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.
In a Smithson sculpture like Aslphalt Rundown (1969), in which truckload of the viscous material was poured down the gullied slope of a quarry near Rome, Hargreaves saw the expression of this contemporary conception of landscape. Although far from beautiful in any familiar sense, Hargreaves found such work deeply compelling for the way it brought time, gravity, erosion, human commerce, and the physical properties of matter all into play. ‘For the first time,’ Hargreaves recalled, “I understood that designed landscapes could be extraordinarily meaningful. The Smithson works reintroduced the concept of landscape as idea -something lost in the pursuit of the functional landscape- and opened a door to a world not yet fully explored and still expanding.
“Scientific truth,” Marx wrote in a famous statement, “is always paradox, if judged by everyday experience, which catches only the delusive appearance of things.” The idea of the production of nature is indeed paradoxical, to the point of sounding absurd, if judged by the superficial appearance of nature even in capitalist society. Nature is generally seen as precisely that which cannot be produced; it is the antithesis of human productive activity. In its most immediate appearance, the natural landscape presents itself to us as the material substratum of daily life, the realm of use-values rather than exchange-values. As such it is highly differentiated along any number of axes. But with the progress of capital accumulation and the expansion of economic development, this material substratum is more and more the product of social production, and the dominant axes of differentiation are increasingly societal in origin. In short, when this immediate appearance of nature is placed in historical context, the development of the material landscape presents itself as a process of the production of nature. The differentiated results of this production of nature are the material symptoms of uneven development. At the most abstract level, therefore, it is in the production of nature that use-value and exchange-value, and space and society, are fused together.