Course on ‘Landscape and Thought’ closes with the inauguration of the work As Arvores Florescem em Huesca by Alberto CarneiroThis week-long course, unprecedented in Spain, brought together a significant number of Europe’s leading thinkers and intellectuals. The aim was to focus on thinking about landscape, and all of the participants underscored the significance of landscape as a cultural value. The CDAN has opened up a new line of research that follows from previous work done on art and nature. This new direction focuses on thinking about landscape from the perspective of different disciplines. One goal is to draw together the foremost studios and professionals in this area in a forum that sets out new interpretations and approaches.
As this course has shown, landscape can be interpreted from the perspective of many different disciplines, fields of academic knowledge, and ideological positions. The aim was to shed light on the cultural significance of landscape by considering this broad range of approaches. According to Professor Javier Maderuelo, the director of the course, landscape is a human construction in two senses: first, it is a mental construction. In other words, landscape is not an object or a physical thing, but rather a perceptual interpretation that each individual constructs based on real physical phenomena and then applies to the world or to a particular territory. Second, the physical reality that is the backdrop to the idea of landscape is also a construction. This territory has been transformed by human action and this continues to occur. Humanity now plays a more extensive and dynamic role than any other factor in transforming the territory to which the notion of landscape is applied.
This article takes a brief look at the lectures given by participating instructors, which will be published in full in the autumn. According to Raffaele Milani, director of the master’s degree programme ‘Scienze e Progettazione del paisaggio e dell’ambiente’ at the University of Bologna, ‘the kind of multiple demand that comes together in the transformation of landscape calls for a multiple response.’ Along the same lines, Simón Marchán, Professor of Aesthetics and Art Theory at UNED, takes the view that our approach to landscape must be a cross-disciplinary one.
In this context landscape is seen as a human construction. Moreover, in the words of Delfín Rodríguez, Professor of Art History at the Complutense University of Madrid, who presented an overview of the representation of nature through art, ‘it is artists, and above all painters, who have led us to discover nature.’ As Jean-Marc Besse, director of UMR Géographie-cités, pointed out, ‘landscape is an organized space that is a collective creation of societies.’
According to Maderuelo, in Huesca the landscape ‘has been worked on by rural labourers in a way that is in harmony with the territory. As a result we can now see splendid landscapes in the province of Huesca, all transformed by human activity.’ In his presentation, Martínez de Pisón, Professor of Physical Geography at the Autonomous University of Madrid and a staunch defender of the Pyrenees, called for ‘respect and care for the landscape as a key marker of cultural identity’, pointing to the need for an approach akin to that already taken with respect to artistic monuments. The role of thinkers is to produce the cultural content of landscape, and this content should be put at the service of those who inhabit the landscape, so that knowledge can serve as a means of finding renewed value in landscape. According to Nicolás Ortega, Professor of Human Geography at the Autonomous University of Madrid, ‘to understand landscape in geographical terms, we need to be able to see and to train the way that we look.’
For Maderuelo, ‘the notion of a science of landscape should lead us to think that creating landscape or intervening in it is not a matter of taste but of knowledge. Consequently, landscape awareness does not depend on how pleasing a place is to us, on a well chosen design, or on how surprising the elements introduced are: it depends rather on a commitment to the place.’ Augustin Berque, director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales of Paris took a similar view, stressing that ‘an ethical response to the destruction of landscapes needs to come from developed countries.’ This position was reiterated by Antonio Goméz Sal, Professor of Ecology at the University of Alcalá, who warned of the negative consequences that the disappearance of livestock-raising and agricultural activities from a territory can have on the shaping of the landscape.
In several of the discussions that followed the lectures, participants pointed to the need to consider the assets and services a landscape provides, underscoring the need for it to play a social role and generate an economic return. In the course of these discussions, participants condemned the very real threat posed by loss of landscape in Spain, a common phenomenon in developed countries. Participants expressed the view that legislation needs to be passed to counteract the kind of changes taking place, particularly those resulting from speculation. The situation in Spain is aggravated by the absence of a landscape culture of the kind found in countries such as Great Britain and France, which makes it even harder for people to value and respect landscape.
Over the course of the five days of sessions, speakers stressed the importance of the landscape of Huesca, where it is vital to generate a renewed appreciation not only of the Pyrenees, but also of the foothills of the range and the Monegros region.
Lectures were complemented by the screening of videos on artists like Nils-Udo, Richard Long, Cesar Manrique and Andy Goldsworthy, for whom landscape is particularly significant. Participants also visited several works included in the ‘Art and Nature’ programme. Both instructors and students expressed their interest in the programme and their hope that it would continue.
A total of 40 students from throughout Spain and Portugal took part in the course, including university professors, architects, landscape architects, artists and Ph.D. students. Participants played an active role in the sessions and remarked on the quality of the programme. Students also visited the CDAN, an exhibition by Alberto Carneiro entitled Trees, and the documentation centre. A number of students have already scheduled visits to carry out research at the centre.
This was the first in a series of five annual seminars that will focus on the concept of landscape and examine how it relates to art, territory, history and heritage.