I wrote this a while ago for the LandscapeTechne exhibit catalogue at Little Berlin gallery in Philadelphia.
LandscapeTechne. The crafting of a landscape. It begins with the irreducible landscape of nature. There is a rich history of landscape art, from Romantic paintings to Ansel Adams' photography and Robert Smithson's deformations in dirt, just to name a few that easily come into anyone’s mind when pressed on the topic. In all, and within this exhibit, landscape, among its many identities and roles, is a toolset, a carrier, and a medium. Technology has been crucial for many artists in the process of knowing and crafting the landscape. Its role in the landscape has been one of compression—rail and telegraph compressed days and months worth of landscape to minutes and hours; of extension—still photography or Muybridge's motion experiments; and of abstraction—creating layers upon layers of narrative and reality upon the concrete reality.
Every landscape is thus a multiple of potentials waiting to be realized. Therefore, a landscape, a being-as-becoming, exists on what Deleuze calls ‘a plane of immanence’, latent with possibilities. The key to existing on this plane and unlocking its potentials is desire. What is the desired knowledge that is guiding these techni? Because, by Aristotle's account, technê is concerned with bringing into existence things that could either exist or not. It appears as a very casual position where being or not being of those things have no effect beyond their own existence. But as artists we appropriate everything at hand, not just landscape and technologies, to bring 'something' into existence, repeatedly.
Craft-like and practically applied knowledge is called a ‘technê,'. (Wikipedia) Many early accounts of technê in Greek philosophy identify it with acts that are of necessity, such as farming, sowing, and other home and land management skills. Being that most of these skills are no longer a necessity for the general population, what is the necessity that pushes the artist to practical and philosophical technê?
In modern philosophy, 'need' is also a driving force for creating. In Production of Space, a level-minded expansion of Situationist thought, Henri Lefebvre defines the spatial practice of 'appropriation' where nature is modified to satisfy human needs. "An existing space may outlive its original purpose and the raison d'etre which determines its forms, functions, and structures; it may thus in a sense become vacant, and susceptible of being diverted, re-appropriated and put to a use quite different from its initial one.”
Lefevbre's space is a space that does not pre-exist us, but is simultaneously created and defined by social, economic and political forces. They are all fake spaces, fake social constructs, and re-appropriation shakes them up, with the goal to create new spaces for action and interaction. In the works presented in the LandscapeTechne exhibit, the space, however, is the pre-existing space of the natural landscape. It is diverted from its initial expanse of timeless space, to measured and coded space-time of each artist’s ideology. As Lefevbre asks, “What is an ideology without a space to which it refers, a space which it describes, whose vocabulary and kinks it makes use of, and whose code it embodies?" The spaces of the works may be the irreducible expanse of the natural landscape, reiterated over and over by each artist into their own unique narrative, but the ideologies coded into each refer back to the constructed spaces of the everyday, which are mostly mediated by technology, from mass media to mobile media.
The natural landscape is where one goes to in order to hear oneself and to find a balance away from our everyday lives in the urban landscape. In the United States, we have the privilege of massive amounts of space, weighted down with thousands of different time speeds in a phase space, or liberated from time altogether, however you wish to feel it. Isolation—absence of others, lack of sound pollution and no burden from pre-segmented existence in time—gives us a sense of freedom and it is only when we are free, and voluntarily in isolation can we have "the liberty to know oneself.” (Robert Adams) The natural landscape is therefore an amalgamation of other landscapes—for an artist, the landscape of the body and the mind, upon which the they construct yet other landscapes: mythical, emotional, psychological, physical—real and virtual.
Humans design, craft and make, and the references for making are outside and within our selves. The ultimate crafted landscape, however, is the landscape of the self. Artists first craft themselves and the qualitative measures of who they are as an artist, and this knowledge in turn crafts their work by appropriating acquired and existing toolsets. Though the spaces in LandscapeTechne are not detached from their parallel spaces of here and now, their creators have successfully been able to detach themselves in order to navigate between them and to take us along. Our desire for other spaces is just as strong as their need in delivering it. The need and the desire are one, and inherent within all of us.