Militant Landscape: Notes on Counter-Figuration from Early Modern Genre Formation to Contemporary Practices, or, Landscape after the Failure of Representation
In 1844, the year of Marx’s Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts, J.M.W. Turner presented Rain, Steam, and Speed: The Great Western Railway, the first landscape painting to both articulate the ontological shifts brought about by new modes of extraction and production, but also to suggest concomitant transformation in perception. In this way, it collapsed the dialectical relation between perceiving subject and external landscape, suggesting the reciprocal relationship of reification. In 2013, the contemporary artist and filmmaker Zachary Formwalt produced a piece entitled Projective Geometry in which he read from Chapter 25 of Marx’s Capital, the chapter on “So-called Primitive Accumulation.” This voice-over accompanies footage—each shot organized in rigorous single point perspective—of the railroad built by England, France, and Belgium extending from the Ivory Coast to the Cape. Formwalt also unearthed documents from archives in those Imperialist nation states and former/present empires casually mentioning the now unruly, now obedient, yet always “pesky” local African labor that lost life to the enterprise of transportation of local resource extraction to which they were utterly disposable. This essay will describe and analyze both works of art crossing Modernism, aka the culture wing of Modernity (itself a polite term for the ontological shifts brought about by the capitalist mode of production) through the theoretical matrix of Marx, Luxemburg, Sohn-Rethel, and Courtauld.
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