Procedural Changes To Landscape

The fact that nature is natural is dreadful, says Ilse Aichinger. I agree, and I think the shocking thing about the naturalness of nature is that whatever is not, whatever is strange and strives against the naturalness of nature gets mercilessly destroyed on the battleground of evolution. Already Henry David Thoreau noted to my amazement: "Nature is hard to overcome, but it must be overcome." 1 It is true that this statement is made in the context of an essay about the purity of man, but precisely for that reason it raises for me the question of the extensibility of the concept of nature.

Is nature everything that can be said about it?

According to Alfred North Whitehead, "Nature is what we perceive by means of the senses. Through sense perception we become aware of something that cannot be thought and that is independent of thinking, which it precedes." 2 As a system, according to Whitehead, nature is not dependent upon our thinking about it. Does that mean that it is defined by its absolute independence? Quite a few artists concerning themselves with the phenomenon of nature and landscape understand their work as the poetic manifestation of an artistic process and, in the context of the natural sciences, certainly also as an ironic statement that relativizes human existence, in view of the independence of the system of nature, to the vanishing point. "Minimal Intervention in landscape transforms it without the use of bulldozers and fertilizers, by changing our unpainted landscape so that we can find other meanings in the outer landscape". 3

The world, and with it nature, and with it landscape, as a black box. And what becomes reality are our own representations.

So where does nature begin and where does it end?

A question, almost a Koan. Does nature end where landscape begins? Landscape in the sense of shaping land, so first of all deciding what is still open and not clearly classifiable, a paradox that will remain perhaps forever undetermined. Kurt Gödels incompleteness theorems, and Heinz von Foersters inversions e.g. "the map is the territory", are not only trailblazers in this regard but also point to their inherent possibilities for deviation. Deviations unknown to the canon of nature.

In this context one should not forget to mention Paul-Armand Gette, who above all in his work "Kassel- A Botanical Garden" 4 has demonstrated how an observer codes his concepts differently according to the distance from which he is observing. If the nature at our feet is Agrostis tenuis or Poa nemoralis, then two steps farther on we find ourselves in a meadow, and if we raise our gaze to chest height, a landscape lies before us. So where does landscape begin? Two, three, ten steps in front of us? Or not until our view meets the horizon? Does landscape arise when we traverse the land? In passing, on the way. Where do the concepts grass, meadow, landscape merge into one another? Can it be that apart from the usual convention landscape is nothing but a sentimental coding of nature?

Arcadia, a bucolic dressed-up idyll, that deludes one wherever one meets her!

The procedural methodology of approaching the intersection between the decoding and recoding of landscape, i.e. the search for the paradox of this concept, together with its transformation, is like immersing oneself into a sea of fog. An immersion which can provoke its more or less tenacious aberrations just as well in the World Wide Web as in a meadow grown tall as a man.

For instance in the rushing signs of alpha landscapes.
Mathematical calculations, a kind of computing on the basis of algorithms. Huge virtual landscapes on the net, consisting of millions and millions of visual objects, created by hundreds of thousands of nameless users. When I first discovered these landscapes, I thought of Jorge Luis Borges' "The library of Babel", and once again considered the possibility that not materiality but rather energy states, thoughts, determine the library of life.

The aesthetic dimension may lie precisely in the states of suspension between the so-called factual and fictional, between self-experience and self-forgetting, in the aesthetic play with self-produced changes to landscape (simulation) and external changes to landscape (stimulation).

Is mathematical regularity a source of the self-dissolution of natural phenomena?

According to calculations of Hans-Henrik Stolum, a geologist at the University of Cambridge, for example, the number pi plays an outstanding role with regard to the length of meandering rivers. He has studied the relationship between the total length of rivers and the linear distance between the source and the mouth and has found that the actual length of a river is approximately 3.14 times the distance as the crow flies. "Pi as the result of a battle between order and chaos". 5 Meandering rivers form ever greater convolutions because even the smallest bend causes more rapid streaming at the riverbank, leading in turn to greater erosion and to more pronounced meanders, which in turn causes the riverbends to become more and more circular, so that in the end the river turning in on itself. Pi, the quintessence of irrational numbers, as the result of a procedural transformation of landscape and the self-dissolution of a natural phenomenon.

Etymologically speaking, "land" is an ablaut of the swed. "linda", meaning "fallow land, grainfield" and probably also of the swed. "lund" meaning "grove, woods". The relation to the concept "garden", idg. "ghordho-s", i.e. "fence", at least in his original meaning as grainfield or grove is clear.

The extraordinary role played by the grove in relation to landscape and the garden becomes particularly clear if one visits the garden "Litte Sparta" of the Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay in Lanarkshire. Finlay himself says: "The basic concept of my garden is that of the grove, which for me is a kind of platonic form. It offers many creative possibilities. Trees are clearly nature, whereas the grove is not nature, but rather culture." 6

A part of the landscape gets lifted from its context and thus reinterpreted, sometimes turned into a refuge or assigned to a museum, almost always locked up. The inside and the outside are celebrated in a manner akin to the Manichaean opposition between good and evil. Jean Paul Sartre once said in a different context: "The death of God by no means leads back to the pagan cult of nature, but rather elicits a kind of atheistical Manichaeanism, in which the Gnostic difference between light and darkness is replaced by the opposition of nothingness and being." 7
Jean-Jacques Rousseau observed that the first person to have built a fence around his property was the founder of bourgeois society.

Within the fence a kind of anti-landscape arises, stocked with diverse arbitrarily thought-up characters from the arsenal of nature. A piece of land, that could just as well look like this or differently.

The garden as an anti-landscape, as land without qualities.

On the virtual level comparable to the "blue box", the metaphor for the application of coding mechanisms on the visual plane, which in this regard is the most strongly deterritorialised element. A kind of space without place, shadow or identity, so that by means of the strong floodlighting something like a visualisation of coding systematics becomes possible, allowing the quite deliberate cultivation of the "blue box" garden with literally countless possibilities. In opposition to nature, which acts unintentionally. Evolution is "creation without wisdom", observes Peter Nilson, a Swedish natural scientist with a romantic undertone and adds, "this lack of wisdom, this opportunism, as a result of which every time and everywhere she eventually prevails, means that one can observe nature, but that this in fact does not have the slightest influence on her. One can also destroy her. Ultimately, man will not be able to get at her." 8

1 Henry David Thoreau, Walden Ein Leben mit der Natur, München 1999, S. 241.
2 Alfred North Whitehead, Der Begriff der Natur, Berlin 1990.
3 Lucius Burckhardt, Minimal Intervention, in: The unpainted landscape, London 1987, S.97-109.
4 Lucius Burckhardt, 0 m - der Beginn der Landschaft, Tagungsreader, Kassel 1986.
5 Hans-Henrik Stollum, River meandering as a self-organization process, in: Science 271, 1996, S.1710-1713.
6 Kunstforum International, Das Gartenarchiv, Band 146, S 76.
7 J. P. Sartre, Malarmés Engagement, Hamburg 1983, S. 29.
8 Peter Nilson, Zurück zur Erde, München 1996, S.39.

Übersetzung: Ursula Froese



© 2015 Toni Kleinlercher