not necessarily based on a premise of absolute equality between artist and public, and even less the cancellation of the distinction of one and the other, art and everyday life, but rather a play between them. Still, as we will see, this does not necessarily question the utility of notions of the gift and the distributed person to describe these practices; anthropological theories of the gift are not a celebration of egalitarianism and community-building, but they also underscore the aspects of hierarchy and the relations of power that these practices may entail.

Roger Sansi, Art, Anthropology and the Gift (2015)

ASPECT Studios, Metcalfe Park (2015)

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Justice

Landscape and justice are fundamentally and inextricably linked. Landscapes are struggled over and are the means of struggle. In order to demonstrate this relationship between landscape and social justice, we lean on a landscape conceptualization where landscape is a site of such contention and struggle, claims and contestations. Social struggles not only shape landscapes but crucially also involve attempts to naturalize them, making them seem inevitable, ordinary, and even necessary. Social struggles are also attempts to resist such naturalization. Landscapes, then, work to (re)produce certain identities and ways of life, and become a spatial configuration of particular people’s legitimacy and moral authority.
In this way landscape speaks explicitly to social justice, or rather injustice, particularly through social processes of contestation, oppression and resistance. Social justice is a real world issue, produced and reproduced socially, rather than bound in theoretical constructs and universal truths. Generally, theories of social (in)justice have been concerned to explain the (re)production of equity, distribution and redistribution in society, although taking different approaches to the achievement of socially just outcomes. Much effort has, however, been devoted to demon- strating that one can only with difficulty ‘arrive at a socially just end without changing the production system’. This Marxist perspective on (in)justice is key to the theories of, for example, Harvey and Mitchell. Crucially, however important the production system is, post-structuralists, including feminists, have pointed at the fact that many groups would still be oppressed even if economic injustice was eliminated. There are, hence, differing notions of justice. Useful here is the distinction O’Connor draws between distributive (who gets what and where), procedural (mechanisms of distribution and their fairness) and productive justice. Social justice is hence fundamentally a relational question.

Following this logic, Iris Marion Young, in her influential book Justice and the Politics of Difference, offers a cultural politics concerned to explain (in)justice also beyond ‘equitable distribution of life’s necessities, comforts, luxuries and burdens, to include the potential for people to participate fully in the conditions, situations and decision processes that give rise to particular distribution in the first place’. Young’s theory is important because she demonstrates how injustice or oppression is always social, contingent and systemic. This allows her to identify more than one source (i.e. the economic, distributive system) of oppression. In outlining five facets, or ‘five faces of oppression’ – exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence – Young draws attention to the multifarious ways (in)justice is (re)produced.

Gunhild Setten, Katrina Myrvang Brown, Landscape and social justice (2013)

Gaeta Springall Architects, Linear Park Cuernavaca Railway (2016)

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Radicant Design

Radicant design can make do with these sites. Instead of creating an oeuvre, radicant design evolves along with continuous inquiries, interventions and evaluations into a dialogue. This evolution and the related design processes are as much part of the work as the various elements, persons. materials, events, memories, and atmospheres. The work cannot be described as a classical form; it is a progressing form. Its authorship is blurred: the classical framework of designers, clients, and public no longer fits — all are co-creators. Not that these evolutive and cooperative work modes would be unfamiliar to landscape architects — on the contrary, but they didn’t propel 20th-century landscape discourses. Let’s do so now with Bourriaud who calls the ethical mode of altermodernity ‘translation’ and its aesthetical expression the ‘journey-form’. Performative aspects are easily part of a journey-form, as the Seljord Lake Sites project shows – a forgotten place where both the legends of old and the international students’ building activities form the landscape architectural work, to say nothing of the experience of being on the (wondrous) ways that link these minimalistic interventions. The work takes place rather than form.

Lisa Diedrich, Why we shape space (2012)

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Atelier le Balto, Avantgarden (2012)

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At Ease

While the current climate crisis tightens its stranglehold on contemporary society, many are those who put their faith in groundbreaking design and artistic innovation. As a side effect of the climate threat, this renewed celebration of creative agency may be welcome, not the least from a landscape architecture perspective since, in the context of sustainable development, every design action is also a landscaping gesture with environmental implications. Nevertheless, isolated from a broader societal context, these new eco-scapes risk ending up as nothing but attractive emerald patches disguising a sprawling global ‘junkspace’. As an expanded field of aesthetic and political agency, however, the emerging sustainability culture offers new perspectives on creative spatial practice. Approaching the environmental issue from the perspective of contemporary landscape related art practices, this article seeks to contribute to the articulation of a landscape aesthetics that would meet the requirements of our agitated time. Such articulation, however, requires a reconsideration of landscape aesthetics beyond the consoling and beautiful, as well as a fundamental shift in landscape thinking from representation to agency. The future eco-scape is not necessarily a sphere where you feel ‘at ease’, but a performative and unsettled space in constant transformation and change.

(Upper image: James Corner with Prince William and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (now Prime Minister) visiting the Queen Elizabeth Olimpic Park in London, (Field Operations Website)

Social Sculpture

One of Beuys’ most popular and final pieces of art was a commissioned piece titled “7000 Eichen” (7000 Oaks). The piece was something Beuys considered to be a “social sculpture.” He was commissioned in 1982 to do a piece for Germany’s Documenta 7. He then delivered a large, mysterious pile of basalt stones. Somebody then noticed that if viewed from above, the pile made the shape of an arrow which then pointed to a single oak tree that Beuys had planted along with the stones. Beuys then went on to announce the full scale of the project: He asked that no stone be moved, unless it were to have an oak tree planted right beside its new location. For the next five years, numerous people pitched in to help this project reach full fruition. Although it was first viewed as controversial, 7000 Eichen went on to perfectly represent the idea of a social sculpture, in that it was defined as both “participatory and interdisciplinary.” Beuys had an insistence on making every human an artist all contributing to one piece, and what better example than this could he have produced? He united a community through participation, and changed the land around him and his community as a result. Now the city of Kassel, Germany is riddled with 7000 trees, and Beuys art has lived on, giving back to a community long after he has passed.

Douglas, Joseph Beuys (2010)

Being coherent with our own premises on knowledge, we borrow here a post from a Portland State University student’s blog about “INTRODUCTION TO THREE-DIMENSIONAL DESIGN” that describes with precision a famous Joseph Beuys action. In it, we can see clearly a typical case of participation becoming relationalism (see Exchange with the Audience). Beuys creates a device for people’s landscape transformation that needs to be developed complicity and collaboration among participants. This procedure open, in fact, a powerful strategy of design that changes the communicative structure of the typical work of art because even if the artist (or designer) is still there giving an opportunity and some rules to the public, the work of art becomes more than the landscape generated, the relational process open into the public, the birth of alliances, the people’s expression, and the transformation of the human landscape of the city.

7000 Oak Trees 1982 by Joseph Beuys 1921-1986

Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks (1982)

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Empowerment

In more recent decades, social and ecological issues have again stimulated a range of more radical ‘landscape’ initiatives, in which the science of landscape ecology combines with a focus upon the experiential, everyday land- scape of local communities to resist the worse excesses of globalisation. An early expression of this reformulation of landscape as a radical challenge to conventional practice was the ecological design approach pioneered in Holland and introduced into the British New Towns in the 1970s. Initially, emphasis was placed upon restoration and recreation of largely indigenous woodlands, grasslands and wetlands within the new urban areas, frequently on former industrial or mining sites, with the aim that they would make natural environments more accessible to children and communities.

Over time, emphasis has shifted to community participation in the re-making of urban landscapes, through organisations such as Groundwork and Common Ground. These initiatives are tangible expressions of a phenomenological commitment to ‘dwelling’ through landscape, combined with the instrumental knowledge of ecology. Drawing upon both public and private funding, these new vehicles for landscape knowledge contrast dramatically with the ‘elitist’ history portrayed above, as a fundamental part of their operation is the empowerment of local communities, frequently in lower socioeconomic areas, to become engaged in their local landscape setting.

Simon Swaffield, Landscape as a way of knowing the world (2005)

Basurama+Makea, Barna on wheels (2009)

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Ambiguity

Adriaan Geuze’s rearrangement of the central Schouwburgplein (theatre Square) in Rotterdam created the basis for a new stage-set for various groups of young people who have claimed spots on and around the edges of the square, where they exhibit themselves with their particular lifestyles: breakdancers on the square, the parade of Antillian youngsters driving round the edge of the square in front of De Dolen concert hall and congress centre in their cars on Friday and Saturday evening, groups of young women who cluster toghether on the long benches opposite the multiplex cinema. This is how, dynamic cultural geography evolves, one in which meanings are not fixed but in an ongoing state of flux development.

This shift towards a cultural geographic approach involves a departure from the notion of absolutism in ascertaining the value of meaning of spaces. The essence of a cultural geography is precisely that analysis of the ambiguity or, in more political terms, the struggle between various meanings. Designing public domain can then become a question of stimulation of informal manifestations of diversity and the avoidance of interventions that are intended to make such manifestations impossible.

Maarten Hajer & Arnold Reijndorp, In Search of a New Public Domain (2001)

477-Marc-Heeman

Adriaan Geuze + West 8, Schouwburgplein (1996) (photo Marc Heeman)

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Over-determinism

City landscapes are being increasingly commodified, monitored, and constructed in ways that discourage spontaneous appropriation and unplanned transformation. In resistance to this over-determinism, a few contemporary landscape architects and urbanists are seeking to promote qualities of indeterminacy, open-endedness, and temporality in their work. Their aim is to engender and support engagement rather than objectification. These efforts are particularly applicable to large-scale public, decommissioned, and marginalized lands within or at the edge of the cities. Such spaces resist popular prescriptions of use, identity, and meaning. Is this shift from form to events, permanence to change, identity to void, a recognition for the need to recover essential territories in the city that are “neither wilderness nor home”.

Anuradha Mathur, Neither Wilderness nor Home. The Indian Maidan (1999)

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Anuradha Mathur, Dilip da Cunha, SOAK (2009)

Mumbai’s Cross Maidan, India

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Humane

Sorensen’s works are profoundly humane. They are comfortable. The needs of people are not neglected for the ends of art. Often what first appears as a rigid geometric structure is actually quite flexible in its use (Kampmann, Kalundborg, Naerum). Even his most monumental projects, such as Kongenshus Mindepark, do not dwarf the human, but keep the human at the center.

The places Sorensen created are enlivened by the people who use them. He frequently crafted an artful framework that he intended the users to employ and transform, this is part of the strength of the allotment gardens in Naerum (1948), for example. In this sense, Sorensen anticipated performance art and the public projects of Lawrence Halprin, such as the Portland Fountains of the 1960s.

When Sorensen retired from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1963, a new wave of concerns was sweeping over the School and society. The new generation rejected formal art and the traditions of garden design and focussed upon social function and politics. This Sorensen could not comprehend. Although a formalist, he had never abandoned a concern for people and for larger social issues. This is especially important to remember now, in a period when gardens are once again being regarded as an art form. Today, many landscape artists forget that gardens are a social, as well as a spatial, art.

Anne Whiston Spirn, Introduction to C. Th. Sørensen landscape modernist (2001)

Carl Theodor Sørensen, Aarus University Campus (1965)

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