I am not

I am not

terça-feira, 27 de outubro de 2009


Grant Wood, "Spring in town"


Vítor Oliveira Jorge

Key words: cultural landscape; performancescape; ocularcentrism.

Palavras-chave: paisagem cultural; “paisagem de performances”; centralidade ocular.


The fact that archaeologists are aware of the idea that their object of study and of intervention is the territory in its entirety – as for the geographer, or the architect, or the engineer, etc. – contrasts sharply with their limited power to intervene in the moment of taking decisive action upon irreversible transformations.
That means that the making of (post)modern landscape tends to leave certain isolated “objects” in the space as “remains” of the past, included in a fragmented logic of a (post)modern territory, tourism and heritage industry: a series of poles of attraction with no mutual, dense relation between them.
Spaces are “modernized” in a sort of patchwork kind of environment where only the “unproductive” areas of the territory are left to archaeology to be canonized as “place-myths” to be “studied” and then visited. In this process, they may be used as a low cost resource for entertainment, but in the meantime archaeology as a research of human history/ experience and of the so-called “temporality of the landscape” is actually fading.
“Fast past” industry, and in general short term objectives are intrinsically contradictory with the temporality of research and quality: long-run projects demanding funds and time.
Obviously, everything in life needs to be the result of a negotiation between partners, a compromise between different and often opposite interests. But the point is that in research as in the current daily practice archaeological intervention is in a position of continuous submission.
That means producing so-called “cultural landscapes” that do not take into account archaeological values, or that just use disparate “remains” as parts of an idealized landscape (in the limit, a kind of Disneyland) to be consumed by increasing masses of visitors that, for the most part, do not have the necessary distance to elaborate a personal discourse of what they are seeing.
Archaeology is caught between the multiple “economic” pressures on the territory, its specific temporality and cost as a slow research process (like any other serious research, of course) and its lack of political capacity to perform as a partner.
The “past” is being built as a curiosity and ornament: and yet archaeology is a product of modernity (Julian Thomas, “Archaeology and Modernity”, London, Routledge, 2004). But the project of modernity, characterized by its structural contradictions and paradoxes – or at least the one that I would prefer, the democratic one – is, as we all are aware of, yet to be accomplished.
The context of all this process at it occurs now is easy to describe: the post-industrial society has created two ways, two opposite and complementary destinies “to put order” - its illuminist obsession - into the territory and “to get rid” of obsolete objects, whatever their scale. Or to recycle them as heritage, as “museum” stuff (which may be a park or an entire landscape) or to bury the industry and consumerism waste inland or deep inside the sea, polluting the environment.
Both are part and parcel of the same: that which is to be seen, exposed, excavated if necessary, and then exhibited to the gaze of visitors as a monument; and that which is the rubbish, the refuse, which is to be turned to the invisible, hidden in a deep excavated hole, taken out of sight, as the repressed of the production/consumption machine.


British sociologist John Urry (“Mobilities”, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2007) shows how the concept of “land” (actually, a taskscape, an environment where people “works”) was transformed, in modernity, into the idea of “landscape” (something to be seen from afar), very much connected to the dominance of sight, of vision, and the bourgeois values and ways of procedure. Very generally (see op. cit, p. 256, from whom I take this scheme, practically a quotation, actually), land was tied to the ideas of:
- a physical, tangible resource: a place of functional work;
- something that is/was bought and sold, inherited, etc.;
- a system where productive and unproductive activities resonate(d) with each other and with tracts of land;
- existence of a lack of distance between people and tasks;
- a reality of affective emotions tied to place;
- a circumstance the local history and geography is/was known in detail by people living there.
Instead, the concept of landscape is linked to a different set of relationships between people, space, and the overall world. A series of topics serve to characterize schematically the idea of landscape (taking again as a basis the above quoted source). It supposes, according to Urry:
- an intangible resource – in relation with the appearance and look: the gaze, and ultimately the tourist gaze;
- the valorization of a specialized visual sense separated from other senses: eyewitness observation;
- an idea of scenic tourism: seeking distance a “proper” view is gained, abstracted from everyday experience (“imperial eyes”);
- perceptual sensations, “domestication” of the world and of the masses observing it, consuming it, spectacle, photography, image - the world as exhibition;
- a combination of abstract characteristics that is the “language of mobility”.

But I would like to propose here something that I do not imagine as new, but as perhaps useful: the concept/word of performancescape, meaning a scape of performances, instead of “cultural landscape” canonized by Unesco. It seems that it is more general and that avoids the trap of the culture/nature dichotomy.
This idea is inspired by the above mentioned notion of “taskscape” (Tim Ingold, “The Perception of the Environment”, London, Routledge, 2000). In fact, generally, people do not simply undertake tasks in a space or place; it is much more comlex than that. Moreover, they make performances, in the broader sense of the word, they perform themselves continuously. That performance should be a constitution of the “I”, of the self, in relation to the “We”, the community. But this connection is being short-circuited by the kind of society where we live, as Bernard Stiegler (for instance, in “La Technique et le Temps. 3. Le Temps du Cinéma et la Question du Mal-être”, Paris, Galilée, 2001) and others have shown.
In particular, during their open air performances, archaeologists themselves are in fact enacting mostly deserted/abandoned/non productive places, turning “dead spots” (fragments of the territory abandoned by production) into lively and interactive ones. In that sense, they are producers as well, in the capitalist sense, but also consumers, and as such reduced to a proletarian condition in the sense of Stiegler (for whom the modern proletariat is constituted by all consumers).
As is is obvious, I am using here the concept of performance in its broader way. To quote the presentation of the book by Jean Hoffmann and Joan Jonas, “Perform” (London, Thames and Hudson, 2005), “if all the world is a stage, then each of us is a performer. Every day, we act out individual roles and take part in private and collective rituals handed down by society. In our relationships with others, we hide behind masks and assumed personae; and when we interact with the objects, spaces and environments around us, we follow established patterns of behaviour set down by history and convention, playing out performances everywhere we turn.”
I would like to make a step further just to say that we do not exactly “hide” behind masks: we are, or suppose to be, the series of masks we use, the series of roles that we play. We are all performers that perform their own identity as a fluid substance, driven by desire and fantasy, as Judith Butler (“Bodies that Matter”, London, Routledge, 1993) has stressed for “women”, or as the art of the films of David Lynch, for instance, show (cf. Todd McGowan, “The Impossible David Lynch”, New York, Columbia University Press, 2007).
So, why is actually “landscape” an ambiguous word/concept ? See for instance the word “paisaje” (by Bernard Lassus) in the book ed. by Daniela Colafranceschi, Barcelona, GG, 2007, pp. 144-145.
Schematically, we could state that:
-The landscape is the inaccessible.
-The landscape is the illusion of the visible.
And, to follow and quote B. Lassus: “In a way, the landscape destroys the objects and the painting destroys the landscape when it becomes painting. A landscape’s painting does not allow me to discover the things existing behind each one of the levels of that landscape. The generalized use of the term “landscape” is also possibly the evidence of a certain lack (...)” (in Daniela Colafranceschi, ed., “Landscape + 100 Palabras Para Habitarlo”, Barcelona, Gustavo Gili, 2007, p. 145).

Culture/Cultural landscape

So, why not “cultural landscape”? Adding some points to what has already been said, because:
- it introduces a false dichotomy between the “cultural” (human, internal) and the natural (land, external, wild to be domesticated);
- it presupposes a typically Western perspective, separating subject (the observer) and object (the observed);
- it universalizes an ocularcentrism that is typical of our culture. It has no hermeneutic value to approach ontologies (cosmologies) different from ours;
-most cultures do not organize the environment into this dichotomy and they have not our scopic obsession.
And why then is “culture” (“cultural”) a misleading word/concept ? Because it presupposes a sort of conceptual form, or mental template, that gives meaningful shape and content, by the mind of man, to the physical, inert substance of natural phenomena.
Of course here is no mind detached from the body and the person acting in its entirety, no thinking cut/separated from the world, no project conceived in he mind (as a brain machine) before action. To quote one of the greatest social anthropologists of our time, “(...) apprehending the world is not a matter of construction but of engagement, not of building but of dwelling, not of making a view of the world but of taking up a view in it.” (Tim Ingold, 1996, rep. 2000, p. 42). We need to decenter the idea of a “rational” subject, able to be presented/represented to his own consciousness, making plans and projects and taking decisions accordingly. There is not, there wasn’t ever such thing except in the entrepreneurship vision of the world, a very poor and reductionistic one.

The sight, the image

As it is well known, landscape is an idea that is intimately linked with modern painting and the Western, modern regime of vision. To objectify and map this particular vision in a broader problematic, to decentralize ourselves from a concept of “landscape” actually useless for archaeology, we would need to approach at length again the crucial question of the image in our civilization and beyond. In this short note that would be indeed impossible.
There are countless discussions about the image and the sight, since Plato. The screen, the frame, the window, all of these terms raise interesting and linked questions. For instance, see Anne Friedberg, “The Virtual Window. From Alberti to Microsoft.” (Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 2006).
To simplify an interminable discussion, I would underline that from my point of view the Lacanian theory in general and particularly those aspects concerning the gaze and the scopic drive are not something meaningless, ideas of the past, but, to the contrary, they are still crucial to approach the fundamental ambiguity of images.
In his Seminary (1973), Lacan states (quoting David Macey, “The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory”, Penguin, London, 2000, p. 155) that:
- “the gaze is (...) a property of the object rather than of the subject”;
- “as the subject gazes at the object of its perception, it senses that the object is gazing back at it from a point that lies outside the field of subjective perception. The subject is thus lured into the image of the object by the mechanism illustrated by anamorphis of Holbeins’s The Embassadors (1533, National Gallery, London).” In this painting the anamorphic effect is illustrated by an image of a human skull, when viewed from the correct angle, although in the painting it is distorted and resembles a cuttle-fish bone. “The concealed skull is a “memento mori” [sort of reminder] “of the inevitability of death” (Macey, op. cit., 14).
With this Seminary Lacan opens an approach that is indeed very rich, although it needs to be developed and critically reexamined today in articulation with numerous perspectives of other authors on the image.
I will return to this complex theme in a near future; in the meantime, consider the contributions made by several authors to the book that I have edited with Julian Thomas, “Archaeology and the Politics of Vision in a Post-Modern Context”, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.

Porto, January 2008.

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