222222 Saddest Music in the World is a project conceived in October 2009 as a consequence of a massive land expropriation imposed by the state (Lombardy region) to the land owners and land inhabitants.
The expropriation is a long and painful bureaucratic process that not just takes away forever the natural home of plants animals and humans but also modifies and destroys in a irreversible way the native landscape with all its particular and unique geological aspects. In this transitory environment a group of artists realized a specific project as a manifestation of dissent, as a reaction to an unwanted situation. All the gestures are a “mise en scene” of the relation between man and his environment, the natural and the artificial merge into a series of visions. Each art practice generates ideas and dreams, raises new possibilities for confrontation and the understanding of humans.

THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD e' un luogo temporaneo fatto di ambienti suburbani e situazioni relazionali periferiche. Uno spazio ibrido dove il mix di pratiche epressive si inserisce nei luoghi della devastante politica del territorio.

Archivio blog


Marcella Schmidt di Friedberg
Historic-Geographical Department,
University of Pavia, Italy

The title I’m presenting here was meant as a proposal for a session. The session got lost
in the meanders of global communication, in the web-links between the Mediterranean
and the Far East, namely Italy and Taegu.
The title is a quote from Kate Soper and the purpose was to investigate, in both
conceptual and political terms, the meaning of the "natural" in contemporary society.
The topics I considered ranged from the construction of artificial/natural environments
(bio-parks, protected areas, museums of nature); to the politics of environmentalism; to
the consumption, marketing and conservation of nature nowadays and in the past; to the
change of attitude towards the non-human world and the definition of nature in ethical,
aesthetic and historical categories. The idea was to confront case studies on different
concepts of nature, and especially here in Korea, ideas of nature in East Asian thought.
Just from the reality of a mosaic of case studies we can grasp the ”unparalleled field of
difference”, in Harvey’s words, of nature’s meanings.
To condense now, in a single paper, such a wide and complex subject seems to me
preposterous. I will just consider here an example, adding then some more general
The human-nature relationship is one of the oldest and much-discussed multidisciplinary
themes, backed up by a huge literature. Nature’s idea ambiguity comes out
just by trying to define it: in the words of Torsten Haegerstrand, nature is:
"The world to which our bodies belong, (….) in which hundreds of specialised
sciences have identified millions of items, phenomena and relationships,
rendered in a confusion of tongues. How can any sane person dare to confess a
hope that he can say something about how to view Nature as a wholeness?"
(Haegerstrand, 1976, p.329).
Nowadays the problem present itself in discursive terms, embedded in the difficulty of
situating precisely the border between the natural and the artificial and in the new
emphasis on nature-cultural heritage in conservation. As Harvey observes:
“The contemporary battleground over words like “nature” and the
“environment” is a leading edge of political conflict, precisely because of the
“incompletely explicit assumptions, or more or less unconscious mental
habits,” which surround them. And it is, of course, primarily in the realms of
ideology and discourse where “we become conscious of political matters and
fight them out” (Harvey, 1996, p.118)
Nature’s concepts are never politically or socially neutral. Neil Smith comments:
“It is in the production of nature that use-value and exchange value, and space
and society are fused together” (Smith, 1990, p.32).
To take just one example, we can consider the institution of National Parks, often seen
both as a prerequisite and a solution for the sustainable development of our planet. If we
accept the idea that nature is socially constructed, protected areas express a complex of
traditions, myths and beliefs, as well as an ecological balance.
All conservation policies, in fact, imply a perspective on the relations between humans
and nature, though this perspective is seldom explicitly identified: rarely are the
questions 'What is to be preserved?' 'Why?' and 'For whom?' raised in any serious way.
The U.S. world National parks system, - probably the most famous - is mainly the
expression of a North American concept, based on a conflicting relationship between
nature and people. The extraordinary potential of public use of the concept of nature,
inspired by American civic improvers such as Frederick Olmstead, became lost at the
very start of the development of the National Park idea. Olmstead was charged with the
implementation of New York's Central Park, authorized in 1853. Ten years later, he
applied the same principles to the management of Yosemite Valley, granted by
Congress to the state of California as a public park in 1864.
National Parks reflect the array of political, cultural, social and technological forces that
have shaped American national history. Foresta argues that the US National Parks
System was not invented but rather was fortuitous.
“The reality beneath the image is that neither the national parks nor their
keepers stand apart from their times; they are very much subject to the
problems and dilemmas of modern American life” (Foresta, 1984, p.2)
The result is a very unsystematic System. In addition to National Parks, it includes at
least a dozen other categories, from the “crown jewels”, Yellowstone and Yosemite, to
The Capitol in Washington D.C., to the National Battlefields, with a total of some 357
Each unit of the system embodies a definition (or idealization) of nature. Each relates to
a set of social values (Benton, Short, 1999). Management policies assume that the
ecology of a particular moment in the past can be 'frozen' in the present, ignoring social
and power relationships, and the dynamic nature of human society. This is particularly
reflected in implied concepts of 'wilderness' and the 'natural'.
For those two fundamental aspects, the Mediterranean concept of National Parks
contrasts with the US ideal. The ‘wilderness myth’ clashes with the biblical idea of
human dominion over nature and of the well-kept Mediterranean garden (White, 1967).
For example, if we study, a map of the distribution of the National Parks in the
Mediterranean area, we will notice that very few of them are coastal or marine parks.
More often, they are situated in mountain areas, as Corsica’s extensive park, where
tourist demand is not so heavy. In Greece, only 8% of national parks is
“Mediterranean”; the equivalent Greek term to park means “deciduous oak forest” and
protection strategies, imported from Bavarian architects, considered, at first “real forests
only”, ignoring all Mediterranean type vegetation (Margaris, 1991, p.406).
In Japan, National Parks are often cultural landscapes of great beauty, managed and
modified by humans from ancient times: temples are enshrined harmonically in the
wilderness; protected areas correspond mostly with sacred spaces, centers of
nature/culture dialectics.
The consequence, for those “imported –structures” – as Richez has defined National
Parks in Europe or in Asia and Africa - is often an absence or confusion of purpose and
a lack of effectiveness in management.
Protected areas are often seen as an end in themselves, as “wilderness islands”, created
and defined to compensate for the exploitation of land, landscape and nature, outside
their boundaries. National Parks originated in a definite time and space. They mainly
reflect a spatial concept of nature conservation: to circumscribe an area of untouched
wilderness, “other” in respect to the human, and to preserve it for the enjoyment of
future generations.
This philosophy dominates policies and nature management strategies all over the world,
yet it often fails. It does not respond to the mosaic of differences of other cultural and
historical contexts. In ancient historical regions, landscape is the product of centuries of
human-nature interrelations. A different model of conservation could be assumed: a
temporal concept, where not only wilderness is preserved, but also the long and
indissoluble history of nature-human relations, the continuity of rural life and of
traditional life with/in nature.
I would just like now to add some comments on one particular point, which looks
particularly challenging to me, and which I would have liked to discuss here.
If we are living in “new global times”, in Taylor, Watts and Johnston definition,
“qualitatively different from the past” (Taylor, Watts and Johnston, 1990, p.6-7) how
are changing nature concepts, in the “great vortex” of globalization?
Are we heading towards “the end of nature”, as in Mc Kibben millenaristic threat, or
are we “nature’s keepers” according to the more positive view of species – like horses
and deer - are considered more valuable than others – like rats or insects - with local
changing preferences. All over the world, ecological science is full of cases of nature’s
complex dynamics, dominated by Budiansky, or we are, ourselves, part of nature
evolutionary process?
Our experience of nature, our conception of nature, are always mediated by culture. As
Edgar Morin has put it:
All that speaks of nature speaks of society. The ‘conquest of mature’, the
‘return to nature’ are the most social of social ideas (Morin, 1980, p.130).
Major environmental concerns, however, often have seemingly straightforward
technical solutions, based on science. Nature management always implies a choice,
mediated by culture. It is always a question of what to save what to put back, what to
take apart.
Humans, as modifying agents in Marsh terms, had always been selectively choosing and
constructing their environments under the pressure of need, or of market and fashion.
All ecosystems imply an always-changing balance of human intervention and of natural
processes. Some parts of nature and some species –like horses and deer- are considered
more valuable than other –like rats or insects – with local changing preferences. Al over
the world, ecological science is full of cases of nature complex dynamics, dominated by
human preferences. In the English countryside, reports Budiansky, rabbits, an invading
species, are maintaining the low prairies of wild thymian, the ideal habitat of the rare
blue butterfly, in extinction. What is more natural: to leave the rabbits, or eliminate
them, consenting the growth of vegetation, but threatening the survival of the
butterflies? In our time, the role of human intervention is accelerating and becoming
more extensive, with generally not foreseeable consequences, like habitat destruction
and pollution, and loss of bio-diversity.
Urban and technological society had, not only selected but, de facto, excluded the
animal and vegetable world from its daily experiences and rhythms.
What kind of relationship can we establish, nowadays, with wildlife, with forests and
wolves, when, thanks to conservation politics, they become again our often tedious and
uncomfortable neighbors?
The preferences of the society of tomorrow, in fact, could be oriented, also in esthetical
terms, towards the artificial, more then the natural: cityscapes, theme parks, videogames
and virtual reality demonstrate it. The disquieting setting of a world without
nature is provocatively presented by Donna Haraway, inspired by life in North
American suburban areas: we are all becoming cyborgs, hybrids of organisms and
machines (Haraway, 1995, p.41).
The extraordinary tourist success of theme parks and of bio-domes, seems to confirm
this preference and to deny the easy blame of phony-environments, in the name of a
past golden age of ecological balance. Nature has just to be purified from diseases,
violence and insects and beautified.
“in this sense, writes Kate Soper, nature may be viewed as a register of
changing conceptions as to who qualify, and why, for full membership of the
human community; and thus also to some extent as a register of Western
civilization’s anxieties and divisions about its own qualities, activities and
achievements” (Soper, 1995, p.74).
“Natural living” becomes hence a highly appreciated goal for affluent societies, and has
a consistent market value and promotion. „Green cities“, green tourism, ecodevelopment
are the key words. The aim is to obtain a better quality of living from the
blend of nature and technology.
"I don't think we should kid ourselves. We haven't re-created the past here. The
past is gone. It can never be re-created. What we've done is reconstruct the
past - or at least a version of the past. And I'm saying we can make a better
version."(Crichton, 1990, p.123)1.
- we read in Michel Crichton‘s best-seller Jurassic Park.
The cultural challenge of the oxymoronic “artificial-nature” was accepted already in the
early Seventy’s by Martin Krieger’s provoking article What 's Wrong with Plastic
"It is likely - writes Krieger - that we shall want to apply our technology to the
creation of artificial environments. …. Finally, we may want to create proxy
environments by means of substitution and simulation. .... What's wrong with
plastic trees? My guess is that there is very little wrong with them. Much more
can be done with plastic trees and the like to give most people the feeling that
they are experiencing nature (Krieger, 1973, p.433)
To end up:
"We are perhaps justifiably, afraid of what the prime objects of the future will
be. We prefer natural environments to synthesized ones because we are
familiar with techniques of managing the natural ones and know what the
effects of such management are. Plastic trees are frightening" (Krieger, 1973,
There is no necessary contradiction between acknowledging the fact that 'nature' has
been universally affected (and to a very large extent created) by humans or that our
notion of nature is historically specific and culturally mediated. On the contrary, it is
probably precisely because of this mediation (which can vary greatly from place to
place and culture to culture) that we can, so genuinely, individually and collectively,
love, value and feel spiritually moved by 'nature'. More, that appreciation and what is
appreciated may itself take different forms - arguably it is the more rounded individual
who can enjoy and be moved by both the urban park and the remote 'wilderness' than
the individual for whom only the one or the other has any meaning.
Adams points out the unique quality of “otherness” of nature, impossible to reproduce,
either with the more advanced techniques. He writes:
"Nature is of enormous value, because of its role as a cultural archive, a record
of human endeavour and husbandry, and because nature has a wild non human
otherness that stands apart from human values" (Adams, 1997, p. 106).
And concludes:
" We have to rebuild contact with nature, and re-establish a place for nature in
popular culture. We can do it gradually, by accretion and by attraction. It is
no good arguing that the flea-ridden wild hedgehog in the garden is better
than its virtual- reality cousin in the megadrive, but we can argue that it is
different, and important: alive, and quite different from ourselves" (Adams,
1997, p. 113).
Our feelings towards the “otherness” of nature, are related with the longing for a “reenchantment”
with the world, in Harvey’s words; the sensation of nostalgia and emotion
in front of untouched wilderness, like sunsets, waterfalls, or the ocean, opens wide
unanswerable questions. It could just be the nostalgic memory of an ancient past, when
humans lived closer to nature, in community with non-humans beings.
Or we can remember, on the other hand, the image of the Earth sustained by two hands
and the famous declaration of Elisée Reclus - "L’homme est la nature prenant
conscience d’elle -meme” (Reclus, 1982, p.106).
The exact words of Reclus - -"humanity is nature becoming conscious of itself" - are
reported in the conclusion of The idea of Wilderness of Oelschlaeger, one of the
paladins of deep ecology.
Whether we accept those deep implications or not, in the margin of scientific discourse,
anyhow, remains a sensation of lost and a feeling of belonging, connected with the
esthetics of nature. I will finish with a last quote which displays this uneasiness with
abstract nature interpretations, also in the words of a so-called “pure scientist”, not
chargeable with romanticism, namely Arthur G.Tansley, the ecologist who coined the
term „ecosystem“2:
"When I'm commenting the merits of a proposed nature reserve, after
describing the scientific merits of its flora and fauna, I often find it hard to
resist bringing in the scenic beauty of the landscape or the attractiveness of
the vegetation, though my allusion to those takes on an almost pathetic tone. It
is as if I were trying to say 'and of course, the place is really beautiful as well,
though perhaps I ought not to mention the fact"
(Tansley, in Adams, 1997, p.93).
2A.G.Tansley, "The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms", Ecology, 16, n.3,
1935, pp.284-307.

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e' un progetto a cura di Serena Porrati e Francesca Tollardo
per ulterioni informazioni manda una mail a serena.porrati@gmail.com