Nature in Contemporary Art

Unframed Landscapes Catalogue

This essay was written for the exhibition Unframed Landscapes and deals with the position of nature in contemporary art. In addition to appearing in the exhibition catalogue, it has been republished in GreenMuseum and NeMe. The following is a short extract, and the whole text can be accessed using the link below.

The rise of environmentalism, feminism, and post-modernist critical theory together has significantly changed our understanding of nature, and consequently artistic practice. Ecology has challenged the anthropocentrism of a culture based on the objectification and exploitation of nature. When talking about environmental artists Newton and Helen Harrison, eco-feminist Carolyn Merchant has praised the way ‘they think of the world as a giant conversation, in which everyone is involved, not only people, but trees and rocks and landscapes and rivers.’

Feminism in general, and ecofeminism in particular, have brought a new understanding of how gender has shaped the ways in which we see the environment. This has involved drawing attention to the ubiquitous binary coupling of women with nature and men with culture. Landscape art is deconstructed as mastery over nature that is evident in the rules of perspective and the stress on viewpoints for representing nature. Eco-feminists aspire to move beyond dualistic thinking and to establish relationships based not on hierarchy and domination, but on caring, respect, and awareness of interconnection.

Post-modernist theory demonstrates how our relations to the non-human world are always historically-mediated and constructed. For post-modernists, landscape is a set of contingent visual and verbal conventions, rather than something natural and given.In the words of Simon Schama, ”it is our shaping perception that makes the difference between raw matter and landscape.”
Nature in Contemporary Art