Landscape Tractate

HD animation by Peter Nelson (with sound by Peter Farrar)

Duration: 10 min 16 sec

Premier Exhibition at MOP Projects


Click here to watch Landscape Tractate

This work comprises recreated fragments from works by architect Le Corbusier, Australian landscape painter Fred Williams and British artists Richard Wilson and Paul Noble. It derives its title and structure from that outlined by Philip K Dick in Valis (1981):

Tractate #31:

We hypostatise information into objects. Rearrangement of objects is change in the content of the information…we ourselves are a part of this language; changes in us are changes in the content of the information…information enters us, is processed and is then projected outward once more, now in an altered form. We are not aware that we are doing this, that in fact this is all we are doing.

My rearrangement of landscape fragments attempts to articulate how our society currently relates to the physical environment - through our economy, our conceptions of space and our accumulated memory. A borrowed alphabet recounts the bewilderment of Alan Greenspan and the optimism of Nat Young, it rebuilds itself into a picturesque ruin, that was once built as a fake garden ornament in the 18th century, so that an Englishman might comfort himself with a more pleasing history. In 1967 Fred Williams attempted to create a calligraphy for the Australian landscape as a naturalised alien. The painted marks from his Lysterfield (1967) roll through Le Corbusier’s utopian vision of a rationalised Europe.

Catalogue Essay by Gary Carsley

A Canted Atlas Crept

Vashti the mother of Kuno the protagonist in E. M. Forster’s influential short story The Machine Stops has a dread of direct experience and at the beginning of the third chapter, titled “Homelessness” Vashti considers her revulsion at Kuno’s compulsive, and to her, alarming quest to find his own way. Those who still wanted to know what the earth was like had after all only to listen to some gramophone, or to look into some cinematophote. And even the lecturers acquiesced when they found that a lecture on the sea was none the less stimulating when compiled out of other lectures that had already been delivered on the same subject. "Beware of first- hand ideas!" exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. "First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by lifve and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation.” The Machine Stops, originally published in The Oxford and Cambridge Review in November 1909, is influential for many reasons; the jewel like quality of Forster’s prose, his elegant crafting of the narrative, but principally, it is Foster’s prescient vision of the future and the way in which he seems to have anticipated things that define the present, like email that have made The Machine Stops a novella of abiding influence.

Peter Nelson’s current project is titled Landscape Tractate. A rather refined way of implying that the work, a video of 10 minutes and 16 seconds with a soundscape by Peter Farrar, is a treatise or carefully constructed discourse on a specific topic, in this instance the cultural construction of nature as evoked by the term landscape. From a formal perspective, Landscape Tractate, like landscape itself and the similar term in Mandarin Shan Shui, is an aggregation of features that congeal into a narrative whole, the way beads are strung in a necklace. Composed entirely of recreated and remixed fragments of landscape paintings, most notably by Fred Williams and borrowings from other artists such as Paul Nobel Noble, Landscape Tractate is compiled, like the lecture on the sea cited by Vashti, completely out of already existing material, and for the same reason. Just as Cosplay has unhinged individual identity from its fixed anchorage above ethnicity and gender, the Internet has constructed an atemporal present dislocated from the established indexes of time and space. It is within the simultaneous equivalence of all things that the Internet has brought into being that the cultural location of Landscape Tractate is to be mapped, erased and redrawn. To paraphrase Philip K Dick, who like E. M. Foster was a noted novelist and short story writer, objects and cultural images can be conceptualised as data, and consistent with this metaphor, life can be understood as merely the constant rearrangement of that data.

1. Meaning Mountains plus Water

2. In his 1981 science fiction novel Valis, The title is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System

Gary Carsley, April 23rd, 20115