My work has a close relationship to landscape, but it is not a direct one. People often talk about a certain place and say something like, “It is so beautiful, you really can’t capture it in a photograph.” What is it that can’t be captured by a representational process like photography? What exists beyond the ocularcentric view? Some people look “on” or look “at” an object or landscape, but I am trying to look “into.” It’s like getting into the landscape and then viewing it from within.
Coupled with this line of thought is my ongoing curiosity about how the body plays out in the various manifestations of creative exploration. I’ve been haunted for days by the image from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Unbeliever”, by way of Bunyan, of sleeping on top of a mast (see my posting below from April 30th). This image plays out on so many levels–conscious, creative, sexual, spiritual.
One of the books that addresses some of these same concerns is Earth-Mapping by Edward S. Casey. (He has written several other books–Getting Back Into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History, and Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps–all of which I would like to explore as well.) I’m not even half way through Earth Mapping, but his themes are so in line with many of the ideas that have been threading in and out of my consciousness and my work lately.
Casey writes about leading earth artists like Robert Smithson (who created the Spiral Jetty, a personal favorite) as well as how the earth and landscape play an elemental role in the work of abstract artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns and Willem de Kooning. He also addresses the concept of the body and its primal role in that landscape/abstraction connection.
I’ll write more about this topic as I continue my careful progress through the pages of Casey’s book. In the meantime, here is an excerpt that gives a taste of his point of view:
The lived body is at stake throughout. It is the means of being in touch with the earth, whether the actual earth of an actual scene, the imaginary earth of non-representational landscape, or the virtual earth explored by the viewer’s phantom body. The lived body is what affords a “feel” for a given landscape, telling us how it is to be there, how it is to know one’s way around in it. Such a body is at once the organ and the vehicle of the painted or constructed map, the source of “knowing one’s way about,” thus of knowing how we can be said to be acquainted with a certain landscape. This landscape need not be our own; nor need it be the land east of Aix or the fields around St. Remy. As re-presented to us as viewers, the painted or drawn or sculpted map of the landscape allows—invites, indeed sometimes demands—our lived body to enter into intimate accord with the configurations of its smooth space. In this way, we come to know this landscape from within the terms of its own re-presentation. Knowing it by means of this re-incarnate knowing is the root of all subsequent representational knowing; it is the way by which we realize our kinship with the landscape itself. Thanks to the re-presentation—the presentation again of this landscape—we sense just how intimately linked we are with and in this re-implaced earth-world, how much our very “thrownness” is attuned, in mood, with the flesh of the world that we come to know in our own flesh as the world’s flesh.