By Emma Christine Karlsen.
When meeting up with some of my friends the other day, I asked them what came to mind when thinking of the word “landscape”. They soon mentioned words like “forest” and “woodlands.” “In the visual arts, then?” I proceeded, and they described 17th century Dutch landscape painting and the Fleskum painters . I suggest you make a quick google image search if you haven’t already created a mental map. My friends’ answers were not unexpected. I would argue that landscapes are usually associated with nature – the pure, magnificent and untouched kind. This though malls, building sites and oil rigs are also part of landscapes. In fact, our everyday landscape consists of these things.
The backdrop for this question was my recent visit to Adrian Bugge’s exhibition at Galleri BOA. INTERVENTION consists of 13 photographs depicting different landscapes affected - to a greater or lesser extent - by human intervention. Norwegian mines, a snow cannon shooting ‘artificial’ snow, landfills, windmills and a drained lake are among the things that confronts the viewer. The photographs raise questions about the relation between nature and culture – where humans are perceived as synonymous to culture – and the difference between natural and (wo)man-made landscapes. The conversation with my friends confirms what Koert van Mensvoort states in his article “Real Nature is Not Green”: “The dividing line between nature and culture is difficult to draw. When a bird builds a nest, we call it nature, but when a human puts up an apartment building, suddenly it’s culture” .
Bugge’s photographs are resemblant to traditional landscape painting. They are shot and exhibited in a wide format, they are aesthetical, and the lightning is conscientiously rendered. Some of the photos does not even reveal their human traces, unless the viewer reads the title or is made aware. For instance in the photo of a seafill connected to an iron mine in Sydvaranger or that where a line is the only indicator that there formerly existed a lake in Drained Forest Lake, Oslo, 2016. In this sense, I would argue that Bugge is challenging our conceptions of landscape, or more accurate, our conceptions of nature. Originating from the 17th century natural sciences, we have tended to separate culture from nature when trying to understand the world. (This is the same understanding expressed in the conversation with my friends.) But the Anthropocene, a term denoting a time where human activity has made indelible marks on planet Earth, has forced forward new models for understanding the relation between (wo)man and nature. Several academics have proposed that there is no definite line between nature and culture, including van Mensvoort, who is mentioned above .
Mensvoort questions why birds’ nests are recognized as nature while human buildings – made by humans who are indeed nature – are recognized as not nature, but culture. Where some abolished the distinction between nature and culture, Timothy Morton abandons nature all together. In Ecology without Nature he argues that the idea of “nature” obstructs us from thinking of a proper ecology . The traditional notion of nature can be traced back to the romantics, and is that where nature is something that exists outside of humans, that surrounds them and which they can exploit. Imbedded in the concept of nature, is also a separation of natural and unnatural . According to Morton nature is not a thing, but rather an idea or ideology which “compels us to assume certain attitudes” .
To think of an ecology without nature is to think of an ecology “without a concept of the natural” . Morton insists that all things, both human and non-human, are equally interacting objects. In this view a windmill park is as natural as a forest. In Bugge’s photographs there are no discrimination towards human intervention in nature. Mines and snow cannons are often referred to as “ruining” the landscape, but in Bugge’s works they just are - like the trees, the stones and the sky. INTERVENSION can be said to depict just landscape, in contrast to (wo)man-made landscape. Through aestheticizing these landscapes, Bugge equates the interfered and the traditional landscape, the latter characterised by showing ‘pure’ nature. The distinction between culture and nature is at a minimum eliminated, but we can also take it one step further (and thus meet up with Morton) by claiming the following: In the same way that Morton writes of an ecology without nature, Bugge presents us 13 landscapes without nature.
Furthermore, there is something dark about Bugge’s photographs, forcing a seriousness. As a result the viewer finds herself reflecting over human intervention in the environment and what this does with the climate. In such way the exhibition evokes ecological awareness, and the viewer must confront the fact that human devastation is part of the ecology. This is what Morton calls “dark ecology”, a term expressing an acceptance of the “negativity and irony, ugliness and horror” of our surroundings . The darkness in dark ecology is the realisation that humans are both offender and victim of climate change . Where science can give us numbers and figures, art – like Adrian Bugge’s – can help us reflect upon and understand the realities of our situation, of the Anthropocene.
Exhibition: INNGREP at Galleri BOA (English: INTERVENSION). Photo: Adrian Bugge. Soruce: https://www.adrianbugge.no/inngrep-2/
The Fleskum painters includes Norwegian painters such as Kitty Kielland, Erik Werenskiold, Christian Skredvig and Eilif Peterssen.
van Mensvoort, Koert. “Real Nature is not Green,” Next Nature Network. 06.11.16. https://www.nextnature.net/ 2006/11/real-nature-isnt-green/
Other academics I have touched upon when researching for this text include Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour and Emily Eliza Scott.
Morton, Timothy, Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvad University Press, 2007, p. 1.
Ibid., p. 20
Ibid., p. 24.
Morton, The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvad University Press, 2010, p. 26
Morton, Timothy. Dark Ecology: For a Logic Future Coexistence. New York Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 2016, p. 9.