Kenneth Robert Olwig (1946- ) American-born landscape geographer, specializing in the study of the Scandinavian landscape. He is best known for advocating a “substantive” understanding landscape, one that incorporates legal and other lived significances of landscape, rather than viewing it in a more purely aesthetic way. Olwig is a professor of landscape architecture at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp, Sweden, where he joined the faculty in 2002.
The English landscape garden, with its extensive pastoral parklands dotted with mansions and follies in the Palladian style became emblematic of the ideals of civic humanism.The landscape was an idealized version of a shepherd’s commons, but it was a commons symbolic, as the poet Alexander Pope noted, of the pastoral environment of a golden age, as described for example by Virgil, when the ‘best’ of men were shepherds. This idea of landscape grew out of both pictorial art and theatre, and it was related to philosophical thinking which saw politics and law as a kind of theatre in which the citizen was to perform. The idealized landscape of the landscape garden thus provided the necessary scenic setting for the achievement, at least in ideal, of a modern enlightened society based upon representative government and the rights of the individual, not the least the right to break with the feudal system and own and dispose of private property. It was thus hardly an accident that Thomas Jefferson, who framed the American democratic constitution, lived in a Palladian villa (of his own design) surrounded by a pastoral landscape garden park which he saw as being contiguous with the larger landscape of Virginia and America. This, then, was a landscape symbolic of law, but of an ideal of law in a larger and more abstract sense than the kind of laws and regulations compartmentalized within Landschaftsforschung. This is the sort of law which is concerned with individual human and property rights as enshrined, for example, in the Bill of Rights attached to the US Constitution. It is, of course, easy to point out the glaring contradictions between the situation of a British Whig estate owner/parliamentarian, living off lands enclosed from the commons, or a rich slave owner with a large Virginian estate, like Jefferson, and the enlightened ideals which they expressed, but these ideals were nevertheless foundational for the laws guaranteeing the democratic liberties many people of lesser wealth now value today.
The two meanings inherent in the diaphor of landscape are well expressed in the definition of landscape in Dr. Johnson’s classic 1755 dictionary: (1) “A region; the prospect of a country”; (2) “A picture, representing an extent of space, with the various objects in it.” At first glance, it might seem that definition one refers to the object of representation, whereas the second refers to the pictorial representation of that object. But this is not the case. In the second definition, what is represented pictorially is not a region or a country, but first and foremost “space,” the “objects” being secondary to the space. It may seem counterintuitive that an artist is more interested in space than the objects in that space, but the fact is that space itself, as a form of nature, is an important object of artistic representation. When the various objects in a painting representing an extent of space happen to be objects identifiable with those normally found in a region or country, it is easy to think of landscape 2 as being the pictorial representation of landscape 1, and thereby forget the predominant importance of the space being represented. This is especially the case because space does not appear to be as “visible” as the various objects represented, even though it could be argued that all one sees in this sort of painting is space!
A typical American suburban home is made up of three parts: house, backyard, and front lawn. An imaginary line runs through the middle, to one side of which is nature and community, to the other side splendor and society. Kitchen, located at the back of the house, caters to bodily needs. But it is also a center of communal warmth. Guests linger here, children run in and out, begging for a taste of the pie. Kitchen spills over into backyard, especially in summer. Family members, friends, and neighbors gather around the barbecue grill to chat, eat, and, after eating, perhaps sing. There pervades an air of good fellowship and informality. How can it be otherwise when one’s fingers are gooey with barbecue sauce? Further out is the vegetable garden. No flowers grow there-at least, nothing fanciful. The politics on this side of the home is communal and egalitarian, its ideal one of organic wholeness and wholesomeness, of human contentment nurtured by intimate contact with people, growing things, soil and earth. To the other side-the front side-of my imaginary line are the more formal spaces of living. Residents dress up to perform their roles. Everyone’s social standing is more on display. Young children are excluded, or made to behave like adults. Low-status people (salesman, maid, and plumber) penetrate the line when their work requires it, by way of the back door. A lawn with parterres of flowers spreads before the house, its size a measure of the family’s wealth and power. Life and its settings bespeak discipline, and discipline is indicative of a pretension to higher states of being. The body is disciplined by its encasement in glamorous but uncomfortable clothes. External nature is disciplined: weather is left to rage outside the house, while inside warmth rises from heat ducts, and smart conversation flows over a polished table. The lawn and its flower beds are geometrically arranged, a piece of regimented nature to be seen rather than used. From the upper floor’s front window, the owner of the house commands a view-one that extends beyond his own lawn to other people’s lawns. The word “landscape” applies to the home from three points of view.