Modernity and the Landscape in Latin America

Aesthetics, Politics, Ecology (Swiss National Fund)

Prof. Dr. Jens Andermann

Chair of Latin American and Luso-Brazilian Studies

Modernity and the Landscape in Latin America: Aesthetics, Politics, Ecology

Roberto Burle Marx, Ibirapuera Park project, São Paulo, 1953. Glauber Rocha, Terra em trance, film still, 1967. Ritoque, Valparaíso, Chile. Photo: Ana Asensio, 2014.

Project Outline

In the context of rising global demand for primary resources, expanding agricultural frontiers, biochemical intervention of crops and species, and advances in deep-drilling (“fracking”) technology, the tensions between the interests of global finance capital, national-developmentalist agendas and the defense of biodiversity, indigenous and peasant land rights and autonomy, is set to become —in Latin America as in much of the former “developing” world— the defining social and political fault-line of the twenty-first century. From the perspective of aesthetics, critical theory and cultural history, this project aims to join the debate in rehabilitating landscape as a mode of aesthetic knowledge-production that explores the mutually transformative assemblages between human and non-human agents by which places are forged and reproduced over time. In exploring the complex, critical engagement with the landscape‐form as one of the defining strands of Latin American aesthetic modernity (from literature and the visual arts to architecture, film and performance) this project seeks not so much to denounce landscape’s ongoing ideological affiliations with the colonial gaze or capitalist expansion nor to reclaim it for a phenomenology of place, approaches that have dominated landscape studies over the past decades. Rather, it suggests that the specific ‘postcoloniality’ of modern Latin American aesthetics, its contradictory inscription in the space-time of the modern, has also produced a legacy of uniquely reflexive and formally daring approaches to landscape as a form of crisis and critique, which deserve to be re-read today in the face of current challenges.

In methodological and disciplinary terms, the project is seeking to break new ground in various ways: first, in moving beyond nation-centered critical paradigms and towards a mode of reading local against transnational formations; second, in advancing a transversal concept of landscape, which allows understanding landscape not so much as a content or genre but rather as a problematic traversing the arts, literature, architecture and cinema, without ignoring the specificities and generic traditions of each; and third, in seeking out relations between processes of crisis and reconfiguration on the level of aesthetic form, on one hand, and on that of social experience of space and place, on the other. Whereas historical sociologies have narrated Latin American modernity of the twentieth century as the radical transformation of predominantly rural into densely urbanized societies, the project’s general hypothesis is that modern aesthetic landscape and the way in which it revisits and critically re-evaluates its colonial and nineteenth-century forerunners, is simultaneously a way of taking stock of changing social space-place configurations and an experimental re-assessment of landscape’s capacity for inscribing these with meaning. In this way the project offers a new archaeology of Latin American aesthetic modernity, shaped by genealogies of place-making and displacement that reformulate and critique the two key tropings of colonial and nineteenth-century landscapes: gardens and journeys.

Roberto Burle Marx, Ibirapuera Park project, São Paulo, 1953.

Roberto Burle Marx & Oscar Niemeyer, Ibirapuera Park project, São Paulo, 1953. © 2015 Burle Marx & Cia.Ltda / The Museum of Modern Art.

Ritoque, Valparaíso, Chile. Photo: Ana Asensio, 2014.

Ritoque, Valparaíso, Chile. Photo: Ana Asensio, 2014.

Glauber Rocha, Terra em trance, film still, 1967.

Glauber Rocha, Terra em trance, film still, 1967.