Landscape Today
Yoshitaka Mouri
Sociologist, Tokyo University of the Arts

The very notion "landscape" is a construction. When we see a landscape, we are sometimes impressed - this is, of course, unique to human beings. Landscapes in art are always a product of artificial manipulation: they are created from the subjective perspective of the artist. Animals have no emotional connection with the landscape, nor do they appreciate its aesthetics. Only human beings are moved, creating a symbolic system of meanings by the act of connecting their lives, histories and religions to the landscapes.

As John Ruskin, Kenneth Clark and other art historians have suggested, meanings of the landscape have varied according to its social and cultural contexts. For instance, understandings of modern landscapes appeared alongside the birth of the Cartesian Cogito ergo sum. This positioned the landscape as an object to be seen and comprehended under the total control of those who perceive it.   

Notions about modern landscapes are a product of the modern nation state and a broader national consciousness. In Japan, Sigetaka Shiga’s Japanese Landscape Theory was published in 1894 when the Japan-Sino war began, and played a crucial role in the rise of nationalism. It argued for the superiority of Japanese landscapes over Western ones. Japanese landscapes are therefore an important element of Japanese national identity.

So what do landscapes mean in the age of globalization? Landscapes cannot be understood only within a national or territorial framework, as they are essentially transnational and transcultural. Today’s landscapes are full of something invisible: for instance, hi-tech apparatus such as nuclear power plants are often hidden behind amongst natural scenery. Once something like the Fukushima nuclear plant accident occurs, nature is relegated to evacuation zone due to radiation. In this case, landscapes disappear, because no one can enter the area to view them. But radiation slowly spreads beyond national boundaries, and the radiation map of computer graphic becomes another layer of this more contemporary idea of landscape.

Every corner of the Earth is under surveillance by artificial satellites: invisible high-speed wireless networks are globally connected, gathering land formations in portable electronic terminals. Mediascapes (as coined by Arjun Appadurai) are a kind of gradually eroding landscape. Flexible global capital and mobile labor forces are the driving force behind creating this global landscape. This new landscape consists not only of visual stimulants but also of bodily, physical affection. The question is, how can we draw or express these new, invisible landscapes in art?