Department of Information Science and Media Studies

Synnøve Marie Vik

In her PhD ”Controversial Landscaping: The Politics of Nature in Contemporary Visual Culture”, Vik addresses representations of nature in visual culture. The thesis explores the connection between politics and aesthetics, focusing on both immediate presentations of natural phenomena, as well as the aesthetization /staging of trauma and controversial images.

This thesis, with the working title «Controversial Landscaping: The Politics of Nature in Contemporary Visual Culture», is an investigation of how our visual culture forms and affects our view of nature and climate change. The main material consists of photography and art installations that visualize nature, be it idealized nature, natural disasters or climate change. What critical potential do images have? What happens in the complex and volatile relationship between images, nature, ecology and politics? What are the epistemological ramifications of visual culture’s reorganization of the aesthetic field, where art history embodies but one of several forms of visuality?

The project is trans aesthetic and the analyses of art photography, press photography, marketing photography and art installations are mainly drawn from the works of the German-British artist Gustav Metzger (b.1926), the Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson (b.1967), the American photographer James Nachtwey (f.1948) and the oil company Statoil’s photographs of extraction of oil sand. Images of oil sand circulate online, and Statoil has a range of images available for downloading for the press on their website. The images present presumably documentary photographs of the sites. The work of the German-British artist Gustav Metzger (b.1926) touches on issues of nuclear disarmament, consumerism, war and environmental destruction. In his auto-destructive and auto-creative work, Metzger proposes an art of destruction and an art of change, challenging our notion of our relationship with nature. In the series Historic Photographs, he problematizes the Medias convincing yet inadequate archive of traumatic and controversial events in the 20th Century, suggesting what we might call a new ecology of sight. Olafur Eliasson (b.1967) conceives immersive, seductive environments, presenting and representing nature and natural phenomena. His work usually engages the viewer in a highly sensory, personal experience, probing the cognitive aspects of what it means to see, illuminating the relationship between reality, perception and representation. The American photographer James Nachtwey (b.1948) is considered to be one of the best photojournalists of our time, and has been covering wars for three decades. Nachtwey was one of the first photographers to arrive in the north of Japan to cover the massive destruction of the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, and his photos quickly travelled worldwide.  

Today, nature paradoxically has stepped up as master, after Man has claimed ever more natural domains. Nature holds power in flood catastrophes, earth quakes and climate changes. Nature has top priority in politics: it has become a threat, since it is threatened. This double threat is evident in Louisiana, where the hurricane Katrina first devastated the area in 2005, before the man-made, oil catastrophe in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico made the situation on land and in water even worse. And we could see it in Japan in 2011, where an earth quake and a following tsunami left vast areas in ruin, before the spills from the nuclear plant in Fukushima made continued habitation in the area impossible for our foreseeable future. Nature is more and more experienced as traumatized and traumatizing. 

The project places itself within the field of visual culture, on the threshold between art history and media studies. The questions asked are relevant to the discussion of politics and aesthetics, visual ethics, ecology of images, travelling images and digital media, visual hegemonies of representations, and in exploring visual cultures inherent heterogeneity.