You are on page 1of 9

Susanne Kass

Intermedia 3
V ronk
zimn semestr 2014/15
Appreciation and the Natural Environment

If we are animals, made from and dependent on nature, isn't then nature essentially a fundamental
subject and material of art? We took natural materials to make art before we had the skills to
develop our own, painted, recited and sang about things which were present to the senses. Being
ourselves a part of the natural environment, we are both dependent and threatened by its power to
give and take life. Through technology we have been able to take control of our dependence on
nature through invention and intervention. These developments are reflected in art, and I think that
our philosophical standpoint on our relationship with nature is clearly visible in the art we produce.
Through art and architecture the Western tradition has been able to move from an adaptive
relationship to environment to a creative one, producing environments which keep nature at a
distance through shelter, make it viewable and transversable through windows and doors. By
creating the concepts of inside and outside, we have simultaneously created an aesthetic lens in
which to view both spaces. Through art we can bring fragments of nature inside. More recently we
have also started to try to bring art outside, or in a sense blur the line between the the natural and
man made, but I suspect that conceptually we have stayed very much inside.

I find it rather interesting to be able to consider and analyze the natural environment through
aesthetics. Logically somehow it feels like it should be the other way around, that the natural
environment should be the determinor of how the aesthetic experience is constructed, if we consider
that our tools for experiencing aesthetic phenomena are from the beginning entirely rooted and
adapted to our place as a part of the natural environment. If aesthetics is so very removed from
nature that it requires a distance from nature that it can allow the natural environment through its

lens, I would propose that aesthetics in relation to nature is a man-made construct which creates a
bit of an ouroboros effect, that has developed from a break from nature which later tries to consume
itself again.

Allan Carlson's essay Appreciation and the Natural Environment attempts to create a frame for the
reading of a) appreciation of objects which are of, or comment on nature, b) the construction of
view and landscape through image and c) the turn back to being in nature which has been adopted
as a state related to art/aesthetic tradition. He presents three paradigms of aesthetic appreciation
which he relates to our perception and relationship to the natural environment. The three models he
presents are: 1) the object model 2) the landscape or scenery model and 3) the environmental
model.

The essay begins by trying to define a frame for art, or an art environment if you like, as a variety of
different artists are presented as requiring different strategies of observation depending on the
subject, their approach to the work and form of communicating. The definition of this 'art
environment' is based on Paul Ziff's concept of viewing as an 'act of aspection' and creates a frame
for the three approaches to be measured against and gives us a position to interpret where the frame
begins and ends. This also lets us name the environment according to an appropriate cultural
context.

I think it is important to note here that we can define and frame an environment largely because we
have the chance to move through them and recognize a range of environments as being different
from one another. Since man has been able to separate himself from nature and create for himself a
man-made environment a place where life, art, culture and society can exist in interdependency
with our natural roots and needs but simultaneously apart from it but on our terms this has
allowed us to turn back to nature when it is slightly removed as it is in art i.e. at a safe distance. I

suspect this view is also largely influenced by the fact that through technology man has been able to
bend and use the power of nature to his advantage, and so he feels in control of nature to a large
extent, and relegate it to the frame through a master-material relationship. Land art or art based on
being or shaping nature re-establishes some ties to a lost relationship, but doesn't change the mastermaterial dynamic. Even through Carlson's paradigms man is the one setting the rules, he wants to
choose the way to be in nature, and guide the way for others to be in nature also. This approach is
surely suitable from a Western perspective, but I would like to argue that it may not entirely apply
to cultures which have a closer relationship to nature than we do in the West.

The first paradigm, the object model, deems the object itself as a complete and independent entity
which can be appreciated for its aesthetic values. It does not represent anything other than itself and
may easily be moved from place to place without having any effect on how it is percieved
aesthetically, at least in the sense that it doesn't matter so much where the object is as to what it is
and how it affects us as an aesthetic object. This property allows for natural or even everyday
objects to be removed from their usual contexts and 'become art' by having the appropriate aesthetic
qualities that we recognise in an art object and make them available in a suitable context which
corresponds with this. The weakness Carlson sees in this, is that the object whether natural or of
the everyday variety such as Duchamp's Fountain will have different properties in its original
environment, one example being that it becomes ordinary since in all likelihood the properties of its
aesthetic origins are present and connected rather than being removed and mysterious. To appreciate
the object we must be able to know where the object ends so that we can appreciate it without being
distracted by other factors and this renders appreciating the object in its natural environment or
original setting impossible. If this line is blurred our aesthetic experience risks being diluted by the
surroundings we won't know where the art ends and the non-art begins.

I don't totally agree with Carlson that natural objects don't retain the expressive qualities of their

natural environments when removed from them. Although it may be required to have some
knowledge of materials and processes to be able to relate directly how the rock or the driftwood has
been formed by its environment, I think textures and colourings are indicative of a process (i.e.
something has had to happen to make this thing remarkable) and since man has been fascinated by
rare stones and minerals for a long time I don't think that taking the object out of its original
location and differenciating it as something special doesn't break the relationship with the natural
phenomena which produced it.

In New York's Gagosian Gallery I was able to see


photographs of the Bird in Space taken in Brancusi's
studio. Is this the original/natural habitat of the works?
When we see them in the space where they were created,
together with the tools, raw materials, sketches, halffinished, unfinsished attempts, aren't these other objects
similarly gain connections with their origins when shown
in this light? To see the work (the marble version in the
Metropolitan museum in New York) is to see it enthroned
in a higher aesthetic state, at the right height, lit perfectly
Brancusi's studio

and free standing with space enough around to circle the

the bird in flight freely, surrounded by friends from the same generation. From the photograph we
can see that the birds are not easily accessible, maybe they were put up on the pedastals for
photographing, viewing. I can't even imagine them being placed on the floor amongst the clutter.
The birds have evolved to an extent from the surrounding rocks, that they must be kept elevated, the
same way that trees grow tall so they can reach the canopy of the rainforest because it is necessary
for them to live and it's what they have always done.

Taste may have changed and become more precise, but considering that the ability to read nature
has been significantly diminished by living in civilized society, I suspect animals and humans who
live in symbiosis with nature are much more receptive to any minor abberations and abnormalities
and the relationships between the properties of natural materials and how they are affected and
changed through natural phenomena. Even so far that if people in so-called uncivilized societies are
presented with something abnormal or unexplainable, myths are spun around them and a cultural
bond created. Rather than trying to overpower the object, they entrust it with power through the
story.

The landscape or scenery model posits our idea and aesthetic strategy for viewing landscape as
having been constructed by artists through the development of 'views' according to certain
prinicples of distance and composition. This trend is not only propagated by artists but also by
people looking at nature, which often utilize special tools or viewing apparatuses or purposely
chosen 'viewing points' which create and fulfill expectations of what a landscape or scenery should
look like in order to be aesthetically digestible. The trouble he finds with this model is that it
renders the natural environment as something which serves our aesthetic pleasures in a way
determined by us and becomes background. The fact that we direct our will on the landscape
making it a suitable environment for us to be present in I think reflects our attitude of power in
relation to the landscape. When we make an image and decide where we stand in relation to the
landscape it is not a 'real' environment but a construct where there is suitable room for us. As
Chinese landscape paintings are not depictions of actual places but inner reflections, I think that
most images we consider landscapes are in fact images which allow us to determine physical
location for ourselves, either as 'a place where it is possible to be' or 'where we are'.

For an image to fullfil the general criteria of landscape it almost always adheres to a set of rules
related to normal human physical scale and posture (upright and level). Since we are constrained by

forces such as gravity, balanced by our inner ear and are not often upside down, the paramaters for
landscape are not usually including no visible tangible surface (material or liquid), very off-balance
horizons or submersive spaces (such as the air or underwater) in short we seem to need some kind
of solid ground to stand on in order to feel the landscape in the image is a place where we can be.

The second element usually present in a landscape is a location of where we are, either as creating a
particular viewpoint from where can see the view or somewhere we can stand amd confront the
view. I think this approach is ongoing with roots from David Caspar Friedrich's The Wanderer
through to contemporary 'me and this landmark' tourist photography.

I would like here to present some examples from Australian contemporary art relating to making
images of landscape rather than to show that this image of landscape is rooted in the Western canon.

Traditional and contemporary Australian indigenous


art is highly connected to the land as the basis of this
culture is the relationship to the land. Aboriginal
paintings often tell stories often tell stories which
occur in particular landscapes, often even the story of
Indigenous depiction of the Milky Way and the Seven
Sisters

how something got its form, colour or texture, but

these are not really aesthetic concerns as much as historical


relations

which

connect

different

natural

objects

or

phenomena to a traditional cultural story which is the basis of


the relationship between a people and the place they live. The
visual and storytelling interpretation of the landscape doesn't
make a division or define boundaries between the person and
the place but re-enforces the connection.

Area around the town of Kathrine, NT - artist


Tarisse

In contrast photographer Anne Zahalka also addesses the Australian landscape and the connection
between people and the land in her series Natural Wonders. In this series she presents landmarks,
geological phenomena and constructed spaces as material for consumption by the viewer, both for
us through her art and the tourists or spectators which whose wonder and reverence transform an
environment into a spectacle. I was working as an assistant for this series and helped her put
together digital mockups from several negatives as most of the works were collaged panoramas.

Zahalka approached the work much


like a painter it seemed to me, happy to
make adjustments or changes which
supported

balanced

composition

(especially in regard to the people


Natural Wonders, Anne Zahalka

present in the images). The vistas themselves were quite aesthetic enough having been chosen by
popular vote, but since the photogenic vista demands that the photographer move to find a suitable
point of view for her purpose, again the relationship of the physical position of the people both
inside and outisde the image are essential and irremovable. This aspect is not present in Indigenous
art, which I wouldn't say are images of landscape as much as about it, where the position of people
in relation to the landscape are not fixed in either time or space.

Natural Wonders, Anne Zahalka

Carlson's third model is based on appreciating nature in a sensory way through looking at it as an
environment as according to Tuan, and focus on perceiving all the elements of the environment as
'obtrusive foreground'. This model allows knowledge of systems, materials, life-cycles, geological
and biological histories and ecological factors to play a part in the aesthetic perception of an
environment, that these aspects should be included when appreciating the environment. This model
seems to try to solve the problem that he finds in the previous two by broadening the spectrum and
through inclusiveness allow the frame to stretch to the extent that the senses are curious and to
create room for the other knowledge that the viewer may possess about what he is perceiving.

I think this model, though more inclusive, still doesn't breech the gap that man created when turning
his face away from nature and build up civilization in order to guard himself from it. Going into an
environment and immersing yourself in it with aesthetic, scientific and philosophical means is still
adhering nature to a set of rules that are comfortable for you and conceptually taking it on from a
position of power. If we tackle nature conceptually, we are always free to go back to our safe space
where our primary relationship to nature is defined by our mortality. From this place, we may
submit to nature, but only as long as it feels comfortable. Even if we are actually beings that have
come from nature, conceptually we have defined ourselves as being apart from it.

Even if civilization has allowed us to spin a


coccoon around ourselves which protects and
divides us from nature, a desire to reunite the
precarious relationship of the fragility of the
body to the power of the natural elements
seems to be hard to shake. To see Vojtech
Frohlich's slackline stretched across the top

Flow, Vojtch Frhlich

floor of the National Gallery in Prague is a visualisation of the desire to melt into the space, to walk
across the slackline without a harness and dissolve into a symbiosis between the focused body and
the laws that nature subjects it to. It is of course possible but the chance of success so thin that even
to attempt it would require breaking a host of legal and social rules. The reason I don't want him to
do it because I know about death I know about the crushing of bones and never waking up and I like
Vojtech and I don't want him to be hurt or injured, for the purpose of art it is enough to know that he
wants to and not necessary to take the risk itself. Even if I know that he surely takes similar risks
when climbing 'not for art but for pleasure' if only for the reason that there is no public present and
thus we are not responsible the way we are in other contexts.

Despite our very best attempts, I suspect we haven't been able to escape the grasp of nature
comptletely, not through, houses, cities, agriculture, gods or even art. Both our life and our
mortality is the thing that binds us to nature, makes us respect it, dominate it and live around it, in
it, through it wherever there is room for us, air to breathe, food to eat and water to drink. I think
Carlson's paradigms can give an interesting reading of nature conceptualised through Western art,
but I don't think his models are relevant to all cultures, to objective truths of science and ultimately
our own reunion with nature when our life has gone out and our bodies are again dissolved into her.