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Small Twigs and Withered Plants: Mimesis and Miniaturization in World War I Landscapes

by Tobah Aukland-Peck

Figure 1. View looking east of A Model of a Devastated Town, 1918. Imperial War Museum, London (Image © IWM Q 31468).

A Model of a Devastated Town (1920) (fig. 1) revels in the minutiae of disintegration. The walls of the church in its center are blown out, with its bell tower rising precariously above. Around the church are fallen beams, burned roofs, and dead trees—all meticulously crafted by modelmakers. At London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM), which opened originally at the Crystal Palace in 1920, visitors could lose themselves in the wreckage, searching in vain for survivors, puzzling out the words that remained legible over a shop door, and peering in the gaping windows of the homes still standing.[1] Like most miniatures, Devastated Town conjured the enchantment of the real. It sought authenticity by using actual sticks for trees, adding resin to render the river shimmering and reflective, and piling sand and dirt in the road. The tangibility of the materials bolstered a feeling of imminence; a year after the Armistice, British citizens could feel the rage of battle anew.[2] This model, which purported to show a French town ruined by enemy bombing during World War I, used its mimetic effect to reconstitute an environment pushed beyond the reach of imagination both by distance and the alienating calamity of mechanical warfare. The haptic proximity of the model was borne, however, from a source closer to home.

The supplies that performed the work of the model’s illusion were sourced from debris of British soil: twigs, plants, sand, and dirt taken from city parks. In this substitution of material experience, the local mimicked the distant violence of war. Twigs picked from British parks metamorphosed into the shell-scarred trees of the French battlefront. The model operated in a physically enclosed world and the objects within had a dual referentiality. They interacted with one another—the twigs that represented the trees in Devastated Town were of like size and depended on collective scale to evoke a realistic space. Yet they also engaged with their counterparts in the real world: the viewer could realize the relationship between the twigs and the trees outside.[3] The uncanny nature of the model derived from this simultaneous internal and external signification. By using their imagination to explore the physical world of the model, the viewer treated it like real space—a gesture that bypassed the contradiction of internal realism with external material.

A Model of a Devastated Town was one of approximately fifteen models exhibited at the IWM galleries when they opened to the public in 1920. The newly opened museum evoked the experience of war by combining the actual guns used on the battlefront with paintings, watercolors, and prints by war artists, along with photographs, maps, and models. The miniature scale of the models stood in contrast to the full-size objects—like weapons and regimental banners—that had actually seen combat. Susan Stewart’s work on the ontology of the miniature cites the mediated experience of modernity, in which authentic experience is defined by the “myth of contact,” an imaginary gesture rather than the actual bodily experience of the tangible world. “The memory of the body,” she writes “is replaced by the memory of the object.”[4] The role of the miniature in the transposition of knowledge from body to mind starts in childhood, when dolls and toys are—like the French village in Devastated Town—animated through the alchemy of material and imagination. This familiarity of the model in early pedagogical exercises for abstract thinking opened up the space of the model as an immersive corollary to these relics of war.

Figure 2. Horace Nicholls (1867–1941, United Kingdom), Visitors to the Imperial War Museum, 1920, photo. Imperial War Museum (Image © IWM Q 31412).

The detail of the models may, at first, link them with the realism of battle paintings in nearby galleries (such as John Singer Sargent’s Gassed [1919]).[5] However, the imagination required to animate the models pulled them outside the realm of traditional representation and aligned them, instead, with the most radical experimental image borne of the war: the aerial image. I propose this connection for reasons both practical and theoretical: models in this period were produced based on both aerial photography and topographical maps resulting from aerial reconnaissance. Once the models were installed in the museum, a visitor standing over them would take the place of the aerial eye. The role of scale, an essential aspect of the model’s function as both object and fantasy space, is evidenced in a photograph of visitors at the IWM gathered around the model (fig. 2). The modelmakers ensured that the height of display cases remained consistent and accessible for close contemplation, thereby facilitating a bird’s eye perspective. This was not the view of the soldier but the view of the reconnaissance plane.

The two genres also shared a reliance on imagination as an interpretive and animating force. This way of seeing was particularly relevant to the altered topography of World War I, as subterranean trenches and a reliance on aerial reconnaissance shifted the strategic relationship between space and vision. The view from the ground was limited and unreliable. The view from the air was what mattered.[6] If the models provided a familiar entrée to the unfamiliar terrain of war, aerial paintings, as the 1920 IWM catalogue emphasizes, were alienating: “Artists here were guided by no traditions and had to work from eye memory. … They show sights which the imagination must be kindled to realise… It is not to be expected that every groundsman will find air-pictures as lucid as normal landscapes.”[7] Notable here is the creative leap. This is a visual strategy that must be learned.

Figure 3. CRW Nevinson (1889–1946, United Kingdom), Over the Lines, 1917, oil on canvas, 60.9 x 45.7 cm. Imperial War Museum, London (Image © IWM Art.IWM ART 515).

Though battle models have a history that predated the advent of aerial warfare, the physical proximity of A Model of a Devastated Townto aerial paintings and photographs in the IWM galleries recontextualized their format in relation to aerial vision.[8] Images such as Christopher Nevinson’s Over the Lines (1917) (fig. 3)—on display nearby Devastated Town in the Air Force section of the IWM—revealed aerial imagery as schematized rather than representational. Nevinson’s composition has a uniform ground of gray-green and the scant topographical differentiation reiterates the muddy sameness of the front. The staccato lines of white, black, and ochre used to form the town below imply a violent disintegration of the built environment. The horror of war, however, is removed, and the exploding shells in the aerial composition appear as ornamental rather than deadly.

Nevinson’s view incorporated information about roads, trenches, and troops with information indicated by abstract symbols rather than a pictorial match between signifier and signified. The genre of aerial-landscape paintings was facilitated by two mechanical innovations of the early twentieth century that augmented the limits of human vision: reconnaissance flights and aerial photography.[9] Its format claimed a scientific lineage which, as the IWM catalogue makes clear, required a trained viewer to make the images lucid.[10] Even in the context of an art exhibition, the viewer took on the role of a trained military observer by reading the distant marks of Over the Lines as the details of a ruined town. This is, as the catalogue implies, a drastic departure from the conventions of British landscape painting, where clarity and legibility were highly valued. Landscape imagery, which was vital as an informational tool in past wars, had been rendered obsolete by the symbolic vision of aerial reconnaissance. The explicitness of the miniatures circumvented this troubled relationship between human observation and mechanical vision, presenting a claim for unmediated reality. In the galleries of the IWM, the models translated the remote landscape seen in images such as Over the Lines into a form that reestablished stable topographical vision. Yet their precision and tangibility were an anachronism, and the irony of the models is that they were, unlike aerial paintings and photography, products entirely of the home front.

If authenticity was achieved by some war artists through first-hand experience, the modelmakers, for the most part, had not personally witnessed the episodes or landscapes they were tasked with creating. Instead, for objects such as Devastated Town, the IWM would send the modelmaker maps, aerial photographs, and artist sketches to assist with the production of the scene. Just as the war on the ground became dependent on topographical information gleaned from the air, the maps and photographs used to construct these models in the removed workshops of London were dependent on mechanical vision. The modelmakers had the expertise to translate aerial viewpoints into standard visual conventions. They acted as invisible mediators between the museum visitors and the military, asserting the landscape of war as comprehensible despite the distance from the frontline and the violence of the battle.

The town in Devastated Town was, however, as indistinct as the one in Over the Lines. A later caption notes that the model was intended to represent the war-time condition of a number of French villages and to show the rampant destruction of war to a British populace whose own land, in this period before the Blitz, was relatively untouched.[11] Like the nameboard of an obliterated village, the model stood as a record of loss. It showed a landscape that was particular to the war as a whole—as troops and shelling moved through civilian towns in northern France—rather than a specific time or location. The implied reality of the miniature, in its intense detail and promise of a completely enclosed world, seemed to deny its composite nature. Like the literary referents of Barthes’s reality effect, the models marshal excessive detail to conjure a convincing simulacrum of place.[12]

While the IWM intended to display the efforts of the entire military and civilian population in the war and had sections devoted to domestic efforts, none of the models shown at the Crystal Palace were of British sites. When a modelmaker wrote to the museum to suggest a model of the damage done by the first zeppelin bomb dropped on London, the institution declined, citing space restraints.[13]The inclusion of this scene would have disrupted the contrived certainty of models of the war’s terrain. A violent spectacle that had torn through buildings and streets mere miles away from the museum would have broken the enclosure of the models. The safe distance—borne of the models’ aerial viewpoint, miniaturization, and representation of a general type rather than a specific place—would be negated by the immediacy of the local zeppelin damage. The threat of the lived experience would be brought dangerously close to home; imagination would not be necessary to bridge the gap between knowledge and experience.

The simulacra of foreign battlefields were ultimately marshalled as psychological barriers between the field of war and the home front. The clarity of their construction circumvented the necessity of experienced vision required by other documentation of the twentieth century’s first mechanized conflict. They allowed “groundsmen,” as the IWM catalogue notes, to attain lucidity. The models were consistently and repeatedly focused on distant locations and did not threaten the integrity of the British landscape in the face of world war. The supplies that performed this work, however, were physical remnants of the British soil, marking the scene as a foil to the unscathed landscape of Britain. The museum’s lead curator wrote to the superintendent of Hyde Park in 1919:

I beg to inform you that a number of Relief Models showing various portions of the Western Front and War Areas are being prepared by this Department […] To complete these models, it is necessary to insert small twigs and withered plants on a scale suitable to the model. I shall be obliged therefore if you will allow Mr. Ogilvie, the bearer of this letter, to select such small specimens as occasion may demand, it being of course understood that none of these specimens would be taken from flower beds, only from the wilder parts of the park.[14]

Though the miniature world transformed twigs and plants into approximations of foreign terrain, their attachment to British parkland threatened to undo the model’s claim of authenticity. To maintain the illusion of British control over the distant battlefield, it was integral that both the modelmakers, and the war itself, would not disturb the flower beds.

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Footnotes

[1] Since 1936, the IWM has been located in Lambeth. The museum vacated the Crystal Palace and moved to South Kensington in 1924. The Crystal Palace at Sydenham was the glass structure designed by Joseph Paxton to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was moved from Kensington to Sydenham in 1852.

[2] In this way, these models share a history with earlier battle panoramas, such as those exhibited in France and England during the Napoleonic wars. It is important to note that this tradition was modernized during WWI through large-scale photographic panoramas that were similarly intended as mimetic performances; see Martyn Jolly, “Composite Propaganda Photographs during the First World War,” History of Photography 27, no. 2 (2003): 154–65. These experiences, however, were often staged as separate performances, and the models are distinct in their use as part of the newly conceived military museum. 

[3] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 45.

[4] Stewart, On Longing, 134.

[5] Gassed (1919) was one of the largest paintings included in the art section of the IWM galleries. Sargent, an American, was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information in 1918 to travel to the front, where he completed research for this work. The painting remains in the collection of the museum.

[6] This representational shift is documented by scholars including Bernd Huppauf and Hanna Rose Shell; see Bernd Hüppauf,“Representing Space — Panoramas of World War I Battlefields,” History of Photography 31, no. 1 (2007): 83–84; Hanna Rose Shell, Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance (New York: Zone Books, 2012).

[7] Imperial War Museum, Catalogue of Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1920), 4

[8] Military wargames, which used tabletop surfaces augmented with topographical details to plan troop movements, were invented in Prussia at the turn of the nineteenth century. They were popularized in England by author HG Wells, who published Little Wars, a guide to tabletop war games, in 1913.

[9] Caren Kaplan summarizes the scientific and militaristic implications of aerial vision in her chapter about aerial mapping projects in early twentieth-century Iraq; ee Caren Kaplan, Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime from Above (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 138.

[10] Allan Sekula’s article on Edward Steichen’s role as commander of the aerial-photography branch of the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War is an early contribution to the field of aerial photography. His analysis echoes many of the points that I pull from the IWM catalogue caption, including the “rationalized act of ‘interpretation’” that constitutes any visual interaction with the aerial image;see Allan Sekula, “The Instrumental Image: Steichen at War,” Artforum 14, no. 4 (December 1975): 26–35.

[11] While the IWM identifies some images of this model as “A Model of Peronne” I believe that this caption, included with the catalogue entry for the model itself, supersedes this later identification.

[12] Barthes proposed the reality effect in a 1968 essay. He originally applied it to literary models. He distinguished between textual details that relate specifically to the main plot—called predictive—and details that are descriptive but superfluous to the story, notations. The extraneous details play upon the reader, building an experience that heightens the sense of the text’s reality, see Roland Barthes,The Rustle of Language (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989), 141–48.

[13] Correspondence from Major C. Foulkes to Charles Ledwidge, January 24, 1922, EN1/1/MOD/001, The Imperial War Museum Archive, London.

[14] Correspondence from Major C. Foulkes to Hyde Park Superintendent, February 21, 1919, EN1/1/CPL/020. The Imperial War Museum Archive, London.

Editors’ Introduction

by Rebecca Arnheim and Bailey Benson

Frits Thaulow, Melting Snow, 1887, pastel on tan woven paper laid down on canvas and wrapped around a strainer, 21.5 x 37.25 in. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

When the theme of “Environment” was selected for the 36th Annual Boston University Graduate Symposium in the History of Art & Architecture, we could not imagine how profoundly relevant it would be for the year 2020. The year began with bushfires in Australia that burned more than 46 million acres of land. Intense monsoons severely impacted several countries in Asia and abnormally heavy rainfall in Sudan and Ethiopia resulted in devastating flooding. In the United States, wildfires rage more frequently and with greater intensity in the West of the country, tornado season in the Midwest is getting progressively longer, and tropical storms and hurricanes regularly ravage the southern and eastern coastlines. These are only a few examples of the increasingly common natural disasters that have occurred this year. Then, a novel coronavirus hit the world stage.

Global concerns surrounding COVID-19 reached a fever pitch in early March, just weeks before the symposium was scheduled to take place. The venue was set, speakers had booked their travel, and all things appeared to be proceeding as planned. Almost overnight the whole situation changed. It became increasingly apparent that this event, as with so many others, would not be able to take place as scheduled. After serious deliberation with both the faculty members of the History of Art & Architecture Department at Boston University and representatives from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the difficult decision was made to cancel the symposium. This special edition of SEQUITUR features papers from that canceled symposium.

Figure 1. Alina Imas, Poster for the 36th Annual Symposium in the History of Art & Architecture, 2020.

This year’s graduate symposium was planned for March 28, 2020, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This event was intended to explore the relationship between the environment and artistic and architectural production (fig. 1). Six graduate students from across the country were invited to share their research, and a keynote address was to be presented by Professor Christopher P. Heuer (University of Rochester). The graduate student presenters were: Tobah Aukland-Peck (The Graduate Center, CUNY), Rachel Kase (Boston University), Mingqian Liu (Texas A&M University), Carolyn Russo (American University), Amanda Thompson (Bard Graduate Center), and John White (University of Massachusetts Amherst). The speakers were to be divided into two panels of three presentations each. The morning session, “Reclaimed by Nature,” was to feature papers focused on nature overcoming human creation and artists’ corresponding reactions. While the morning session focused on nature’s triumph, the afternoon was expected to explore human accomplishments against nature’s forces in a session entitled “Claiming Spaces.”

Figure 2. Program for the 36th Annual Boston University Graduate Symposium in the History of Art & Architecture, 2020.

The present issue of SEQUITUR features papers from four of the presenters. The organization of this issue is intended to reflect that of the event itself (fig. 2). The two parts mirror the two panels, and the papers are presented in the order they would have been delivered at the symposium. Two video Q&A sessions were also recorded in which the authors and the original session moderators, Willie Granston and Phillippa Pitts respectively, further discuss the papers.

The issue begins with Rachel Kase’s paper, which investigates the Little Ice Age’s artistic representations in Dutch art. Kase demonstrates how the monochromatic representations of winter-obscured landscapes disoriented viewers and created instances of “non-sites” in Netherlandish artistic productions. Tobah Aukland-Peck uses miniature displays of World War I battles on display in the Imperial War Museum in order to explore how British citizens dealt with and understood war events that occurred on foreign soil. The choice of materials used to create these models ultimately came to play a central part in how the war was presented to the British citizenry.

Mingqian Liu looks at the built environment, discussing the impacts of preservation efforts on the residents of an 800-year-old historic neighborhood in Beijing, China. Her paper uses interviews with those residents to argue for a bottom-up approach to preservation practices, one that considers the residents and their daily interactions with their built urban environment. The concluding paper of the issue is by Amanda Thompson and deals with the relationships between objects, their makers, and the collections they become a part of—in this case, the British Museum. Thompson uses the example of an eighteenth-century Cherokee basket to demonstrate Native relationships to the environment through the act of weaving and how baskets come to function as objects of land claims as they move into settler spaces.

We hope that this special issue of SEQUITUR invites readers to rethink their own relationships with their environments, both natural and human-made. How does our environment shape us, and how do we shape our environment? The papers featured in this issue serve as good starting points for conversations that can continue outside of the print medium, generating new dialogues and avenues of investigation.

A Sustaining Cherokee Basket: Colonial and Indigenous Resistance

by Amanda Thompson

Figure 1. Unidentified Cherokee artist, Lidded basket (or two basketry trays), early eighteenth century, cane, 21 in. x 8 in. x 4 in., British Museum, London (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

One of my Cherokee elder aunts tells me baskets are living things. She believes the materials she uses in her weaving give the baskets everlasting life. “When we weave a basket, it is held close to our body so as to impart our spirit into the basket. When you give a basket, you give a part of your spirit,” she says.[1]

—Author and poet MariJo Moore (Eastern Cherokee, Dutch, and Irish ancestry) in “The Spirit of a Cherokee Basket”

A large Carolina basket made by the Indians of splitt canes some parts of them being dyed red by the fruit of the Solanum magnum Virginianum racemosum rubrum & black. They will keep any thing in this from being wetted by rain. From Coll. Nicholson Governor of South Carolina whence he brought them.[2]

 —Earliest catalogue description of a Cherokee basket acquired by the British Museum in 1753

The two texts which begin this essay communicate disparate understandings of a Cherokee basket.[3] Although written centuries apart, cultural rather than temporal differences separate them. The first presents the conceptions of generations of the author’s Eastern Cherokee ancestors that a basket is a living thing, with a continuous, intimate, and inextricable connection to the sources of its natural materials and to its maker. The second, written to identify an object in the British Museum’s collection, represents the basket, its materials, and its maker as colonized subjects. Considering the object life of that eighteenth-century doubleweave Cherokee basket in the collection of the British Museum (fig. 1–2), I will draw on the tension between these two ways of understanding a basket to weave an essay which unsettles the authority of a colonial institution’s collecting and cataloguing of a Native-made basket and exposes that authority as an agent of settler colonial violence.

Figure 2. Detail. Unidentified Cherokee artist, Lidded basket (or two basketry trays), early eighteenth century, cane, 21 in. x 8 in. x 4 in., British Museum, London (© The Trustees of the British Museum). Historically, Cherokee women cultivated cane for many reasons, including making baskets. The maker of the British Museum basket would have harvested the cane and kept it moist until ready to separate it into splits, a lengthy and demanding labor. She then dyed some splits by boiling bundles of them in plant stuffs such as blood root or black walnut. This basket uses the doubleweave technique, in which an interior and exterior basket are woven and joined at the rim, making a single strong, watertight, and graphically dynamic basket. While technique and designs have been passed down from women to women, generation to generation, the maker perhaps added her own innovations as well.

Guided by the counsel of Tuscarora art historian Jolene Rickard that “even the most ‘traditional’ form, like basket weaving, is actually a demonstration of Indigenous renewal, survival, and political and environmental awareness,” I aim to access Cherokee basket makers’ “strategic cultural resistance,” and to illustrate how colonial agents acted to neutralize and erase this resistance, conforming to the “elimination of the Native” required by the settler colonial structure.[4] I conclude by considering the maker and, responding to an archival lack, imagine her agency in entering the basket into the colonial networks of exchange and demonstrate how the maker’s act of “strategic cultural resistance” has lived on to renew Cherokee political and cultural agency. As a non-Native scholar, this imagining is in the form of queries, shaped—like all my scholarship—--by what I have learned from many Native thinkers. This mode of narration is influenced by African-American scholar Saidiya Hartman who “exploit[s] the capacities of the subjunctive… both to tell an impossible story and to amplify the impossibility of its telling.”[5] My queries aim to illuminate other ways of considering the unknown maker’s agency, without speaking for her.

 

“The Spirit of a Cherokee Basket”

Basketry is woven into Cherokee cosmological, ecological, ancestral, and community relationships. Historically, women made baskets to be used for trapping, harvesting and processing food, storage, transporting goods, and bartering, among other subsistence activities.Baskets also had ceremonial purposes, such as to protect and contain the power of ritual tools and garments. They feature prominently in Cherokee stories, such as that of Selu, the Corn Mother, who used baskets to catch the corn and beans which she shook from her body to nourish her children, and of Kanane-ski Amai-yehi, or Spider-Dwelling-in-the-Water, who wove a basket to bring fire to the earth.[6] In these stories and practical uses, baskets are sustaining vessels central to Cherokee ways of being.[7]

Basketry has also supported Cherokee continuance. For instance, following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and subsequent forced migration of thousands of Cherokees, Cherokee Nation scholar Karen Cooper Coody describes:

Upon arrival in Indian Territory, bereft of adequate household items, the vast majority of Cherokee women would have immediately set to work producing a needed array of workbaskets. … Most women were faced with endless tasks of tending sick and weakened families, feeding them, sewing and mending worn-out clothing, weaving new cloth and making quilts, planting household gardens, cooking and foraging in unfamiliar Ozark woodlands or grasslands for plants suitable for food, medicine and craft materials [such as basketry].[8]

After devastating loss, Cherokee women managed their survival by adapting their ancestral art to the materials available in unknown territory.[9] Returning to their tradition of weaving allowed for the renewal and resurgence of peoples—not just through a basket’s utility, but also through ensuring that cultural knowledge could live on, changed but resilient.

Basketry also provides rhetorical means for renewal and decolonization. Cherokee/Appalachian author Marilou Awiakta identifies a doubleweave basket as the “natural form” of her book Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother’s Wisdom:

As I worked with the poems, essays, and stories, I saw they shared a common base—the sacred law of taking and giving back with respect, of maintaining balance. From there they wove around four themes, gradually assuming a double-sided pattern—one outer, one inner—distinct, yet interconnected in a whole. … Reading will be easy if you keep the weaving mode in mind: over… under… over… under. A round basket never runs “straight-on.”[10]

The complicated process and ultimate strength of doubleweave enables Awiakta to reckon with modern environmental destruction and reweave a restorative vision of futurity for her readers. Similarly, Qwo-Li Driskill uses doubleweave as a structure in their 2016 book Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory, which weaves together personal and theoretical writings to create a third space (“between the basket walls”) in which to decolonize Cherokee-specific traditions of gender and sexuality.[11] Thusly, basketry has sustained Cherokee life and culture through baskets’ practical uses, in the perpetuation of traditions of knowledge, and by providing a framework for resurgence and decolonization—all despite colonial efforts to decontextualize baskets and disenfranchise their Native makers through collecting and cataloguing.

 

“A large Carolina basket”: Collecting and cataloguing as settler colonial inscription

The catalogue cited at the start of this essay is the earliest known record of the British Museum’s doubleweave basket.[12] Although the writer is unidentified, the language they use to describe the basket illuminates a colonial framework for their knowledge, with idioms encoded to naturalize colonial power. The basket is first identified as a product of a place inscribed with a colonial name: Carolina. The colony of Carolina was granted its charter and named by King Charles II of England in honor of his father, erasing the historic and ongoing identifications of lands by the peoples native to them and instead providing an Anglo-monarchical ancestry.[13] The basket is secondly identified by the generic “Indians” who made it, eliding the diverse Native polities of North America into one undistinguished other.[14] The plant whose dyes provide the basket’s contrasting design is called after Britain’s supposed virgin queen, Elizabeth I, literally overlaying British power onto plants indigenous to the colony, in an act of “linguistic imperialism” which classified and so claimed the plant life of the world.[15]

This cataloguing enacts epistemic violence we now identify with settler colonialism. Citizen Potawatomi Nation scholar Kyle Powys Whyte writes that settler colonialism necessitates “homeland inscription,” as “settlers can only make a homeland by creating social institutions that physically carve their origin, religious and cultural narratives, social ways of life and political and economic systems (e.g. property) into the waters, soils, air and other environmental dimensions of the territory or landscape. That is, settler ecologies have to be inscribed into indigenous ecologies.”[16] Settler colonialism has been inscribed into the archive of this basket by renaming its homelands and the natural materials from which it was woven and by flattening the diverse peoples of Native North America into a single, othered, Indian. This inscription supports the “structural genocide” of settler colonialism through appropriation of lands and assimilation of peoples.[17]

As its maker and community has been excised from its archival record, the written provenance of this basket begins with its ownership by a colonial agent. South Carolina governor Francis Nicholson possibly collected it as a gift from Native delegations, such as when he negotiated the first colonial treaty with Cherokees in 1721. In meetings with the multiple Native communities of South Carolina, Nicholson sought to gain information and establish boundaries and trade relations, while Native delegations took the opportunity to affirm their sovereignty. Gifts like maps and baskets asserted rights by demonstrating Native territories, resources, geographical and ecological knowledge, and existing trade and political relationships. While Native people strategically gifted maps and baskets to make political, economic, and territorial claims in their meetings with colonial authorities in the eighteenth century, other Southeastern Native nations—such as the Chitimacha and the Coushatta—have used baskets to strategically advance land claims into the twentieth century.[18]

Rather than acknowledging the rights asserted with these maps and baskets, Nicholson entered them into a collection supportive of Britain's empire-building project by transferring them to Sir Hans Sloane. A leading London intellectual, Sloane used his position and wealth to comprehensively collect flora and human-made objects from throughout the empire, supported by British agents acquiring local specimens.[19] Sloane collected in order to build knowledge, which in turn supported Britain’s expanding empire and commercial interests.[20] Botanical knowledge enabled the classification, cultivation, and capitalization of the natural products of colonized lands.[21] Objects made by peoples throughout the empire educated British people about colonized subjects and supported an imagined hierarchy of civilization with British culture at the pinnacle and other cultures below.[22]

Upon Sloane’s death, British Parliament complied with his testamentary wishes that the collection be kept together and made publicly accessible by establishing the British Museum in 1753. This progressive move towards public education enabled all those able to visit to observe and learn about world cultures. But the London museum also facilitated the expansion of the logic of colonialism, as visitors could imagine their place at the center of empire and internalize hierarchies of a civilized center superior to uncivilized others which Sloane created in his collection. By spreading the logic of colonialism amongst the public, subjugation, resource extraction, and dispossession were normalized as an inevitable—and benevolent—right of Britain. The transformation of a Native diplomatic gift into an object in a national collection at the center of empire enacted settler colonialism by providing proof of ownership of Native land and of the incorporation of Native peoples at the seat of colonial power.[23]

 

Conclusion

In resistance to the epistemic violence of settler colonialism which severed this basket from its cultural context, I believe it is powerful to acknowledge the part of the unidentified maker’s spirit given with the basket, recalling the opening words of MariJo Moore. What if she intended this basket to demonstrate Cherokee rootedness in their homelands? What if she staked a claim by mobilizing the knowledge of generations of ancestors who learned to cultivate the land and transform its plant life into a watertight basket? What if she meant to build a relationship through the gifting of this basket, with the expectation of reciprocity and respect, in line with Cherokee relationship-based governance? What if this basket was woven as a material manifestation of Cherokee sovereignty? The intentions and expectations of the maker’s spirit have been excised in the basket’s collection and cataloguing in order to inscribe settler colonialism onto the peoples, land, and ecology from which it came, in another deliberate act of dispossession.

Figure 3. Clem Kalischer, Lottie Stamper at the Craftsman’s Fair of the Southern Highlands in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, 1948, photograph, 9.5 in. x 7.5 in., Southern Highland Craft Guild Archives, Asheville (© Southern Highland Craft Guild Archives). Stamper uses the doubleweave technique to create a lid for the basket in her lap.

 

Figure 4. Shan Goshorn, Precious Holding, 2016, Arches watercolor paper, archival inks, acrylic paint and buckskin; doubleweave. Overall: 3 1/2 × 5 1/2 × 11 in., Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Purchased through the Virginia and Preston T. Kelsey 1958 Fund (© Shan Goshorn Estate). Goshorn modeled this basket after a Cherokee basket she encountered in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian. She wondered of that basket, “what would be so precious to warrant being secured so tenderly?” For her, the answer was the Cherokee language and she wove this basket of strips of documents of the language.

In 1940, Eastern Cherokee basket maker Lottie Stamper used images of this basket to further her knowledge of the doubleweave technique and then teach it to others (fig. 3).[24] In this way, Stamper refused the co-option of the basket by the colonial state, and instead accessed the ancestral knowledge embodied in the basket to enable the technique’s renewal in the community. Eastern Cherokee artist Shan Goshorn, who passed away in 2018, drew from the knowledge revitalized by Stamper and used strips of treaty texts, historical photographs, and other documents to weave paper baskets which spoke powerfully to the injustices of the United States against Native peoples (fig. 4). Goshorn’s basketry demonstrates how an eighteenth-century basket continues to sustain Indigenous renewal and strategic cultural resistance.[25]  

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Footnotes

[1] MariJo Moore, “The Spirit of a Cherokee Basket,” Fiberarts 28, no. 4 (February 2002): 25.

[2] “Basket,” British Museum, accessed March 9, 2020, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Am-SLMisc-1218-a-b.

[3] Cherokee peoples are indigenous to homelands throughout the Southeast of the territory now known as the United States. In the nineteenth century, the United States government forcibly moved thousands of Cherokees to Oklahoma to open up land to settlers. Today, there are three recognized tribes of Cherokees: the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation, both in Oklahoma, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina—all of whom maintain basketry traditions. In this paper, I refer to the culture both generally and pre-removal as Cherokee.

[4] The basketry quotation comes from Jolene Rickard, “Uncovering/Recovering: Indigenous Artists in California” in Art, Women, California 1950-2000: Parallels and Intersections, ed. Diana Burgess Fuller and Daniela Salvioni, (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002), 145. The term “strategic cultural resistance” is drawn from Jolene Rickard, “Visualizing Sovereignty in the Time of Biometric Sensors,” South Atlantic Quarterly 110 (Spring 2011): 474. While in the latter essay, Rickard engaged with contemporary “Haudenosaunee artists [who] visualize sovereignty through key episodic ‘traditional’ or historical moments” (474-75), I find the idea broadly useful in thinking politically and critically about historic and contemporary Indigenous arts. The term “elimination of the Native” comes from a foundational text of settler colonial theory by Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (December 2006): 387-409. Wolfe asserts a “structural genocide” (403) as concomitant with settler colonialism, enacted not just by mass killings but also removal from lands, removal from tribes, enforcement of a grammar of race, and assimilation.

[5]Abridged for length in the body of my essay, I think it necessary to include this quotation in its powerful entirety: “By advancing a series of speculative arguments and exploiting the capacities of the subjunctive (a grammatical mood that expresses doubts, wishes, and possibilities), in fashioning a narrative, which is based upon archival research, and by that I mean a critical reading of the archive that mimes the figurative dimensions of history, I intended both to tell an impossible story and to amplify the impossibility of its telling”;Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 12, no. 2 (June 1, 2008): 11.

[6] James Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1902), 242, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/45634/45634-h/45634-h.htm#s2. Still today “these stories and the teaching that come from them create and maintain the everyday reality for the Eastern Cherokees”; Sandra Muse Isaacs, Eastern Cherokee Stories: A Living Oral Tradition and Its Cultural Continuance (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019), 100.

[7] For information on Cherokee basketry, see M. Anna Fariello, Cherokee Basketry: From the Hands of Our Elders (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009) and Sarah H. Hill, Weaving New Worlds: Southeastern Cherokee Women and Their Basketry (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997). It is likely the British Museum basket is actually two separate pieces—a basket and a tray—miscatalogued as one piece due to the similarity of sizes and technique. Anthropologist Betty Duggan believes they might represent the work of two different makers, and resists an absolute attribution to a Cherokee maker, rather than to other peoples indigenous to the region; Betty J. Duggan, “Baskets of the Southeast” in By Native Hands: Woven Treasures from the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, ed. Stephen W. Cook and Jill R. Chancey (Laurel, MS, Seattle, WA: Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, University of Washington Press, 2005), 36.

[8] Karen Coody Cooper, Oklahoma Cherokee Baskets (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2016), 27.

[9] Cherokee makers experimented with the different plants found in Oklahoma and adjusted to their qualities and gathering seasons. Eventually, buckbrush root became the primary basketry material of Oklahoma Cherokees, combined with oak stays. Similarly, Eastern Cherokee basket makers had to adapt to environmental changes wrought by settlers. As cane became less prevalent Cherokee women innovated basketry techniques and designs in oak and root runners in the early nineteenth century, the introduced or invasive Japanese honeysuckle root runner in the later nineteenth century, and fast-growing maple in the early twentieth century. Contemporary makers use all these materials to continue to innovate new forms and designs.

[10] Marilou Awiakta, Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother’s Wisdom (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Pub, 1993), 34.

[11] Qwo-Li Driskill, Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory (Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 2016), 5.

[12] Cataloguing is a practice that museums use to describe objects. It is a step in the acquisition process, as knowing creates ownership. Its classifications impose culturally contingent knowledge upon objects, which continue to determine understandings and access to objects to the present; see Ramesh Srinivasan, Robin Boast, Jonathan Furner, and Katherine M. Becvar, “Digital Museums and Diverse Cultural Knowledges: Moving Past the Traditional Catalog,” Information Society 25 (2009): 265-78 and Hannah Turner, “Decolonizing Ethnographic Documentation: A Critical History of the Early Museum Catalogs at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History,” Cataloguing & Classification Quarterly 53 (August 2012): 658-76.

[13] The colony of Carolina was chartered in 1663 and split into two colonies—North and South Carolina—in 1712. As the singular “Carolina” is used in the catalogue description, it is likely that in England the two colonies were still referred to as one despite their administrative division.

[14] See Jodi A. Byrd, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism, First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011) on the collapsing of diverse Indigenous polities into a racial Indianness as a tool of settler colonialism in the United States.

[15] Londa L. Schiebinger, Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 195. The acts of classifying plants and cataloguing objects similarly subordinate local knowledge to that of the empire.

[16] Kyle Powys Whyte, “Indigenous Experience, Environmental Justice and Settler Colonialism” in Nature and Experience: Phenomenology and the Environment, ed. Bryan E. Bannon (London, New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 171-72.

[17] Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native”: 403.

[18] See Ian Chambers, “A Cherokee Origin for the ‘Catawba’ Deerskin Map,” Imago Mundi 65, no. 2 (June 2013): 207–16; Denise E. Bates, Basket Diplomacy: Leadership, Alliance-Building, and Resilience among the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, 1884-1984 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2020); and Daniel H. Usner, Weaving Alliances with Other Women: Chitimacha Indian Work in the New South (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2015).

[19] See James Delbourgo, Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017) for a history of Sloane’s collecting and the founding of the British Museum anchored in the recognition that Sloane’s wealth in part derived from his slave-holding, demonstrating the foundational link of the British national collection to profits from the subjugation of people and the realities of Britain’s slave-based economic power. For early research specifically into Sloane’s ethnographic collections, see David I. Bushnell, “The Sloane Collection in the British Museum,” American Anthropologist 8, no. 4 (1906): 671-85; H. J. Braunholtz, “The Sloane Collection: Ethnography,” The British Museum Quarterly 18, no. 1 (1953): 23-26, https://doi.org/10.2307/4422413.

[20] See Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), a foundational work of postcolonial theory on how the creation of knowledge enabled imperial power as a form of epistemic violence working in tandem with imperialism’s brute force and material superiority.

[21] See Londa L. Schiebinger, Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).

[22] See T. J. Barringer, and Tom Flynn, eds., Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture, and the Museum, Museum Meanings. (London , New York: Routledge, 1998); Elizabeth Edwards, Chris Gosden, and Ruth B. Phillips, eds., Sensible Objects: Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture, Wenner-Gren International Symposium Series (Oxford , New York: Berg, 2006); Amiria J. M. Henare, Museums, Anthropology and Imperial Exchange (Cambridge, UK , New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); George W. Stocking, ed., Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture, History of Anthropology, (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).

[23] See Curtis M. Hinsley, “Collecting Cultures and Cultures of Collecting: The Lure of the American Southwest, 1880-1915,” Museum Anthropology 16, no. 1 (1992): 12-20. As Indigenous communities and formerly colonized countries today demand the repatriation of objects collected under conditions of unequal power, these assumed hierarchies of knowledge and authority endure particularly in debates over rightful ownership and claims that objects will be in jeopardy if returned to their community of production; see Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh,“Repatriation and the Burdens of Proof,” Museum Anthropology 36, no. 2 (2013): 108-9,https://doi.org/10.1111/muan.12024; Rosemary Coombe, “The Properties of Culture and the Possession of Identity: Postcolonial Struggle and the Legal Imagination” in Bruce H. Ziff and Pratima V. Rao, eds., Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 74-96; and Neil G.W. Curtis, “Universal Museums, Museum Objects and Repatriation: The Tangled Stories of Things,” Museum Management and Curatorship 21, no. 2 (January 1, 2006): 117-27.

[24] The technique of doubleweave was not dormant in the Eastern Cherokee community at the time, as at least a few women still used the technique. Stamper, however, learned the technique in order to teach it and therefore spread and revitalize its use; Fariello, Cherokee Basketry, 40-43.

[25] See curatorial statement by Heather Ahtone in INTERTWINED, Stories of Splintered Pasts: Shan Goshorn & Sarah Sense (Tulsa, OK: Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, Hardesty Arts Center, 2015), https://issuu.com/ahhatulsa/docs/int_cat_issuu, for more on the work of Goshorn.

 

Public Perceptions of Preservation Policies and Practices in Historic Residential Neighborhood: A Case of Dongsi, Beijing, China

by Mingqian Liu

Figure 1. Layout of a simple one-courtyard house in Beijing. Drawing published in Beijing Siheyuan by Jia Jun (Beijing, China: Peking University Press, 2009) [贾珺,《北京四合院》(中国北京:北京大学出版社,2009)].
Hutongs are narrow alleyways with low-rise constructions lining both sides. These low-rise houses are called Siheyuan, or courtyard houses, a traditional type of vernacular architecture in northern China (fig. 1). Hutong neighborhoods first commonly appeared as an integral part of the capital city’s grid layout during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).[1] Dongsi is an eight-hundred-year-old residential neighborhood in today’s Dongcheng District, Beijing, China (figs. 2, 3, and 4). Archaeological excavations and historical spatial analysis have revealed that the basic layout (location, direction, and width of the streets) in Dongsi remained almost entirely intact throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1944-1912) dynasties, the Republican (1912-1949), and the People’s Republic of China (1949-current) eras.[2] Such a layout makes Dongsi an outstanding testimony to the long history of Chinese imperial and capital city planning.[3] This undeniable historical value led to Dongsi being designated as one of the twenty-five Historical and Cultural Conservation Areas by the Beijing Municipality in 1990.[4]

Figure 2. Alleyways and courtyard houses in Dongsi as they appeared in the 1750 Complete Map of Peking, Qianlong Period. Image courtesy National Institute of Informatics Digital Silk Road Project and Digital Archive of Toyo Bunko Rare Books, https://doi.org/10.20676/00000211.

 

Figure 3. Contemporary street layout of Dongsi Subdistrict, August 7, 2020. Image courtesy Google Maps, https://www.google.com/maps/place/中国北京市东城区东四街道/@39.9291141,116.4130571,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x35f1acd30ce8aba7:0x2fb3528d9e4f18da!8m2!3d39.92899h

 

Figure 4. Exterior facade of single-story courtyard houses along both sides of Dongsi Wutiao (the Fifth Alleyway). Photo by author (2018).

State-led built heritage preservation efforts started in China in the 1980s, when China joined the UNESCO World Heritage Convention as a State Party and received its first designations on the World Heritage List, including the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.[5]However, similar to the history of preservation in the Western world, it took decades for the Chinese government and preservationists to realize that tangible remains of the built environment were not the only asset worth preserving. Intangible aspects, including cultural identities and living traditions associated with heritage communities and the built environment, had to be taken into consideration as well. Although there was a set of state-issued guidelines regarding strategies and treatment of historic artifacts and buildings (much like the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties in the United States), the official Chinese version of preservation guidelines did not touch much on how to protect the human aspects of the many diverse types of historic built environments.[6] This illustrated that the lack of emphasis on human factors in historic preservation is a global concern.

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the global field of historic preservation has seen an emerging trend called “people-centered approach.”[7] This shift’s roots date back to the Nara Document on Authenticity (1994), where construction techniques and living traditions were deemed worth preserving, especially in non-Western contexts. A people-centered approach suggests that preservationists should not solely care about preserving brick and mortar for future generations, but should instead make people’s wellbeing the central goal of all preservation work. This approach is more sustainable because it involves more stakeholders, pays more attention to the interactions between people and their environments, generates diverse and inclusive solutions for treatment and renovation, and helps to dismantle the oftentimes expert-defined official discourse in heritage values and significance. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, published in 2015, included preserving culture as an important part of building sustainable cities, suggesting that people-centered preservation has already become a globally recognized concept. This paper, which takes a people-centered approach in historic preservation, attempts the first step toward understanding residents’ perceptions of historic preservation and policies, and how they could be more involved in the process. It uses Dongsi, an inner-city historic neighborhood in a developing country, as a case study. Although current residents are not the only stakeholders or human factor in people-centered preservation, they are the group that experiences long-lasting impacts first hand. Taking a bottom-up approach, this paper argues that residents see infrastructure and life quality improvement as the most pressing preservation needs in their neighborhood, and that preservationists need to establish long-term relationships with the community in order to carry out sustainable preservation practices.

Previous scholarly literature has clearly shown that historic preservation is an interdisciplinary field. Architects, urban planners, archaeologists, historians, social workers, and museum and tourism industry professionals work in a collaborative forum where theories, research methods, and working mechanisms intersect. However, this field also lacks a unified framework within which researchers and practitioners can operate.[8]

Previous scholarly writings have demonstrated the importance of the human aspect in heritage conservation and historic built environment preservation. As Dongsi has been designated as a protected area since 1990, the focus of this discussion is on residents’ post-designation concerns and involvement in the continuation of this preservation work. Urban planning scholars have focused on how involving more stakeholders in preservation could help in democratizing the heritage discourse, in other words, extracting diverse values from the built heritage and dismantling the traditionally expert-centered discussion around the “whys” and “hows” regarding our treatment of historic neighborhoods.[9] Because historic neighborhoods are often protected from the real-estate market and are considered part of the public well-fare, scholars of preservation law have emphasized that property owners are not the only demographic impacted by historic preservation.[10] Social scientists and urban policy-making scholars have contributed to the discussion of a people-centered approach, using the concept of “sense of place.”[11] This concept demonstrated how people behave differently in different physical environments (e.g., public versus private spaces). Therefore, one integral aspect of the physical environment (in this case, hutongs and courtyard house neighborhoods) is people’s experience associated with the environment. The “sense of place” literature emphasized intangible aspects, including experience, traditional lifestyle, and practices, as essential values of built heritage. To localize these concepts in a Chinese city, studies have been done in how heritage conservation, especially historic neighborhood preservation, served as an important tool for urban identity and image-building in Chinese cities.[12]

Previous studies have been done on other designated protection areas in Beijing regarding preservation schemes, tourism, and neighborhood change.[13] However, most of the studies took a top-down approach, looking at preservation as solely a government-led effort, instead of as a bottom-up or interactive process in which different stakeholders played different roles.[14] This paper aims to access the public perceptions of historic preservation policies and practices with a focus on residents’ opinions on how neighborhood changes affected their lives, and what impacted their involvement in historic preservation.

As a researcher, I believe that before proposing treatment and accessing the effectiveness of preservation policies and practices, the unavoidable first step is to get to know how residents think of preservation-related issues. They are the group of stakeholders whose lives would be most directly impacted by any kind of preservation action. Therefore, this study utilizes a bottom-up approach to access long-term historic neighborhood residents’ experiences, perceptions, and opinions, using a qualitative analysis method.[15] My study asked the following questions:

  • How have existing built heritage preservation policies and practices engaged or failed to engage residents of living heritage communities?
  • How have residents been involved in preservation and how can their perceptions contribute to informed actions in future preservation work?

Conversations with the residents often started from an expert point of view, such as values defined in the 2002 conservation planning document approved by the Beijing municipal government.[16] The first two of the five overarching principles of preservation work in these neighborhoods were focused on style and aesthetic features, including preserving the authenticity of streets, historic buildings, traditional courtyard houses, and architectural components. The third principle suggested that renovation or alteration should be done as “microcirculation,” meaning large-scale demolition and construction should be avoided. The fourth principle stated that preservation should work on improving the neighborhood living environment and infrastructure. The last principle made it clear that public involvement should be actively encouraged in historic preservation. In the past two decades, government-led preservation practices have been largely committed to these principles, perhaps with the exception of the third principle, as some large-scale renovations in historic neighborhoods were nowhere near “microcirculation.”

While all the residents interviewed agreed that style and aesthetic features, as shown by the appearance of courtyard houses’ external facades, are important, they did not possess the knowledge to identify what specific style and features are historically appropriate and significant. Many residents admitted that they could distinguish between a traditional and a non-traditional style (figs. 5 and 6) as people continued to make renovation to their houses, and they understand that the historical significance of Dongsi was the primary reason why the neighborhood was designated as worth preserving. However, residents were more concerned about tangible issues in the community, such as infrastructure and life quality improvement in the neighborhood, instead of building appearance or facade changes.

Figures 5 (left) and 6 (right). These parking garages are obviously contemporary additions to traditional courtyard houses. Some residents built them with traditional materials (wood) and colors (red paint) (left); whereas others added a modern and out-of-context-styled garage door (right). Photos by author (2018).

More than half of the interviewees spoke about how preservation practices improved the hutongs they lived in as a desirable public space. The narrow alleyways are not only used for through traffic, but also a place for human interaction, social gathering, and for some residents, their easiest access-point to get in touch with nature.[17] Therefore, when asked about tangible changes brought to Dongsi by government-led preservation campaigns, such as landscape renovation,[18] parking regulation changes,[19] and various measures regarding hygiene and trash collection,[20] residents focused on how such changes affected their use of the hutong as a public space.

Preservation practices did not stop at the public space. Based on the preservation principles, there is more flexibility to change the interior and more private spaces according to the residents’ preference and needs. The interior features of their courtyard houses have been renovated over the years to a contemporary standard, whether renovation was done by the residents themselves or led by various government-initiated campaigns. Inside of the courtyard houses, there were several government-led actions that were widely discussed, such as heating in the winter,[21] electronic wires re-arrangement,[22] and the recent weekend clean-up campaign to check and eliminate fire hazards.[23] This clean-up campaign originated in Dongsi and was promoted throughout the entire district, whereas infrastructure improvements, such as heating, were measures widely implemented in many historic districts with single-floor courtyard houses.

These improvements were mentioned and welcomed by a majority of the interviewees, because they resulted in environment and life quality improvement either in the streets or inside of the residents’ courtyard houses. Some of the changes added additional elements to the physical space, but they were never too conspicuous to interrupt the overall style and features of the historic environment. Compared to treatment and direct actions taken toward buildings and facades, the residents were more likely to understand and support preservation practices targeted at providing much needed functions and spaces for everyday use.

The fifth principle, as previously mentioned, encouraged the active involvement of the public in preservation works. Although it is widely agreed that stakeholder participation is an effective and essential tool in urban planning and people-centered preservation, the degree or level of involvement is often far from being clearly defined. When asked about how preservation practices engaged residents in the process, residents agreed that relationship-building among all stakeholders is important, in order to obtain their understanding and support regarding certain preservation policies and practices.[24]

There were three factors residents suggested really impacted their involvement in preservation. The first was whether there was a commitment to long-term engagement from the government, that include planners, social workers, residents, and other institutions and services in the community. The second factor was how much guidance and recognition residents received from the local administration regarding their involvement in preservation. How residents described the implementation of these two factors suggested that historic preservation was still perceived as a predominantly government-led effort in such neighborhoods, but the residents were willing to work with the public sector as long as they received proper instructions and positive feedback. The third factor many residents pointed to was that implementing a fix-all approach was not helpful. Residents feel that it is important to have professionals come into the neighborhood to work with each individual courtyard house, discuss long-term solutions, and follow up with the residents.

In conclusion, the first step of bottom-up historic preservation research is to understand current residents in addition to the historic physical environment and, furthermore, to support informed actions. This study provides the first step to center people, their experiences, perceptions, opinions, and needs in the process of preservation. Results showed that neighborhood residents care more about infrastructure and the improvement of life quality than the neighborhood’s appearance, style, or facade changes. The latter factors are closely related to the urban history and historic values of this neighborhood. However, even if history and values were conveyed to residents, people who actually live in the neighborhood did not directly benefit from these factors other than having a sense of pride. Residents recognized preservation efforts when appearance changes impacted quality and functions of life. This significant difference is not only a value judgement, but also suggests the potential gap between government-led preservation efforts and the residents’ involvement in both voicing concerns and taking actions to contribute.

Results also showed that various universal and local factors need to be taken into consideration. Conservation planning may follow universal principles, but the social, political, and economic contexts in inner-city historic neighborhoods remind us that the mechanisms of working with local communities need to be specifically designed every time. Planners and preservationists will benefit from getting actively and continuously involved with their target community. Practitioners need to work with each city and its communities’ development patterns, and align preservation with the interests of that particular population.

____________________

Footnotes

[1] See Nancy S. Steinhardt, “The Plan of Khubilai Khan’s Imperial City,” Artibus Asiae 44, no. 2/3 (1983): 137-158.

[2] See Hou Renzhi, Beijing Historical Maps (Beijing, China: Beijing Chubanshe, 1988). [侯仁之,《北京历史地图集》(中国北京:北京出版社,1988)].

[3] See Nancy S. Steinhardt, “Why were Chang’an and Beijing so Different?,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 45, no. 4 (December, 1986): 339-357.

[4] See Beijing Municipal Commission of City Planning, Conservation Planning of 25 Historic Areas in Beijing Old City (Beijing, China: Beijing Yanshan Chubanshe, 2002). [北京市规划委员会,《北京旧城25片历史文化保护区保护规划》(中国北京:北京燕山出版社,2002)]; the jurisdiction of Dongsi Subdistrict (the most local level of government in Beijing Municipality, under Dongcheng District) has a population of 43,731 according to the 2010 Census. The designated protection area is from Dongsi Santiao to Batiao (the Third Alleyway to the Eighth Allyway).

[5] See Yu Kongjian, “China Faces the Challenge of World Heritage Concept: Thoughts after the 28th World Heritage Convention,” Journal of Chinese Landscape Architecture 11 (2004): 68-70. [俞孔坚,《世界遗产概念挑战中国:第28届世界遗产大会有感》(《中国园林》,2004)].

[6] See Jin Hongkui, “The Content and Theoretical Significance of the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China,” in Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites, ed. Neville Agnew (Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications, 2010), 75-84; and ICOMOS China, Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China (Beijing, China: Wenwu Chubanshe, 2015). [中国古迹遗址保护协会,《中国文物古迹保护准则》(中国北京:文物出版社,2015)].

[7] See Jeremy C. Wells, “Valuing Historic Places: Traditional and Contemporary Approaches,” School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation Faculty Papers 22, (2010).

[8] See Randall Mason, “Assessing Values in Conservation Planning: Methodological Issues and Choices,” in Assessing the Values of Cultural Heritage, ed. Marta de la Torre (Los Angeles, CA: The Getty Conservation Institute, 2002); Jeremy C. Wells, “Heritage Values and Legal Rules: Identification and Treatment of the Historic Environment via an Adaptive Regulatory Framework,” Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development 6, no. 3 (2016), 345-364; and Jeremy C. Wells and Barry L. Stiefel, Human-Centered Built Environment Heritage Preservation: Theory and Evidence-Based Best Practices, (New York, NY: Routledge, 2018).

[9] See Randall Mason and Erica Avrami, “Heritage Values and Challenges of Conservation Planning,” in Management Planning for Archaeological Sites, (Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications, 2002).

[10] See J. Peter Byrne, “Historic Preservation and its Cultured Despisers: Reflections on the Contemporary Role of Preservation Law in Urban Development,” in George Mason Law Review 19, no. 3 (2012): 665-688.

[11] See Fatima Bernardo, Joana Almeida, and Catarina Martins, “Urban Identity and Tourism: Different Looks, One Single Place,” Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Urban Design and Planning  170, no. 5 (October 2017), 205-216; and John Schofield and Rosy Szymanski, Local Heritage, Global Context: Cultural Perspectives on Sense of Place (Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing, 2011).

[12] See Ren Xuefei, “Forward to the Past: Historical Preservation in Globalizing Shanghai,” City and Community 7, no. 1 (2008), 23-43.

[13] See Hu Yingjie and Emma Morales, “The Unintended Consequences of a Culture-Led Regeneration Project in Beijing, China,” Journal of the American Planning Association 82, no. 2 (2016), 148-151; Charles S. Johnston, “Towards a Theory of Sustainability, Sustainable Development and Sustainable Tourism: Beijing’s Hutong Neighbourhoods and Sustainable Tourism,” Journal of Sustainable Tourism 22, no. 2 (2014), 195-213; Placido G. Martinez, “Authenticity as a Challenge in the Transformation of Beijing’s Urban Heritage: The Commercial Gentrification of the Guozijian Historic Area,” Cities 59 (November 2016), 48-56; and Hyun Bang Shin, “Urban Conservation and Revalorisation of Dilapidated Historic Quarters: The Case of Nanluoguxiang in Beijing,” Cities 27 (2010), S43-S54.

[14] See Dai Linlin, Wang Siyu, Xu jun, Wan Li, and Wu Bihu, “Qualitative Analysis of Residents’ Perceptions of Tourism Impacts on Historic Districts: A Case Study of Nanluoguxiang in Beijing, China,” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 16, no. 1 (2017), 107-114; and Wang Fang, Liu Xiaoyu, and Zhang Yueyi, “Spatial Landscape Transformation of Beijing Compounds under Residents’ Willingness,” Habitat International 55 (July 2016), 167-179.

[15] From summer 2018 to summer 2019, twenty Dongsi residents were invited to do semi-constructed, face-to-face interviews in Mandarin Chinese. According to the study’s IRB protocols, the interviews were done anonymously as participants’ names were not recorded. Questions were centered around two sets of topics: opinions on actions and issues, and resident involvement. I first encountered the study participants during community meetings and events. Through a screening questionnaire, residents who expressed interest were then individually contacted. The only condition in the screening process was that the participants had to have resided in this neighborhood for a minimum of ten years. In summer 2018, this meant that the interviewees would have been living in the neighborhood around or before the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The interviewees’ demographic background, such as age, gender, income, profession, and property ownership status, were not included, since those are not variables and would not be used to establish any correlations with the results. Upon agreement, an audio recording was done during some of the interviews, and the others were transcribed into written notes. The content of these interviews was then sent back to the residents to review and verify, both before and after data analysis. The coding process was done by theme, instead of keywords or frequency. A certified Chinese-English translator reviewed the interview protocols, transcripts, and data analysis, and a few additional rounds of peer reviews were conducted to ensure the clarification of these transcripts and analysis.

[16] See Beijing Municipal Commission of City Planning, Conservation Planning of 25 Historic Areas in Beijing Old City (Beijing, China: Beijing Yanshan Chubanshe, 2002). [北京市规划委员会,《北京旧城25片历史文化保护区保护规划》(中国北京:北京燕山出版社,2002)].

[17] “I don’t have much space at home. I would love the hutong in front of my house a quiet and pleasant place to be, so I can sit out under the trees, talk to my neighbors, and not to worry about the chaos outside of the neighborhood,” interview with the author, June 5, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.

[18] “The wheeled flower pots provided by the subdistrict were such a great invention. They are mobile, so I can put them wherever I need. When I need to hold the space for my family’s car to park in front of the house, I can put them there. When I need to put out a table and some chairs to play chess or have a cup of tea with my neighbors, I can move the pots somewhere else and set up something in that space. The plants and flowers make them look a lot nicer than traffic cones, but at the same time, they are easy to take care of,” interview with the author, June 5, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.

[19] “Parking used to be a huge problem in Dongsi and in many other old neighborhoods. These streets were not designed for cars, but nowadays, car traffic and parking in the hutongs are unavoidable. The hutong began to look like a parking lot, and we sometimes had to walk our way through the cars. When some drivers couldn’t make it through, they honked and we all had to come out and figure out whose car was blocking the way. This year, the subdistrict started to survey the whole neighborhood and try to figure out how many families had cars and how many parking spots we could allow in each hutong. The rules and charges may be unfair to some people, but at least we were trying to work something out with our parking situation,” interview with the author, July 19, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.

[20] “We used to have huge trash cans in the hutongs. But nobody wants them in front of their house, under their windows, or around their street corner. In summer times we couldn’t sit in the streets because the trash can was not far away and the smell was so bad. The free gym equipment provided to us was not used because nobody wanted to work out with trash smell on the side. Same with those benches. Now that the subdistrict has designated time each day to pick up individual trash bags from each courtyard house, we don’t have to live with this problem anymore,” interview with the author, July 18, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.

[21] “I remember growing up with coal-fired heating in hutongs. Every winter, children had to help their parents to move beehive coal briquettes around. When you burn these briquettes, the smoke and cinder remain in the neighborhood for the entire winter. Since the early 2000s, this municipal wide campaign to transition from beehive coal briquettes to electronic heating and providing free electronic heaters to all families living in old neighborhoods really helped us a lot. Some people say the electronic ones were not strong enough, but you can always buy your own ones for extra heating. They are in many ways much better than coal burning, saving us a lot of work every winter and are good for the environment,” interview with the author, July 19, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.

[22] “Electronic wires were a major threat to our wooden roof. Over the years, we had electricity, cable TV, telephone, and Internet added to our neighborhood at different times. Each company came and had their own wires set up. At the end, all wires ended up as a huge mess on the wall and nobody could tell which is which. They went everywhere and there was no way to trace them. We’ve had many accidents and power outage due to lightning. The lack of planning and coordination among all these utilities was a big problem. Luckily, since last year, the subdistrict had started to hire teams to fix this problem, re-arrange all the electronic wires, put them into ground or designed boxes to covered them up in case of rain,” interview with the author, July 18, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.

[23] “The weekend clean-up campaign started in 2016 and the original idea was only to clean up decade-old random garbage in the courtyard houses one-by-one. They were led by the community workers from the subdistrict and a lot of the local Party Members volunteered every Saturday. At first, some people didn’t want outsiders to touch their stuff even though those were really just garbage, but when they saw the post-clean-up scene of their courtyard, they realized how much free space they could have enjoyed over the past decades. Also we saw that after each clean-up, the subdistrict followed up with each courtyard to see if there were any fire hazard that needed to be addressed,” interview with the author, June 5, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.

[24] “In the past two years or so, we were invited several times to sit in meetings where subdistrict officials and urban planners discuss residents’ opinions regarding certain projects. First, I have to say that we were invited partially because they (officials) knew us personally and they knew that we would probably agree with many of their ideas. Secondly, while I think that more people should be invited to these meetings and these meetings should be more publicized, I also understand why the subdistrict was hesitate to bring in random residents. They would probably only care about impacts on their own houses instead of issues that are important to the whole neighborhood,” interview with the author, July 18, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China; “We have people coming to Dongsi every once in a while and ask us about historic neighborhood preservation. We don’t feel comfortable talking to them when we don’t personally know them. I can talk to you because you are referred to us by the subdistrict office. I know that you won’t twist my words. But others, maybe not. Who knows what they would put on paper after our conversation? I’d rather talk to people that really care about us, and not take our words for their own purposes,” interview with the author, July 19, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China; “I really think the subdistrict should work with us one-by-one (courtyard house by courtyard house). We have different situations in different homes. For example, I own my house because my family have been here for generations. But here is not the typical situation. There are many other dazayuan (one house with multiple families and more complicated property ownership situations) where people can’t even agree on actions among themselves. Of course it is easier to satisfy me or my family, but it can be really difficult to satisfy all. Unless you work with them individually and figure out what would be the best solution for everyone going forward,” interview with the author, July 19, 2018, Dongsi, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.

 

 

Seventeenth-Century Dutch Winter Landscapes: Visual Encounters with Non-Sites, Space, and Place

by Rachel Kase

Figure 1. Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, ca. 1608, oil on panel, 30.4 x 51.9 in. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Hendrick Avercamp’s Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, dated about 1608, is typical of the bustling winter scenes for which Dutch artists are known (fig. 1). Current scholarship generally regards such works as illustrations of the extent to which the Dutch enjoyed winter or how the ice leveled class distinctions.[1] The Dutch Golden Age coincided with the coldest stretch of the Little Ice Age, a period of global cooling during which time Holland endured an increased frequency in storms and the most frigid winters in its recent history.[2]This paper addresses the varied ways that seventeenth-century Dutch artists represented the conditions of winter and the possible cultural associations that winter landscape representations held for contemporary viewers, specifically recent reports of Dutch voyages to the Far North.[3] Recently, Christopher Heuer has drawn attention to the ways that the Arctic’s cold terrain, which appeared indifferent to cultural production or national identity, irked Dutch travelers.[4] This paper expands his discussion, asking if pictorial and geographic vagueness or placelessness was any more acceptable at home. I argue that the Dutch winter landscape challenged local artists to grapple with the blank slate that they observed in their natural surroundings.[5]

The first northern artist to specialize in the “ice scene,” Avercamp’s paintings and drawings referenced relatively new local weather patterns.[6] During the Little Ice Age, average temperatures in the Netherlands were nearly two degrees Celsius colder than today. While the Dutch lacked modern meteorological tools, they quantified the weather changes that they observed using natural landmarks.[7] The Dutch, unlike their European counterparts, responded creatively and effectively to climate change.[8] The hub of a maritime trade empire, the Dutch Republic relied primarily on wind rather than solar energy to power its economy, allowing its sailors and merchants to keep moving even as the world around them froze solid.[9] The frigid weather, however, was not without consequences. Many of the narrative details in Avercamp’s Ice Scene, dated circa 1610, reference serious challenges that the Little Ice Age posed to Northern Europe’s inhabitants. On the left-hand side, a woman washing her clothes in a small hole in the ice demonstrates one of the hardships that the season’s lack of water presented. Not far to her right, a man bears a load of sticks on his back, a reminder of the difficulty of obtaining firewood in snow-covered terrain. 

Avercamp and his contemporaries’ images of winter were enormously popular in the seventeenth-century Netherlands. Produced primarily for the open market, they were purchased by a socio-economic cross-section of the population. It is difficult to know precisely why these works held so much popular appeal. There are few, if any, existing seventeenth-century documents that explicitly discuss their cultural significance, and few of the original owners of Avercamp’s paintings or drawings are known.[10] Perhaps such pictures appealed to contemporary viewers for their representations of the communal hardship and cultural resilience that they subtly referenced. They may have also been valued as a novel image type or for the ways that they depicted an environment that viewers prided as distinctively Dutch.[11]

In addition to referencing hardships of the local environment, early seventeenth-century images of winter also call attention to the ways that the weather complicated contemporary conceptualizations of space and place. Louisa Mackenzie considers the importance of such spatial classifications in early modern minds. Place, she explains, is a “meaningful location,” a space invested with emotional attachment, whereas space is “raw material” that cultural or social processes have not yet transformed.[12] Therefore, the town squaremight be considered a place, nestled within the city in the far distance of Avercamp’s A Scene on the Ice, dated circa 1610. How, then, do we classify the vast icescape in the foreground of this work? It would be impossible for travelers to distinguish the space from the middle of the ocean. If sailors were to make a topographic profile of the ice village, as they often did to assist in the recognition and navigation of foreign coastlines, there would be nothing to distinguish the flat expanse except from the presence of two bare masts. Winter, I argue, forced Dutch citizens to navigate terrains that were neither firmly places nor spaces, but rather embody a distinct placelessness.[13] Marked by generic skylines and lacking landmarks, many seventeenth-century Dutch icescapes give the impression that they could be located anywhere.

In the early seventeenth century, images of placeless, frozen landscapes may have also evoked for Dutch viewers descriptions of the recently discovered Arctic.[14] During this period, the Dutch were engaged in a competitive rivalry with the French, English, and Danish to be the first to find a northern sea route to Asia.[15] In 1596, Dutch navigator Willem Barents set out in search of such a northeast passage. After mistiming the ice, his ship was frozen in Novaya Zemlya, where the crew survived for nine months in a temporary settlement made from driftwood and ship parts.[16] Two years later, Gerrit de Veer, one of the crewmen, published his illustrated diary of the journey. De Veer’s vivid accounts of the crew’s trials, ranging from perpetual darkness to scurvy, fascinated and terrified European readers. As John Richard observes, the book’s popularity ensured that “awareness of the Arctic burst upon the European consciousness.”[17]

Cartographically ambiguous and culturally and ecologically empty, the Far North was disturbingly lacking in many of the features characterizing other recent discoveries such as the New World. “I find in all the countrie nothing… there is nothing to consider,” lamented an Arctic voyager.[18] English sailor Thomas Ellis’s 1578 description and drawings of an iceberg he encountered near Baffin Island further materialize how Arctic topography eluded traditional rhetorical and pictorial strategies.[19] Apologizing that the iceberg he encountered could not be “shewn” as a totality, he represented its varied contours as it appeared from several angles in four separate drawings. The images demonstrate the extent to which the polar landscape’s icy topography and overwhelming whiteness confounded European imaginations, challenging established notions surrounding geography, navigation, culture, and vision.[20]

Figure 2. Attributed to Hendrick Avercamp, Man and Woman Standing on the Bank of a Frozen River, 1595-1634, watercolor and chalk on paper, 7.44 x 10.7 in. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Like the voyagers, Dutch artists also registered the distant polar environment, creatively responding to its congruence with the local one that they sought to represent.[21] A watercolor drawing by Avercamp locates the desert-like bareness described by Arctic voyagers on Dutch soil. A man and woman stand at the edge of an overcast and indeterminate landscape (fig. 2). Their layers of clothing and the bare ground serve as a barometer of the weather. Winter has transformed the sky, ground, and river into the same frosty medium.[22]Does the couple know where they are or where they are headed? The woman pauses as if to get her bearings. Such an image of placelessness recalls a common point of comparison for those who visited the Arctic: the desert. In Avercamp’s drawing, the two travelers similarly seem to confront an unknown expanse that might inspire fear or awe now associated with the sublime. Serving as a graphic double for the artist, the couple charts a terrain that challenges visual discernment and pictorial description.

Figure 3. Rembrandt van Rijn, Winter View with a Waterway, Houses, and Two Boats, ca. 1650, brown pen, ink and wash on paper, 4.09 x 7.08 in. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

In two unusual drawings made around 1650, Rembrandt modifies Avercamp’s pictorialism while relying on the whiteness of the artworks’ surface to evoke winter's visual  and auditory emptiness. Rembrandt represents the stillness of the winter landscape with the sparseness of line (fig. 3). A break in his line and an expanse of unworked paper evokes a drift of snow that will soon bury the fence in the foreground. The specific subject matter of a second Rembrandt drawing, now in the Harvard Art Museums, has been the longtime subject of debate among scholars. Did Rembrandt intend to capture a farmstead in winter, with the roof and field covered in snow? Or, is it a springtime landscape bathed in bright light? Nevertheless, that the drawing was reflexively named “winter” underscores how the image’s remarkable blankness evokes the topographical and temporal obscurity associated with the season.

While it is difficult to judge the extent to which Rembrandt had the Arctic in mind when he created these drawings, the disorienting spatial conditions he represents recall the unsettling conditions described by Dutch voyagers.[23] Travelers to the Arctic were particularly troubled by how its whiteout conditions occluded clear vision. “We could not see out of our eyes […] could not distinguish day from night by reason of darkness,” reported de Veer of he and his fellow crewmen.[24] Yet, in the seventeenth-century, at the height of the Little Ice Age, the disorienting monotony and non-sites of the snow-capped Arctic, Rembrandt demonstrates, could be found at home.[25]

Figure 4. Jan van Goyen, Winter Landscape with Figures Skating and Sleds, 1651, black chalk and gray wash on paper, 4.13 x 8.06 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

In some cases, Dutch artists seem to confront and resolve geographic vagueness in the local landscape by depicting figures who appear to have intentionally stopped in no-man’s land outside city walls. While the duck hunter in Avercamp’s undated watercolor drawing appears in a vast winter desert, the small mound of marsh upon which he stands establishes a meaningful spatial center point. He and his canine are within a landscape, Avercamp seems to say, not beyond its boundaries. Similarly, Jan van Goyen’s River Landscape in Winter with Figures Skating and Sleds depicts figures in an icy zone of geographical uncertainty (fig. 4).[26] Despite the absence of civic infrastructure, however, the figures on the right busily prepare and sell food. The icescape, therefore, becomes a culturally significant location where quotidian activity unfolds as naturally as if it took place within the visually identifiable boundaries of a neighborhood. Such an image exemplifies the ways in which Dutch artists resolved the competing placelessness of the local winter landscape with a communal yearning for a topography that was dotted with culturally significant sites.[27]

Increased snowfall, a hallmark of the Little Ice Age, must have contributed to the distinctive placelessness of the local environment this paper has considered. However, as the images discussed above demonstrate, Dutch winterscapes almost never represented this common winter weather condition. This widespread pictorial decision could not have been accidental. Snowfall and its blinding effects could transform places, or known locations, into space: unsettling terrains of cartographic uncertainty, not so different from the Arctic.[28]Perhaps Dutch artists were reluctant to picture the white, wintry deserts where travelers lost their way. Perhaps, with their snowfall-less images, they sought to demonstrate that they had seen and captured the winter landscape with unobscured visual clarity. Nevertheless, the artists examined in this paper–Avercamp, Rembrandt, and van Goyen–pictorialize winter’s whiteout conditions through the absence of weather. Thus, their artworks in both what they do and do not represent, subtly express the cultural legacy of arctic voyagers and contemporary visual concerns surrounding the representation of winter.

Avercamp’s watercolor drawing of the two travelers vividly pictures how the placelessness of winter, both in the Far North and at home, challenged and thematized image-making in the seventeenth-century Netherlands. Leaving much of his panel untouched, Avercamp calls attention to the way in which winter mirrors the opacity of an artist's blank surface. Here, where there is little to be seen, both the physical and represented landscape, site specificity and spatial vagueness, collapse onto one another. Despite the fear and anxiety that was associated with these northward-bound voyages, seventeenth-century Dutch artists demonstrate that ice, often associated with unnavigability and placelessness, with impoverished land and fear, also produces important imaginative terrain.

____________________

Footnotes

[1] For various interpretations, see Ronni Baer, ed., Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer (Boston, MA: Museum of Fine Arts, 2015), 250; Joseph Koerner, Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 323; Peter C. Sutton, Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Painting (Boston, MA: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987), 252; Mariët Westermann, A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic 15181718 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 106.

[2] The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) defines climate change as “a shift in the mean or variability of weather that lasts at least thirty years.” Dagomar Degroot, “War of the Whales: Climate Change, Weather and Arctic Conflict in the Early Seventeenth Century,” Environment and History (2019): 5. While the Little Ice Age lasted about six centuries, from 1250 to 1850, its coldest periods are known as the Grindelwald Fluctuation (1560–1628) and the Maunder Minimum (1645-1720). During these periods, average global temperatures were approximately one degree Celsius below average temperatures in the twentieth century. For more on this, see Dagomar Degroot, The Frigid Golden Age: Climate Change, the Little Ice Age, and the Dutch Republic, 15601720  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 2, 256.

[3] While the catalogues for the 2001 exhibition at the Mauritshuis, “Holland Frozen in Time,” and the 2009 exhibition at the Rijksmuseum, “Hendrick Avercamp: Master of the Ice Scene,” briefly address the relationship between contemporary weather trends and innovations in image-making, their observations are mainly to draw attention to the existence of unusually cold weather patterns in the seventeenth century. The relationship between these two phenomena, therefore, has only been scratched on the surface.

[4] Christopher Heuer, Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image (New York: Zone Books, 2019), 16. As an archipelago of islands and ocean, the Far North, Heuer observes, was a “non-site:” or a terrain that was present but “physically and ontologically unmoored.” I apply Heuer’s observations about primarily sixteenth-century polar geography to the seventeenth-century Netherlands. As an environment that was constantly changing, the Dutch landscape, I argue, also contained non-sites: swampy marsh and polderland submerged under water and then re-emerged; waterways that froze, unfroze, and refroze, and coastlines that ebbed and flowed. How did this further challenge artists who sought to represent it?

[5]As Joseph Koerner has observed, in the sixteenth century, the occluding effects of snowfall, seen, for example, in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Adoration of the Kings in the Snow (1563, Am Römerholz), could parallel Reformation whitewash. Koerner, Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life, 285-286. In the seventeenth century, I argue that it was the weather, not religion or Reformation polemics, that challenged and thematized image-making. Furthermore, unlike Bruegel’s painting, seventeenth-century Dutch pictorializations of winter seldom represent falling snow–an indication that Dutch artists wished to represent winter differently from sixteenth-century precedents.

[6] Avercamp’s early seventeenth-century artworks–secular images with lowered horizon lines–were foundational to Holland’s vibrant winter landscape tradition, which was then quickly developed by artists including Esaias van de Velde, Jan van Goyen, and later, Jacob van Ruisdael and Aert van der Neer. The only precedent was Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s winter scenes, made in the southern Netherlands in the sixteenth century, which combined Flemish villages and imaginary mountainous terrain, typically in the distinctive world landscape tradition.

Pieter Roelofs, ed., Hendrick Avercamp: Master of the Ice Scene (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2009), 25.

[7] In some communities, governments systematically installed landmarks that helped them contextualize changes in water levels. This demonstrates that  the Dutch were aware, to at least some extent, that they were living through a climatic anomaly.

[8] Dissimilar to the Dutch Republic, whose global trade network shielded it from climatic vulnerability, the vast majority of early modern Europe depended on agriculture. The climatic extremes of the Little Ice Age, therefore, caused widespread crop failure, inflation, famine, and social unrest in much of Europe.  For more on this subject see Wolfgang Behringer, “Climatic Change and Witch-hunting: The Impact of the Little Ice Age on Mentalities,” Climatic Change 43, no. 1 (1999): 335-51; see also Degroot, The Frigid Golden Age, 109-111.

[9] Degroot, The Frigid Golden Age, 57; Dutch sailors took advantage of high wind speeds and made boats that could withstand sea ice. They also innovated countless ways, including ice yachts and ice wagons, to transport people and goods over frozen waterways inshorter distances.

[10] While the owners of specific works are almost entirely unknown, the inventories of many prominent citizens in Amsterdam and Kampen, Avercamp’s hometown, list works by “the Mute” or “the Mute of Kampen,” the nickname by which he was commonly known due to his inability to speak. His work was also in the collections of several artists including Jan van de Capelle and Gerard ter Borch;  Roelofs, ed., Hendrick Avercamp Master of the Ice Scene, 11-12, 119.

[11] Connoisseurs may have also recognized the relationship of Avercamp’s work to those of sixteenth-century Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whom he deliberately referenced in a number of his paintings. 

[12] Louisa Mackenzie, The Poetry of Place: Lyric, Landscape, and Ideology in Renaissance France (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 24; given the degree to which mental and physical terrain were blurred in the Renaissance, such distinctions may have held even greater cultural capital.

[13] Dana Leibsohn, “Assessments,” in Landscape Theory, eds. Rachael DeLue and James Elkins (New York: Routledge, 2008), 252. As Leibsohn has observed, placelessness is what lies beyond identifiable boundaries and is at once nowhere and nearby.

[14] Relatively little is known about Avercamp’s life. There exist no documents, to my knowledge, that speak directly to his awareness of Arctic imagery. This is something I plan to further research.

[15] These powers specifically sought a sea route free of Spanish or Portuguese control. Dutch merchants were also lured to the Far North with the promise of profits to be made from Arctic whaling. John Richards, The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 589.

[16] Heuer, Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image, 143.

[17] De Veer’s journal was published in 1598 and translated into French, German, Italian and Latin by 1600 and English by 1609. It sold out of its initial run of more than fifteen-hundred copies;  see Richards, The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World , 590 and Heuer, Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image, 137.

[18] Heuer, Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image, 77.

[19] Heuer, Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image, 10. Printed in 1578, Ellis’s account of his attempted journey to discover a northeast passage contained the world’s first description of an iceberg. The four-part image that was also printed was made after Ellis’s original drawings; see Thomas Ellis, A True Report of the Third and Last Voyage into Meta Incognita: Achieued by the Worthie Capteine, M. Martine Frobisher Esquire (London: Thomas Dawson, 1578), sheet before fol. A1r, Huntington Library, San Marino, California. For other late sixteenth century European images of the Arctic, see the printed illustrations from Gerrit de Veer’s diary, printed by Cornelis Claesz in 1598, now housed at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (e.g. NG-1977-278).

[20] Heuer, Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image, 55 and 77.

[21] What the Arctic supplied to European cultural production Stephen Greenblatt has termed “imaginative energies.” That is to say, its geography sparked new ways of looking and thinking about the world. See Stephen Greenblatt, “Shakespeare Bewitched,” in Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions: The Selected Proceedings of the International Shakespeare Association World Congress, Tokyo (Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 1991), 29.

[22] For more on early modern perceptions of snow, ice, and glaciers, see Eric Wilson, The Spiritual History of Ice (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). While such environments and weather conditions were generally feared, Wilson notes that unmapped spaces such as the poles were more apt to inspire fantasy and notions related to the sublime. While the aesthetic parameters for the sublime were not mapped out until the eighteenth century, its origins and expression in seventeenth-century Dutch visual and rhetorical experiences of remote landscapes is considered by Jan Blanc in his 2016 essay, “Sensible Natures: Allart Van Everdingen and the Tradition of Sublime Landscape in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting,” Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 8, no. 2 (Summer 2016), and briefly addressed by scholars including Christopher Heuer and Peter Fjågesund.

[23] Rembrandt’s extensive collection of natural exotica and closeness with Nicolaes Ruts, a Russian fur trader, makes it likely that he was familiar with, and interested in, discoveries in the Far North.

[24] Heuer, Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image, 146; such conditions, Heuer explains, often caused de Veer himself to doubt the validity of his own eye-witnessing.

[25] Heuer, Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image, 10 and 55; while sailors often relied upon topographical profiles to assist in recognizing foreign coastlines, Dutch navigators commented upon the uselessness of established navigation methods in the North.

[26] Note that these locales depart significantly from the recognizably Flemish villages seen, for example, in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s sixteenth-century winter landscapes.

[27] For more on how local artists were concerned with the representation of landscapes that appeared to be familiar and characteristically Dutch, see Walter Gibson, Pleasant Places: The Rustic Landscape from Bruegel to Ruisdael (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000).

[28] Heuer, Into the White: The Renaissance Arctic and the End of the Image, 159; snow and ice, Heuer observes, defamiliarized city and country. Furthermore, snowfall, a form of natural Reformation whitewash, also could transform pictorializations of the landscape into anti-images: panels of white.

 

Acknowledgements

by Rebecca Arnheim and Bailey Benson

We would like to extend our gratitude to all the people who have been involved in the original planning of the in-person symposium, and then to those who lent their time and support to bringing this special issue of SEQUITUR to light. Thank you to the Boston University Center for the Humanities; the Boston University Department of History of Art & Architecture; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for your generous support. Thank you to Dalia Habib Linssen and Sophia Walter for their logistical support in arranging the venue and catering for the event. Thank you to Alina Imas for her beautiful poster design.

A special thanks must be extended to Professors Cynthia Becker, Alice Tseng, Greg Williams, and Michael Zell, without whose unwavering support and guidance this publication would not have been possible. Thank you also to the editors of SEQUITUR for agreeing to host this special issue and for their help in the copy-editing process. And, thank you to the issue’s anonymous peer reviewers.

Thank you to all the presenters originally scheduled to deliver papers at the symposium, and thank you to those who agreed to participate in this publication. It has been a joy working with all of you. We would also like to thank Professor Christopher P. Heuer for agreeing to present the keynote address at the 36th Annual Graduate Symposium, although he was unable to participate in the publication. And, thank you to the moderators, Willie Granston and Phillippa Pitts, for the time and effort they put into both the symposium and then the publication.

Last, but most certainly not least, we would like to thank the graduate students from the History of Art & Architecture Department at Boston University who volunteered their time to work on the CFP committee and the abstract committee, as well as those who were planning to assist on the day of the event. Without the collaboration of our fellow graduate students, this symposium would not be possible.

Notes About Contributors

Rebecca Arnheim is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in History of Art & Architecture at Boston University. Previously, she received her BA and MA in History of Art from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Diploma in Curatorial and Museum Studies from Tel Aviv University. She is currently working on her dissertation, “Ephemera Made Permanent: Collection and Display of Portrait Drawings in Early Modern Italy,” which focuses on highly finished portrait drawings and the circumstances of their creation, commission, purchase, collection, and display from the mid-fifteenth century to the late-sixteenth century. 

Tobah Aukland-Peck is a fifth-year PhD student in Art History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her dissertation research focuses on images of extraction (including mines, miners, and mining infrastructure) in interwar Britain. She locates the figure of the miner as an alter-ego for the artist, tracing the way in which both instances of labor are engaged with the translation of landscape and raw material into productive commodities.

Bailey Benson is a fourth-year PhD candidate at Boston University in the History of Art & Architecture Department. Her dissertation, entitled “In the Eye of the Beholder: Memory, Identity, and the Role of Viewer Reception in Roman Imperial Portraiture, 193-284 CE,” investigates the changing memory landscape of the Roman Empire during the third century and the role that imperial portraiture played in crafting and articulating individual commemoration and memory formation. She has held positions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Princeton University Art Museum.

Willie Granston is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the History of Art & Architecture Department at Boston University, where his studies focus on American architecture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His dissertation, “‘Like it Growed There’: Resort Architecture and the New England Landscape, 1875-1915” considers how environment awareness and anxieties relating to the landscape influenced the design, construction, and reception of New England’s late nineteenth-century resort buildings. He obtained a BA from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and has an MA from the University of Delaware, where he studied in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.

Rachel Kase is a fourth-year PhD candidate at Boston University, specializing in seventeenth-century Dutch painting with advisor Michael Zell. She received her M.A. from the History of Art & Architecture Department at Boston University in 2017. She has held positions in the Art of Europe department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Old Master Paintings at Sotheby’s in New York, and at the Philips Collection in Washington, D.C. Her dissertation, entitled “Against the Rising Tide: Picturing Severe Weather and a Changing Landscape in the Seventeenth-Century Netherlands,” takes an ecocritical approach to seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting.

Mingqian Liu is a PhD candidate from the Department of Architecture and Center for Heritage Conservation at Texas A&M University. She also works as a Graduate Assistant for the College of Architecture Diversity Council and Center for Teaching Excellence at Texas A&M. Her research interests include architectural and urban history, historic preservation, heritage tourism, and public education in museums. Mingqian held an M.A. in History of Art and Architecture from Boston University, and a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Iowa. 

Phillippa Pitts is a PhD student and Horowitz Foundation Fellow for American Art at Boston University. Her research questions the presentation of ‘American’ identity in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, examining the ways in which these constructions are underpinned by ideas of expansion, immigration, and xenophobia, as well as discourses of indigeneity. Before returning to doctoral work, Phillippa worked in museum exhibitions, interpretation and technology for almost a decade, and remains passionate about equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the arts. Phillippa's work has been generously supported by grants and fellowships from CASVA, the Kress Foundation, and the Center for American Art, among others.

Amanda Thompson is a PhD candidate at the Bard Graduate Center working in Native American arts and critical craft studies. Her dissertation research is tentatively entitled “Florida Seminole and Miccosukee Patchwork: Craft, Sovereignty, and the Mediation of Settler Colonial Encounters, ca. 1918- present.” Before returning to research, Amanda spent fifteen years working in museum collection and exhibition management at institutions including the New-York Historical Society, the Museum for African Art, and The Jewish Museum. She currently sits on the Board of Directors and chairs the Collections Committee of the Tomaquag Museum, Rhode Island’s only Indigenous museum. Amanda is a 2020-2021 Smithsonian American Art Museum Research Fellow and her dissertation research has been generously funded by the American Philosophical Society.

Maintenance of Environmental Sculpture: Alan Sonfist’s Time Landscape

by Joonsoo (Jason) Park

Figure 1. Alan Sonfist (b. 1946, United States). Time Landscape (1965, 1978–present). Various materials. 45 x 180 ft. LaGuardia Place, New York City, New York.

On August 2, 1982, a short article was published in New York Magazine with the ridiculing title, “Neighbors Say ‘Rats!’ to Forest.” The author of the article reported that the local community was complaining about the relatively unkempt, untamed appearance of a small park in Manhattan, and that a neighbor had called the park a “rats’ nest.”1 When the reporter visited the park, he found it was strewn with “beer bottles, disposable cups, and food wrappers, and overgrown with what looked like typical New York City weeds.”2 The park at issue is in fact the artwork Time Landscape by Alan Sonfist (fig. 1). Originally conceived in 1965, the work was finally realized in 1978 at the northeast corner of La Guardia Place and West Houston Street in lower Manhattan, adjacent to an apartment complex constructed in 1966.3 It reconstructed a historical forest within a small pocket of nature that measured 45 feet by 180 feet, nestled within a dense urban fabric. It was planted with trees, shrubs, wild grasses, flowers, plants, rocks, and earth, all of which were native to the island in the time before Dutch settlement in the seventeenth century. The forested plot was fenced off when the reporter visited, implying separation of the man-made forest from any physical intervention by human hands (fig. 2).

Figure 2. Alan Sonfist (b. 1946, United States). Detail of Time Landscape (1965, 1978–present). Photo by author, 2019.

As the New York Magazine article suggested, Time Landscape has had a mixed reception over the years. While the popular press has typically been confused by or hostile to the park, curators and art historians have tended to read Sonfist’s work in environmental terms. For example, the curators of the influential 1992 exhibition Fragile Ecologies understood Sonfist’s work as a model for preservation, while in the book To Life!: Eco-Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet, art historian Linda Weintraub analyzed Time Landscape in terms of ecological strategies.4 More recently, T. J. Demos has critiqued Time Landscape for reifying nature, which Demos sees as problematically paralleling the concurrent objectification of natural materials in heavy-industrial practices.5 Demos updates the simplified arguments of the 1990s and early 2000s; his criticism, however, still relies on an environmentalist foundation.

These curators and art historians have rightly identified some of the ecological benefits and limitations of Sonfist’s Time Landscape. However, I contend that the work is not merely an environmentalist work that addresses ecological crisis. Rather, I suggest that the idea of Time Landscape should be taken seriously as a work of vanguard art, very much of a product of its time when it was conceived in 1965. I argue that Time Landscape is best understood as disrupting the notion of sculpture as a stable, persistent object. It does so by emphasizing the necessity of maintenance, thus revealing intertwined histories of conservation politics, administration, and community in New York City.

From the moment Sonfist first proposed his project to the Public Art Fund, the process of maintenance was taken into consideration. The site of Time Landscape was originally included in the street-widening project of Robert Moses under the Title One Housing Act in 1949. However, since the project was opposed by the community of the Washington Square Southeast Apartments, Inc., which shares the boundary with the site, the land had been abandoned without further construction. The community had maintained the site since the failure of the construction in 1966, but by the mid-1970s the city-owned site had fallen into a deplorable condition.6 The chair of the apartment community, Connie Masullo, was waging a running battle with the city’s Department of Parks to spruce up the site.7 Sonfist’s contract, finally signed in 1976, spurred cooperation between the city and its residents.8 The change in status to the site improved its level of maintenance, including watering and replanting with the supervision of the project staff.9 Nonetheless, for the first nine years after its installation, the state of maintenance of Time Landscape remained a persistent problem for both Sonfist and the surrounding community. After the installation was completed, maintenance was shared by two groups: the staff of the apartment complex and NYU students cooperated with the Public Art Fund. Regardless of who was in charge, however, maintenance depended mostly on volunteers’ commitment, so it was often poorly executed. In 1987, Sonfist suggested either putting up a twelve-foot-tall fence around the forest instead of the five-foot-tall fence (and thus abandoning the project entirely as a site of intervention), or having the Parks Department take over ownership of the forest.10 After a year of consideration, a version of the second option was chosen, and Time Landscape was designated as a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1988. This designation provided the ultimate security against any sort of future construction.

This administrative change affected Time Landscape profoundly. On the one hand, ironically, its isolation from the urban environment as an untouched forest erased some aspects of its relationship to New York City, while on the other, it was now subject to a governmental institution tasked with maintaining it for the community. Volunteers with the city’s Greenstreets program have maintained Time Landscape since 1988. While the five-foot-tall chain-linked fence still surrounds the site—as it has since the piece’s installation to imply a border that prevents human physical intervention—the work of these volunteers continues to reveal the reality of maintenance. They place plastic gallon-water jugs and terracotta plant holders as birdbaths and leave shovels and rakes within the fenced area for later use (fig. 3).11 

Figure 3. Alan Sonfist (b. 1946, United States). Detail of Time Landscape (1965, 1978–present). Photo by author, 2019.

Embracing the idea of maintenance as it is understood in the realm of sculpture, the human interventions on Time Landscape unfold in a socially stratified manner, negotiated in the public realm. The act of maintenance is considered an “acceptable” intervention, while littering over the fence is viewed as a problem to be solved. Even though degradation via environmental pollution caused by humans could, in theory, be accepted as valid “communication” with the urban environment, nonetheless such physical acts by humans remain proscribed. Intervention is categorized, with certain modes of intervention deemed acceptable and others not. It is the bureaucratic administrative process for the realization of Time Landscape that engenders the ethical categorization of human intervention. 

With the introduction of the idea of maintenance, Sonfist’s work countered the idea of sculpture as a self-evident object, something it had in common with much vanguard art of the late 1960s and 1970s. However, in a manner unique to it, the work also undid prevailing minimalist and postminimalist ideas of the expanded field of sculpture. Time Landscape is a sculpture that is meant to change through the passage of time. Living organisms such as trees, shrubs, plants, and microbes constitute the sculpture, so that any single state of persistent sculpture can never be achieved. Indeed, the very status of the work as “sculpture” hinges upon a continued social recognition of the project as a work of art. The continuous transformation the work undergoes through time is what defines it as sculpture, continuous transformation via, in Sonfist’s own terms, “natural phenomena,” that reflects the external environment of lower Manhattan.12

Figure 4. Hans Haacke (b. 1936, Germany). Condensation Cube (1963–67). Clear acrylic, distilled water, and climate in area of display. 30 x 30 x 30 in. Photo by author, 2019, image courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

By the time Time Landscape was realized, the notion of temporal change in the realm of sculpture had already been introduced in postminimalist works such as Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (figs. 4, 5). The interior space of Condensation Cube reacts to the temperature of its external environment while Spiral Jetty is an impermanent marked site dependent on environmental conditions.13 Yet, through entropy, both of these artworks deconstruct the idea of sculpture as a self-evident object. Sonfist’s work deconstructs the minimalist and postminimalist expanded sculptural field in a different way. Time Landscape reveals that the concept of maintenance sustained through time is not neutral, but rather reflects prescribed political and social assumptions. While all the detritus of the urban maintenance and animals can stay within the fence, food wrappers, cigarette butts, and litter cannot; while weekend gardeners and volunteers can come into the forest, homeless people have always been kept out; even shovels and rakes for later use can remain, while refrigerator boxes—temporary habitats used by homeless people as shelter—are removed. Sonfist’s Time Landscape thus introduces a highly politicized notion of maintenance into the expanded field of sculpture. In this postminimalist project, Time Landscape builds in a human dimension, by prompting the question of who maintains the park, and for what purposes.

Figure 5. Robert Smithson (1938–1973, United States). Spiral Jetty (1970). Black basalt rocks, salt crystals, earth, and water. 1,500 x 15 ft. Image courtesy estate of Robert Smithson / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

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Joonsoo (Jason) Park

Joonsoo (Jason) Park is a PhD candidate in art history at Binghamton University. His research traverses the late twentieth century, particularly focusing on the intersections of art, environment, and ecology in the postwar period.

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Footnotes

1. “Neighbors Say ‘Rats!’ to Forest,” New York Magazine, August 2, 1982.

2. Ibid.

3. Sonfist first proposed the project to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969 when he delivered the essay “Natural Phenomena as Public Monuments.” After it was turned down because it was too difficult to secure land within Central Park, Sonfist made another proposal in 1974, this time at Contemporary Study Wing of Finch College Museum of Art (later called “Contemporary Wing”) that was unfortunately stopped due to the abrupt close of the college in 1975.

4. See Barbara C. Matilsky, Fragile Ecologies: Contemporary Artists’ Interpretations and Solutions (New York: Rizzoli, 1992); see Linda Weintraub, To Life!: Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2012).

5. T. J. Demos, “Art after Nature,” Artforum 50, no. 8 (2012): 194.

6. “Report of Meeting Held March 4, 1976 at 219 Sullivan: Community Board 2 of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Committee,” MSS270, Series VI-A, Box 37, Folder 8, Public Art Fund Archive, Fales Library and Special Collections, New York, NY.

7. “A Forest for the Lower East Side (Vasari Diary),” ARTnews 77, no. 8 (1978): 35.

8. Letter of Connie Masullo, president of Washington Square Southeast Apartment inc. to Department of Highways NY on March 7, 1977, MSS270, Series VI-A, Box 37, Folder 8, Public Art Fund Archive, Fales Library and Special Collections, New York, NY.

9. Alan Sonfist, “Time-Landscape: A Proposal for a Pilot Project Returning Urban Land to its Original Natural Condition,” 1978, MSS270, Series VI-A, Box 37, Folder 8, Public Art Fund Archive, Fales Library and Special Collections, New York, NY.

10. Letter of Sonfist to Susan Freedman, the president of Public Art Fund, January 22, 1987, MSS270, Series VI-A, Box 37, Folder 8, Public Art Fund Archive, Fales Library and Special Collections, New York, NY.

11. Robert Slifkin, “Alan Sonfist: Natural History,” in Alan Sonfist: Natural History, ed. Alan Sonfist et al. (Portland, OR: Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, 2016), 43.

12. Alan Sonfist, Alan Sonfist: Natural Phenomena as Public Monuments (Purchase, NY: Neuberger Museum, 1978), 3.

13. Rosalind E. Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (1979): 41.