Never inert, nor fixed

Blog #1 accompanying our Landscape Symposium 2019

This short blog series by Vanessa Lastrucci accompanies our Landscape Symposium 2019, entitled Staying with the trouble: critical and creative approaches to the climate and biodiversity crises.

Roberto Mamani Mamani: Mother Illimani with Intis, Awichas and Children (oils and pastels)

Starting with a simple yet open question, what is landscape?, Tim Ingold in ‘The temporality of the landscape’ (1993) frames his discourse delineating what landscape is not: it is not nature, it is not space and it is not environment.

In the landscape, each component enfolds with its essence the totality of its relations with each and every other, he continues.

Perhaps landscape is all these elements at once, and more: in other words, the landscape is the relational context from which we gather meanings in the context of deep time.

This is a relational approach; however ‘landscape’ is a concept and word that today retains an emphasis on ‘the view,’ or ‘the perspective.’ Especially when landscape is without time, without process.

But how to speak about landscape where and when there is no word for it – if we take out the gaze?

Through my research I have been lucky enough to enter a time-space where there is no word for landscape: in Indigenous Andean worldviews ‘landscape’ is a concept that does not belong, and therefore cannot be translated.

Landscape does not exist, yet the relation with the land earth-beings is one of kinship.

The mountains and the streams, the volcanos and the clouds have their own selfhood and agency, they shape the world without need of the actions of humans.

Their more-than-human transformative powers not only generate environments and spaces, but also rituals and the structures of society: they are at once deities and family, and also hold the practical value as the elements that provide what sustains life.

And human beings, together with the creature beings on the land and the earth-beings form an assemblage of spiritual and material values.

It constitutes an indivisible whole which is difficult to translate in European languages and minds: there are not many words, except perhaps the vague and generalising ‘holistic’, to encompass this multidimensional stream of connections.

However, such lifeworld can be summarised on three guiding principles: cyclical thinking, reciprocal relation and continuous habitation (Indigenous scholar Winona LaDuke).

In the Andes, reciprocal thinking is Ayni – reciprocity, which is the law of co-dependency and interconnectedness of all living beings, humans and more-than-human alike. It implies that one cannot take without a reciprocal offer. Giving is not disinterested, but a meaningful gesture of social and cultural power: on the land earth-beings give, humans must give back.

Such a code of ethics flows from the mountain into the modes of living, forms of habitation and ways of managing the land. It represents clear and subtle knowledge with a caring potential to influence environmental planning, and how we in Europe think about landscape more at large.

Indigenous forms of knowledge had been long disregarded when they present themselves with forms and means that in the past have been considered far from specific standardised techno-scientific methods. However, their process-based and relational languages are probably best adapted to describe and understand the entangled complexities of our earth systems.

Becoming more ‘native’ as in ‘to belong’ to the land – and let it belong to us, also means speculating how a time of ‘indigenous science’ can infiltrate our views.

Maybe in that time-space resides the sparkle for the struggle to keep humans and everything else that walks and crawls the surface of the earth, everything that swims in the oceans and everything that flies in the air, alive on this planet.

More thoughts:

  • Winona LaDuke, Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Futures (1994)
  • Claudette Kemper Columbus, Map, Metaphor, Topos and Toponym: some Andean Instances (1994)
  • Tim Ingold, The Temporality of the Landscape (1993)
  • Alonso Barros, Development and Pachamama: conflicting landscapes in the Atacama Desert (1997)
  • Donna Haraway, Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationcene, Chthulucene: Making Kin (2015)

Related Content

Dunkerque Creative Outputs
Find out more