R.V. Ramani, My Camera and Tsunami (2011). Courtesy of the artist.
I came across other artists who quite deliberately adopted decorative, even sublime imagery to critique not only the impact of climate change but also the eradication of indigenous cultures by colonisers from the West. Lisa Reihana created In Pursuit of Venus (2015), a 26-metre video installation in which a scrolling frieze featured the invasion of Australasia and Polynesia in the 18th century and featured actors in vibrant native costumes, palm trees and fathomless blue lagoons. A kitsch aesthetic collided with a shameful history of murder and exploitation. It left me wondering whether the sumptuous visuals in the work eroded the radical politics of its conception.
Back in the 1980s, I used to think that early landscape works by artists such as Bill Viola and Mary Lucier harnessed the attractions of nature to appeal to our protective instincts, to our sentimental attachment to the land. They showed us what we stood to lose if we did nothing to halt the decimation of the natural world. In recent years the more enchanted I became by landscape works the less I felt the power of their politics because the natural beauty of their images had been co-opted by the agents of consumerism and normalised in the wider media landscape. Every day I was exposed to marketing images of exotic holiday destinations, of eye-wateringly expensive hotels set in tropical locations. Friends on social media were constantly posting selfies against breathtaking scenery overseas or some notable feature in the British landscape. I did it too.
In spite of what I knew to be the reality of the climate crisis, I could feel the gravitational pull of an irrational counter-conviction: that these landscapes were eternal, that no harm could come to such sublime places. Even the most urgent natural history programmes fronted by David Attenborough and escorted by atmospheric musical soundtracks began to dissolve into the wall-to-wall images of countryside carpeting the media. Was I becoming desensitised to the urgency of global warming through landscape habituation; was I gradually more accepting, fatalistic, unquestioning?