As a cultural product, landscape is a naturalized artificial mental construction—an invention, according to Anne Cauquelin, composed of a collection of signs, both physical and social, that can hold up a mirror to the complexity and constant transformation of nature. The term “landscape” is ambiguous: on the one hand, it designates the natural elements around us (terrestrial and oceanic) and their heterogeneous interactions in ecosystems and the built environment (habitats, monuments, ruins, no-man’s-lands); on the other hand, its meaning is intrinsically linked to the pictorial tradition, and more precisely to the invention of perspective. In both cases, the “landscape” form is perceived and apprehended from the human point of view—geometry and perspective making it possible to create a virtual territory.
Given not only the impact of natural phenomena on the material topography and imaginary of the landscape, but also the emergence of new theories and conceptions of nature in a number of disciplines (among them geology, archaeology, ecology, politics, philosophy, art, and art history), what is happening with this art genre today? The classic conception of landscape presumes that nature is stable, permanent, and harmonious, whereas the romantic conception offers a glimpse of nature as a chaotic power. However, contemporary art practices that portray or evoke landscape, that are inscribed within it, or that experiment with it seem, rather, to explore the reciprocal effects generated by the dynamic interaction between human and non-human, between human and matter. Does this dialogic vision testify to a desire to appropriate territory—to test the sense, established by modernity, that landscape has been mastered? In this thematic section, esse proposes reflections on the transformations that are affecting the idea of landscape, both conceptually and artistically.
If the pictorial landscape, traditionally understood as a distancing from the world, presumes impartial contemplation, we may wonder what gaps and inflections today’s artists bring to it. Is it not time to redefine landscape in view of significant ecological, political, economic and social issues? What are their repercussions on contemporary art? Is it possible to think that a phenomenological and heuristic experience of place is replacing the hegemony of vision? If this is not the case, how can artists renew our perceptual experience of nature? For example, digital artworks that create landscapes from data allow us to consider augmented reality and fictional landscape, whereas others, based on investigation in the field and exploration of sites (sometimes in a remote, wild countryside) update the practice of pleinairism. The reality of natural disasters, associated with the speed of climate change, also encourages us to rethink the experience of the sublime, and to pay more attention to temporal aspects of the landscape, whereas its spatial component had long been the focus.
It is through these questions, among others, that this issue will address the redefinition, and theoretical ramifications, of landscape in contemporary art.
Send your text (1,000 - 2,000 words, footnotes included) in US letter format (doc, docx, or rtf) to redaction at esse.ca before April 1, 2016. Please include a short biography (50-80 words), an abstract of the text (100 words), as well as postal and e-mail addresses. We also welcome submissions (reviews, essays, analyses of contemporary art issues) not related to a particular theme (annual deadlines: September 1, January 10, and April 1).