Saturday, April 6, 2013

Illusion and Delusion

Our relationship with nature is often marked by illusion, delusion, and a false sense of separateness.
Sand Castle, Cannon Beach

Making a sand castle on the edge of a sandy lake, an estuarine bay, or an ocean, we delight in creating, shaping, and altering the landscape.

The pleasure of sand castle making gives some insight into the desire to shape and exert controls over our ecosystem.
Nature, with equal mind,
Sees all her sons at play,

Sees man control the wind,
The wind sweep man away.

Matthew Arnold, from Empedocles on Etna
Man controls the wind, but the wind sweeps man away.

The Delusion of Control

Poet Matthew Arnold reveals our delusion of control, that is
the false duality of man of- and man apart from- the very flow of the wind.
Like sand castles, the shape and seemingly static quality of nature is, at best, temporal. The false struggle that pits man against nature is part of the human narrative.
“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
Aldo Leopold
Part of the human narrative reveals a sisyphean quest - whether it is the unrealized plan to divert the Mississippi River for flood control, or a scheme to protect Los Angeles from boulders ejected from adjacent mountains by tectonic compression (cf. The Control of Nature by John McPhee).
"Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment."
Buckminster Fuller
Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson
Artists have used the natural landscape to create the illusion of control.

The Illusion of Control

Sand castle building almost certainly gives us a window into the psyche of the makers of land art.

Land art, Earthworks is a phrase coined by Robert Smithson. Land art is created using soil, rock, organic media, and water.

The landscape becomes the means of the creation.
"...the artist seeks.... the fiction that reality will sooner or later imitate"
Robert Smithson
Land art celebrates the illusion of control.

Spring Summer 6, Walter Mason

Humans are like daisy petals coalesced in a pool. We ebb and flow with nature contracting toward orderliness, while simultaneously expanding toward chaos.
"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."
―  John Muir, 1913