Of the Land and Us: cartography of oblivion

"There is a difference between land, which is earth, and landscape, which signifies a kind of jurisdiction. It always meant the framing of an image […] The word originally came from the Dutch and had to do with making pictures […] From the earliest time, it has been loaded with wishful thinking”

Humans, us, we have been altering our land ever since: in tangible, evident ways, building our cities, and in all sorts of invisible ways, which are directly related to it.

All the marks we produce on the territory in order to support our lifestyle made of an immense number of goods are so much outside of our daily experience, that we have no real understanding of them. We live in a time where we often talk about climate change, but for the average human being most of the time it feels like an abstract concept, something too big and out of our own control. Although there is a greater awareness to the problem, there is also a sort of obliviousness.   
The aim of this project was somehow to bridge that gap, connect our most basic habits, our most used tools, to the signs they (hence us) directly produce on the territory: not only as an environmental impact, but also as a physical one, which too often gets neglected. The deep, engraved man made signs we leave on earth are the physical traces, the visible wounds of our activity as humans and its consequences. 

Combining images of everyday goods and photos of the land altered by their production or their use, the project celebrates a clash between beauty and urgency: it tries to generate attraction through a soft visual aesthetic and a dialogue by making explicit basic connections, urging us to reconsider our own habits, our real needs, in the end, our relationship with the earth. Photography is not used as a mere witness, but as an artistic tool, playing with the framing of the images and transforming them into abstract, surreal or scale-less visions. 

As the title suggests, the project wants to be a cartography of our own oblivion, a visual map of a number of identifiable and recognizable behaviours associated with their consequences, both physical and large scale environmental.

After all, nature and human are two inseparable realms.

Meat consumption vs Land Degradation

Globally, we consume around 350 million tons of meat a year.

The production of meat has more than doubled in the last 30 years and production is expected to keep growing, to a projected 460 to 570 million tons by 2050. 570 million tons would mean a consumption of meat twice as high as in 2008. Meat production puts immense pressure on Earth’s ecosystems. First, it is a very “inefficient” food source. It requires more energy, water and land to produce than any other food source. It has a much higher energy footprint than any other food. It takes 75 times more energy to produce meat than corn. And it takes an area of vegetation 7 times the size of the EU to produce food for the cattle and other livestock animals in Europe. 66% Of agricultural land is used to grow animal feed: only 8% of agricultural land goes to food that we directly consume. 30% of ice-free land on earth is used for livestock raised for meat, which means a heavy deforestation, hence a large contribution to global warming.

Meat production is also a large source of greenhouse gas emissions, especially emissions of methane from cattle and manure (a gas with 28 times more global warming potential than CO2) and thereby plays a major role in climate change, land degradation and ultimately desertification. It is clear the paramount importance of land for the climate and for biodiversity: for this, one of the necessary measures in the next few years is the reduction of meat consumption.

Cars vs Ice cap melting 

Global warming 101 - Certain gases in the atmosphere block heat from escaping, which is a good thing, otherwise the planet would freeze. The balance of the concentration of these gases is essential, but burning fossil fuels which is at the base of industrial human activities (and let’s not forget, electricity) causes an overload of Carbon dioxide. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by 47% since the Industrial Revolution began, which means the planet is getting warmer. The rising of temperatures causes the melting of polar ice caps. Since the Arctic and Antarctic are covered in white snow and ice that reflect heat back into space, they balance out other parts of the world that absorb heat. Less ice means less reflected heat, meaning more intense heatwaves worldwide. Moreover, deposits of soot – unburned carbon particles –stain parts of the Arctic black, changing the ice from a reflector of sunlight to an absorber of heat, and accelerating even further the melting of ice. When temperatures rise and ice melts, more water flows to the seas and ocean water warms and expands in volume. This combination of effects has played the major role in raising average global sea level, which produces a cascade of long-term effects, like sinking land, eroding coasts, and temperamental storms.

CO2 is in fact the largest driver of global warming, and the transportation sector (including ships and planes) generates the largest share of Carbon dioxide.

How many car do you or your family owe? How often do you use your car?

Food vs greenhouses. Nowadays we are used to eating any kind of fruit or vegetable at any time of the year: seasonality is a concept that little belongs to the current generation, not to mention local products. Eating an avocado in Sweden or tomatoes in December is against nature's bio rhythm. Although the possibility of cultivating anything, anywhere, anytime gives access to food to a large part of the population, and it is regarded as human progress, it is currently abused and exploited, especially in first world countries.

The clearing of land for intensive agriculture is one of the causes of the increased concentrations of greenhouse gases, responsible for global warming. But moreover, the huge physical impact that intensive agriculture produces of the territory is unneglectable. Areas like El Ejido, (31.000 hectares of greenhouses, in the south of Spain) or Battipaglia (Italy), where these photos are taken, are a sort of no-men’s land, a vast expanse of white plastic, closer to industrial slums than agricultural fields.

Electronics vs copper extraction

The world population today stands at 7.8 billion, of which at least 1.1 does not have access to electricity.

The number of mobile devices worldwide in 2020 stood at 14.02 billion.

Copper is necessary for electrical and electronics, two things the world cannot do without.

But do we need THAT MANY?

Copper mining has a number of environmental consequences, reason why the mines are usually located in areas scarcely populated, with little rainfall and poor biodiversity.

Land degradation, increased deforestation, water and air pollution from particles of sulphuric acid, which severely affect those residing near mines, are only few of the effects.

Not to mention the enormous physical hole left on the territory.

Like a drug: it’s bad but we are dependent.

Building industry vs quarries

The construction sector is one of the largest in the world economy, and keeps increasing as housing stock needs to expand in order to accommodate a growing population. Consequently, the extraction of stone keeps rising at a considerable rate, and so are all those deconstructed territories that we are creating as we dig for material for our own cities. Many consider quarries scars left on the face of the Earth: a kind of blasphemous misuse of the land, torn, mined, blasted and brutalised by mechanized monsters.  When we think of landscapes we generally refer to a scenery of unaltered land, steeped in romanticism as they are suggestive of something pristine, untouched. Because of the dynamic relationship between humankind and nature, industrial development and urbanization, have affected our notions of landscape. Altered, man-made, new topographics are eschewing entirely the aspects of canonical beauty, and yet we are attracted to them, we actually find them beautiful. Those landscapes become much more similar to architecture, but in reverse, as a negative space. Quarries seem to be defined by the absence of their blocks, more than by what is there.

Is landscape becoming an economic product while is still seen as an aesthetic object?

 © 2023 Claudia Orsetti 

Freelance Photographer

Claudia

Orsetti