Tag Archive: landscape

psychogeographic landscape cinema


Andrew Ray over at Some Landscapes has been posting about experimental landscape films, including Chris Welsby‘s Wind Vane, Tree, and other “landscape-generated landscape films”; Sarah Turner’s Perestroika; the “Land Art for the landless” films/performances of Francis Alÿs; and others.

Catherine Grant writes about Turner’s hypnotic and haunting Perestroika at filmanalytical. “Films think,” Turner says, “they embody theory affectually” (in which she is echoing Film-Philosophy founding editor Daniel Frampton’s Filmosophy).

From Ray:

“the film’s ‘extreme psychogeography’ culminates in the narrator’s vision of Baikal, the deepest lake in the world ‘and the zero-point of Siberia’s status as a weathervane of global warning, landscape and mind’, as ‘a lake of fire awaiting the final sunset’.”

For Turner, as Sophie Mayer recounts, “the IPCC report before Copenhagen stated that the Amazon rainforest will burn when the temperature rises two degrees. ‘It’s a cultural real that is outside a Western imaginary because we don’t live in the extremes of climate change.’”

Here’s a piece of it:

Excerpt from Perestroika (©2009 Sarah Turner) from Catherine Grant on Vimeo.

Volcanic eruption films aren’t plentiful enough to make their own genre. Most of them fall into the disaster genre or the straight documentary video. Werner Herzog’s 1977 film La Soufrière, about the anticipated eruption in 1976 of an active volcano on the island of Guadeloupe, is different. Like his quasi-science-fictional films — Fata Morgana, Lessons of Darkness, Wild Blue Yonder — the film has a tone of tender and lyrical, apocalyptic beauty, a resignation in the face of what appears to be humanity’s passing. Like Aguirre, Heart of Glass, Grizzly Man, and several of his other films, it is also about the human encounter with an indifferent but powerful (capital-n) Nature.

The same elements that later appear in Lessons of Darkness (about the burning oil fields of Iraq), and in different permutations in several of his other films — moving vehicle and helicopter shots of a landscape emptied of humans, classical music including the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Parsifal, and the feeling of a waiting, as if something momentous is about to occur, or has already occurred, or both — is already present here, though without the cinematographic intensity of Lessons of Darkness. At times the film is like an archaeological dig through an abandoned city, or a devastated one (the town of Saint-Pierre in Martinique). At others it is about sheer contact — between the camera and the world — and about its embarrassed failure, the “inevitable catastrophe that did not take place.” This is the failure that, Herzog seems to be suggesting, haunts the cinema verité desire to be there when It, whatever It may be, happens.

Like most of Herzog’s films, La Soufrière blurs several sets of lines: between documentary and fiction (a line that Herzog prides himself on dissolving, though here he hews closer to the first pole than he usually does), between observation and performative enactment (meaning that his own persona is ever-present, which in this case includes taking his crew up to the caldera to poke their camera inside the steaming volcano, as if to dare nature to scald them with some smoke and ash), and between the hilarious and the deadly serious. The film highlights the barbed existential irony that when, in 1902, the inhabitants of neighboring Martinique were preparing to leave before an anticipated volcanic eruption, their governor persuaded them to stay; 30,000 died. Now, seventy-five years later, the inhabitants left (except for the few that Herzog’s crew finds and interviews, and of course, Herzog himself, attracted to the volcano like a moth to the flame). And the volcano… balked.

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the remainder…

For an indication of why I’m interested in the “more” that object-oriented philosophers grapple with, the “remainder” beyond what can be accounted for of an object or phenomenon through relational accounts, I thought it would be appropriate to share a few paragraphs from my 2001 book Claiming Sacred Ground.

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The eco-arts blogosphere has kept simmering through the early summer. Greenmuseum.blog, connected to the excellent online environmental resource and exhibition space Green Museum, has taken on a new look. The blog had recently covered the Earth Matters on Stage EcoDrama Symposium, held at the University of Oregon. Mike Lawler’s EcoTheatre blog also provided coverage of EMOS. Ecoartspace has been blogging from the Seattle Public Arts Conference, the theme of which this year was Renewable Resources: Arts in Sustainable Communities.

Over at Sustainability and Contemporary Art, Maja and Ruben Fowkes have been blogging about the Hard Realities and New Materiality Symposium, which took place at Central European University recently. Antennae magazine has an interview with the Fowkes in which they discuss the sustainability of contemporary art, the ethics vs. the aesthetics of form, Felix Guattari’s ‘three ecologies,’ and other topics. Some of the Fowkes’ writings, including Unframed landscapes: Nature and Contemporary Art and Towards the Ecology of Freedom, can be found at Translocal.org. (Some of these overlap with issues I discussed in my piece Sustainable vision from the 2004 Natural Grace exhibition catalogue; you can find a brief overview of the environmental and eco-art movements there.)

Smudge has been blogging about the massive LAND/ART exhibition/project in New Mexico. In many ways, land art reflects an earlier moment in the evolution of ecological art, one premised on making statements in wild or open landscapes, but much of what’s presented in this exhibition goes well beyond that, for instance, to the documentation, questioning, and interrogation of land uses in their social, perceptual, and ecological contexts. Among the events is an Experimental Geography exhibition, featuring The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Trevor Paglen, and others. See the CLUI’s database of unusual and exemplary sites — which range from nuclear and industrial accident sites and weapons plants to tourist caves, ghost towns, and UFO sites across the U.S. — to get an idea of what this unusual ‘research organization’ does. Artist and “experimental geographer” Paglen‘s work on “black sites” — secret military landscapes and other “blank spots on the map” — has even gotten him onto the Colbert Report; see his media page for articles, reviews, and videos. Paglen writes about Experimental Geography over at Brooklyn Rail, while Rhizome provides a good list of reading materials on the topic. See also art:21′s interview with EG curator Nato Thompson.

Sustainable Practice is a good place to keep up to date with a lot of these types of things, while Critical Spatial Practice focuses more on the geographical interventions.


As goes Motor City, so should go the world – or at least eco-activists might like to argue that. The archetypal home of American car culture, Detroit, has been decaying for years. It’s now collapsed from a city of two million to less than half of that, and in the process it has opened up dramatic possibilities for regeneration.

Photo District News has collected some glimpses of the ruins. Kevin Bauman’s Abandoned Houses , from which the above photo is taken, are akin to real estate sales photos gone wild, while Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s “Ruins of Detroit” series include some stunners, like this photo of the United Artists Theater:


These, like Timothy Fadek’s industrial ruins and Sean Hemmerle‘s Time magazine photo essay, include many that seem as if they’re right out of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Bruce Gilden’s photo-essay on Detroit Foreclosures includes a poignant soundtrack reminding us what the current economic crunch feels like to some.

The Time article that accompanies Hemmerle’s and Marchand/Meffre’s photos reports that among the ideas proposed for redevelopment of Detroit are “the reforestation of the city’s dead zones” and “the planting of large-scale networks of parks and commercial farms.” While there’s plenty of room for visionary public policy, Detroit doesn’t exactly have a long history of that kind of thing, so, if it was up to me, I would leave a lot of room for the anarchists and artists to get things going. Unfortunately, since Fifth Estate, the longest-running anglophone anarchist periodical in North America, moved out of Detroit in 2001, the local political scene seems a little less prepared for this kind of thing. Artists, however, have been busy making the urban landscape theirs.

The price for grassroots eco-regeneration is certainly right: Jennifer Lance at environmental blog Red Green & Blue reports that you can buy a foreclosed home in Detroit for $40 these days. She even volunteers to do that and to donate it to any organization that would turn it into a park, wildlife sanctuary, or urban garden. Any takers?

The kicker is that this might not even be necessary. Rather like the Chernobyl exclusion zone or the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge — formerly a toxic chemical dump — Detroit is, in places, already reverting back to nature. (Though, on Chernobyl, there has been some controversy about reports that it’s become a wildlife haven.)

Describing the city as a “Wild Kingdom,” Detroitblog.org describes whole neighborhood blocks reverting to prairie, alleys resembling hiking trails, roving packs of wild dogs, feral cats taking over entire buildings, and a resurgence of pheasants, foxes, opossums, turkeys, roosters, and raccoons, along with imported “ghetto palms” (Ailanthus altissima) spreading through the city like weeds and, by their height — sometimes reaching several stories — offering a gauge for how long particular parcels have been neglected.

More photos of Detroit reverting back to nature can be seen here and here. The Greening of Detroit is an institutional non-profit working on urban eco-regeneration, while Motor City Blog keeps tabs on interesting goings-on.