Thursday, October 25, 2012


The more I paint the landscape, and the more I read about materiality and the phenomenology of the landscape (Tilley, 1994, 2004), the more I know I'm a topophile. Are you in the landscape, or is the landscape in you? I am deeply interested in the landscape’s role in shaping identity and perception. I'm from landlocked Kansas, but I lived in the coastal city of Niihama, Japan, for five years, and saw first hand how the ocean and mountains affected the music, dance, and spirituality of the people. The reciprocity, the circular manner in which a sense of self emerges through the deepening relation with the landscape, is acknowledged in Buddhism as the “dependent co-arising of self and other.” Landscape painters leave concrete records of the multi-layered relationship we share with the landscape, making it possible to chart cultural and historical themes that reflect societal attitudes at precise moments in time (Dainis Dauksta, 2011). 

The most universal narrative (maybe the only "real" archetypal narrative), according to Tilley, is the ‘above/below’ duality. Sky and Earth. It isn't just indoctrinated by phallocentrism and abstracting mind. It is phenomenological, rooted in our lived experience, and colors the way we experience our bodies.  

For example, Aristotle comments that "above” is where fire, and what is light, move. Likewise “below” is where heavy metals  and earth things move" (Physics  Book 4). This fundamental distinction between the lightness of the sky associated with spirit powers and the heaviness of the land, the domain of humans, is one made over and over again in world religions and countless ethnographies (Tilley). 

This is the source of medieval and Renaissance views on the concordia mundi, whereby the head and the sky as well as the genitals and the sublunar region correspond to each other (Casey 1993: 80). Metaphorically speaking, subjectivity is in the upper body whereas the lower body is buried in the objective world (Yuasa: 174). And this corresponds to a distinction between the noble orifices of the head compared with the genitals, excrement and defilement (Douglas 1970). Places such as sacred mountains associated with light and air that lie up and above always tend to be privileged culturally and emotionally while places situated down below tend to be associated with darkness and death. Up and down become terms to which are attached essential moral purpose and the values of superior and inferior. Mondrian abstracted the universal themes of the world into the horizontal, the vertical, the primary colors, black and white. What these all mean and signify is culturally variable (for Mondrian, the horizontal is the feminine, and the vertical is the masculine), but the structure “above/below” appears universal.

“So we can suggest that experiencing the world in terms of dualisms is not so much a product of the invariant operation of a human mind, as Lévi-Strauss claims, but is instead grounded in our bodies.” (Tilley)

No comments:

May all beings be Free and in Love.

Blog Archive