Sunday, February 13, 2011

Landscapes are Mythological, Buildings are Iconic?

Early last week some provocative images showed up over on freeassociationdesign that referred to the new book by Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought.  We ourselves have only recently been introduced to Morton through his book Dark Ecology, an esoteric and slightly neurotic read that we are enjoying.  Morton, of course, is part of a larger community of philosophizers all orbiting around Graham Harman (who has been extremely busy in recent weeks) and his theories of Object Oriented Ontology- OOO for the initiated which has spawned a number of doctoral theses and some interesting blogs and conferences in recent years
[ooo-h, behold the objects slamming into one another, or barely missing; 
photo from flickr user optimusprime2111]

What does this have to do with landscape?  We are not sure.  The basic premise of the OOO smacks of Walter Benjamin’s idea that historical objects should be allowed to collide with one another at random (as opposed to being part of a carefully curated narrative) and seems consistent with much compelling 20th century architectural thought.


An object-oriented ontology certainly seemed to drive the creation of Brasilia or Frank Gehry’s formal explorations, and may be right in line with the work of Eric Owen Moss in Culver City, Los Angeles.  This thinking seems not only provocative and particularly apropos in American Megacities where infrastructures slide in and over fields or slice through fabric, but also in the post-industrial wastelands of our manufacturing towns where the mythical form holds sway; captivating our attention and proliferating in pop-culture images while generating new forms of operating in the urban landscape.
[Eh, Mssr. Own Moss, it appears some objects have collided in this here building of yours]

Of course, it is unclear to us just how this philosophy is different from the literary post-modern, other than the fact that it is pedantically opposing the “Linguistic Turn” in philosophy.  Also unclear is why the majority of these folks that are so interested in objects don’t simply move to Brazil where in just a few weeks they can take part in the billions of objects of all kinds that will be smashing into one another, instead of merely peering down at the objects while they themselves wither. 

At any rate, in addition to his two books on ecological thought (which may prove to be substantial enough to be added to Carolyn Merchant’s work on the subject) Morton is working up a little piece called No Landscapes.  We hope to get our hands on it, and surmise that it is likely a speculation towards the idea that there is no medium within which objects collide, or touch, or miss one another.  Rather, it’s a vacuum, or another object.  Whether or not it is a series of semantic backflips aimed towards repositioning (or destroying) a landscape ontology, we are interested to know.  Since the inception of the profession of landscape architecture, landscape practice has been largely based on the architectural model.  The possibility of ontological difference between a practice of landscape and architecture is something that we hope to probe in the coming year.  Given our professed opinion that landscapes are best understood as mythologies (or cosmologies) as opposed to the iconic characteristic of buildings, we suspect that there may be a difference.
[objects running in to one another in 1906, or maybe they still are now, in the photo- we hope to find out; photo from the histarmar organization]

Of course, we may not get that far- we prefer being a smashing object, rather than reading and philosophizing about them.  And spring is coming.
[1850 "Celestial Atlas- Nebulae" Asa Smith, a map of objects that smash, from David Rumsey collection]
 
[1875 map of the northern night sky by Adolf Stietler, smashable objects with lightly mapped connections, from David Rumsey collection]


Thanks to reader R. Dye for the tip about Morton's work.

3 comments:

  1. Ontological in the sense of how entities can be grouped or related within a hierarchy?

    In that sense i couldn't agree more that landscapes shouldn't be viewed in same way as the iconic characteristic of buildings. As to mythologies and cosmologies, it seems to turn landscapes a bit too literal. Yes, landscapes have mean and they can be used to 'write' a narrative. Yet, mythic form to me is more along the lines of a Plato's universals. Evoking something natural and always existent.

    Oh, and what about getting smashed?

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  2. ontology as a philosophy on the "nature of being"; kind of the fundamental essence of a thing. I think the OOOs are questioning materialist thought(atoms and such as an ontological perspective) as well as the linguistic term. It also gets away from the 'systems' thinking, or offers some kind of variable alternative on that thinking.

    I think. To be honest, I need to spend a little more time with what those guys are writing before I make declarative statements about their thoughts. Nonetheless, I think it's interesting.

    re: landscapes and meaning, I agree precisely that landscapes can be used to construct narratives, and though the forms themselves are universal in that they are signs (they signify something), exactly what they signify is not knowable. They are multivalent, or mutable. Though I agree, that is stretching the traditional definition of mythology.

    That is why I'm intrigued by the notion of OOO, and cosmology. If you look at all of the maps we make now, they usually emphasize the networks (think the street grid maps of manhattan, or certain process diagrams). This doesn't hold true across the board, of course, as tons of people make all different kinds of maps. But I like the idea of cosmological maps- the stars (represented as objects) are set in loose, changeable relation to one another (usually hinted at on the old maps by light lines- in fact, I'm going to insert one into the post now).

    I'm interested in the philosophy behind that approach, and how it might be used in interesting ways...

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