Editorial: First Insights into Fringes — Uncovering Landscape Narratives

The human impact on the landscape continues to be increasingly prominent in our daily life. In fact, the landscape is inevitably at the center of some of the great challenges of our time, which have been profoundly marked by the issues of climate change, scarceness and extraction of natural resources, pollution and contamination of air, water and soil, reduction of biodiversity, among other threats.

Thus, different levels of landscape perception also follow the radical confrontation of scales, that is, between the picturesque framing and the performing Earth system; or between enjoying the carefully designed and planned landscapes and the effects of the human footprint on the planet’s natural processes.

These are subjects that have been too vast and complex to deal with, and whose solutions are hard to be found just by mere individuals. Consequently, while governments from different countries discuss options, resolutions, and goals to achieve, collective public awareness is still far from producing convergent and agreed results — the problem still seems too invisible and ungraspable, away from the general daily life, leading to situations of indifference, skepticism or denial. Additionally, the public does not yet have a decisive collective voice in order to enforce large-scale impact decision-making.

And, although this platform does not have the ambition of solving these vast and complex subjects of the present time, it is intended that it contributes to raise and underline questions, and to explore and debate different forms of public awareness and engagement, in the attempt to gradually invert situations of indifference into an empowered civil society willing to participate and to be more engaged in decision making, as well as to be able to empower and force specific measures through their political representation.

Thus, how can, the relationship between the public and the landscape, lead to this larger awareness and empowerment? These and other concerns are not new and have been present for many years, continuing to grow in the voices and perspectives that have been brought to the public’s eye by landscape architects, artists, architects, geographers, sociologists, anthropologists or philosophers.

However, it continues to be mostly through artists’ provocative, poetic or politicized formulations, that the materialization of these concerns and questions has gained larger impact and visibility1see for example: Matilsky, Barbara C. (1992). Fragile Ecologies: Contemporary Artists’ Interpretations and Solutions. New York: Rizzoli International Publications; and Gadanho, Pedro (Ed.). (2018). Eco-Visionaries: Art, Architecture, and New Media after the Anthropocene. Berlin: Hatje Cantz.

Inevitably, many of these experiences have always had a strong reverberation in landscape planning practices2see for example: Weilacher, Udo (1999). Between Landscape Architecture and Land Art. Basel: Birkhauser; and Meyer, Elizabeth K. (2000). The Post-Earth Day Conundrum: Translating Environmental Values into Landscape Design. In Michel Conan (Ed.), Environmentalism in Landscape Architecture Vol: 22 (pp. 187-244). USA: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. But usually, the enduring footprint of the landscape architecture project seems more passive, ameliorative and peaceful, even when projects are shaped by ideologies and power relations; or when revealing the powerful forces of natural processes; or when implying long regeneration processes on vast polluted lands.

Nevertheless, the materialization of these concerns and questions continues to grow, even though their results are too fragmented and scattered between online and printed publications, or between different tags, classifications and specializations, in which it becomes difficult to catch a glimpse of its entire dimension and relevance.

It was in this context that the idea of Fringes began to emerge, first through a research work, and since September 2018, as a platform for observation of other landscape narratives. The name Fringes refers primarily to a process of observation which has moved away from the conventional landscape architecture-related production center, and its progressive shift towards the boundaries of the practice, looking for other disciplinary intersections and overlappings. In return, it also seeks to observe how these different perspectives gained on the margins of practice also are influencing the center, or each center (depending on the intersected disciplines).

However, while this platform has a strong relationship with landscape architecture, it is intended to avoid drawing rigid disciplinary boundaries. The approaches to be presented are not defined by their disciplinary areas or professional titles, but by their process of materialization, and by their results when reaching the wider public. On the one hand, it seeks to expose more expanded approaches from different disciplinary fields — from the way they meet, how they cross, how they overlap, and how they collaborate. On the other hand, it also seeks to provide visibility and understanding to these different approaches and how they can support and contribute to future collaborations between the different disciplinary fields, also exploring how different disciplines and authors address similar concerns from different working processes and different outputs.

In this way, it is from this framework that Fringes joins a large constellation of online publications, adding also its own perspective. The works presented here as Fringes’ First Insights represent a small set of invitations to their authors, whose response and acceptance is also reflected in the great diversity of perspectives that are intended to continue to be mapped and explored — “Restoration” by Ilkka Halso, questions the idea that the damage humans are producing in the landscape can be continually repairable from the technology we have achieved. In this way, the future of the relationship between extraction and progress, or between destruction and recovery, are questioned in the face of a scenario where recovery may be irreversible; “Empire” by Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber, moves one step further these concerns and brings a glimpse of the uncertain landscapes produced from the consecutive Earth system modifications. Immediately, another question comes to mind: How to live in ruins?; “Omega” by Regan Rosburg, provide us a symbolic and synthesized view on our plastic footprint produced and consumed over just a few minutes, forcing us to confront with a landscape where animal and vegetable species also live trapped in plastic; “Cultiver la Mémoire” by 100Landschaftsarchitektur [Thilo Folkerts], presents the garden as a process of engagement and memory related to the World Wars, but whose marks in the social fabric as well as in the landscape unquestionably call for the need for wider collective commitment; “The Reason I Jump” by Observatorium, explores the invisibilities and complexities of the human mind in the relationships between people with autism and the natural environment. In this way, the North Kelvin Meadow and Children’s Wood, in Glasgow, along with a scenographic installation serve as the backdrop for a theater production made from interpretations of a group of artists with autism; “Touchstones” by Monika Gora, has crafted subtle transformations in the landscape, proposing different experiences between the body and the materiality of the surrounding elements; “Ornitographies” by Xavi Bou, explores the invisible flying patterns generated by birds, revealing how they move and engage with the environment, as well as between themselves; and “Traveling Landscapes” by Kathleen Vance, redefines land property, water rights, landscape contemplation and landscape reflection by sampling and miniaturizing the landscape in travel suitcases.

In addition, two site visit suggestions were made. On the one hand, a web page link to look back to Christian Frei’s “Space Tourists” documentary, which not only celebrates its 10 years since its release but whose issues are regaining fresh visibility with the recent news about the relaunch of space tourism. The film follows the 20 million dollars’ journey of Anousheh Ansari at the International Space Station (2009), while in the landscape of Kazakhstan, the scavengers made their living from the spatial junk (rockets leftovers) that have fallen from the sky. On the other hand, the website link to the “Earth Null School“, a global and configurable mapping of wind patterns, ocean currents and different levels of air pollution, which make visible the performing Earth system and the impacts of its modifications.

FRINGES | mc | apr.2019