by  Frédérique Aït-Touati

Let's start with a classic, very simple definition of landscape: it's a portion of land, something that can be seen from a particular vantage point. Today, however, a new definition of landscape is emerging. Landscape is no longer seen from afar, but becomes an inhabited territory, shared by man and nature on common ground, which they build together. This involves a transformation of the gaze, but even more so of the body's position, a broadening of perceptive tools, a shift from the optical to the haptic.

This redefinition of landscape stems from the reflections of contemporary thinkers on ecology, but just as much from a series of experiments and research projects in which artists, researchers, architects and designers are often called upon to collaborate, such as that of Paysages Partagés, a performative and ambulatory experience by Stefan Kaegi and Caroline Barneaud, programmed for the Festival d'Avignon in July 2023.

Doing a conference without images, when you're working with images, is a bit like doing a show without a stage: it requires you to call on other senses, and other techniques. So I'm going to call on your imagination to represent my slides to you, and to do so I'm going to draw on our shared imagination.

In what follows, I will first share a number of hypotheses that nourish the work of researchers and artists, and that transform the ancient definition of landscape. Secondly, I will propose a journey and an account of my experience of this situated and moving work that is Paysages Partagés.

I. Three hypotheses

First hypothesis: Nature is no longer a backdrop

That is what philosophers and anthropologists say. I have tried to find every instance of this phrase. I first found it in Michel Serres' Natural Contract. And then almost all my philosophical friends and colleagues used it: Isabelle Stengers, Bruno Latour, Baptiste Morizot.

This phrase (or a similar formulation) can be found in a number of contemporary authors, notably Michel Serres as early as 1994 ("the tacit things that were once placed there as decor around ordinary representations, all that which never interested anyone, suddenly, without warning, now stands in the way of our maneuverings.")1. This leitmotiv of contemporary philosophy directly implicates us: we theatre-makers, artists and researchers are well placed to take part in this discussion on the end of a conception of nature as a setting.

Not surprisingly, the rise of the concept of landscape is linked to the history of painting and theater. Landscape as scenic space has largely been identified with the development of linear perspective and the application of these techniques to pictorial art. From this history, linked to the history of theater, the term landscape has retained a meaning attached to this idea of scenery.

Second hypothesis: We're no longer outside the landscape. We're inside it.

When we read the various histories of the notion of landscape, particularly in art history, we see that they all associate the emergence of landscape with the moment when, in Western culture, the divorce between sensibility and knowledge began to develop. The relationship with landscape is inseparable from the objectivizing distancing of Western scientific rationality. Landscape is the world seen from afar by a subject who feels and rationalizes from a distant point of view, external to the object he is aiming at.

In recent years, however, contemporary thinking on bioclimatic upheaval has led to a profound redefinition of the situation of human beings in the world. This crisis calls into question a dualistic system pitting human against nature, redistributes the roles of human and non-human, and highlights the interdependencies between the various players in the living world. In so doing, it makes theater not only a central metaphor (man on the theater of the world) but a major site for reflection on the living on Earth, actors in a setting that is no longer a setting - actors in the midst of other actors. Everything is in motion in the new climate regime. Nature, once thought stable and intangible, is no longer a mere landscape or backdrop. It now reacts to our actions.

This vocabulary of play, action and drama is not merely metaphorical: it expresses the entry onto the world stage of new, non-human characters; it signals the urgency of an unprecedented situation, that of climate chaos. If we are to stop seeing the Earth as an immobile stage set, we need to take advantage of the resources of the stage to help us think about a world that has become active and active.

Third hypothesis:
we are no longer the only players in the world.

Indeed, the massive entry onto the scene of animals, plants - especially trees - but also, quietly, rocks, corals, bacteria, rivers and mountains, is profoundly transforming not only the dramatic personnel of the essays, novels, poems, visual works and films of recent years, but the very notions of narrative, action and space. Landscapes are not given spaces, « environments », they are made by the living.

Thanks to the work of scientists, historians2 and anthropologists, we now know that humans have become a major geological force, not only rapidly transforming the Earth's chemical and physical composition, but also disrupting ecosystems at such a rate that they have no time to adapt. Man exploits the depths, disrupts the strata of the ages, creates layers of plastic and concrete,3 shapes the Earth, to the point where we could tell the story of the conquests of the Earth's depths (fig. 3). Man has thus become an "earth-eating white man", to use the striking image used by Yanomami observers. 4

He terraforms the Earth, creating landscapes.

How can we take note of this terraforming of the living, of this common and collective invention of landscapes, of these shared landscapes, in every sense of the word: made by us and other living beings, seen from multiple points of view, inhabited and fragile, common property?

II. Three images

Animated landscape: Animating the landscape

The first image is a tracking scene (une scène de pistage).
A few years ago, along with Baptiste Morizot, Estelle Zhong and other researchers and artists, I organized an exhibition at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, entitled
« Animating the Landscape ». This exhibition brought together artists and researchers who had in common the question of cohabitation between humans and non-humans on a shared territory.

The question was: How can we account for the complexity and multiplicity of our relationships with living things on a territory? How do we track living things to account for their presence, and how do we represent a territory inhabited by humans and non-humans? The challenge was to make visitors aware of the way in which humans and non-humans are caught up together in a network of interdependencies, and to enable them to pay attention to the other living beings who inhabit a territory.

Baptiste Morizot and Estelle Zhong's installation, for example, questioned the type of attention and posture induced by the practice of tracking, and proposed, through its device, a transformation of the spectator's position.
What my tracking sessions and experiences with Baptiste and Estelle have taught me is that posture and attention are political operators, because they raise the question of cohabitation. When we track, there's a kind of displacement in the body of someone other than ourselves, who has his own habits, his own ways of moving.
When you go hiking, practiced as a sport, you're aiming for a goal, a summit. The kind of wandering through nature proposed by hiking prevents us from paying attention to the other living beings who live there. What does it mean to spend time on a hill, in a forest, when the motivation is neither sport, nor site seeing? Each practice has profound effects on the kind of conception of what a landscape is.

Living landscape: Terra Forma

The second image is a living map, taken from the collective book Terra Forma, which I wrote with two landscape architects.

One of the starting points for Terra Forma was the question: where is the living in our classic maps? Where are the entities we talk about every day, politically, in our reflections on ecology? How can we make room for them? By questioning the parameters that structure the map, or by hijacking the classic tools of cartography and architecture. We began by removing the background from the maps. Topographical elements no longer exist. The question then arises: What will build the landmarks? The moving bodies of the "animés", as Alexandra called them, become the driving force behind the map. Removing the background map creates a liquid space. The result is new circulations, new meeting places. The map becomes the expression of the multiplication of interactions that inhabit it. We assume its political significance, inviting us to reflect on the links between the points of life that cohabit in it. The map can be used to make a diagnosis by integrating data from a given territory, but it can also be used to negotiate by questioning the community it brings together.

A new definition of space and matter

The third image comes from Tarkovsky's Stalker.

The « zone » in Stalker offers a completely new definition of space, matter and nature.
This new definition raises exciting new questions for us theatre-goers. Why? Because Western theater has played a part in the construction of modern cosmology: a certain way of organizing gazes and forces, a certain way of distributing the powers to act, of constructing sets, of organizing the foreground and background, of defining what acts and what surrounds, what is essential and what is not.

There's a cosmological power to theater that comes from its ability to remake the world. It's only logical, then, that today's theaters should be asking the questions that are shaking up our times, the questions that are shaking up the old distribution of roles and powers.

In fact, some of the most pressing anthropological and political questions posed by the ecological crisis are questions of dramaturgy and stagecraft: who speaks? Who distributes the roles? Who has the power to act, and how? Who decides how to occupy territories, how to get around? And again: what is the anthropos scene and what does it mean to share it, to live among the living? As a medium capable of grasping questions that go beyond those of human comedy, theater seems particularly well-suited to exploring these issues and capturing the cosmological upheaval underway. Firstly, because, since the Greeks, it has known how to stage non-humans, to make beings who have no voice speak - prosopopoeia, a classic theatrical figure, gives a voice to the gods, to the dead, to beings of nature. Secondly, because it directly questions the relationship between the living and the non- living. If we want to stop seeing the Earth as an immobile set, it is useful to place ourselves precisely in the theater, and to take advantage of the resources of the stage to think about this world that has become active and an actor, to explore the metamorphic zone we are passing through, where the boundaries between the natural and the artificial, between living and inanimate phenomena, between human and non-human, are blurred. Because of its long history with representations of nature, theater has become one of the sites of this renewed ecological awareness. Reputedly anthropocentric, the art of the "human" above all else, it has become one of the paradoxical places to question the more-than-human.

If, as anthropology, science and philosophy each tell us in their own way, we are intertwined, co-dependent, how can we take note of this situation, how can we share the Earth, how can we take care of others so as not to continue endangering our common territories? how can we live on Earth?

It's this question of the arts of inhabiting the Earth that I believe is posed by the experience of the spectacle Paysages Partagés, presented at the Festival d’Avignon in July 2023. I'd like to share with you my experience of this collective performance as a spectator, and take these proposals as a starting point for extending the reflections and questions that have occupied me for some years now. What does it mean to take the performative power of landscape seriously?

III. Shared landscapes

The challenge of this theatrical experiment is less to make the landscape the central protagonist of a story told from the point of view of non-humans than to follow intertwined stories, in which human and non-human futures are entangled. First, you are given a map. It shows contour lines, a route and a legend with artists' names. But the truth is, you don't look at the map until afterwards. Because right away, it's not sight that's involved, it's hearing and feeling: the sound and the touch.

Here's a first sensation: bodies lying in a field, at rest, in the shade of trees. Bodies scattered across the landscape, linked by the sound of a voice. By a story, by a voice, by a song. We're in the middle of a conversation under the trees. We are silent witnesses, but it is as if we could speak up at any moment. Voices surround us, recorded sounds mingle with real ones.

This is Stefan Kaegi's first proposal for Paysages Partagés, and it's an immediate and welcoming one: to share the landscape means to share a conversation, laughter, memories, reflections, a song.

The second proposition is a particularly elegant response to the philosophers' hypothesis I mentioned at the beginning: nature is no longer a stage set. So if nature is no longer a set, can we play for it, and not just in front of it? Ari Benjamin Meyers's Concert for Trees and Birds is all about playing with the landscape. We are in the middle of a pine forest, the instrumentalists are hidden, and the trees seem to be playing. Or rather, because the nuance is important: we know that the humans are there, playing their wind instruments, but they're definitely playing with the trees.

Listen to the landscape: this is an invitation that will be pursued like a thread through all the performances, each of which, in its own way, proposes a different form of attention. Because inhabiting the landscape raises the question of attention: how can we modify our relationship with the landscape, how can we move away from this conception of landscape as a setting, an inert, appropriable space, empty and available? This shift takes place through a series of small modifications made by the different proposals.

Sofia Dias and Vitor Roriz suggest to let go of our reserve as spectators, inviting us to play and make the rounds. Despite the gentle voice and the humor, we sense that it's resisting: not everyone wants to play cat and mouse.

And then it's a new image: We start with a well-known painting by Caspar Friedrich with the wonderful title Felsenriff am Meeresstrand (Rock reef on the sea).
Rock reef on the sea... the observer who stands before the landscape, as in another of Friedrich's famous works, is handicapped, and here everything trembles: the human being appears in his precariousness, and the landscape, once intangible, trembles in its turn, like this fragile canvas stretched between two trees. Chiara Bersani and Marco d'Agostin's performance remobilizes the great themes of art history: romantic painting, the sublime, lunch on the grass, to invite us to search together for the tipping point, the place of trembling, the place where it no longer works: we can no longer contemplate the landscape in the same way.

What does it mean to make theater outside the theatrical space? It could be mean to offer another point of view, as in Begüm Erciyas and Daniel Kötter's device, which literally lifts us off the ground to allow us to see the landscape from above. Or transforming a field of vines into a space to play in Emilie Rousset's proposal, where a passionate bioacoustician lets us hear the frolicking of a fly. One of the most striking proposals for me was the final performance by the Spanish collective El Conde de Torrefiel, which put into perspective the hours we had just lived and our touching efforts to "reconnect" with nature. With this final performance, everything changes, and the gentle stroll through the fields takes on a whole new tone. Thanks to the use of surtitles and simple, effective sound effects, we're immediately immersed in a science-fiction atmosphere. Who's watching? Who's seen what? And what if, from the start of the experience, it wasn't us who were gazing benignly at the landscape, but it who was looking at us? Something speaks: nature (Gaia? physis? the Earth? the living?). An active nature, endowed with a language that someone has been able to translate, tells the story of the world and humanity from its point of view.

Without claiming to resolve them, the performance poses some of today's most pressing questions in ecological and aesthetic research: who speaks? can we speak for? in place of? what is nature's language? can we translate it? Who can legitimately speak for it?

Hearing the infra-sound; seeing the invisible... In all cases, it is through a technical device, a mediation, that another access to the landscape is possible. And here I'd like to dwell for a moment on a point that will no doubt be debated, but which interests me greatly: all these proposals operate by means of some form of equipment, more or less lightweight, from headphones to virtual reality headsets, LED screens and speakers. We are a long way, it seems, from the return to nature that a certain ecology defends, and the artists could be criticized for it. But it is a dimension which I find fascinating, a paradox that I'd like to emphasize: in all these proposals, there's a praise of mediation, of the artifact, of artifice, which is a way of focusing attention on a detail.

Here, a dramaturgy of "doing with" is in place: the general dramaturgy of Caroline Barneaud and Stefan Kaegi's play invites us to melt into the landscape, to play with it, to follow the course of the sun. The transition from the heat of the afternoon to the cool of the evening is an integral part of the experience. And here, all the habits, practices and know-how of the theater are questioned and shifted: welcoming the audience, the lighting, the relationship to sound and voice, the acting, as a shared and intertwined experiment.



In these experiments, we are invited to envisage a life without guaranteed stability, a life defined by "precariousness", "the condition of our times" (Anna Tsing), the defining criterion of what we might call a new earthly condition - precarious, vulnerable, intertwined, free in close dependence on other beings. Animating the landscape, inhabiting the landscape, sharing the landscape : in the itinerant gaze and walking body offered by this theatrical experience at the Avignon Festival, we recognize the figures of the Renaissance traveler-collector and the Romantic stroller, but this is a restless traveler who sees what he has just discovered disappearing before his very eyes. He has lost his innocence, and perhaps a little of his destructive recklessness.

Finally, I'd like to share the words of my dear departed friend Bruno Latour, in a show we created together 4 years ago at Les Amandiers:

« Imagine being told that the world you thought you were in is nothing like the one you imagined. There you are, quietly surrounded by objects with well-defined shapes, a table, a chair, each well separated from the others and all together inserted as in a painting inside a space independent of it. You may see the leaves of a tree outside, the clouds that the wind blows across the sky, the contours of a mountain... but they too are at the right distance, object among objects, all inserted into infinite space, all distinctly painted.

But little by little, things get more complicated. The rain clouds that cover the horizon have been seeded by bacteria, and the sky where the clouds run is maintained because microbes have been piling up their excrement there for billions of years. The average temperature you enjoy, the very air you breathe, you owe to the trees you see.

Do you realize what's happening? The animate beings are no longer standing next to each other, but are beginning to overlap, to drool over each other, to mingle, to intertwine. The wood from which the chair is made comes from a distant forest, and the movement of all these superimposed beings sweeps you away. The landscape unravels, the painting fades away. You no longer see anything as a spectacle. »

1 Michel Serres, Le Contrat Naturel, Champs Flammarion, 1994, p. 16. And many authors: Dipesh Chakrabarty, "The Climate of History: Four Theses", Critical Inquiry, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2009; Isabelle Stengers, Au temps des  catastrophes. Résister à la barbarie qui vient, La Découverte, 2009; Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton University Press, 2015; Bruno Latour, Face à Gaïa, La Découverte, Paris, 2015; Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, 2016; Emanuele Coccia, La vie des plantes, Payot, 2016; Baptiste Morizot, Manières d'être vivant, Actes Sud, 2020.

2 Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, Le choc de l'anthropocène, tr. David Fernbach, London, New York, Verso, 2017.

3 Jan Zalasiewicz, "The extraordinary strata of the anthropocene", in Serpil Oppermann and Serenella Iovino (eds.), Environmental Humanities: Voices from the Anthropocene, Lanham (Maryland), Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

4 Book by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman, Harvard University Press, 2013, cited by Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, "L'arrêt de monde", in Émilie Hache (ed.), De l'univers clos au monde infini, Éditions Dehors, 2014, p. 289.