In this section Dr. Rebecca Uchill shares what she hoped the curriculum in 4.S67 Landscape Experience: Seminar in Land/Art would accomplish—for both students and a wider audience.
Immersive Fieldwork as an Invitation
A key ambition was to use immersive fieldwork in the American Southwest as an invitation to students to reflect on the kinds of sensorial or embodied experiences that allow us to know something as a landscape. I shared with our funders the hope that the summer field trip would deepen engagement with course material throughout the fall semester, and catalyze cross-disciplinary conversation. We saw this happen in collaborative projects, such as a student film project and a graduate student-organized symposium, both of which continued beyond the semester term. An outside evaluator observed that individual experiences of the field trip helped to inform collective relationships and work in meaningful ways: “Rather than having each student present their individual ideas as a lineup of ‘what I did over my summer vacation’ presentations, the instructors had students develop a film that brought together their individual voices and experiences into a coherent whole.”
Opening the Fieldwork Experience to Others via Public Programming
Another objective was to open the intimate, limited-enrollment field trip experience out to a broader constituency through public programming. One approach to achieving this goal was through organizing a public program at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. The event, with the title “Nature is Never Finished” (an allusion to a quote from Robert Smithson), thematized land art preservation and ecological conservation theory. Students who participated in the field trip contributed a video, “The Travelogue of the Undocumentable,” reflecting on memories of the trip while also demonstrating the challenges of conveying what it meant to be at these sites through the medium of film—not only because of prohibitions against photography, but also because documentation can't convey the full contours of experiences—the wind, the smells, the scale, the memories, and so on.
Conveying that Landscape is Everywhere
I wanted the curriculum to convey that landscape is everywhere, and that it is a construct of our (and others’) subjectivities. Our class visited the American Southwest, but, because landscape is enduringly present, the course is readily adaptable anywhere. In fact, a portion of the syllabus was drawn from a workshop that I organized with Gavin Kroeber at the Mildred’s Lane artists’ space in 2015. The field trip for that program visited Hudson River (painting) School touchstones, abandoned resort hotels, artist compounds, and other would-be utopias of the Catskills. This was a different but equally potent history of Landscape Experience, told through landscape painting, American transcendentalism, and pastoral retreat—using our own cars and sleeping bags as our transport and accommodations.