everything is manicured: essay

about landscape.
not about wilderness.

[Dutch landschap, from Middle Dutch landscapregion : landland; see lendh- in Indo-European roots + -scapstate, condition (collective suff.).]

Word History: Landscape, first recorded in 1598, was borrowed as a painters' term from Dutch during the 16th century, when Dutch artists were pioneering the landscape genre. The Dutch word landschap had earlier meant simply "region, tract of land" but had acquired the artistic sense, which it brought over into English, of "a picture depicting scenery on land." Interestingly, 34 years pass after the first recorded use of landscape in English before the word is used of a view or vista of natural scenery. This delay suggests that people were first introduced to landscapes in paintings and then saw landscapes in real life.

everyday we move dirt. everywhere in this world our feet shuffle through it, altering the layers.
we stand on street corners, on concrete less than 1'-0" above the ground, or if in a big city, 5 stories above the first bedrock. the land is always shifting in the most minute ways.
we think about nature. we think about environment. we think about place.
we think a visit to the country is where the pastoral is allowed to roam and mix with the natural,
but to tell the truth it is not.

every stroke has been fabricated. someone else has been there, cutting, pruning, adding, introducing species and taking things away.

landscapes are like detective stories. we can sense someone was there before us.

everything is manicured, or at least manipulated, and sometimes preserved.

so why paint a landscape?

here is a story:

farm 1997, bottoms
we have a farm in north alabama, about 4 hours from our house. i first started photographing it in 1997. this is the valley -  my favorite field. but it no longer looks anything like this. it has a flood plain at the lowest part, and the field once continued all the way to the road some 100 acres beyond. the mountains in the background make up the edge of the valley, and they are far in the distance.
farm 2012, bottoms
here is the valley today in 2012.  far in the distance the edges of this field have been grown up in trees. the trees are part of a sustainable tree program available to farmers. where once some old oaks stood are now hundreds of young trees. at first it looked like a grid of sapling hardwoods, carefully planted into "casual" rows with critical care. but now it is a young forest, imported and placed by us. in some ways it lies to us because it looks so natural, as if it has always been there.
but we know better. the ground is always shifting.

 mow line, and barricade. 2011
where the manicured lawn ends and another field begins. beyond are woods, high cliffs of rocks and a creek that has worn into the bedrock.  the small knots of this fence remind one that the leisure of the lawn is on one side and the more unruly world begins right beyond.
lawn games

the color of cultural exchange, 2011
my father-in-law once planted the fields in red clover mixed with grasses but after a while it was removed. how does one remove something that has moved like a rhizome across a surface of 500 acres and replace the hue? the field now turns yellow, with buttercup. a different palette. it's beautiful, like a meadow, but we know a farm field is not natural, but fabricated as are the tree rows that frame it like a painting. tree rows mark property. they mark livestock, family lines, commodity and wealth.
and yes, they frame beauty. a tree row is a cultural marker.

field with tree rows beyond, 2011.
when we look at landscape we look at the tension of technology and the commodity of land.
 tractor, 2011

so why paint a landscape?
perhaps cezanne thought about all of this as he painted the "moving" mountain over and over again, transforming it before our eyes in shifts of color, trying again and again to capture something fleeting if not conceptual. perhaps he was also observing that the ground is always moving, that it moves within a cultural exchange. 

so i say, why not paint a landscape?
a landscape is always already a critical construct.

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