Phenomenology and Landscape Experience: A Critical Appraisal For Contemporary Art Practice
Unwin, Bren Carolyn
This thesis examines some of the ways in which phenomenology might be applied to the representation of landscape experience within contemporary art practice. In particular, the thesis examines how embodied landscape experience, informed by an understanding of phenomenology, might be articulated by contemporary art practice that uses the media of film and digital video. The thesis also questions ways in which time might contribute to an understanding of such a representation of the landscape. Based on a critical analysis of landscape experience and its representation in art practice, the thesis identifies critical omissions both within the aligned disciplines of cultural anthropology and art history, particularly in instances where art has been employed ineptly as a tool for critical enquiry. Through a conceptual analysis of phenomenology, cultural archaeology, cultural anthropology, theories of technology, art history, critical film theory and art practice, this project makes a critical examination of new ways in which art can articulate phenomenological notions of landscape experience, both in the forms of a written exegesis and in examples of my own practice. To these ends, the writing of Christopher Tilley and Tim Ingold is examined in order to draw upon some of the ways in which cultural archaeology and cultural anthropology use Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and James Gibson’s ecological theory of visual perception to understand an embodied engagement with the landscape. Following an expanded phenomenological examination of landscape the thesis identifies ways in which cultural anthropology has used painting. This examination is followed by an analysis of the work of Mike Michael and Don Ihde in order to determine the role played by technology within the mediation of experience and its representation in art. The writing of Joyce Brodsky is examined to analyse the relationship between embodied experience and art practice and, using Sobchack’s analysis, the thesis describes ways in which Merleau-Ponty’s idea of reversibility can explain moving imagery as the perception and expression of experience. As part of the method of analysis, a case study is conducted into how phenomenological ideas that have been identified in association with landscape experience might be understood within Tacita Dean’s work Disappearance at Sea. An analysis of phenomenological notions of landscape experience within my own art practice has led to the generation of a body of practice that includes film and digital video media. Key examples of my art practice have been selected that can articulate this thesis. Specifically, a 16mm film, Line, and a digital video, Length II provide evidence of contemporary art practice articulating an experience of the landscape from a phenomenological viewpoint. Within the production of moving imagery, there is a sequence of human actions and technological interventions that can be considered in phenomenological terms. Through a reflection of my own embodied experience - extended by vehicles, cameras and their associated technology - Line and Length II pay specific attention to how the placement of a camera and its associated technology mediates the mobile character of an experience of the landscape. Central to this enquiry has been the contention that through a rigorous application of phenomenology, a new mode of making moving imagery emerges, specifically one that gives particular emphasis to the placement of the camera and its associated technology in order to reveal the dynamic relationship between a perceiver and their environment in the twenty-first century.