Presenter: Judith Stewart
Title: Anxious Subjects and Melancholy Romantics in a Flat Landscape (a film essay)
Abstract: Here there are no wildernesses of the Romantic model. The 21st century East Anglian landscape with its undramatic topography is not only the very antithesis of those sublime landscapes long favoured by artists: being flat and intensively cultivated, many would say it is not even picturesque. Highly regimented and controlled, dominated by industrial agriculture and the motor car, this is a strange place to attempt an encounter with the sublime.
In this film/performance, I use the East Anglian landscape as a starting point from which to propose the impossibility of the sublime as it is commonly thought of: a throwaway term suggesting a hybrid mish-mash of beauty and spirituality. Referring to Foucault, Solnit and Sebald as well as Burke, I consider the sublime in relation to anxiety and desire, wondering whether the physicality of the landscape is indeed irrelevant to what we consider to be the sublime. Do we rather seek out topographies which most closely mirror our own psychological states, making the landscape little more than a blank canvas?
With its emptiness and relentless wetness around the edges that makes the whole place seem poised on the edge of destruction (which in itself induces anxiety), I argue that it is here, in this ambiguous space where nothing is defined, that Anxious Subjects and Melancholy Romantics can project their own unfulfilled desires, discontents and anxieties allowing us the illusion of an encounter with the sublime.