Construction and Consumption: An Exploration of How We View Nature

This is very late, and I am sorry.

As we have discussed the role of the natural world in our society throughout this class, there are a few key terms that continually come to mind, specifically: separate, construct, and consume.  The common use of each of these words in regard to the natural environment says a lot about how we approach nature as a society.  First of all, the terms construct and consume not only imply a human presence, but also a type of human control.  As these terms are used in the context of a human-to-nature relationship, they suggest the presence of an alarmingly unnatural approach to thinking about the environment.  For example, to construct something may be thought of as developing, altering, or inventing an object or idea.  Therefore, if we consider our relationship with nature in terms of constructing it, then we are no longer accepting nature for what it is; we are no longer seeing it as a living aspect of the world, but we are rather viewing it as an object that can be manipulated and controlled.  Furthermore, when we think of constructing nature, we may not necessarily be thinking of how we physically manipulate the natural world, but how we control it simply through the ideas of nature that we have constructed.  For example, although the creation of national parks is an amazing development and promotes the preservation of wilderness for the benefit of all to have access to and appreciate it, they have instilled a type of concept of what nature is or should be into American society.

As last week’s reading of Alexander Wilson’s, The Culture of Nature, discussed the development of tourism and its effects on how we interact with the natural world, it points out that today we generally experience nature from a very constructed and organized perspective.  The advent of national parks and tourism gave a society that had enclosed itself in civilization and human-made structures a structured way of experiencing and understanding the natural world.  Even though this notion that we view nature in a certain way may not necessarily seem like a dangerous one, as we establish such uniform ways of thinking about nature, we may begin to approach it from a much too concentrated or one-sided viewpoint.  This perspective, as the reading points out, seems to be rooted in anthropocentric concepts that focus on aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment.  Although I am not undermining this aspect of nature, the mindset that nature or natural beauty is something that we may consume through quick visits to national parks allows us to also view nature as another object in, or aspect of consumer society.  We approach these places as if we are entering a separate world that is being served to us in beautiful slices; we select portions of it, make it accessible, go indulge in its beauty, and then we go back to the real world.  Our experiences with nature are surprisingly and all too commonly temporary and constructed.  I would like to explain that I do not mean to completely attack this certain way in which we tend to experience or view nature because this has become a major aspect of how I experience it myself.  I have an overwhelming fondness of national parks, scenic drives, and wilderness areas that are carefully set aside for public use, but it is exactly this great love that has enabled me to realize the potential danger in such a widely accepted, one-sided way of seeing the natural world.

Once again, as last week’s reading points out, we have constructed certain views of what nature is supposed to be based on how we consume it through tourism, specifically through temporary visits to beautiful places that have been laid out and designed four our pleasure and ease of use.  Here, I would like to focus on and discuss the experiences in nature that are designed to be purely aesthetic ones, specifically the experiences that are created by scenic drives which seem to be the epitome of what it means to consume nature.  Scenic drives, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway that we discussed in class, enable people to experience nature as a very large moving picture.  This experience instills a type of notion that we may be in the natural world without being a part of it; we may have aesthetic experiences in nature yet may still be separate or cut off from it.  In this way, it seems that scenic drives, as well as national parks, offer society the privileged view of the outsider looking in, which is also what landscape paintings and photographs seem to offer.  Today, our interactions with nature surprisingly resemble our relationship with visual art, which leads me to ask questions such as: what is art’s role in our experiences with nature; what do paintings and photographs of the natural world offer us and how do they contribute to our consumption of the natural world; and finally, how can different types of landscape art—interactive, sculptural, or simply pictorial—affect how we interact with nature?

These questions finally lead to the discussion of my topic prospectus.  Since art exists as a major component in how we tend to experience or think about the natural world, I would like to create artworks that provoke questions about our established relationships with the environment.  First of all, after studying certain landscape artists such as Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, Dan Graham, and Nancy Holt, I would like to create interactive environmental artworks in specific sites around Montevallo that inspire viewers to think about their relationships with these areas and how they typically view them.  Based on class readings and discussions, as well as on the artists and artworks that I research, I would like to create works that encourage viewers to think about certain landscapes from different perspectives.  I would like to approach the concepts of constructing, consuming, and separating the natural environment.  In order to do this, I will create three or four site-specific, three-dimensional box-like structures made out of stiffened fabric.  These structures will vary in size and shape, but each will separate a part of the chosen area from the rest, and at the same time will have an opening so that people may enter the work.   After each structure is completed and set up, I will document each one and post the photographs to the blog.  I may also like to take video documentation of people entering these structures, and possibly post their responses.  I may also create video documentations of their experiences, and then possibly interview them afterwards.  These pieces will be temporary, so I only plan to leave them up for a couple of days.  I will do my documentation during this time, then I will post the photographs and video to the blog, along with a written portion that gives a detailed description of what this project seemed to accomplish.

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4 thoughts on “Construction and Consumption: An Exploration of How We View Nature

  1. This is an interesting project. Do you think you might be able to interview people to collect their thoughts about what they thought about the objects and experience? Will you provide them with any information about what the work is about? Is it important to you for them to know?

    • I was actually trying to think of what would be the best way to inform people about the work. I wasn’t sure if I should post a sign next to each piece or on the inside, and I’m also not sure how I should go about trying to explain it. I don’t want to ruin the experience by over-explaining, but I do want people to have some idea about what the work is about. Also, I would like to interview people and hear about their thoughts and experiences, but I’m not quite sure how to go about that. I would definitely appreciate any suggestions.

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