Background


The starting point for the Edge of a Dream project is W.J.T. Mitchell’s essay Imperial Landscape, and his call for art historical accounts of landscape to acknowledge the inherent politics therein. Mitchell argues that, “histories of landscape [...] continually present it as breaking with convention, with language and textuality, for a natural view of nature, just as they present landscape as transcending property and labour.” (1)

The project relates those concerns to contemporary visual representations of landscape. Mitchell’s call for an inter-textual approach to critiquing landscape has very much shaped the nature of the project. It has been a means of interrogating art practice via other disciplines; specifically, using writing from design, philosophy and new technology perspectives.

Kate Soper’s essay, ‘Privileged Gazes & Ordinary Affections’, gives a critique of left-wing writing on representations of landscape (such as Raymond Williams and John Berger) noting that: “What has been emphasised [...] is the need to inject a class – and gender – dimension into accounts of landscape appreciation: to recognise the extent to which tastes and fashions in natural scenery, or for landscape design and its pictorial and literary representation, have been determined by those in positions of socio-economic power – in ways that reflect their sense of the world and interests.” (2)

Soper’s wish list for alternative accounts of landscape can surely be expanded upon. Indeed, the project has sought to engage both local and global perspectives on landscape. Edge of a Dream raises a number of questions, such as: how might photography employ the conventions of landscape (pictorialism, perspective, beauty) critically? How might it usefully engage with other discourses (such as architecture, new technology, design, writing)? At a time of economic and ecological crisis, can such images help us to visualise other possibilities for how we might live? Or record our failures for posterity? What, then, is the role of the artist in contributing to our understanding or interrogation of landscape and its inherent politics?

(1) WJT Mitchell, Imperial Landscape, in Landscape and Power (2nd Edition), The University of Chicago Press, 2002
(2) Kate Soper, Privileged Gazes and Ordinary Affections: Reflections on the Politics of Landscape and the Scope of Nature Aesthetic, in Deterritorialisations…Revisioning Landscapes and Politics, eds. Marks Dorrian and Gillian Rose, Black Dog Publishing, 2003