An Obsession, 11/10/2016
Philosopher Elizabeth Grosz notes that “landscape, by contrast [to geography] is that space revealed by sensation, which has no fixed coordinates but transforms and moves as a body passes through it” (2008, 72). There is a useful ambiguity to “a body”: Grosz does not specify it as human or non-human; partial, fragmented, or composite; living or non-living; solid, liquid, or gas, or a combination of all three (like me!). I want a landscape architecture that cannot help but acknowledge bodies. Not only as the locus of a traditionally-defined “user experience,” determined by the sensing and interpreting of a place by a human subject. But also one that addresses human and nonhuman “bodies” as sites and agents of messy exchange: of nutrients and gases, of temperature, of moisture, of affect and sensation, of energy. I move through a garden. I breathe the air and other bodies breathe in my breath; I am cooled and other bodies are simultaneously warmed by my presence; I feel the wind and I stir up more wind by walking. My body is a site designed by its environment, and vice versa.
I want a landscape architecture that addresses the queer contradiction of human bodies: that they appear simultaneously bounded and blurry. Bounded by the threshold of the skin, a threshold inscribed by notions of privacy, touch, invasion, injury, sexual display. And made blurry through the exchange of energy and matter, though intimacy and sympathy with other bodies. In these blurry moments, we are aware that our bodies do not stop at our skin, but seem to move a little or a lot beyond them.
I want a landscape architecture that does not address “the body” as a physical scale, or a level of conceptual resolution relegated to the final step of a project. I want a landscape architecture that joyfully explores the force, the electric charge, the space and matter between, around, and amongst bodies; an aesthetics and an erotics of incompleteness; a landscape architecture that takes exchange as a starting point.
This essay was written for and presented at the opening of the 2016 Woltz Symposium Ecologies of Prosperity for the Living City, organized by Margarita Jover and Alex Wall. November 10-11, 2016, University of Virginia School of Architecture.