Session 9

Friday, June 4

13:30–14:30 (Helsinki, EEST, UTC +3), Congress Room 1

Chair: Mateusz Salwa

Laura Fumagalli (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy):

Neglected Landscapes: Understanding the Concept of the Landscape to Preserve the Environment

The environmental crisis has, of course, many consequences on our aesthetic appreciation of the environment but one of its most striking effects is that many landscapes are turning into neglected areas, which we hardly consider worth of visiting or appreciating. Many suburban areas, for example, have partly undergone a process of rewilding after abandonment but they still bear the signs of human intervention and are hardly considered places worth visiting. Processes of desertification made many natural areas unwelcoming or inaccessible, also from the aesthetic point of view. All of this amounts to what Gilles Clément defines as the “third landscape” (Clément 2014). These landscapes are rarely considered aesthetically valuable and they seldom enter the public debate: hence their preservation is even more in danger.

I argue that the dismissal, which is primarily aesthetic, of these landscapes lies on a wrong definition of the landscape and on the widespread visual representations of it. The landscape is often understood as the scenic view of an area of land surface. Consequently, we are less inclined to appreciate a landscape when it lacks formal and scenic qualities. Moreover, many representations of the landscape provide an improper experience of it from the aesthetic point of view, in that they reduce the landscape to a static, visual scene and to a trivial, stereotyped experience. This makes the experience of the landscape (both real and represented) an objectified and detached one, depriving it of its traditional aesthetic values. It also means that many complex, lived-in landscapes are marginalized in favour of antiseptic, museum-like ones (Kaufman 2009). Hence, a new understanding of the concept of landscape is needed in order not to neglect some landscapes. In the first place, the experience of landscape cannot be reduced to the sense of sight but needs to include all of our senses (Assunto 1994). Secondarily, the point of view on the landscape is not a fixed one but it is moveable, so that it can include all the variations or the meteorological processes that occur in an organic and living environment (Hepburn 2004). Finally, the landscape is not a separate image from us spectators but it is instead the place we inhabit. Following this account of the landscape, it then appears easier to consider and appreciate also the landscapes that are not scenic views.

María José Alcaraz León (Universidad de Murcia, Spain):

On the Aesthetic Appreciation of Damaged Environments and its Role in Shaping our Aesthetic Sensibility

As aesthetic appreciators of the environment, we often encounter cases where our environmental commitments and our aesthetic responses do not seem to match. Some highly altered or contaminated environments may occasion powerful and insightful aesthetic experiences. In this paper, I discuss some arguments that have been offered in favour of the view that this mismatch is not possible when we appreciate a particular environment with full awareness of its damaged or altered condition.

The first argument is offered by Saito (2018) and aims at establishing that our awareness of the environmental damage and other social consequences involved in the industrial production of commodities can (and should) penetrate our perception and aesthetic appreciation of those objects and of the environment itself such that we no longer enjoy the alleged pleasure they could afford when perceived from an ignorant perspective. The second argument I would like to address concerns the role that functional categories play in aesthetic appreciation. Parsons & Carlson (2008) are the main advocates of this line. In their view, functional considerations are relevant for the aesthetic appreciation of natural environments to the extent that they can be perceived and understood as complexes of functional roles that cooperate synchronically and diachronically to the maintenance of the ecological equilibrium. These functional considerations determine to some extent the positive or negative aesthetic value that an environment can be perceived as possessing. However, some authors (De Clercq 2013; Stecker 2019) have questioned the pro tanto role that judgments about the functionality or dysfunctionality of a particular functional artefact is meant to play within this view. We can extend these arguments to the case of environmental aesthetic appreciation and examine to whether functional concerns are to be thought as possessing a less strong role in our appreciation of damaged environments.

I will try to show that these arguments are not conclusive and that there is room for valuable experiences of damaged or highly altered environments. Our knowledge of the damaged condition of an environment does not necessarily make the resulting aesthetic experience to be negative: there is a range of valuable and positive aesthetic experiences that may be entertained in some cases of damaged environments and that widen the scope of the aesthetic values these environments can possess. Finally, I will try to show that these cases do not necessarily diminish the role that aesthetics can play in shaping our environmental sensibility and commitments. By confronting us with these complex and problematic cases of aesthetic appreciation we become much more aware of our relationship with our environment and our impact upon it.