“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds.” (2)
The voyage has been an engaging subject in media and thought throughout history, undoubtedly cherished and challenging. Petrarch’s climb to the top of Mountain Ventoux in 1336 allegedly promoted the breaking wave of recreational travel. (3) His feat spurred poetic, romantic, and self-critical commemoration, as he wrote:
Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. [...] We look about us for what is to be found only within. [...] How many times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation. (4)
Later in history, nature was a favorable space for the melancholic and restless wanderer in need of contemplation, meditation, and self-reflection. The phenomenon of escapism blossomed in the Romantic Era in Europe, opposing an organized, urban life drowning in laws, finance, and the artificial value system. Relentless virtualization of contemporary life allows for nature’s unbeatable liberation and truth, and almost requires its reprieve, “Walking Artist” Hamish Fulton, for instance, has traversed large parts of The United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Nepal, Bolivia, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Norway, Lapland, Iceland, India, Nepal, Tibet, etc… since 1969, completely alone. “Supertramp” Christopher McCandless left his home, family and girlfriend in 1990 (the same year the Internet was made public), donated all his savings to charity and hiked the Alaskan wilderness, “envisioning a separation from organized society for a Thoreauvian period of solitary contemplation”. (5) With the daunting apocalyptic date of December 21st, 2012 approaching and a growing number of prophetic believers, modern escapists are multiplying. Their wanderings are fueled by a blend of romantic dissatisfaction with contemporary life and optimistic desire for a better and more conscious life. They desire a disconnected, grassroots, micro-culture. The cause and manifestation of this restless, retro energy is mirrored in popular culture but traceable in our countries’ politics, economy, and social climate. (6)
Combing post-apocalyptic doom and nostalgic joy, Belgian artist Tinka Pittoors’ looped video Plastic Territory (2010) dissipates romanticized adventures of the countryside. Filmed from the back of a Märklin model locomotive, the viewer is taken on an unusual journey through a fantastic, largely abandoned, scaled landscape. (7) Pittoors traverses the ragged, artificial, awkward, and unpleasant,no-mans-land, abandoning Fulton and McCandless’ spiritual oases. The video’s reveals inherent comparisons between melancholy and nostalgia, represented by grey, concrete ruins and scattered debris and train tracks. Colorful bricks, marbles, windmills, reflections and distorted mirrors provide frivolous amusement. Although a handful of tentative traces of “real” nature remain, the artist’s work is mainly focused on the artificiality and manageability of created contemporary landscapes. Nature, and culture similarly, are trapped within personal contemplation, chained by references to how it once was, how we remember it, and how it isn’t anymore. It is even cliché to verbalize the extremity of nature’s irreversible downfall, modified for the sake of urban evolution and growth. The environmentalist’s enduring assistance against the disappearance of fauna and flora lacks support. We have fallen into oblivion within the urban environment. Nature is man-made, cultivated, and safe. It is remarkable that the history of landscape architecting is said to begin with the Roman engineer Marcus Vitruvius’ (active in the first century BC) pioneering cultivation of nature. His De Architectura, or The Ten Books of Architecture, is still relevant within the varied scopes of urban design, site planning, urban planning, environmental restoration, park planning, visual resource management, green infrastructure planning and provision, and residence landscape master planning and design.
There have been several significant examples of humanity’s irrepressible urge to transform and build natural environs. Englishman Lancelot “Capability” Brown (8) was celebrated for the natural, unplanned appearance of more than 150 gardens he designed in the United Kingdom. Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the father of American landscape architecture,(9) designed the United States’ oldest state park, the Niagara Reservation in Niagara Falls, NY, Central Park in New York City, NY, and the unfinished World’s End in Hingham, Massachusetts. Abbot Kinney (10) is famous for his Venice Canal Historic District in Venice, Los Angeles, which recreated the appearance and feel of Venice, Italy, and included man-made canals and gondolas. Remarkable 21st century’s projects include the construction of artificial islands like Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Jumeirah, and Palm Deira, also known as the Palm Trilogy (11), just a couple of the countless man-made islands that “embellish” the coast of Dubai. Most astonishingly, a fascinating example of “biomimicry” (12); the Lilypad Floating Cities for Climate Change Refugees; just one of the fantastic, phenomenal and futuristic designs by the thirty three year old, visionary Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut. From awesome to utopian, Callebaut’s widely criticized designs for self-sufficient, floating micro-universes, are a good illustration of how contemporary architects, engineers, and urban planners are now forced to be receptive to our planet’s dramatically changing climate, while incorporating environmental science and ecology in their project’s designs. Vincent Callebaut says:
Whereas the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates raise their coast lines with short living polders and protective dams, the Lilypad Floating Cities for Climate Change Refugees offer a tenable solution to the rising of the sea level. Actually, facing the world’s ecological crisis, these floating “Ecopolises” have the double objective to widen the territories of the most developed countries offshore, and to grant housing to climate refugees of submerged ultra-marine territories. A new biotechnological prototype of ecologic resilience dedicated to nomadism and aquatic urban ecology, the Lilypads travel on the water streams of the oceans; from the equator to the poles, following the warm ascending of the Gulf Stream or the cold descending of the Labrador Current. (13)
It is interesting and thought provoking to reflect on Tinka Pittoors’ Plastic Territory in the context of the constant evolution of existing and new urban terrestrial and aquatic landscapes. The artwork originates from a deep-rooted fascination for micro-universes, the artificiality of new metropolises, types of coexistence and their evolution, territories and borders. Pittoors’ interest in decay and ruination spurns from thoughts about “urbicide,” translating as “violence against the city” caused by war, urban clearances (the governmentally imposed expelling, or marginalizing and neglecting of a group of people) (14), and natural disasters.
Against the backdrop of such heavily charged subjects, Plastic Territory begins to express a rather lonely, claustrophobic, bittersweet, sensational boredom. Just imagine being a sole passenger on the scale model train, looking out the window as it moves glacially through a largely abandoned, science fiction landscape. Getting off the train is not an option. There is no specific destination, no apparent beginning or end of the journey. At the decelerated cadence of the train, the passenger paces passively between numerous, semi-identical, mirroring walls. Remains of monumental arcs, overpasses, or granite monuments converse with clusters of trees, anonymous flags on poles, disco balls, and a single eruption of steam or smoke. (15) "When the gods are expelled from the cosmos, the world they have left becomes boring", wrote German philosopher Eric Voegelin in an essay titled “Boredom and Perplexity in Hegel”. (16) According to Hegel, this boredom of the world has occurred twice before: once in the wake of Roman imperial conquest, and a second time in modernity, in the wake of the Reformation. In the latter Protestantism abolished the poetry of sacrality by “tearing the new fatherland of man asunder into the inwardness (Innerlichkeit) of spiritual life and an undisturbed engagement (Versenken) in the commonness (Gemeinheit) of empirical existence and everyday necessity.” In both instances a new historical development emerged that effaced the pre-existing pillars of sacrality. The result, as Hegel calls it, is “die Langeweile der Welt”… or, the boredom of the world. In his essay, in the spirit of Hegel’s philosophical positioning of boredom in society and religion, Voegelin righteously states that “boredom results from a deformation of consciousness” relevant within the metaphysical and ontological discussion about the abandoned, desolate, and undetermined “bored” condition of Plastic Territory.
What is missing, what gods are expelled, that allow such cyclic and intrinsic desolation, magnetism, and mysticism? Is it solely based on the evident ruination of the created, artificial landscape, morphed into an effective visual distraction? Perhaps the artist herself has become a wanderer through multiple, interconnected, mental landscapes, similar to the one she documented and eventually demolished in Plastic Territory. The process itself is a process with an unquestionable romantic pattern of demiurgic creation (17), observation and meditation, disappearance, loss, and commemoration. Tinka Pittoors successfully represent significant parts of the visions of the people that have passed briefly through this texts itinerary.
Once a practicing painter, Pittoors strayed from traditional, two-dimensional restraints in favor of liberated spatial freedom of three-dimensional art disciplines. Creating worlds, micro-universes, organisms, and landscapes, Plastic Territory juxtaposes moving through the real world, done almost subconsciously, with moving through a self-made, scaled-down, reconstructed fragment of our micro-universe. Some fanatics, like New Jersey based artist and photographer Matthew Albanese (18), take the building of scale model landscapes to the extreme, creating close to perfect imitations of creeks, rivers, and waterfalls, forests, mountains, glaciers, palm tree islands, and even raging tornadoes and erupting volcanoes. Mimicry is not Pittoors’ objective. Her
Her landscapes are live spaces. In the case of Plastic Territory: a space that was meant to disappear physically, and was destined to be demolished to be turned into a single, immaterial moving image, which will create a space for another work to grow.
Edited by Lynn Maliszewski