While landscape painting dates back to antiquity, it only became a serious genre when artists began using landscapes as a retreat from the complexities of modern life. The 19th century brought landscapes to the forefront through plein air techniques. The landscape became a reflection of philosophical ideas when previously, landscapes were simply an image of pastoral idyll.
The effects of the anthropocene on art have intensified with time. Today we are faced with new challenges: climate change, environmental destruction, and population density. The 21st century has an even more strained relationship with nature and an even greater dependence on technology. Our ecological crisis marked the collapse of traditional landscape, and modern gives way to contemporary. We have a radical new conceptualization of landscape, no longer tethered to factual depiction. Our perception is distorted by digital aesthetics which results in new, imagined landscapes. Scenes that could only be afforded by contemporary technology are present in the works by Yael Bartana, Thomas Eggerer, Sean Landers, Adam McEwen, Rodney McMillian, Sarah Morris, Seth Price, Stephen Prina, Dirk Skreber, John Stezaker, Nicola Tyson, and Corinne Wasmuht. Today, we can only dream of the bucolic landscapes of the past while we try to make sense of the present.
With the twentieth century, the further dismantling of linear perspective in a variety of areas began to take hold. Cinema supplements photography with the articulation of different temporal perspectives. Montage becomes a perfect device for destabilizing the observer’s perspective and breaking down linear time. Painting abandons representation to a large extent and demolishes linear perspective in cubism, collage, and different types of abstraction. Time and space are reimagined through quantum physics and the theory of relativity, while perception is reorganized by warfare, advertisement, and the conveyor belt.
Hito Steyerl, In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective, 2011
He who looks on nature with a "loving eye," cannot move from his dwelling without the salutation of beauty; even in the city the deep blue sky and the drifting clouds appeal to him. And if to escape its turmoil—if only to obtain a free horizon, land and water in the play of light and shadow yields delight—let him be transported to those favored regions, where the features of the earth are more varied, or yet add the sunset, that wreath of glory daily bound around the world, and he, indeed, drinks from pleasure's purest cup.
Thomas Cole, Essay on American Scenery, 1836
The image has become sheer presence, immediacy: the here and now in real time. Made up of particles of time, wrested out of sensation and turned into cognition, the image deals more with concepts and saying than with intuition and showing.
Irmgard Emmelhainz, "Conditions of Visuality Under the Anthropocene and Images of the Anthropocene to Come," E-Flux, 2015
Landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock.
Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory, 1995
Seth Price, Social Synth, 2017, Single-channel video, 13:53 minutes, color, silent
Installation view, Seth Price: Hell Has Everything, Petzel, New York, 2018–2019
There is no such thing as just landscape. The actual landscape is politicized through the events that take place on it.
Julie Mehrtu, "What Does It Mean to Paint a Landscape in this Political Moment?," Culturetype, 2017
Harbor Lights Supper Club, Galesburg, Illinois, 1947–1986, former site, 2015
Photography: Foley Photo Studio, Galesburg Illinois
Digital print on vinyl banner
206 x 385 inches
532.2 x 977.9 cm