Perceiving Landscape

If we are to make any attempt at representing the subtle interplay between our actions on the land and the form of that land, it seems worthwhile to examine some of the ways our senses perceive the relationship between an artefact and its surroundings.

Unconscious motion

Standing before a carved prehistoric stone, a piece of sculpture or land art, a garden temple or carefully positioned monument, our natural motion - even the slightest tilt of the head - combined with our normal stereoscopic vision, provide a movement of the object against its surroundings that gives it a presence, a three-dimensional reality within a space that we are not consciously aware of, that we often take for granted, but which in some way defines that space.

Conscious motion

Moving further round an artefact increases this sense of presence and space, allowing us to gain a feeling for its form, volume, balance, symmetry and weight; the things that make the space 'active'.


Moving closer to and further from the object emphasises the contrast between its qualities of colour, texture, erosion, weathering, methods of construction or repair, and their relationship to close surrounding features - stone, earth, flowing or rippling water, grass, trees.

Moving through

Moving on through an 'artefact-rich' landscape we can see how these objects relate to their site and topography - outcropping rock, deciduous or coniferous trees, valleys, hills, distant mountains - and especially to each other. Some works, for instance, rely on intervisibility or contain avenues, alignments, or other geometric arrangements that can only be perceived by moving through them.

Spending time

Spending time at a site or returning to it repeatedly we get a feeling for the qualities of duration and impermanence of an artefact, its decay or growth, the look of it and its surroundings during changes of weather, season and time of day, helping us to develop a 3D mental map of the area.

The common feature of all of these perceptions is that they are time-dependent, relying as they do on movement and change, either of the viewer or of the artefact. In other words, to be moved by these works we must ourselves be in motion!


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Last updated: Mon Sep 25 2000