Nature - Landscape - Field

27/11/2022

seen from the perspective of IRWEGK and Art

(Thesis: The concept of landscape contains the call to artistic life).


Here I would like to look at different varieties of the relationship between man and the world through the terms mentioned and reflect on which of these relationships gives hope on positive change for the endangered world we live in. 

The background for this research is IRWEGK.

This theme of contextualisation also plays a role in my stimmf(i)eld-recordings, which I therefore combine with this text. The recordings are created in a sound situation that I find somewhere. That means I do not create the situation, but place myself in it. I add my own vocal interventions to the sound situation. I try not to put the voice in the foreground, but to let it sound as part of the sound space. 

As always with me and my media arte povera actions, there is no technical change afterwards. Only the beginning and end of the track are sometimes slightly edited (fade in/out).

Nature


Nature is the most comprehensive of the terms in the headline. Nature seems to be everything, at least if one understands it cosmologically. At the same time, it is the most ambiguous term. It can mean many different things. 

The modern concept of nature, which we all carry with us and can no longer get rid of, places nature in opposition to culture. (The other confrontation, which is related to the first, sees man as opposed to nature. More on this later!). 

This opposition is fundamental to modern Europe. We have been shaped by it, and only very rarely is there a hint from other ways of thinking that it can also be thought differently. Then culture and nature are not opposed to each other, but are intertwined. 


One result of this division, which has become so apparent in recent decades, is the cultural distance of nature activists. There are many people and institutions that want to preserve and save nature, in which culture is seen as an adversary rather than a fellow campaigner. (This is another reason why the German Greens have never presented a convincing cultural agenda in their now long time of existence). Another example: Last Generation? 

That is only gradually changing. Nature does not exist! is a sentence that stands for this new tendency. It does not exist in the sense that it is presented as the opposite of culture. Culture, by the way, does not exist either. Now that the world as we knew it is falling apart, it is becoming clear that this separation is one of the reasons for the disaster. We must learn again to understand nature and culture as a common field (!). Then it will also no longer be possible, for example, to conduct economics as a science (?) in which the collateral damage that happens in nature is simply ignored and not integrated into one's calculations. Only in this way the world destruction (ecological and social) by capitalism was possible at all. 

The concept of a nature that stands in opposition to humans and the cultural world they have created was one of the preconditions for the triumph of capitalism. 

A new spirit that no longer obeys capitalism must be found and practised. This is a task that IRWEGK sets itself. The working thesis is: this spirit can be found in the field of art, which has a different way of understanding the relationship between the world and people than has been the norm in modernity. Not separation of subject and object, not seeing the world only as a scientific object or nature as a resource to be exploited, a rubbish bin or a recreation area. 



The Landscape


In my reflections on the concept of landscape, I refer to the writings of the author Volker Demuth: the article „Landschaftsentfaltung/unfolding of landscape" which appeared some time ago in Lettre International and Demuth's book entitled "Unruhige Landschaften/restless landscapes", subtitled "Ästhetik und Ökologie/ aesthetics and ecology" (Würzburg 2022).  The subtitle alone indicates that Demuth has a lot to teach us about a poetic-artistic understanding of the world, which we at IRWEGK seek to explore. 


Landscape is not an unproblematic concept either, but it has the potential to promote a way of thinking that practises respectful interaction with the world. The concept of landscape has not escaped unscathed in the era of capitalism and has long since been capitalistically boxed in: "We have, it seems, become accustomed in the majority to dividing landscape into two areas: on the one hand, into a space of experience, in which landscapes are kept ready as sentimental reception camps and wellness areas for those tired of civilisation and idylls provide aesthetic relaxants for the stressed psychological system; on the other hand, into a space of use, which we exploit and from which we make as much capital as possible. In bizarre parallelism, landscapes with intensive agro-industrial use and scenic tourism backdrops with recreational value lie directly next to each other." (Demuth, p. 56)


Landscape as a concept is more helpful than nature in understanding man's relationship to his habitat. Landscape is a "natural-social space", i.e. landscape is not simply nature, but a context composed of natural, social and cultural aspects that is somehow perceived as a unity. 

Nature, on the other hand, is the "other", something that seems to exist quite independently of culture or man. (Even though nature in this sense no longer exists at present because the whole earth is affected by human intervention).

Landscape is a system of relationships in which I am situated: sensual, emotional, cognitive - aesthetic, spiritual, giving meaning, relating.


I will list a few aspects of the concept of landscape from which a more comprehensive idea of landscape can be formed that supports the IRWEGK.


Landscape as a unit of life

In the Middle Ages, "landscape bound together the physicality of a region and those people who worked and spent their existence in it as a community into an inseparable unit of life". (Demuth, p. 53) We don't want to go back there, but we can learn something from this for our situation. If we understand ourselves as human beings in such a way that we are included in landscapes, we may recognise more quickly and better the ethical consequences that go hand in hand with our existence in the world. There is an ethos of relatedness. I have to relate to the references in which I live. The concept of landscape can help to re-establish an awareness of precisely this. 


Another important point of the old concept of landscape was its metaphysical dimension. In all cultures before modernity, spirits, gods or God were present in the landscape. That is, the sacred was always part of the landscape. This has become almost unimaginable for us today. The question is, how can we find something of this idea of sacredness again without having to rely on God or the gods? That is also what we try to practise at IRWEGK. 

To do this, it is important to realise that the original significance and "sacredness" of landscapes, with everything that can be found in them, has retreated into the sphere of art through aestheticisation in the course of Europe's modern development. There it hibernates until today and there we seek it out in order to reintegrate it into life with our modest means. We are now concerned with the aesthetic landscape:


Landscape as an aesthetic entity.

Later, in Renaissance and Modern Times, landscape becomes an aesthetic unity. As a human being, I suddenly look at a landscape (instead of being part of it), or even at a landscape painting. This looking triggers an inner reaction in me. That is, there is a correspondence of inside and outside. Talking about a landscape suddenly means talking about oneself. The correspondence of inner and outer landscapes becomes a guiding theme of Romanticism.

This too is a relatedness that can be important for our practice of exercising an artistic reference to the world. This is best done in combination with the earlier idea of landscape I outlined above. 


Now we can try to combine the notion of landscape with that of place. "Part of the constitution of humans is that they are part of space, not an abstract - logical, mathematical - space, but of places and landscapes." (Demuth, p. 55) 

The places where I live or to which I occasionally go represent landscapes or are the centres of landscapes placed around them. They are systems of reference that help determine how I live. There are dependencies, possibilities, conditions, opportunities, freedoms and necessities etc. that are connected to the landscape. 

(Landscape thus becomes a metaphorical concept and at the same time it remains a concrete concept). The concept of place helps to orientate in the system of landscapes. 

The Field


The concept of the field is obvious to someone who, like me, works with the label stimmfeld and hörfeld. I don't see field as an alternative to landscape, but as a term that allows us to examine a few aspects more closely. Two associations come to mind when thinking about the term field. On the one hand, I think of the agricultural field, i.e. a parcel of land - in the landscape - that is prepared in such a way that a certain plant and fruit thrives there. The idea of the field is as old as the invention of the systematic cultivation of grain about 12,000 years ago. However, the way fields are prepared has changed a lot. 

In this sense, the field is exposed to human intervention even more than the landscape. Seen in this way, the world now consists almost entirely of a succession of fields that have been changed to a greater or lesser extent by human influence. And in the capitalist concept of "nature", the world becomes a field that exists to wring as much as possible out of it in order to maximise profit. 

Now the question is: how can we change the conditions of these fields so that they once again give rise to landscapes in which humans are only one factor, and no longer the only decisive one?


The second association is that of the force field, a term that was only introduced by Michael Faraday in 1830. I am not going to delve into physics now, but define a force field quite unscientifically as a region in which an energetic situation is present that refers to itself, that is, has something to do with itself. In order to install this energetic situation, certain conditions are required that are given by the "bodies" that generate the force field. (Field coil, for example).

This is very close to what goes on in a voice performance as I understand it. I create and find conditions for a situation that promotes and allows certain actions and makes others more difficult. 

The voice field recordings are good examples of this. I find a situation that is somehow preformed in terms of sound and thus provides me with conditions that I have to bring into play for my intervention. What then emerges is perhaps more than a sound field: a soundscape. 


The image of the force field also allows me to draw my personal map, which shows the places and landscapes that have significance for me for whatever reason, with a suitable view. The places on the map become bodies from which the energetic fields radiate, onto the associated landscape and more importantly onto me, if I approach the places. This can happen in reality as a journey, but also ideally as a memory and imagination. Places that mean something to me have an effect on me even if I only move to them mentally. Using the force field metaphor in this way helps to bring a form of meaningfulness into the geography of one's own life that corresponds to the world view of a medieval European landscape in that the scale of the inner or outer map does not reflect the exact distance between place A and B, but emphasises the significant places standing in a network of relationships. Unlike in the Middle Ages, religious imprinting no longer plays the dominant role here, but I am able to use the idea of force fields to draw an individual map that can be read by others. 

(Demuth, while walking on a Byzantine path on the Greek island of Paros. Island of Paros, p. 120: "For a few moments I allow myself the illusion of walking in the magnetic field of Constantinople, aligned like a tiny metal spike by the irresistible and discarded splendour of a God-fearing empire.")

Now I want to revisit the question of man's relationship to nature, landscape, field, by listing the attitudes or positions that can be taken by humans in the various localities. All these positions bring out partial aspects:


1.    I am positioned opposite the world. There nature, here I am. The somewhat hackneyed saying: nature doesn't need us, but we need nature, reflects this attitude quite well. The underlying idea is that there is nature on the one hand and people on the other. That is not entirely wrong. Humans have a special role, which is expressed, for example, in the fact that there is a cultural evolution that takes place quite differently and much faster than natural evolution. This cultural evolution only exists in humankind. This has led to the distinction between nature on the one hand and culture on the other. Nature as that which exists independently of humans and culture as the totality of man-made things and structures. What was overlooked for a long time was that culture is interwoven into natural contexts, just like human beings themselves.

2.    The human being is positioned within a landscape. The big picture is the landscape with its reciprocal references, the material, aesthetic and energetic conditions that hold the landscape together, so to speak. And in this, the human being is positioned somewhere without being particularly distinguished. In this image of the relationship between man and the world, quite different dependencies and conditions come to the surface than in the concept of nature. Man is part of the landscape and is shaped by it, just as the landscape is or at least can be shaped by man. We live in a time in which there is neither a nature untouched by humans nor a landscape without human contribution. But the concept of landscape makes it clearer that in this shaping we are changing ourselves and our direct living conditions. (Gaia as landscape?) Landscape allows much more than the concept of nature to be understood aesthetically or better poetically. Landscape always has form, nature remains an abstract concept.

3.    The world unfolds from the zero point of my bodily position. This phenomenological position or attitude brings something into play that is not considered in the other two terms. My embeddedness in the world as a perceiving and acting being happens from the zero point of my body. The world unfolds around me from the centre of my real position in space and time. I always experience the world as seen from me. Nature and landscape are concepts that both construct a relationship between human being and world that allows certain possibilities of interpreting this relationship. If I start from the way I - as an example of the human being - find myself in the world, then the image of a field, or more precisely a force field with me as its centre, fits well. In philosophy, phenomenology (Husserl) has explored this positioning. 


Compared to nature and landscape, the field is the term that expresses the strongest human influence. A field in agriculture may still be part of a landscape and somehow belong to nature, but it is largely shaped by human influences. People determine what this field should look like and what forces should act on it. This is not exactly the case with the phenomenological position at the centre of the field, but the field also remains a concept with which only certain things and aspects are understood. But without the inclusion of this position, the others are virtually hanging in the air. Moreover, this is the position from which art emerges. Art, in fact, emerges from the creator of art. Art needs a strong concept of individuality, which, however, does not stand in front of the world, but in it. (Ensemble and collective as creators of art are complex varieties of individuality).

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