Political Economy of Landscape

Sense of Place, European Landscape Photography, BOZAR, Brussels (summer 2012), curated by Liz Wells, with Andres Gursky, Thomas Struth, Massimo Vitali

A new science called “political economy” will be brought into being by reference to this continuous and multiple network of relationships between the population, the territory, and wealth.1 Ideologies dictate the location of particular activities determining that such and such a place should be sacred, for example, while some other should not. But ideologies do not produce space: rather, they are in space, and of it. It is the forces of production and the relations of production that produce social space.As William Petty says, labour is the father of material wealth, the earth is its mother.3 Some parts of London were necessary and some were contingent.There are daily used for mining and building purposes, one hundred and twenty-five thousand feet, BM, of lumber and square timber, the cost of transporting which cost $20 per thousand, making an annual consumption of one hundred and eight thousand cords of wood, and 40 million feet of lumber [coming from] the inexhaustible forests of California.5 The road and much of the landscape was artificial, and yet it couldn't be called a work of art.What Augé calls “non-places,” it would seem, are more properly conceived as the product of the dialectic of the space of places and the space of flows.7 Leo Marx reports that by the 1830’s, the locomotive was already “becoming a kind of national obsession,” and that “between 1820 and 1860 the nation was to put down more than 30,000 miles of railroad track”.8 For my purposes, however, what is significant about this initial cycle of accumulation is that in the interval between its beginning and its end what it meant to “see” and what was ‘there to be seen’ in specific landscapes changed dramatically.9
1 Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 106.
2 Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Blackwell, 1991), 210.
3 Karl Marx, Capital (Penguin Classics, 1990), 134.
4 Iris Murdoch, quoted in Elizabeth Wilson: Contradictions of Culture. Cities, Cultures, Women (SAGE, 2000), 145.
5 From the report Evidence Concerning Projected Railway Across the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Pacific Tide Waters in California, and the Resources, Promises and Action of Companies Organized to Construct the Same (Nevada Legislature, 1865), quoted in Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875 (Oxford University Press, 2007), 135.
6 Tony Smith, quoted in Robert Smithson, “A Sedimentation of Mind: Earth Projects”, in Nancy Holt (Ed.), The Writings of Roben Smithson (University of California Press, 1996), 102.
7 Peter Osborne, “Non-places and the Spaces of Art,” The Journal of Architecture 6, 2 (2001), 189.
8 Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875 (Oxford University Press, 2007), 143.
9 Bruce Braun, “Producing Vertical Territory: Geology and Governmentality in Late Victorian Canada,” cultural geographies 7, 1 (2000), 20