Posts Tagged 'philosophy'

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.

1966 – 1972: unfolding the unknown


Lucy Lippard’s book ‘Six years: the demateralization of the art object from 1966 to 1972′ – which I mentioned earlier in this post – triggered again my admiration for an intriguing period in art. Lipard describes conceptualism, performance and the first land art in the time after minimalism.

This period is crucial in history because it marks the transistion from modernism to postmodernism (yet it is more than often overlooked in literature, mainly because of it’s big brother Pop art). Traces of phenomenology are evidently still there, take for instance Bruce Nauman, whose performances explore in a very formal way his studio space. To a certain extend this applies to all the periods mentioned above; they deal in a very elementary way with shape, form and measurements: all formal aspects of objects, the body and landscape. In that regard they differentiate the minimalist tradition and re-enact it in new domains such as performance and landscape.

Bruce Nauman, Revolving upside down, 1968

On the other hand, the artists seem to be more than aware of the fact that they are revolutionizing art. The essence of this period is the fact that they break away from sculptural and pictorial traditions and start re-imagining the world entirely; like new-borns they step into it and start to explore the way children do: by touching it, tasting, marking and measuring it. This gives their works a feeling of curiosity and astonishment and as an audience we look over their shoulders and see the world the way we did a long time ago.
Douglas Heubler photographs the sky over different American cities; Stanley Brouwn walks certain distances; Vito Acconci follows people on the street.Their historical value lies in the fact the these artists began to realise that art is situated in the world and therefore all works of art are relational. Consequently they begin to take down the foundations of art’s hegemony: the object, the art institution and the modernist claim of universality.

One of the most interesting things that Lippy points out is, what she calls, the dematerialisation of art that occurs as a result of this ‘new order’ and what lends the work an aura of mystique and poetics. This is generally understood by Sol LeWitts statement that the idea is more important than the object, but I don’t think that’s true. The documentation of the above mentioned works are beautiful; they communicate the concept and have a value of their own, today these black and white photographs even have a nostalgic romanticism.

Much rather the mysterious qualities of these works lies in the experimental attitude that leads to the dissolving of the object and back to the condensation of its meaning ‘in the moment’ or ‘during the encounter’. ‘The world’ – literally and metaphorically – that had gradually been erased out of art in the age of abstraction makes its comeback. The artists step back into this unknown terrain and unfolds all that has become common in contemporary art today: context, the experiment and the relational.

To illustrate my enthusiasm I will publish some of these relatively unknown works once every while.


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