Garbled

It seems a little much to call landscape painting a pornography of land, but it does distort the experience of walking the land much as pornography distorts the experience of sex. The moment of beholding, of disclosure, is exalted and enumerated into an absolutely standard catalog of revelations, carefully isolated from the long, grim durations to either side of that moment. On the way to the cliff that overlooks the waterfall, how many repetitions would we really find of the same scrim of thin trees, which are, if you like, the red curtains of Lynch’s Black Lodge; to be pushed through and pushed through. If the experience of having land disclosed is landscape, what is the experience of having it hid, encrypted? Of having innumerable beech sprouts, or falls of sandstone, clouding your view?

Landscape architects, as befits their name, reconstruct places to multiply that experience of land disclosure, such that every angle is equally good and equally revelatory. This unfortunately necessitates decorating (improving?) spaces that would otherwise be marked OFF; think of the Watery Walk at Rousham, which throws an octagon at you just to see if you are still paying attention. The charm of Renaissance gardens, especially those struggling to maintain themselves, becomes that they utterly forget themselves in dark paths, before switching ON again; now think of the distance between the grounds and the casino at the Villa Farnese.

uccello riff
Looking at Uccello’s hunt, you are tempted first to double the amount of trees, and then triple them; then, a tree for every stag, every lean dog, every peon with a beating staff, every merry little cardinal on horseback.

For a landscape architect to change the objective and to actively produce cover, tangle, poché even, would be to make something that I want to call – unrelieved, unremitting, unrelenting, relentless? But those mean you are being attacked, which isn’t quite it. Interminable? But then even these dense experiences end. Here is the clue: as I drive to and from work, the FM station gets overcast with static along one particular road, and the features I want to hear become little rocks poking from a white sea. To make land appear in such a way would be to make it garbled, to multiply signals until they become noise.

(February 2020)