MA in Literature, Landscape & Environment

Charles Jenck’s Northumberlandia


A recent Guardian article, interestingly – or perhaps provocatively – entitled ‘Sid the Sexist’s favourite picnic spot? Maybe, but Northumberlandia is a joy’ plugs straight into the long running debate about our gendered attitudes to the landscape – attitudes that stretch far back (and at least to the sixteenth century, the period of the earliest texts on our MA). The article’s author, Jonathan Jones, implicitly acknowledges the patriarchal impulse to feminise the landscape, yet is clearly also delighted with Northumberlandia’s playfulness.

Tell us what you think.

13. September 2012 by s.gregg
Categories: Landscape news | 2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. I will post a review of Jenck’s most recent book which will appear in the journal Green Letters (which is produced at BSU by Greg Garrard).

  2. The Universe in the Landscape: Landforms, by Charles Jencks, London, Francis Lincoln Ltd, 2011, 288pp., £40 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-7112-3234-1

    Landforms, states Charles Jencks at the start of this beautifully produced and stimulating book, are landscape sculptures made of earth, stone and turf. Jencks’ landform designs use nature to speculate about fundamental aspects of the universe including gravity, DNA and wave patterns. The physical scale of these works is impressive – they are large enough to be walked over, or even driven across, and projects can take years to complete, eventually transforming the landscapes in which they are situated. Jencks’ intellectual ambition is equally impressive. His works grapple with the nature of life and matter as we presently understand them and he intends to stimulate thought about, amongst other things, our relationship to places, weather systems and the structure of our own cells.
    The landforms are informed by and engage with contemporary science: for example, Richard Dawkins’ metaphor of the ‘selfish’ gene receives particular criticism in Jencks’ work Mutual Wrap; theories about particle physics, which are being tested at the Large Hadron Collider, are depicted in a landform commissioned for the entrance to Cern.
    Jencks’ landforms, like any landscape art, must be physically experienced to be fully appreciated, but first-hand viewing on its own doesn’t necessarily give the audience the full story. Landform Ueda, for instance, is a striking combination of stepped slopes and ponds which marks the entrance to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. However, climbing its banks will lead very few people to contemplate strange attractors, the wave patterns found in weather systems and the human heart, which Jencks tells us inspire this landform’s shape. Reading The Universe in the Landscape is an excellent way into understanding the aesthetics and science behind Jencks’ work.
    The book is divided into five sections which consider themes explored in his most recent landform art, and each section includes case studies of several works. In insightful and detailed essays Jencks explains how he sees his landforms as part of an artistic tradition that includes Neolithic henges, English landscape gardens and modernist architecture. He explains the scientific concepts that influence his work, as well as giving fascinating technical details of how his sculptures and landforms are constructed, from the pros and cons of computer-produced epigraphy and laser-cut metals, to how best to mow the grassy surface of his landforms. The many colour photographs, plans and paintings in the book give a sense of the scale and flair of the landforms.
    Jencks states that architecture and landscaping are ‘oriented to a future world’ – they are ways of planning how we might live better. His landforms often use industrial waste ground such as disused quarries and factory sites. In shaping slag heaps into goddesses and old machinery into hilltop monuments Jencks’ art transforms these spaces into meaningful places to be contemplated and enjoyed. This book is a wide-ranging, rigorous and witty exposition of the work of a major contemporary artist.

    Garry MacKenzie
    University of St Andrews
    © 2012, Garry MacKenzie

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