This Land
July 19 – September 20, 2013
Salisbury University Art Galleries

“Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.”  –Bill Bryson

The land has been an important part of American identity, prosperity, and culture since the dawn of our nation. We grew up as a country of farmers, trappers, prospectors, loggers, ranchers, and watermen, so the centrality of the land to our history is no surprise. How we have conceived of this land can be seen in the works of art depicting it, such as Albert Bierstadt’s paintings of Yosemite Valley that dramatize the landscape in the nineteenth century romantic style. While images by Bierstadt and other Hudson River School artists may encapsulate the nineteenth century American zeitgeist, these images also shaped peoples perception of the natural world. Often people saw images, such as the photographs by Timothy O’Sullivan, prior to experiencing the real thing for themselves...if they ever did. 

"I progress very slowly, for nature reveals herself to me in very complex ways: and the progress needed is endless...The Louvre is a good book to consult, but it must be only an intermediary. The real and immense study to be undertaken is the manifold picture of nature." –Paul Cezanne

Jean-François Lyotard wrote, “It used to be said that landscapes...were wild because they were, in Northern Europe, always forests. FORIS, outside. Beyond the pale, beyond the cultivated land, beyond the realm of form.” Here Lyotard hints that the inexorable draw of nature comes from the sense that it is over “there” and beyond the known confines of domesticated space. As we become an ever more urban society, millions of Americans head to our remaining respites of wilderness each year. This suggests that this land is still an important part of our lives, though an ever more remote one...an ever more distant other. We perhaps suffer from “nature deficit disorder” as some have proposed, and at the same time our understanding of the natural world is more nuanced, detailed, and complex than ever before. We progressively get closer and closer to knowing its entirety and in effect squashing the very lure of its formlessness. Yet new questions seem to always arise as nature continues to evolve one step ahead. The minute our power is knocked out by a strong storm we are reminded how tenuous our control over our environment really is. 

he human condition is characterized by a feedback loop between human activity and our material surroundings. In this view, space is not a container for human activities to take place within, but is actively 'produced' through human activity." –Trevor Paglen

The immense scale of nature and the intricacy of its processes lends to the feeling that it is somehow foreign or other. As Bill Bryson writes of his experience hiking the Appalachian Trail, “Woods are not like other spaces. Their trees surround you, loom over you, press in from all sides. Woods choke off views and leave you muddled and without bearings. Stand in a desert or prairie and you know you are in a big space. Stand in the woods and you only sense it. They are a vast, featureless nowhere. And they are alive.” Nature is of course not “other”...it is part of totality to which we also belong. The natural world is our world, and we cannot survive without it. It produces us, and is produced by us. It is “a system we are fundamentally native to, but unavoidably separated from; one that produces us, even as we (physically, conceptually, discursively) produce it” as Jeffrey Kastner puts it.

We seem to be at a threshold here in America as well as around the world. As the effects of climate change increase and we truly comprehend just how integrated we are with our environment...how will we move forward? This land is our land and we must decide how we will live in and with it.