Archives For Land

 

“Amateur Reading”

A review of

The Achievement of Wendell Berry:
The Hard History of Love

by Fritz Oehlschlaeger.

Review by Ragan Sutterfield.


The Achievement of Wendell BerryThe Achievement of Wendell Berry:
The Hard History of Love

Fritz Oehlschlaeger.
Hardback: UP of Kentucky, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

I must admit, I haven’t yet finished Fritz Oehlschlaeger’s The Achievement of Wendell Berry: The Hard History of Love. Though I have been busy with a number of projects, I have had enough time in theory to read the book, so time hasn’t been the hold up. I can also say confidently that the other reason I haven’t finished the book isn’t the usual reason I abandon a volume midstream—it’s simply unreadable. Instead, I haven’t finished Oehlschlaeger’s book for two reasons—Wendell Berry has indeed achieved and written so much and second, Oehlschlaeger is such a wise and careful conversation partner with Berry’s work that I can’t help but constantly want to bring Berry more deeply into the conversation by going back, again and again to his work. So if you read this book, and you really should if you care for all things good and holy, set aside some time for it—a year or so perhaps.

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“What does our Geography
Compel us to Believe?

A review of
What Can We Believe Where?:
Photographs of the American West.
By Robert Adams.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.


Robert Adams - WHAT CAN WE BELIEVE WHERE?What Can We Believe Where?:
Photographs of the American West.
Robert Adams.
Paperback: Yale UP, 2011.
Buy Now [ Amazon ]

[ Editor’s Note: One of the very first reviews we ran on this site was Brent’s review of Robert Adams’ book Why People Photograph.  We are delighted to see him return to explore Adams’ work again. ]

A new collection of Robert Adams’ more than 40 years of photographs asks in the title “What Can We Believe Where?” I’d like to not underestimate the significance of that question, but to proceed on to three related questions Adams asks in a brief foreword: “What does our geography compel us to believe? What does it allow us to believe? And what obligations, if any, follow from our beliefs?”

Before diving into the photographs, then, it seems prescient to seriously consider the ramifications of this formulation of belief. In it, Adams moves the locus of belief from abstracted objectivity into particular places and contexts, which inform the beliefs of situated communities, even as these communities, in turn, inform the place. In this formulation of reality, Adams rejects the dissociation of ‘belief’ from material reality, along with any separation of people from particular places, or generalized ideas of ‘nature’ apart from specific human practices and culture.

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“Landscapes and Communities Defined
By Their Mutual Relationships

A review of
Nobody’s Property:
Art, Land, Space
.
By Kelly Baum.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Nobody’s Property: Art, Land, Space.
Kelly Baum.

Paperback:  Yale UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Kelly Baum begins the new book Nobody’s Property: Art, Land, Space, 2000 – 2010, which includes essays and art from a current exhibition, with a quote, which is where I’d like to begin as well: “I am my relation to you.”[1] Thus Baum introduces the notion of the commons as an underwriting theme in these gathered art practices. Baum continues, “to invoke the commons… is to immediately raise the issue of human relations and their attendant social, political, economic, and spatial peculiarities. Generally speaking, the commons refers to places that prioritize accessibility and intersubjective exchange, as well as materials that belong to everyone and thus to no one in particular.”

The commons – and its wealth – is a beautiful model in our fragmented age, as any readers of Scott Russell Sanders or Wendell Berry is surely familiar. Of course, with the commons also comes its tragedy – an all to familiar reminder that in global capitalism, any land or even space has taken on commodity status.

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“Toward a Thriving Human Culture

A review of
A Lan
dscape Manifesto
by Diana Balmori.


Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.


A Landscape Manifesto
Diana Balmori.
Hardback: Yale UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

LANDSCAPE MANIFESTO - Diana BalmoriEcological sustainability needs cities. Not only that, it needs dense, well-designed, diversified cities where human intentionality can place itself within the functionality of the larger climate, watershed and ecosystem.

For many of us, this will require a fundamental paradigm shift about where and how we locate nature – and cities. First of all, human culture must enter the realm of ecology, keeping an eye toward the health of air, water, soils. Diana Balmori’s A Landscape Manifesto moves us in this direction in significant ways, locating cities (human culture) in nature, shifting representations of land to more accurately represent a new ecological conscience, and revisiting old landscape forms, equipping them with new functions. While all of this might sound like too huge of a task to find a place to begin, that is not the case, as Balmori introduces all of these basic ideas first through the lens of The Lawn.

In an earlier book, Redesigning the American Lawn, Balmori writes (along with her co-authors), “Understanding the dynamics of lawn ecology may bring to a human scale the meaning of ecological sustainability.” She picks up this theme in A Landscape Manifesto, reviewing characteristics of the old model, the Industrial Lawn: in the US, it covers 31 million acres, “the nation’s largest single crop;” it is dependent on fossil energy, water, and chemicals to survive; “yard waste is the second-largest component of the waste stream.” The familiarity of practices of maintaining a lawn situate it on a scale in which action is possible; in Redesigning the American Lawn, the authors introduce the Freedom Lawn, which keeps much of the lawn form, but introduces species diversity, composting in-place, using available water and solar resources; yet another approach is exemplified in Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates project, replacing front lawns completely with edible landscapes.

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A Brief Review of

Gardening: Cultivating Wisdom (Philosophy for Everyone Series).
Dan O’Brien, editor.
Paperback: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

As one of the newest volumes in their eclectic “Philosophy for Everyone” series (a intriguing concept of itself, as the publisher seems not only to target an audience of everyone, but also to tackle a list of topics that covers just about everything), Wiley has offered us a delightful volume on the topic of gardening.  Although the series is titled as philosophy, and although there is indeed much here to spur philosophical reflection, this volume also offers as much on the history of gardening (and the history of thinking about gardening) as it does on philosophy of gardening.  Aptly subtitled, Cultivating Wisdom, this superb volume covers much ground from exploring “the virtues of gardening” to the role of gardens and gardening in the work of philosophers both ancient (Plato and Epicurus) and modern (David Hume).  One of my favorite essays in the collection was Gary Shapiro’s piece on “The Philosophy of Central Park,” an aesthetic argument that “what are variously called gardens, parks, earthworks, or perhaps most generally land art should be acknowledged once again as major forms of art” (149).  Such an argument is not unfamiliar to me, as our art editor, Brent Aldrich, has often made similar arguments in these pages (most recently in this review).  However, I was delighted to find that Shapiro takes as his case study, Central Park, the quintessential urban park, and forms a poignant and convincing argument around the features of the place.  Helene Gammack’s essay on “Food Glorious Food” and Michael Moss’s essay on “Brussels Sprouts and Empire” were also among the highlights of this fine volume.  If you garden, this volume will undoubtedly provide much food for thought as you work the land; if you don’t, this volume may just provide some convincing evidence that would compel you to give it a go.  Either way, it is an engaging and enjoyable read, and readers of the ERB will certainly want to stay tuned for future volumes in this diverse – and apparently all-encompassing – series!

 

“Concretized, Identifiable, Specific Locales

A review of
Land and Environmental Art.

Jeffrey Kastner and Brian Wallis, eds
.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Land and Environmental Art.
Jeffrey Kastner and Brian Wallis, eds.
Paperback: Phaidon (New, Abridged Edition), 2010.

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

“We should begin to develop an art education based on relationships to specific sites. How we see things and places is not secondary, but primary.” — Robert Smithson

LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL ART  -  PhaidonWriting in 1972, artist Robert Smithson is here specifically proposing his art practice for reclaiming an Ohio strip mine. Smithson’s work in the late 60’s and early 70’s, along with artists such as Nancy Holt, Michael Heizer, Dennis Oppenheim and Robert Morris, was the start of a trend in art, later to be called by many names including Earth Art or Land Art. The practices of these artists happened out of doors and galleries, related to particular places, and used naturally-occurring processes and materials to inform the content and form of their work. Since these earthworks of the 60’s, a variety of artists have taken up work that deals directly with land, and the cultural practices that inform it; these works are brought together in a new edition of Land and Environmental Art, edited by Jeffrey Kastner and Brian Wallis, in which they “[intend] to expand, rather than circumscribe, traditional definitions of the genre.”

Many of the artworks included in this anthology have become touchstones for me in imagining new understandings of our relationship to the land and to particular places; as art practices, they suggest that bound up in any of our ideas about ‘nature’ are also cultural practices. Robert Smithson’s Non-Sites, geometric minimalist forms containing rocks or dirt that relate back to specific locations; Ana Mendieta’s Silueta sculptures and photographs, in which she fashions the shape of her body into the land with the materials at hand – mud, sand, grass, snow; Hans Haacke’s Grass Grows and Ten Turtles Set Free, both of which are just what they sound like; Andy Goldsworthy’s delicate and inherently placed sculptures of leaves, rocks, sticks, or ice; all included in this volume, are all helpful in considering current questions about the land.

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“The Gospel of the Land”

A review of
Consulting the Genius of the Place:
An Ecological Approach to the New Agriculture
.
By Wes Jackson.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Consulting the Genius of the Place:
An Ecological Approach to the New Agriculture
.
By Wes Jackson.

Hardback: Counterpoint, 2010.

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

CONSULTING THE GENIUS OF THE PLACE - Wes JacksonWes Jackson, founder of The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has been of the leading voices of the agrarian movement over the last four decades.  And yet, his books are relatively unknown.  This fate, however, is perhaps about to change, with the recent release of what is perhaps his finest work, Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to the New Agriculture.   The themes of place, biodiversity and the virtues of perennial plants that have abounded in Jackson’s previous books converge in Jackson’s thorough argument for a new approach to agriculture that is dictated not by market economies or agribusiness but rather by the land and ecology of a given place.  Jackson’s argument is fairly simple: humanity needs to learn to shift our agricultural efforts away from large-scale monoculture operations which contribute to the catastrophic effects of erosion and of the chemicals in the fertilizers and pesticides that such monocultures demand.  Instead, he argues, we should return to diverse plantings that include perennial crops and that fit with the land, climate and other ecological features of our particular places.  He says in the book’s preface:  “As our minds sweep over the past and back to the present, I want them to center on the natural ecosystems still with us as our primary teachers.  They are our source of hope.  Reduced in number and limited in scale, they still hold answers to countless questions we have not yet learned to ask” (xi).  The primary natural ecosystem, of course, that Jackson and others at The Land Institute have trained their focus – given their home base in Kansas – is that of the prairie.

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“The Grotesque Nature of
Disembodied, Modern Christianity”

A Review of
The Christian Imagination:
Theology and the Origins of Race
.
By Willie James Jennings
.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.


The Christian Imagination:
Theology and the Origins of Race
.
Willie James Jennings
.
Hardback: Yale UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Many readers of The Englewood Review will recognize that there is something deeply wrong with Christianity in these early years of the twenty-first century and most of these readers would argue that these problems are hardly new and have plagued the church for decades if not centuries.  There are, of course, an abundance of books published each year that detail these shortcomings, and posit solutions for how we might repent of these sins.  Few books, however, offer as broad and holistic a picture of our brokenness as Willie Jennings’ new theological masterpiece, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, and even fewer books (perhaps none) can come close to the depth of Jennings’ historical account of how we wound up in the mess we are in today.  Jennings concisely sums up the aim of the book in his conclusion:  “I want Christians to recognize the grotesque nature of a social performance of Christianity that imagines Christian identity floating above land, landscape, animals, place, and space, leaving such realities to the machinations of capitalistic calculations and the commodity chains of private property.  Such Christian identity can only inevitably lodge itself in the materiality of racial existence” (293). Continue Reading…

 

“Working Toward the Flourishing of Creation”

A Review of
Cultivating an Ecological Conscience:
Essays from a Farmer Philosopher
.
By Fred Kirschenmann
.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

“A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”

— Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Cultivating an Ecological Conscience:
Essays from a Farmer Philosopher
.
By Fred Kirschenmann
.
Hardback: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Cultivating an Ecological Conscience - Fred KirschenmannThe above quote from Aldo Leopold’s seminal book seems like a good place to start, since it’s where the title for a new book of Fred Kirschenmann’s essays, Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher draws its name, and it’s the quote that Kirschenmann himself returns to time and again over the three decades represented in this collection. Edited by Constance Falk, Cultivating an Ecological Conscience is the newest in the Culture and the Land series, and this book brings together lectures and essays written by Kirschenmann, but none of which have been gathered in any previous book of essays.

Kirschenmann, farming organically in North Dakota on his family’s land since the 1970s brings a perspective to the sustainability conversation that is rooted in significant farming experience and a commitment early on in the current critique of industrial agriculture to an ecological agriculture; it is this perspective and lived wisdom that is invaluable to current dialogue. If anything, it seems that many essays appearing here could have enjoyed a publication such as this years ago, which would have placed them more in their context, and in starker contrast to the industrial model of agriculture which they critique; however, taken as a body of writing together, these essays trace one farmer’s experience over several decades, and the evolution of his thought. Several ideas repeat and build on one another throughout, most significantly the preservation of the land’s “capacity for self-renewal,” as evidenced by Leopold, and the “dynamic, complex, interdependent activities… in the biotic community” (185) as a measure of agriculture, sustainability, and culture.

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“Toward Careful Listening”

A Review of
Thoughts on Landscape:
Collected Writings and Interviews

by Frank Gohlke.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich,
ERB Art Editor.

Thoughts on Landscape:
Collected Writings and Interviews

Frank Gohlke.

Paperback: Hol Art Books,  2009.
Buy now: [ From the Publisher ]

[ Read a two-chapter excerpt from the book! ]

Frank Gohlke - THOUGHTS ON LANDSCAPEPhotographer Frank Gohlke has been making pictures for over thirty years, and accompanying those images is a large number of essays, artist statements, and interviews. His new book Thoughts on Landscape: Collected Writings and Interviews compiles these texts chronologically, as they developed alongside Gohlke’s photographic practice, and in some ways they serve to clarify it. But like any successful writing about art, this book drew me back to look at Gohlke’s photographs again, more closely than before.

So to begin, looking at an image might be helpful, such as a complicated photograph (which recently served as the cover for Gohlke’s Accommodating Nature) in which a woman points a hose, watering rows of crops planted in red clay, late afternoon sun illuminating the fields spread before her, and the water making shadows on the soil. But what exactly is going on here? What is really the scope of the care this woman can give to this wide open space with that one hose? Seemingly, it can’t stretch any further, and the woman’s finger creates a jet on the nozzle to extend the spray further, but it’s nowhere near that field of young corn. Meanwhile, the roof of the shack continues to melt off, and the tractor may or may not ever run again. Either way, there’s work to be done to maintain this landscape ‘Near Kirkville, Mississippi,’ and both the woman with her hose, and Gohlke with his camera are doing just that work.

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