Landscape Anthropology

An exhibition called In Search of the Miraculous opened up last night at the Camera Club of New York. It runs till March 28th.

[Image: Two Structures, Death Valley, California, 2007, by Ian Bugaskas, from his series Sweet Water; courtesy of the Jen Bekman Gallery].

While the above image, by photographer Ian Bugaskas, one of the artists represented in the show, is not actually on display there, Baguskas will instead be exhibiting a series called Sansaram (Mountain People), which visually surveys a very particular landscape microculture in South Korea.
According to the Camera Club:

Ian Baguskas’s portraits made in South Korea of local mountain hikers depict the intersection of recreation and spiritual communion with nature. His project Sansaram from 2005, meaning “people of the mountain,” combines landscape views with documentary portraits of native visitors to the Sobaek mountains, encountered on hiking trails. The popularity of this activity can be attributed to the indigenous religion, which is centered on the worship of nature and mountain spirits, and has come to be fused with Buddhism.

The series, visible on Baguskas’s website (caution: resizes your browser and requires Flash), is a fascinating look at the intersection of geology and anthropology – in other words, how massive landforms can be appropriated by and incorporated into cultural movements and religious traditions.
The human experience of the earth’s surface here takes on the form of small picnics, ice cream carts parked on paved platforms, lone hikers gazing out over urban developments below, and families standing quietly in the sun. But behind all of that lies bedrock, a huge intrusion of solid, crystalline form that has pushed up from below into detectability and self-exposure.
This reminds me, though, that if I could start a university – or, for that matter, simply teach at one – I would love to form a new department, studio, or program called Landscape Anthropology, a specifically and enthusiastically spatialized look at human culture. From the layouts of medieval villages to the floorplans of corporate bank towers, from national parks and monuments to the strange geotechnical rearrangements we force upon rock, digging tunnels, excavating mines, and installing towns and cities, how do human beings experience the earth? This would seem to be one of the largest and most important questions we could possibly ask.
In any case, if you’re in New York City between now and March 28, consider stopping by the Camera Club for a glimpse of In Search of the Miraculous.

7 thoughts on “Landscape Anthropology”

  1. I’m taking a course at the University of Chicago that is similar:
    Anthropology of Space/Place: Materiality has emerged as a central and fertile interest in anthropology and other social sciences. Within this broad conceptual umbrella, space, place, and landscape have become critical points of focus for analyzing and interpreting peoples engagement with their physical surroundings. Once an inert backdrop to social life, a mere epiphenomenon, the material world is now perceived as a generative medium and terrain of cultural production: at once socially produced and framing sociality, shaping human actions and understandings while constraining social possibilities. The twin-question is how to go about analyzing the spatial production of social worlds, and how to account for the many different ways in which these processes unfold in varied cultural and historical settings. This course aims to expose you to the contemporary literature on spatial thought and explore various situated approaches to space/place/landscape. We will draw on several fields, anthropology and geography chiefly, but also art history, architecture, philosophy, and social theory, to understand how the triad of space/place/landscape work on, in, and through different social worlds, and their role in the formation of social experience, perception, and imagination. The objective of the course is to provide you with a solid foundation in contemporary spatial theory and help you develop critical tools for thinking through the articulation of space and the social in your research setting

    The reading involves Henri Lefebvre, Michel deCerteau, Bachelard, Ed Soja, Ed Casey…an interesting amalgamation of theory and ethnography.

  2. I studied this subject area at university and found the utilisation of space through resource collection fasinating. I thought the photographs where great. I am now a ceramic artist and try to incorperate these themes into my work.

  3. i study the anthropology of landscapes, and I get there through architecture. for the past few years i’ve been working on a project in New Zealand on the design of “vernacular villages” by professional indigenous Maori architects. This entails many diverse practices and schools of thought, some of them corresponding to architectural conventions (geometry, planning, navigating governmental regulation, etc) and others corresponding to indigneous building practices (heavily influenced by the work of woodcarvers). At least in this instance, calling landforms “geology” often misses the point– mountains, for example, are known to speak to woodcarvers and weigh in on building decisions and ideas of the relationships between buildings, sites and surrounding landscapes. in this capacity they’re much more like people– or bygone ancestors who weigh in from beyond the veil– than they are like sedimented or cooked chunks of minerals (though these aren’t mutually exclusive). Anthropologists haven’t done much in looking at built environments through this lens of “sentient landscapes” but there has been plenty written on the latter. Tim Ingold’s The Perception of the Environment is a good place to start, including an essay on how people and animals build shelters in similar ways. word.

  4. I am currently reading “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin about the Aboriginal pathways that criss cross australia facinating connection with the landscape that we have lost in western culture highly recommended if you like to discover the human patterns and mythologies related to landscape….

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