Regional landscapes: South Australia

This modest project begins to explore the regional landscape of South Australia. Its concern is with natural beauty, which is traditionally contrasted with cities, industry and torn up industrial landscapes that are considered to be ugly. However nature has always been mediated by society and our experience of nature is mediated through the world of conventions and culture. Hence the idea of cultural landscapes–hillside towns with old stone walls in tree-lined geographical settings.

In Australia the mediation of nature and culture takes the form of the colonial idea of the empty centre/dead heart, which has helped define Australia’s identity. The European construction of the Australian Outback (the mysterious bush, or the empty desert as wilderness), which is part of the mythology of rugged survival in a harsh climate, is an imagined space, a textual space and a text, a site of myth making and the product of myth. These myths are constructed around various ideas about an unchanging wilderness, a grotesque space, the sublime, a terra nullis.

Natural beauty has vanished from aesthetics and art since Hegel who repressed it. In contrast to Kant, who contended in the Critique of Judgment that natural beauty is superior to artistic beauty, since aesthetic judgment leads the subject to recognise the moral law within, Hegel argued in the Introduction to his Aesthetics that only artistic beauty fitted the idea of beauty itself. He placed artistic beauty above natural beauty on the grounds that art is beauty born of spirit. In German idealist aesthetics (Hegel, Schiller and Schelling) human beings are elevated above nature and the animal condition, and the dark shadow of this idealist tradition is its consigning the concept of natural beauty to oblivion.

It is ironic that the natural beautiful is no longer a major concern of an aesthetic theory that is usually defined as the theory of the beautiful. The 19th century narrowly identified aesthetic with beauty and caused a rejection of aesthetics. Artists, since Picasso’s Avignon’desmoiselles’ have avoided the term beauty, no longer make beautiful works, and are embarrassed by those depicting something beautiful. To do so is considered to be ensnared in kitsch, the commodified cliches of tourism brochures or late romantic sentimentality. However, Twentieth-century art was “anti-aesthetic” only in the sense that it was often against beauty (and by association and reduction, aesthetics).

What is forgotten is how the beauty of nature is enmeshed in the domination of nature,  since the relationship of human beings to nature in modernity has been one of domination and exploitation. The consequence is that  progress deformed by utility does violence to the earth and unwittingly requires the sacrifice of subjectivity.