OSLO FORM LAB 2018

«Inngrep»: A Visual Merging of Nature and Culture

Updated: Sep 28, 2018

By Vera Maria Gjermundsen.


Adrian Bugge, BOA Gallery

Inngrep («Intrusion») is an ongoing photographic project carried out by the Norwegian photographer Adrian Bugge, now exhibited at Gallery BOA in Oslo. The concept of the exhibition is a quite literal visual expression of the exhibition’s title: the photographs focus namely on man’s intervention into nature, seen as the ever-present, all-pervasive and irreversible force behind our age of the Anthropocene [1].


Walking into the gallery room with such an expectation in mind, and an explicatory pamphlet in one’s back pocket, it can be quite baffling to note that what meets the public’s first glance seems in fact to be quite the opposite of an «Intrusion», as peaceful lakes, black stone beaches, sloping mountainsides and undisturbed valleys fill the frames on the walls. One of the photographs, a quite melancholic rendition of windmills against a gloomy sky, seems in fact almost out of place among the placid landscapes, standing out as a strident piece of man-made intrusion into the wilderness. One does, in fact, almost start to wonder if the so called «Intrusion» could in fact be brought by the public itself, disturbing nature by insistently staring at it through the picture frame in search for a sign of man-made activity. Or perhaps, one may wonder, is the intruder in fact the photographer, imposing himself into the landscapes and furtively taking a picture of them?


However, it only takes a slightly more thorough look at the photographs or a glance at their titles, for the scenario to drastically change and for artificiality to unfold in front of the eyes of the viewer. Unexpectedly, traces of human intervention arise from the stones and the mountainsides, as smoke obfuscating the previously natural landscapes, revealing the mountains to be mining regions, the valleys to be landfills, the snow to be man-made. Nature’s apparent immobility unveils instead a world of human actions, a world of piercing noises and machinery, of waste materials and polluted snow being dumped into landfills, of water being drawn out of lakes [2].

Suddenly, nature stands no longer alone as a well-defined protagonist, but is combined with human intervention in such an extensive manner, that the two suddenly appear impossible to distinguish. In fact, the seemingly uncontaminated nature turns out to be its opposite: a dramatic result of man’s manipulation of nature and its resources. At the same time, artificially made regions continue to carry a striking and uncanny resemblance to their natural counterpart. The distinction between the natural and the artificial, nature and culture, is thus blurred out and the two seem to merge with one another, as their previously separated boundaries overlap on the picture plane.


The visual correspondence between the two is so prominent, and the differences between them so pale, that the whole project might in fact be seen as a reduction, in photographic terms, of nature and culture into the merely «provisional and local category abstractions» described by Donna Haraway in «The Species Companion Manifesto» [3]. Undermining the distinction between them, Bugge’s work therefore forces us to rethink our conception of nature and culture as separate constituents of the world we live in, while uniting them on such a visual and conceptual level that it becomes difficult to even talk about them separately.


When seen from such a perspective, one that resonates greatly with scientists and philosophers such as Koert van Mensvoort,[4] Bugge’s work is neither theoretically groundbreaking nor particularly innovative. However, what it effectively manages to do is to create a visually compelling example of the one category that arises from both Haraway and van Mensvoort disruption process: namely the concept of natureculture. Introduced by Haraway in the aforementioned work, such a category in fact manages to combine nature and culture into a new joint notion, where the two are very closely intertwined [5].


As mentioned, Bugge’s photographs act first and foremost as naturecultures by blurring out the boundaries between natural landscapes and artificial interventions on the picture plane. Still, this is only one of the ways in which Adrian Bugge’s project is relevant in such a context. If one takes a step back, and considers the photographic process as a whole, suddenly «Inngrep» can be seen as acting as natureculture not only when it comes to the final visual aspect of the photographed landscapes, but the whole project can be seen as operating as natureculture on a much broader level, starting from the very nature of the photographic process itself.


In fact, following in the footsteps of media-theorist and philosopher Marshal McLuhan, one could go as far as to identify the photographer holding a camera as a naturecultural phenomenon itself. When regarding the photographic medium as an extension of the human sense of sight,[6] one can in fact see the photographic apparatus act as an enhancer of human nature and its natural senses, turning what previously was the unaided human way of seeing into a high definition, zoomable, photographic field of vision. Human nature thus becomes human natureculture, a new entity that sees the natural, the cultural and the technological fused into a new being: a man that is no longer simply a man, but a man with a camera, who gazes at the world through a technologically mediated sense of sight.


Furthermore, the very presence of the photographic apparatus in a natural surrounding could open up for a naturecultural interpretation: the moment in which the photographer enters a natural landscape can in fact be seen as the instant in which the latter ceases to be purely and solely its natural self. Instead, nature englobes the photographer and the technological apparatus into the newfound naturecultural unity of a photographic set, where nature and culture both play their indissoluble parts.


Now, if we return to «Inngrep», what’s especially intriguing in Bugge’s photographic project is the fact that the photographer, already a naturecultural being himself, in fact not only places himself into a naturecultural photographic set, but also into what is already, even before his intrusion, a similarly seminatural and semiartificial world: the deceiving naturecultural landscapes of mining regions, landfills and drained lakes. When entering the landscapes, searching for a motif, adjusting his camera lens and, finally, snapping a picture, Adrian Bugge then does nothing but bring together his own naturecultural photographic gaze and the surrounding naturecultural landscape into one combined artistic instant, merging natureculture with natureculture in a mesmerizing game of mirrors.


In conclusion, when looking at it from such a perspective, «Inngrep» can therefore be seen as much more than an average reminder of the drastic effects of human intervention in nature. In fact, it can be interpreted as a naturecultural operation acting on a variety of visual and technical levels, giving life to a process where human nature and technological apparatuses, natural and photographic sight, untouched landscapes and man-made intrusions are joined into a new naturecultural unity, providing both fascinating and disturbing glimpses into the core of our geological era of the Anthropocene.


Notes


[1] Haraway, «Tentacular thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene».


[2] Galleri BOA, «Adrian Bugge: Inngrep».


[3] Haraway, The Species Companion Manifesto, 6.


[4] Van Mensvoort, «Real Nature is not Green».


[5] Haraway, The Species Companion Manifesto, 6.


[6] Mcluhan, Understanding Media, 333.



References

Galleri BOA. «Adrian Bugge: Inngrep». 20.09.18. http://www.b-oa.no/5-adrian-bugge.html


Haraway, Donna. «Tentacular thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene». E-flux

Journal. Read 20.09.18 https://www.e-flux.com/journal/75/67125/tentacular-thinking-anthropocene-capitalocene-chthulucene/


Haraway, Donna. The Companion Specis Manifesto. Chicago: Indiana University Press, 2003.


McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The extensions of Man. Cambridge: MIT press, 1994.


Van Mensvoort, Koert. «Real Nature is not Green». Next nature. 06.11.06. https://www.nextnature.net/2006/11/real-nature-isnt-green/