Although environmental aesthetics has developed as a sub-field of Western philosophical aesthetics in the last fifty years – in reaction to the growing concerns over environmental degradation – its historical roots are in the 18th and 19thcenturies, when the concept of the sublime also emerged. Other disciplinary perspectives have helped to shape this area, including landscape architecture, human geography, restoration ecology, while environmental aesthetics theories have been brought to bear on art and media studies.
In the context of many recent essays and exhibitions, the term sublime has been used to describe different types of landscapes: natural, urban, technological, industrial, post-industrial, nuclear, toxic… the shifting ideas that define this notion seem to reflect our changing relationship with the environment. In the Anthropocene humanity has become a geological agent rather than a small element in the face of nature’s grandeur. While the Romantics used the term sublime to refer to a kind of beauty that would be terrible to experience personally but was intensely moving to see depicted in art, today’s hurricanes, droughts, and floods create a different feeling, as unusual weather becomes the new normal. That constant unease chimes with the uncanny feeling produced by the new global city and digital networks.
This presentation explores the concept of environmental aesthetics in relation to photographic practices, through eco-critical perspectives in art history, visual culture, and the interdisciplinary field of the environmental humanities. It also aims to question the efficacy of the use of the sublime for visualizing environmental issues in the Anthropocene, from the representation of global phenomena like climate change to the transformation of local and cultural landscapes.
Photographs can have a crucial role in documenting and visualizing the changing environment, revitalizing ways of seeing in order to contribute within contemporary debates. Nonetheless, spectacular images can also risk to anesthetize our perception, hiding rather than revealing some social effects and inequalities related to climate change. In the face of these problems, some photographic practices and projects try to move beyond the aesthetics of the sublime, toward an environmental aesthetics of inhabited and everyday landscapes
ABOUT THE COLLOKWIUM
The ColloKWIum provides a platform to present and discuss ongoing as well as emerging research projects. It does not solely address research projects from within the KWI, but is also open to guest lectures which tie in with the KWI’s research agenda.
Internal Colloquium, open to members of the University Alliance Ruhr (UA Ruhr).