uncovered flows

 

responding to:

Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey, “Criticality in Landscape Architecture: Origins in 19th Century American Practices,” 2015.

Diane Harris, “The Postmodernization of Landscape: A Critical Historiography,” in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 58, no. 3 (1999): 434-443.

Rosalind Krauss, “Introduction” and “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” in The Originality of The Avant-garde and Other Modernist Myths by Rosalind Krauss (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986): 1-6, 276-290.

Elizabeth Meyer, “The Expanded Field of Landscape Architecture,” in Ecological Design and Planning, eds. George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1997): 45-79.


In “The Expanded Field of Landscape Architecture,” Elizabeth Meyer, a landscape architect, theorist, and historian, articulates a set of methods and strategies for the creation of landscape architectural theories, which she presently describes as lacking or misread due to its non-binary nature beyond the scope of historical modern art and architectural discourses.

Based in the context of the landscape architectural profession of 1997 in the United States, she claims that landscape architecture “is not a practice that can be adequately described as either this or that” and argues that

Landscape architecture must be allowed to speak a language that, first, avoids binaries and operates in the spaces between the boundaries of culture and nature, man and woman, architecture and landscape; and, second, allows us to questions the very premises upon which our knowledge of landscape architecture is based (51)

Meyer’s text assumes that the reader has an understanding of modern landscape architecture in the Western world, familiarity with Rosalind Krauss’s use of the Klein group diagram, and ideas of poststructuralism and postmodernism as a base to understanding the constraints of modern discourse, and new responses to or further development of postmodern theory. She sets a narrative and reflective tone to distribute her more direct, didactic ideas by posing rhetorical questions throughout, exposing the limits of binary thinking, and proposing new categories of thought through an unpacking of a Klein group diagram, which ironically appears to be a very geometric, confined, and one could say “modern,” diagram representing “the expanded field of landscape architecture” (52). Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey might say Meyer’s is both a projective and critical approach (“Criticality in Landscape Architecture,” 2015) to framing the field of landscape architecture in that it works within a set of established systems, “landscape-field” and “architecture-figure,” to develop new areas, “minimal garden,” and “figured ground,” for example (Meyer, 1997, 52).

Rosalind Krauss, in reference to critical writing, states that criticism is best understood “through the forms of its argument, through the way that its method, in the process of constituting the object of criticism, exposes to view those choices that precede and predetermine any act of judgement (Introduction to The Originality of the Avante-garde and Other Modernist Myths, 1986, 1). If we understand modern to be the historical, predominant theoretical framework which embodies strict, “logical” ideologies of binaries; postmodern to be “the broad range of theoretical developments that… stress the contextualization of texts; feminist and postcolonial theories that focus on recovering the voices of the oppressed,”; and understandings of landscape that have been repressed through modernist discourse; and poststructuralism as a philosophy which “works to unmask the pretended neutrality of physical space” then we can begin to comprehend and critique Meyer’s method of describing new categories of landscape architecture through the use of the Klein diagram and categorical descriptions (Diane Harris, “The Postmodernization of Landscape,” 1999, 434).

Looking specifically at the graphic representation of the Klein diagram and following categories of the “expanded field,” it appears that the professional field of landscape architecture takes on a constrained, ordered, territorial property, and while Meyer clearly mentions the possibility other categories and that she is focusing on breaking the binary relationship between architecture and landscape, I feel that through her re-categorization and re-presentation, she effectively ties landscape architecture down to another binary-like condition—one that is confined to the geometric territory of the Klein diagram. To be clear, I am not necessarily critiquing her ideas, as I tend to agree with the dismantling of binaries and restrictions imposed by modern discourse, but rather her method of representing the shift from binary to categorical and her use of the phrase “expanded field,” as I believe they limit the deconstruction of modern interpretations of landscape architecture theory.

I think it would be more useful to graphically describe the “nature of difference” in landscape architecture through a representation of flows or rhizomes that are not “expanded,” but uncovered gradually over time as people begin to better understand the natural, cultural landscape that is always changing and has always existed (Krauss, 5). Rather than thinking territorially through the “expansion” of a “field,” perhaps we should think adaptably and openly through the uncovering of flows—looking not to multiple distinct categories across a surface, but to the interconnected roots underneath, which ground our ways of thinking.

sagging pants and moose hats

Bans on sagged pants and other racializations of adornment are a way of forging distinctions that enable indirect attacks against people on the basis of race, class, age, gender or other identities… These matters range from anti-queerness, and racist and classist surveillance, to policing desire, and imposing normative gender and sexual identities and expressions upon people… An analysis of clothing politics shows that we can and must build coalitions of interconnected justice against entities that persist in criminalizing fashion choices, and indeed public displays and observances of religious and spiritual identity and expression.

– Eric Darnell Pritchard, “Sagging Pants: Criminalization and Racialized Adornment,” The Funambulist 3 (January-February 2016)

It’s hard to hear that even efforts to overthrow bans on sagging pants by the very communities that are being criminalized still view sagging in a negative way. Whether its neighborhood policing or state policing, it’s still policing, and it’s the policing – not the sag – that we need to rid ourselves of.

Recently, in my own personal experience, I fell victim to these policing forces. What was I thinking walking into a Harvard career fair with sweatpants, sneakers, a wrinkled plaid shirt, and a moose hat – antlers, nose, and all – to boot?

I was kindly asked in multiple, “polite” ways to remove my hat “as a courtesy to my colleagues” before entering the room full of employers. While this instance is very mild compared to the fines and imprisonment for sagging pants, it is a significant everyday barrier for individuals seeking employment. Those who attend or get hired from Harvard, or anywhere for that matter, obviously don’t wear moose hats – they are the paradigm of professionalism – and would never admit to attending an institution where students would dare share their love of cute, plushy animal hats. I can’t believe I failed to realize that a moose hat is clearly an accurate metric of my integrity, skill, intelligence, and human value, and a malicious device for embarrassing my peers. Lesson learned. Thanks Harvard.

critically critical

 

responding to:

Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey, “Criticality in Landscape Architecture: Origins in 19th Century American Practices,” 2015.


Writing within the context of the recent decade of “attacks” against critical practices in landscape architecture, Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey suggest, through a questioning of the “critical” and analyses of critical practices in the 19th century, that the profession’s proposed alternatives, projective or post-critical practices, may include aspects of criticality, and that all critical practices are in fact, to some degree, projective.

The authors’ main assumptions include those of the origins of “critical practice” and “landscape architecture.” Looking to the emergence of American landscape architecture in the mid-19th century and tradition of 1930s “critical theory” in the Frankfurt School of thinkers from primarily Germany and Austria, they necessarily trace the practices and understandings of the “critical” and “post-critical” from white male dominated Eurocentric ideologies (Berrizbeitia and M’Closkey, “Criticality in Landscape Architecture: Origins in 19th century American Practices,” 2015, 2). While these assumptions necessarily exclude non-western ideas of criticality and landscape architecture practices, they are made loud and clear in the title and thesis, and serve not to maliciously discriminate, but rather to focus the discussion as a means to express and delve deeper (or “critically”) into their personal western-based ideas of criticality—ideas, I think, that could be built upon and altered by future contribution of non-western thought.

M’Closkey and Berrizbeitia directly address the practice of landscape architecture in the United States, as well as the broader European discourse in their examples. They call for “questioning its methods, its boundaries, its field of influence” as a way to encourage more critical practices in the globalizing world. The way the authors present their ideas is extremely clear in content, yet deceiving in structure. It is a well-told persuasive narrative which leads readers to slowly uncover and realize at the very end what the authors’ main takeaways are: that the critical is actually projective and that we should continue to be critical in our drive towards criticality.

I believe all practices, including critical ones, are projective to certain degree, in the sense that they all start with pre-existing tools, whether or not they are found within the profession or in other disciplines, and are grounded in the memory and preconceptions of the designer. Criticality can be either a layering/constructive/complicit or delaminating/deconstructive/resistive process. A complicit criticality is more projective; it involves working with existing tools and techniques (e.g. CAD, ArcGIS, orthographic projections, mapping) in new ways, but one that accepts current value systems and works “within its frameworks” to reform existing practices (18). A deconstructive or resistive criticality is one that is premised on decolonial and anti-oppressive values, which questions the very tools and techniques themselves. It seeks not to reform, but to abolish or revolutionize existing practices, and involves the imagination and positioning of new frameworks.

While “the critical is activated in specific ways to provoke, define, and structure change found in the bounds imposed by the material and institutional,” I would like to participate in critical practice “by questioning its methods, its boundaries, its field of influence,” and propose that designers must deconstruct the “historically determined” context which Berrizbeitia and M’Closkey claim defines “criticality” (19). I believe that designers must seek to be “critically critical,” and engage criticality as a mission of decolonialization and anti-oppression, as does non-western critical social theory, which is a way to say, “that which was critically critical (that which sought to decolonize and defy oppression) in the past is still critical today and will always be.”

yank and shove, push and pull

The idea of Asia remained central to the invention of America, and European colonization on both sides of the Pacific Ocean led to the first migrations of Asians to the Americas.

– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 4

The Spanish and British Empires, and later the United States Empire occupied and extracted people and resources from India, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, East and West Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Timor, Brunei, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Cocos Islands, and China (5). One could say Asians were subject to the colonial forces of “yank and shove,” to then be exploited and eliminated.

Further movement of Asians to America was “pushed” by violence and social, political, and economic instability in their home countries, and “pulled” by dreams of education, freedom, and peace (4-5). Though I imagine it could be argued that the “yank and shove” still happens today.

 

impressions of optimization

If you read the professional literature, you quickly get the impression that the well-being of the forest is only of interest insofar as it is necessary for optimizing the lumber industry.

– Peter Wohllenben, Introduction in The Hidden Life of Trees, xiii

If you read the professional literature of any kind, if you observe the scenes around us, you not only get the impression of interest in optimization, but also the pervasiveness of global neoliberal market economies in our daily lives and common practices…