The Picturesque


The Picturesque and Beyond: Landscape and Modernity

Conference Statement

The concept of the picturesque originated in the eighteenth century and was closely related to the English landscape garden, which gradually abandoned the severe geometry of the French garden in favour of a carefully staged 'natural' scenery. In the aesthetics of the pictureque, nature is approached indirectly, through pictures such as the paintings of Claude or Salvator Rosa. The notion picturesque refers both to a certain kind of landscape, which is suited as a subject for a painting, and to a fragment of reality, that could be viewed as if it were part of a painting. On the one hand, new landscape gardens were constructed as a series of composed scenes. On the other, the viewer would discover and recognize picturesque scenes in nature itself.

The Ghent Urban Studies Team (GUST) organizes an international symposium on the relations between the picturesque and modernity. Participants will investigate how the concept of the picturesque could still (or again) be useful for (artistic) interpretations of today's hybrid landscape, in which the differences between city and country and between nature and culture are no longer clearly defined.

In particular, two clusters of thematic issues will be addressed:

(1) The notion of the picturesque indicates how characteristics of a certain type of image are interiorized and used to perceive the environment: rather than the painting, the world itself (the landscape, the scenery, the figures) are considered 'painterly' or 'picturesque'. As a result, the landscape and its representation become part of a dialectical relationship: the representation becomes 'picturesque', picturesque qualities are searched for in the world, and the world itself is turned into a picturesque entity (cf. landscape design). The symposium investigates how these procedures are inherently part of modernity, both in its technical (e.g. the construction of railways, scenic highways) and cultural (e.g. the development of tourism) modalities and how they have become embodied in cultural products and artworks. The concept of the picturesque also acquires new meanings since today's natural landscape has been colonized and domesticated on a global scale thanks to the world-wide proliferation of images by means of artworks and all kinds of mediated landscape images in cinema, television, tourism, and so forth.

(2) Image production relies heavily on generic types (not unlike architecture relies on typologies). It is not easy to imagine, represent, visualize, or photograph the world without constructing 'landscapes' or 'sights'. Modern and contemporary image production both disrupts and employs (traditional) codes and generic conventions. Many contemporary photographers and artists approach the nondescript contemporary landscape indirectly, through conventional pictures and traditional framings. How does the type of the picturesque survive in modern and contemporary art and popular culture? Which rules, techniques, vocabularies, and devices are used in order to transform or modify the picturesque?

The symposium includes contributions on garden design, landscape infrastructure, and several forms of visual representation such as art photography, aerial photography, Google Earth, and computer generated landscapes.




10.00: Welcome and Introduction: Dirk De Meyer. member of GUST, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ghent University

10.15: Landscape as Infrastructure: Pierre Bélanger. Assistant Professor, Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto

11.00: Coffee

11.15: Le nouveau jardin pittoresque: In Search of a Belgian Garden (1913-1940): Bruno Notteboom. Architect, member of GUST. Writes his doctoral thesis on the photography of the early twentieth-century Belgian landscape.

12.00: The Photoresque: Photography Between City and Countryside: Steven Jacobs. Art historian, Sint-Lukas Hogeschool Brussel and member of GUST. Author of several texts on the representations of cities and landscapes in cinema and photography.

12.45: Lunch

14.00: Incorrect Composition: The Intensities of Contemporary Landscape Photography. Peter D. Osborne. Lecturer at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts, London. Author of Traveling Light: Photography, Travel, and Visual Culture.

14.45: A Guided Tour to the 'Vue des Alpes'. Monica Studer/Christoph van den Berg. Artists based in Basel (CH). Authors of the Vue des Alpes website.

15.30: Coffee

15.45: Landscape and Prospect from the Picturesque to Aerial Photography. John Macarthur. Reader in Architecture at the University of Queensland, Australia. Author of The Picturesque: Architecture, Disgust and Other Irregularities.

16.30: The Picturesque and Beyond in Google Earth. Mark Dorrian. Reader in Architectural Design and Theory, University of Edinburgh. Author of several articles on landscape and cartography and co-editor of Deterriorialisations: Revisioning Landscapes and Politics.

17.15: Conclusions. Bart Verschaffel. Member of GUST, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ghent University.


Date: Friday, November 30, 2007

Venue: Plateau Auditorium, Universiteit Gent, Faculteit Toegepaste Wetenschappen, Joseph Plateaustraat 22, B-9000 Gent, Belgium

Language: English

Organization: Ghent Urban Studies Team (GUST) and the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ghent University.

With the support of Sint-Lukas Hogeschool Brussel and SMAK Gent.

The symposium is free but subscriptions are required. Contact /Phone: +32 9 264 37 42