Reading Nature’s Expressions: Critical Theory, the Art of Shanshui, and Nature’s Longing in the Commons

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation at conference/workshop/seminar


Human and nonhuman lives are in myriad ways interwoven and interdependent – they are, already, an inter-ecological commons. Yet to negotiate such an inter-ecological commons sustainably, it will be imperative to develop the ability to understand the concerns of its nonhuman members and networks, in other words, to understand what nature longs for. In our presentation, we will discuss through a theoretical reading of Theodor W. Adorno’s and Walter Benjamin’s aesthetic critical theories alongside the tradition of Chinese literati landscape painting of Shanshui and our own artistic production, in how far art offers the potential to access and translate the language and expression of nonhuman entities to render nature eloquent in the commons. In his late work Aesthetic Theory, Adorno accounts for a self-expression of nature on which the expressivity of human art depends. Benjamin, in turn, developed a sophisticated philosophy of language that is predicated on human language as a specific case of language as a multispecies phenomenon. Both considered this language as one of images, connecting their thoughts to the literati landscape painting practice of Shanshui. In Chinese culture, nature is indeed always already expressive, for example in the tradition of recognizing animal forms in stones and rocks. Shanshui counters here the linear narrative of modernization and its objectification of nature by representing an entangled process, wherein speculation of multispecies configurations, representational techniques and generative recognition of otherness are constantly correlated and co-fabricated, for example in the work of Shanshui literati painter Shi Tao (1642-1708). Based on these, we will present our collaborative attempts of rendering natural expressivity eloquent to humans and narrate multispecies stories through an experimental moving VR image work based on the collection of images of nature from around the Chinese province of Jiangsu.
Period3 Aug 20235 Aug 2023
Held atUniversity of Wüerzburg , Germany
Degree of RecognitionInternational