Landscape in the 20th Century?

August 1980

Chris Welsby: Films/ Photographs/ Writings.

Edited by David Curtis and Published by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

The Question “is it relevant to be producing landscape art in the latter half of the 20th Century” is a question which, when engaged in making or exhibiting my work, is always uppermost in my mind. The Work is, not surprisingly, classified under the general art historical term “landscape” and undeniably exhibits certain links with the history of that genre. However, there is a fundamental difference in attitude which underlies my approach to the subject matter and sets my work apart from most of my contemporaries. This attitude is inscribed both in the form and contents of every film. Inevitably the subject of landscape is so heavily charged with both historical references and popular connotations that the intended meaning may well be overlooked. Certain preconceived notions about landscape must be left aside.

My primary concern is with the area of epistemology which deals with the definition of, and relationship between ‘mind’ and ‘nature’. Briefly, ‘mind’ can be defined as ideas/ concepts /paradigms and ‘nature’ as constituting all things and attributes which do not fall within this description of ‘mind’. Neither of these categories is mutually exclusive but must be regarded as two relational sets, whose permutation at any particular moment in time may constitute a holistic model of the world. To think otherwise would come close to the error inherent in Cartesian Dualism. It is this constantly shifting interface between these two concepts which lies in the core of my attitude towards landscape in Art.

Each of my films is a separate attempt to redefine the interface between ‘mind’ and ‘nature’. Although specified or at least implied in any one piece of work, this delineation is constantly changed and adapted both as a definition, at a material level and as a working model, at conceptual level, to each unique situation or location. Without this essentially cybernetic view of the relationship between ‘mind’ and ‘nature’, a view in which the relationship between the two operates as a homeostatic loop, ‘nature’ becomes nothing more than potential raw material at this disposal of ‘mind’ acting upon it. This raw material is most visibly manifest in that subdivision of ‘nature’ we call ‘landscape’. The wilder and more removed this landscape is the further it is removed from, and the less it exhibits those signs which mark the activities of ‘mind’. Technology is both a subdivision of ‘nature’ and an extension of ‘mind’. Viewed within these terms of reference the camera, as a product technology, is not just a window into the world but a potential interface between mind and nature; nature masquerading as mind and mind manifest in nature.

Advanced technology is simultaneously the most useful and most damaging facet of our exogenous evolution. Without a full understanding of its significance, and unless we developed a coherent epistemology which includes ourselves and technology in relation to the world we inhabit, our chances of survival, or even the possibility of living a tolerable life, are pretty much none existent.

Left to run it’s own course evolution will remain a primary pragmatic operation and we will be left with no option but to read the instruction manual having first played with the toy.   At the time of writing, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is no guarantee against any accidental or intentional damages sustained by the users.