“Landscape” does not limit to the conception of a “beautiful” (representation of a) more or less domesticated natural area, as John Brickerhoff Jackson indicated in the 1970s and 1980s, when he looked at landscapes “in use” – common landscapes in the American context. This idea was also explored at the Corpus de paysages (“Landscape corpora”) conference (Chambéry, 4-6 April, 2018), whose proceedings are soon to be published. The conference has highlighted the participatory dimension of a number of digital instruments dedicated to the question of the landscape, stemming from the recommendations of the European Landscape Convention (Florence, 2000), which specify that populations must be associated with the definition, the regional planning and the preservation of landscapes.  

The conference on “Inhuman Landscapes” will allow us to test the idea of an “inhuman” landscape, which would be the antithesis of the a priori idea of a landscape. We wish to analyze paradoxical landscapes, landscapes that are or were inhabited, but in which the relationship of belonging between landscape and people seems to be broken, even more strongly and dramatically than in the “non-places” mentioned by Marc Augé – highways, airport halls, and other places that are strongly formatted by commercial exchanges, places which one only goes through without stopping, but in which new forms of connection are established de facto, as Michel Lussault showed when he coined the term “hyper-lieux” (“hyper-places”) .

Those “inhuman landscapes” are paradoxical because they are man-made, and man is the cause of their degradation, or of their constrained and difficult uses. The “Inhuman landscapes” conference thus interrogates a variety of places: 

  • transit landscapes (immigration zones, encampments, slums…), for example the shanty towns in the city of Lyon in the 1920s-1970s, which Olivier Chavanon works on, or the area of the old Parisian fortifications, or the burning topic of the Calais “Jungle” and other such areas in Europe and North Africa. Those makeshift camps, which are often insalubrious but also often last in time, are landscapes in use, thus very different from the usual representations of landscapes. They pose the problem of the social and political implications of the daily environments that people who are destabilized by the loss of their homeland perceive and live in. How can people find a way of anchoring themselves again in a landscape that is not considered as pleasant or habitable?
  • the term “toxic landscapes” can be used to designate sacrifice zones such as the Los Alamos area in the context of Manhattan Project – US military research project building nuclear weapons. Those places are sometimes – but not always – re-inscribed into the territory by the governments. The landscapes also correspond to degraded environments, in which men can no longer live, or where they live with dire health consequences. Such situations have been described and analyzed since the 1980s by researchers in the fields of environmental justice and of political ecology. Those places have been described in terms of power relations related to race in the first case, and class in the second one. We suggest to look at them through the lens of the landscape, thus asking the question of the relation between aesthetics and politics. Conohar Scott interrogates those types of landscapes through the medium of photography because of their aesthetic interest, but also because of the political stakes they reveal.  
  • “hurt landscapes” will also have to be interrogated. They are former war zones or places of massacre which no-one dares to convert into anything else (nature is sometimes left as the only transforming force, and traces are often erased or hidden, as explained by Pierre Wat in his recent book entitled Pérégrinations); or places which are explicitly marked by the political authorities as emptied out (for example Port-Royal des Champs, destroyed by Louis XIV in 1712-1713; or closer in time, no-man’s-lands in conflict zones). Urbicide is a concept used in the fields of geography, geopolitics and more recently history. It can also be useful to question the destruction and obliterations affecting urban space. 

The question of memory is therefore central regarding all these types of landscapes, and the term “buried landscape” is sometimes useful, when the reconstruction is also an effort to eradicate all traces, at different scales, from the Warsaw Ghetto to the “Nigger village” that existed in Lyon in the 1930s. Concerning those “hurt”, “toxic” or “buried” landscapes, it is vital to raise the questions of authenticity and of the former state of the landscapes that are perceptible today. And whose vision is more legitimate to impose its standard of a noble (vs an ignoble) landscape? More broadly, we ask questions about the values attributed to the landscape, and about the authorities that legitimate those values. We also interrogate the modes of inscription of man in the landscape in situ and in visu. They are landscapes we live in, we perceive (or do we?) and we (re)present (how so?). How is personal, political and social identity expressed (or lost) in such landscapes? The question of the landscapes seems unexpected for those “whom social violence forces to live inside a world which is not theirs” (P. Wat). It is all the more urgent to ask it then. 

“Humanités environnementales” (LLSETI) is an interdisciplinary research group, and we wish this conference to be just as interdisciplinary. We invite researchers from the fields of history, art history, philosophy, literature and sociology, among others, to participate. A number of artists also work on the paradoxical representations of “inhuman landscapes”, as we envision it here. Pierre Wat is one them; contemporary photographers, whose work is presented in Christine Ollier’s book Paysage cosa mentale or at the recent exhibition on French landscapes at the BnF (French National Library), also. We are more specifically interested in the exact point where artistic work and research meet. The “Inhuman Landscapes” conference questions the possible modes of representation of those paradoxical landscapes. Should images showing the violence imposed on humans and landscapes be made visible to the public without any filters? Sometimes, this violence is invisible on site, or it is drowned in a flux of information and shocking pictures. However, the aesthetic dimension can be a powerful mode of transmission, as suggested by Samuel Bollendorf’s recent exhibition, “Contaminations”.

The conference will take place in English and in French. Please send communication proposals as abstracts (2500 signs), with a brief bio-biblio note (5 lines) to helene.schmutz@univ-smb.fr by January 15th, 2019. Feedback from the scientific committee March 8th 2019.

Organizing committee

  • Hélène SCHMUTZ, American cultural studies, USMB, LLSETI
  • Émilie-Anne PÉPY, Modern history, USMB, LLSETI
  • Olivier CHAVANON, Sociology, USMB, LLSETI
  • Dominique PETY, French literature, USMB, LLSETI

Scientific committee

  • Olivier CHAVANON,  Sociology, USMB, LLSETI
  • Emeline EUDES, Docteur en Esthétique, Sciences et Technologies des Arts, Research Manager at the Ecole Supérieure d’Art et de Design, Reims.
  • Alain FAURE, DR, UMR PACTE, Université Grenoble Alpes
  • Philippe HANUS, Historical anthropology, UMR LAHRA, Lyon.
  • Bénédicte MEILLON, American literature, Université de Perpignan.
  • Émilie-Anne PÉPY, Modern history, USMB, LLSETI
  • Dominique PETY, French literature, USMB, LLSETI
  • Hélène SCHMUTZ, American cultural studies, USMB, LLSETI
  • Véronique PEYRACHE-GADEAU, vice director UMR EDYTEM, USMB
  • Pierre WAT, Art history, Paris I