24 October 2010

New Pastoralism

Curious bit of a ruminative spiel from artist Anthony Gormley, stumbled upon in a back issue of Conservation Bulletin from 2007. In a short piece titled "the Post-Industrial Sublime," Gromley offers:

"I can remember as a schoolboy walking northeast over the North Yorkshire Moors beyond Pickering and first seeing the Fylingdales early warning station -- three huge balls, alien objects in an open, windswept, heatherland with few paths and roads. They were blindingly white, interestingly indented and changed the landscape and the way one felt in it completely.

The post-war landscape of Britain has been transformed by three things: the motorway (with the concomitant loss of railways), the high-rise tower and the decline of manufacturing and the arrival of the megashed. You could also argue that the way we perceive and engage with the land has also changed -- fewer of us work with and in it, the land becoming something to be passed through, most usually in a car, where we are inoculated from direct contact by speed and steel. In the English picturesque, a landscape worthy of being painted had to have some aspect of the sublime (the untamed meeting the ordered) and an absence of evidence of work. It was considered important to have a ruin, castle or monument to help see it in a poetic way. Today we have escaped the 18th century’s decorum, but we still look on the land in remarkably historic ways. I would suggest that the network of motorways is our most potent unconscious monument and it, rather than the park, determines the way that we relate to the landscape of this dear overcrowded group of islands that we call home. I would suggest it is the hidden workings of the structures that we see from these motorways that have become at once the Gothic ruins and the elements of Burkian terror in our sublime, and that give our prospects their sense of beauty."

From there, Gormley takes the reader through a breif travelogue of the new English countryside -- one that includes the glories of the M1 motorway, the Drax power station, the field of towering radio ariels in Rugby and the "exhilarating Emsley Moor transmitter," etc.

Fair enough, I suppose; even if it isn't the most novel way of framing the topic. As a tour of "new monuments," the article's free of any sort of Warholian irony, and lacking in anything akin to Robert Smithson's perverse critical eccentricities. In the end, it' comes across as a bit vapid. Perhaps that latter suspicion is most hammered home when, in the final paragraphs, it appears that the entire article is a triumphalist bit of self-promotion for the artist's own "Angel of the North."

Full article here.

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