Escape the Landscape

Landscape—as a genre, medium, or form of representation, as uncultivated or cultivated, formed or farmed, or seen or shaped land—is the product of many contradictions. In politico-economic terms, landscape has to do with the necessity of preserving humankind’s relation to its environment (and the semi-fantastic origin of what today we call “nature”) and with an urge (or ploy) to conceal certain injustices, such as the appropriation of land and of agricultural rural labor. In terms of power, governance, and governmentality, landscape has served many masters with seemingly opposite ideological agendas, including both colonialism (the expansion and control of land beyond historical borders) and nationalism (a contraction or consolidation around a core identity, territorial sovereignty, or flag). Some of these oppositions can be translated into formal principles, by invoking the disparity between horizontality—which art history has often linked to landscape, connoting not only spatial expansion or sequential narration, but also traditional inertia or the maintenance of the status quo—and verticality, which in art has been associated with the figure (as in portraiture) or, in broader anthropological terms, with the triumph of the Spirit and the rise of Homo erectus above animal horizontality and the state of nature.

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