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Can “Landscape” be Manmade? (Jiyoung Yoon)

November 29, 2009

Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary film, “Manufactured Landscapes,” interrogates the notion of “landscapes” in two ways. With a series of Edward Burtynski’s photographs on industrial production, the film urges us to look at what kinds of “landscapes” we have in our contemporary culture. More to the point, the title of the film, “Manufactured Landscapes,” raises critical questions we have been asking throughout this course: How should we define the notion of landscape (or, “environment”)?

I often imagined something “natural” when I faced the term “landscape.” Maybe that is why, after I happened to watch this film by chance a year ago, I felt a bit uncomfortable about the fact that the title of the movie is “Manufactured Landscapes.”  In contrast to my preconception, Baichwal’s documentary film contends landscape in our age, rather, is constructed by humans. Put differently, landscape is nature transformed by human needs. Surprising is, there is little hint of “nature” in the “manufactrued landscapes” of the film. The idea of the natural is presented as a matter of perception; a more expansive reading of the physical world to include materials and environments of human habitation.


 from Manufactured Landscape

from Manufactured Landscape

Baichwal’s film pushes the manufactured quality of landscapes forward. The film suggests not only can landscape be manmade, but can also be the “interior” of a building. Instead of the”natural” view outside the confines of human habitats, spaces within cities or even industrial factories are in essence landscapes. This  insight of the film reminds me of a newspaper article I read about a month ago, which is about a family who live in the house built in whole giant trees.


House Inner View from NY Times

House Inner View from NY Times

As seen in the picture, the architect creates “manmade” landscape within a human inhabiting place by using the whole trees rather than cutting them down when building the house. In modernism architecture nature was thought to be brought into the house through large, glass window views. Instead, this architect builds homes with unvarnished, uncut trees to achieve this effect. Although he uses the apparently more natural materials (i.e. the trees) when creating his habitat, this landscape at the core is no less manmade than those in the documentary film. The land here is also transformed by the architect’s imagination, and, as a result, a new environment is created by human activity.


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