There is no nature

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam — We cannot see nature. That’s my opinion because, the moment we see it, it becomes something different. Which makes me wonder, if I would continue this line of thought, is there such a thing as nature altogether?

What is nature, collapses the moment we start trying to understand it, study it, but also when we start looking at it and romanticise it. That’s where nature becomes culture, science, art, anything that fits into a human system of understanding and ordering the world: an idea. As such nature is nothing more than a philosophical fata morgana, a projection of the mind which dissolves the moment you touch it.

This collapse of nature however isn’t only an ontological issue – a dialectic of how our attempt to understand nature leads to the very destruction of that understanding. On the other hand, there is a very practical side to the ‘undoing’ of nature. It is the construction of a romantic idea of nature in art what makes go out there: lie on the beach, hike through mountains, stroll through forests and turning them into parks, leisure areas. In fact, in our being with nature we re-enact, or reproduce, this romantic conception of what nature is to us, hence the term ‘recreation’. A process in which we reshape nature into a cultivated landscape, conditioned for leisure and entertainment.

Science perhaps, is even more destructive. If art provides the ideas for reshaping nature, science provides the instruments. It’s our very knowledge of nature which enables us to control it; to parcel out an entire country (the Netherlands) into a conglomerate of urban, industrial, agricultural and recreational zones. Not to mention the environmental problems caused by science: global warming, pollution etc.

Obviously art plays a very dubious role in this process. It represents and shapes our admiration for nature and in doing so, sets in motion the above mentioned destructive events. This Bermuda triangle of landscape, art and science in which nature disappears, is the subject of the work of the Finnish artist Ilkka Halso. His photographs are an ironic celebration of the complete and final victory of science and art over nature. The grandeur of his landscapes brings to mind the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. With a crucial difference however: nature in Friedrich’s work is mystical, wild and powerful; humans, on the other hand, are small and vulnerable. In Halso’s work nature is powerful as well. Science, however – this seems to be Halso’s message – has superbly overpowered nature and brought this conflict to an apocalyptic conclusion:
There is no nature.
For more information, check this great article by Jeroen Boomgaard, head of the Professorship of Art and Public Space, of the Rietveld Academy.


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