In the second of two pieces resulting from Landscape Research Group (LRG) events, Tim Collins (with input from Reiko Goto) reports on the Debate focused on Landscape Justice held in London on Wednesday 7 December 2017.
At this event, landscape justice issues discussed included deeply troubling, indeed dark and bloody national narratives underpinning what is presented today to be pristine and wild exemplary European forest; critical/creative legal maneuvers set to music to intervene in transnational oil and gas pipelines in the USA; the deep historic tensions over Land ownership in Scotland; and finally the framework for an ethical-aesthetic duty – a sense of justice owed to more-than- human interests.
Organized and facilitated by the Landscape Research Group (and in particular development manager Sarah McCarthy) the host for the debate was Chris Dalglish, Chair of LRG and social archaeologist. The panel comprised the landscape historian and theorist Ken Olwig from Denmark; eco-artist and activist Aviva Rahmani from New York City; Peter Peacock, former Labour MSP and policy director of Community Land Scotland; and Emily Brady, a philosopher with a focus on environmental aesthetics and ethics living and working in Edinburgh. Both Olwig and Brady are expatriate Americans.
Prior to travelling for the event, Reiko Goto and I had spent time reading to clarify our understanding of the key term and its meanings. The baseline is perhaps encapsulated in the LRG research strategy which views the challenges of landscape justice as a systemic problem of, “…inter-connected social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits and burdens, goods, services and agencies, which arise from landscape itself.” The research statement conflates landscape with land – the surface of the earth distinguished by boundaries of ownership and control. Landscape is generally more of an aggregate term. The European Landscape Convention understands it as land that is: “…perceived by local people or visitors, which evolves through time as a result of being acted upon by natural forces and human beings”. I will expand in the conclusion.
After a practical orientation by Sarah, Chris Dalglish in his role as Chair provided a brief overview of the issues surrounding the meaning and value of Landscape Justice (LJ) and how we would help to address these questions through conversations with our four speakers; but also in a larger dialogue amongst ourselves. With 12 present and former trustees of LRG in attendance and an additional 37 members of the group in the audience the event began with Ken Olwig as the first speaker.
- what is landscape justice and why does it matter?
- why we should strive for landscape justice, and
- how we might achieve landscape justice by linking research, policy and practice.
Prof Olwig is a historian and critical theorist, an author of a series of texts that examine how landscapes affect language, social, cultural and political process. For his presentation he prepared a series of slides outlining literature that contributes ideas to our present understanding of justice, nature, nationality and landscape with a focus on Europe. He began with the French philosopher Montesquieu before touching on the tensions between ideals, rhetoric and the lives of Scottish authors James Macpherson recognized for being the controversial ‘translator’ (from Scottish Gaelic) of the epic Ossian poems in the first half of the 18 th century and Sir Walter Scott who chronicled the conflicts of Highland life in the last half of the 18th century. His talk was dense and moved quickly through ideas, times and places.
Beginning with Montesquieu he talked about wild nature and the tension between ideas about environmental determinism and freedom from oppression, including theories of separate and opposing executive forces at the national level that would shape constitutions around the world. He then went on to Macpherson whose ‘Gaelic translations’ have been consistently challenged but widely read. A narrative of ancient legends and a description of the beauty of the Highlands, the Ossian epic is internationally recognized for its impact on the Romantic Movement. (He was also known for clearing his own Highland Estate of forests, reshaping landforms and obliterating the Gaelic place names where he could.) Referencing Sir Walter Scott, Olwig drew our attention to passages that suggested the Highlands were drained of nature. He also asked us to consider landscapes where culture was superfluous to emergent meaning largely defined by science. He relied on Simon Schama’s treatise on landscape and its relationship to ideas of culture and national identity as the central thread to the talk. Using Schama’s text Olwig put a critical framework in place to help us consider how landscape and its range of narratives shape national self-perception.
Schama’s text also became the focal point of his conclusion: the clash between recent ecological conceit in the European Union about ‘wild’ nature in the Białowieża forest of Poland and the despotic and fascist interests that claimed the forest as a symbolic validation of their values. He explained that the forest had undergone cycles of harvest and destruction and conservation and protection for centuries. It had been hailed as a wild centerpiece of cultural import for one despotic national interest after another. From the point of view of ‘wild’ ecology all apex predators including bears, wolves and lynx were exterminated in the mid 18th century. During the First World War the last of the wild bison were lost. British lumber merchants would contribute to the decimation of the forest after the war, while Polish scientists would reassemble the bison herd from zoo specimens. In the midst of World War II, Białowieża became a focal point of the fascist Nazi Lebensraum initiative, with ethnic cleansing to remove the resident population followed by radical restoration plans to extend the forest and reverse-engineer extinct species to create a hunting park. The Teutonic narrative of the Nazis would subsume the historic Polish-Lithuanian narrative of that forest, and in retreat the Nazis would burn historic hunting lodges and exterminate the bison, eagles, elk and wolves which were the symbolic focal point of their interest in that place. The subsequent Soviet occupation would then manage the forest frontier for state security. Yet the narrative of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries including the rhetoric of the European Union assume Białowieża to be the largest ‘remnant’ wilderness in Europe, ignoring a social, cultural and political history that complicates that point of view. This was a significant historical narrative, a robust provocation to begin the ‘debate’ about landscape and the location and meaning of justice.
Dr. Aviva Rahmani is an eminent ecoartist and researcher, with a background in music. She discussed her current project Blued Trees Symphony (2015 ongoing) which integrates the arts, sciences, and policy, resulting in a work that is intellectually challenging and beautiful at the same time.
She began by saying: “I am interested in artwork that results in solutions to difficult problems.” She presented as a researcher with a background in art and science with important collaborators in the fields of biology and paleoecology.
Blued Trees Symphony is a musical composition painted on trees across 50 acres in a forest that lies in the path of the Algonquin Incremental Market (gas) pipeline. The intent was to contest Eminent Domain (understood as Compulsory Purchase in the UK) by establishing an artwork copyrighted onsite, painted on trees as part of the forest. The Visual Rights Act (1990) would then be used to prevent mutilation, or modification of the artwork, actions prejudicing the artist’s honor or reputation.
Rahmani introduced the work with by talking about conversations in 2015 with ‘Frack Busters’ http://www.frackbustersny.org/ an activist group that wanted to discuss the work of Peter von Tiesenhausen. Canadian Tiesenhausen used his artwork on his family land, and his Moral Right for it to not be mutilated, as a means of holding oil pipeline developers at bay. The question was could an artwork be created and Copyrighted in the United States to similar effect, with the potential to block pipeline construction?
Rahmani began her effort in Peekskill, New York, working at the invitation of landowners wrestling with Eminent Domain related to the pipeline. Walking the site, mapping as she went, relying on her music training, she began to see a score marked out, to be played across multiple trees. If done right the score (multiple segments of copyright artworks) would put Copyright in conflict with Eminent Domain.
Each musical notation is a painted onto the tree using a casein slurry of non-toxic ultramarine blue and buttermilk that is conducive to the growth of moss. Installed along potential pipeline sites, Rahmani worked with lawyers to secure copyright of each element of the score. Conceptually this first (copyrighted) piece was an overture, which the artist introduced to us by singing. The painted notation on the trees was beautiful. Although a final slide showing notated trees cut down in Peekskill was disconcerting.
Rahmani then transitioned into a discussion of the work as it has been presented in galleries in New York and South Korea. She also discussed the ongoing legal nature of this work and an important new development in Virginia. She concluded with a few thoughts of the global impact of climate change and the need to reorganize information to have an impact. The last slide was a diagram that began with a specific art history that is the context for this work. Eminent Domain is the focal point and artists’ Copyright is the methodological action in this research. Broader questions attendant to the work include an evolving understanding of the public good and ongoing challenges to environmental law in the US and earth rights worldwide.
Peter Peacock was the policy director at Community Land Scotland at the time of the debate. He has served as a member of Scottish Parliament (1999-2011). He is recognized for expertise in community ownership, cultural heritage and land reform. Peter began his talk by describing the Highlands of Scotland as land with high conservation and recreational value, but land ownership limited to a few elite families. It has the most inequitable land ownership statistics in the western world. The clearances of the nineteenth century removed the resident population to enable new land management and economies of sheep and cattle. The Highlands were increasingly devoid of people; he described it as a landscape where full life is lost.
Peacock explained that he understands Landscape Justice as an opportunity to articulate divergent positions; a dialogic space where multiple points of view inform aspirations for Highland places. He envisions the Highlands as a place where a wider range of people have opportunities for housing and land investment rather than the limitations of tenancy arrangements. He recapped the history of Scottish Government policies and investment mechanisms which had initiated community buyouts and public land ownership and relate this to emergent ideas in National Landscape Policy and the factors that complicate that dialogue. Firstly, much policy is written from the position of Edinburgh, disengaged from nature and actual land-use practices. Many urbanites engage with the Highlands through panoramic aesthetic values, placing a premium on a view of desolate landscapes and ideals of wild nature devoid of human interest. Recent national wild lands mapping actually supports extant ideas and aesthetic interests doing little to shift the dominance of large estate owners. There is a tension between those that want to see the Highlands with a diverse array of ‘ordinary’ people living equitably, and this ‘wild land’ idea. The response of Community Land Scotland is to enable an informed, balanced debate between estate owners, land-use professionals and local interests. They work to enable best methods and a variety of means for communities to come together and make a difference in land ownership and management. He described a need for research that supports ordinary people and their interests in the Scottish Highlands, along side new scientific ideas, theories and practical methods that enable power sharing. These are the key landscape justice challenges in the Scottish Highlands.
Professor Brady is a philosopher who has written books and articles on environmental aesthetics and the sublime. She introduced her interests as a mix of environmental philosophy and ‘landscape as place’. She extended the days’ discussions by bringing the discussion of landscape justice to the moral and ethical duty owed to the more-than-human; introducing ideas of interaction and interrelationships between bipeds, quadrupeds, winged and rooted beings. She started with Aldo Leopold’s ideas about a land ethic, a community of interests that has an interpersonal dimension an individual social/land dimension, and a moral duty to other things that occupy the land along with us. She described a move from a ‘conqueror’ relationship to a ‘citizen’ relationship that is well aware of the more-than-human component. So for her landscape justice is essentially a multi-species justice – a weak anthropocentrism. It is an ecologically informed idea of justice. Species decline becomes a significant issue. Her philosophical project is to articulate the intellectual underpinnings of justice itself as a concept. It is informed by human-to-human interrelationships between indigenous, racially and culturally differentiated communities. Philosophy contributes to an understanding of the ethical duty, and its historic and theoretical development. It is about attachment to beings other than ourselves, but it is also about a sense of virtue or humility in the face of a significant living otherness.
Brady went on to outline her heroes and heroines including Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac; Rachel Carson author of Silent Spring; Robert Bullard the original voice in ideas about environmental racism and environmental justice; Val Plumwood the noted ecofeminist who wrote Feminism and the Mastery of Nature and an artist; and Patricia Johanson who has consistently argued that her work is about healing the earth and creating spaces in urban places for endangered and threatened species. She closed by arguing that aesthetics is sensory not scenery, it is about being immersed and in an integrated relationship (subject – object – environment) relationship rather than a subject that engages (or views) an object. She closed with images of her currently favourite public art: large scale images created by the London-based artist known as ATM; a muralist creating large urban and rural drawings, paintings and murals of birds threatened with extinction. Brady provided a classic LRG conclusion, robustly interdisciplinary while focused on an evolution of thinking about aesthetics and ethics. She brought the question of landscape justice to an appropriately expansive idea of more-than-human ethical duty.
Debate was perhaps a poor choice of words to use to describe this event. It began as a series of lectures contributing to an attempt to define the meaning of landscape justice, as well as its fundamental social and cultural import. Underpinning this was a question of how research into the topic might support LRG’s Research Strategy and its goals of empowering people to critically appreciate and understand the range of values and actions that might contribute to just and sustainable relationships to landscape. The room was filled with an exciting mix of academics and professionals as well as a handful of policy experts from a range of age groups, disciplines, nations and cultural backgrounds. The initial programme was run more like a series of lectures than a debate with four 20 minute presentations, followed by a half hour question and answer period. After a coffee and tea break we were assigned to groups to discuss the key questions. Working groups were followed by a recap and some discussion in a closing plenary. The interdisciplinarity of the event was exciting, the lectures were brilliant but perhaps the audience would have benefitted from a pause, where we were might be able to ask some specific questions of the individual speakers. Finally it wasn’t clear how the collective deliberation would inform the LRG’s interests. Was it more than a talking shop?
Nonetheless, there were significant provocations made that day that are worth talking about. The four presentations offered significant challenges to the way landscape is ‘normally’ perceived and addressed by both academics and the general public. In each case these were challenging and innovative views. But of the fundamental questions… What does landscape justice mean? What are its key values? And how does research contribute to new understanding and action? The presentations perhaps only provided us with specific insight on particular values (representations of history; legal constructions; rural re-population; and aesthetics). It contributed to LRG’s unique and innovative approach to all the ways that research contributes to landscape questions, but the actual meaning of the term Landscape Justice remains somewhat elusive.
As indicated in the introduction we had spent a bit of time to understand what the LRG (and its publications) have to say about the meaning of Landscape Justice.
LRG Chair Dalglish has a published an article on the topic on the Community Land Scotland website and there is a 2016 editorial on the topic by Anna Jorgenson, Editor of the Landscape Research Journal. Dalglish (a social archaeologist) follows Aldo Leopold’s ideas of a ‘land community’ engaging humans and more than humans in an interdependent network. He differentiates this multi-species ‘landscape’ community from the human-centric definition used by European Landscape Convention. He also juxtaposes this land community idea against a general reading of environmental justice as a focus on the impacts and constraints that disadvantage human communities. Nonetheless, his understanding of Landscape Justice is a materialist distributive approach to value and impact:
“Landscape justice is a matter of the distribution of harms and benefits relating to the landscape. It concerns procedure, or fairness in the way decisions are made about the landscape. …It is a matter of capabilities, i.e. people’s capacity to achieve the outcomes they desire with regard to the landscape.” (2017, Dalglish).
While his focus is on decisions and the social capacity for affective discourse, land-based material interests and equitable consideration of harms and benefits are the underlying driver.
Anna Jorgenson (a landscape architect) is more oriented to land based benefits and impacts.
“It means addressing unequal (human) access to landscape goods and resources, including cultural resources or unequal exposure to environmental degradation and risk.” (2016, Jorgenson).
Like Dalglish, Jorgenson raises questions about rights for a broad range of non-human others, ecosystems and landscapes. Her editorial closes with a focus on the current refugee crisis and landscape injustice as ‘both a cause and an outcome’ of economic hardship and political oppression. She outlines how a refugee situation has an impact on original and destination landscapes, challenging the social and legal perception of who has rights to remain, rights to entry and unsettles the meaning of national borders. So in each instance, these LRG thinkers see land-based conflicts driving Landscape Justice, although the work is realized through discourse in a range of social-political settings.
The fundamental question that occupied us on the long train ride home the next day was about the difference between land and landscape. Is landscape a discursive public space, differentiated from issues of land ownership access and equity? The issues of justice as it refers to landscape are about having a voice that is heard in the debate about landscape cause and effect, meaning and value. This is embedded in Dalglish’ and Jorgenson’s positions and is a thread running through the expert testimony presented on the day. Olwig suggested that the dominant scientific culture of ecosystem science seeking to protect the Białowieża Forest ignores its complicated social/political history which has actually shaped its ecology. Rahmani offered a critical creative response to legal tools, specifically Eminent Domain, the use of which simply shuts down all debate about values. Peacock gave us a glimpse into a centuries old culture in Scotland where a few families dominate land-use decision-making by the weight of their property holdings and historic political strengths. Finally, Brady asked us to think about how the voice of the more-than-human enters the discourse of environmental justice through ethical and aesthetic consideration. Without a doubt, the LRG hosted a provocative day of discussion that raised issues relevant to a broad range of disciplines.
The meaning of Landscape Justice is perhaps still hanging in the air unresolved – as we struggle with the idea of landscape itself, a concept that is generative and morphological (like art) and as a result very difficult to pin down with closed definitions. If we think of it as a discursive space, then deliberation becomes a structure for relational definition. Justice in turn is about having access to and potential impact upon the discourse at hand.
This article is a result of a dialogue between Reiko Goto Collins and Tim Collins. We were in different working groups (and had very different experiences) We discussed the issues on the way down in the train, then discussed the event at length on the way back. We also corresponded a bit with colleagues who were also present at the event. We outlined this paper from our notes at the kitchen table over a series of mornings. Tim took on the task of writing, Reiko provided critical input again at the final stage of writing.
Thanks for this report of such an interesting conference. Were there any comments or discussion on contemporary dynamics around Białowieża? It’s surely a complex ecological / social landscape – as I understand it, the Polish Forestry Department might well be using new technologies of clearfell justified by arguable science (perhaps from a right wing ideological position). For info, this a viewpoint of a less powerful group http://save-bialowieza.net/get-involved/