Morten Straede
Jacob Wamberg: Tale ved åbningen
A Changing Landscape

A landscape that is undergoing radical change is home to other values than simply those of production and economics.

Today, enterprises present social responsibility accounts as part of their annual reporting. As far as agriculture is concerned, biological responsibility accounts and aesthetic responsibility accounts ought to be included, too.

If we fail to regard our landscape as a living, dynamic entity we will erode the very foundations of Danish nature.

Our landscape should not be considered in terms of how much it can withstand.

Our landscape should be considered in terms of production, biology and aesthetics.

These three categories must be carefully weighed and balanced in each individual case.

A new view of landscape is not just about aesthetics in the sense of beauty. Rather, the aesthetic approach offers opportunities for rethinking production, nature and recreation.When you think about what our landscape looks like, you include issues such as agriculture, traffic habits, our perception of nature, the relationship between built-up and greenfield sites, demographics, social concerns and economics. We understand “landscape” as the areas that lie outside of the cities, featuring few or no buildings. The word is used to designate the topographical landscape, the productive agricultural landscape and the marine areas that surround it all. First and foremost it should probably be regarded as an aesthetic category. When we speak about landscape we often mean the view before us, the way in which the countryside unfolds before our gaze and the way in which its topographical folds grabs hold of our own memory. Landscape stores our collective memory. It appears in paintings, in literature and in other products by and for human consciousness. And it holds part of individual history. But we do not just look out across the landscape. We always also look inside, into our own mental landscape. The mutual reflections of these two “views” make up the view before us. It is not a neutral setting for our lives. It is not a primordial state that we have been placed within, one that offers resistance which shapes the awareness and consciousness of us all – collectively and individually. Rather, it is a dynamic entity – one that plays with us and against us. It is a space that shapes and affects our actions and thoughts with its site-specific characteristics such as rain, wind, soil, flora and so on. And those actions and thoughts have a reciprocal effect on the landscape.

The introduction of industrial technologies turned the “conversation” between landscape and our consciousness into a monologue. Karl Marx spoke about how one of the driving forces of history was about man’s mastery of nature. In 1840 it was almost impossible to envision that humanity could dominate and shape nature completely. But 170 years later it has become reality, even commonplace. In recent decades we have affected landscape to an extent that matches natural disasters in scale. Our relationship with landscape is now governed by a human supremacy based on machines and chemicals. The idea of mankind’s mastery over nature has come to pass. Certainly when we concern ourselves with the productive landscape and do not include the backlashes produced by nature in the form of extreme weather, natural disasters and so on. And yet our perception of landscape remains infused by Golden Age images from the 1840s to the 1880s. The period where rural farming landscapes became the object of massive propaganda, not least perpetrated by artists; a time where storks adorned the thatched roofs of every peasant in the most picturesque way. On the one hand, such Golden Age images are partly an origin myth. They reflect a belief that the landscape and life in that landscape is more closely attuned to humanity’s origins than the city with its alienation and cultural surface gloss. On the other hand they also celebrate humanity’s dawning mastery over nature and how this benefited human society. Back then there was presumably a real correlation between the images, the ideology and the actual conditions out there: the landscape changed, more soil was appropriated for agricultural purposes. New technologies made it possible to farm wetlands and dry regions that had previously been unworkable. Out of the sum total of these endeavours a special ideology arose. At the same time there was a massive migration from rural districts to the cities – a movement that did not receive much attention from artists. We are facing an equally radical situation now. Rural populations migrate to the cities on a massive scale. While it is true that the production of food remains the main reason for subduing the landscape, technology has made it possible to do this with so little labour that very few people are needed and social life in the country dies out. It is difficult to keep a football team going if you can’t find eleven players. These days, we see a discrepancy and imbalance between the actual state of affairs in the countryside and the popular image that still exists inside the minds of most people: That, to paraphrase Hans Christian Andersen, “it is so lovely out in the country”, a place where geese are tethered on the brinks of ditches, goats stand on the roofs of henhouses, and the entire place is teeming with people.

We might be indifferent to all this, making ourselves believe that everything is fine were it not because this old-fashioned view of the countryside and landscape has such a harmful impact on our groundwater, animal life and so on. It is important that the plans for developing the landscape employ the same scale as the utilisation of its resources. Otherwise the end result is an impoverished landscape – in terms of its qualities as a space and in terms of its flora and fauna. Ultimately, the landscape is impoverished for the people who still live in it. For example, why do country dwellers accept that hedgerows are dug out to such an extent that the houses and farms are dotted around on huge, undifferentiated expanses of fields like small, windswept islands? We must consider landscape on a scale that is commensurate with the scale of its utilisation. It is not enough to give specific watercourses or hills protected status. The landscape is a densely woven web of meaning and mutual influences, intermeshing the productive, the recreational, biology, traffic patterns and much more. In Denmark we have virtually no areas of original, unspoilt nature. Most places have at some point been cultivated, tilled, felled or been subjected to other human activities. That is why we should look at the landscape as a single, vast cultural image. And we must think very carefully about what kind of landscape we want. Our image of landscape must be able to accommodate production, recreation and sustainability.

One might consider our traffic and transport habits as one example of how the conditions governing our view of language have changed. Those habits have undergone radical changes in the last two decades. Everyone has become more mobile. It is not unusual to drive to work 75 km away from home. We move through the landscape at high speeds. The landscape is observed at speed, through the windscreen. With the air conditioning on. The cars are fitted with pollen filters. Perfume can be added to the airflow if the reek of manure should get too strong. The distance between homo automobilis and the landscape is very great indeed. Landscape is reduced to a film shown on the car windscreen. Animals keep away from the roads, scared off by the noise and lights. The only animals you see are the ones that have been run over, reduced to mincemeat with tufts of fur. The sensory inputs received at slower speeds when you cycle or walk are gone. This diminishes our sense of the qualities of our landscapes. Indeed, we could complain at length about the hardships of landscapes today. And we may express regret that there is no longer any time to stroll through the countryside, experiencing its great diversity. However, a new view of landscape must be based on the new conditions and realities. The landscape has already been adjusted to fit highly industrialised production on the one hand, and to be experienced at speeds of 60 km/hour on the other. We must address the disparity between the old Golden Age views of landscape and our current state of affairs. We must find a new view, a new image of landscape that is based on our present-day society. An image that is as accommodating and productive as the old one.


Contribution to the book Udfordringer af danmarkskortet

Akademirådets Landskabsudvalg. January 2015