Naturally Hypernatural I: Concepts of Nature

by Suzanne Anker (Volume editor) Sabine Flach (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 214 Pages
Series: Art – Knowledge – Theory, Volume 4


Nature, a topic central to art history, is concurrently a dominant concept in contemporary art, art theory and its related disciplines such as cultural theory, philosophy, aesthetic theory and environmental studies. The project Naturally Hypernatural questions lines of tradition and predetermined categories that coexist with the topic of nature. Currently, nature in art surpasses the simple depiction of art as a material or object. To clarify and analyze the interrelations between nature and art is the aim of the project Naturally Hypernatural. Concepts of Nature – the first volume of this project – argues that contemporary art is predominantly concerned with concepts of nature regarding the depth of their implications in order to reveal and analyze their internal structure.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1. Nature’s Aesthetics
  • On Nature and Human Coldness
  • How much Life is in a Still-Life? Art’s Hypernatural Nature
  • Natural – Supernatural – Hypernatural Modernity’s Struggle against Naturalism
  • 2. Nature’s Variations
  • Hybridformen zeitgenössischer Kunst mit Natur – in Werken von Per Kirkeby, Andreas Eriksson, Carsten Höller und Pierre Huyghe
  • Petri(e)’s Panoply
  • Inside the Green Room The Ideology of Nature in Contemporary Architecture
  • 3. Nature’s Otherness
  • In the Play of Shadow
  • The Invisible Worm
  • Significant Other
  • 4. After Nature
  • Flesh For Fantasy
  • Notizen über ein Feld
  • Creative Nature in Renaissance Landscape
  • Painting a Portrait: From the Natural to the Hypernatural
  • Contributors
  • Series Index


The publication Naturally Hypernatural I. Concepts of Nature is the first volume of our book series Naturally Hypernatural.

We are delighted that our project, the Naturally Hypernatural conference was realized in June 2014 at the University of Graz, Austria and at the Universalmuseum Joanneum.

An endeavor like Naturally Hypernatural I is not possible without the confidence of institutional support. Our special acknowledgements go to the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Vice-Rector for Research and Junior Researchers’ Promotion and the Office of International Relations of the University of Graz.

We are indebted to all of our colleagues in the Art History Department who generously supported the preparation and realization of the conference with enthusiasm, ardor and reliability, namely: Helene Beke, Christian Sauer, Eveline Scharf and Heike Schweiger.

A very warm and affectionate appreciation goes out to all of our wonderful student workers and the earnestness and engagement with which they participated: Bianca Bachmann, Katrin Münzer, Doris Stadler and Karoline Walter.

We are enormously thankful for the vast help given by Carina Hutter, Nadine Marker and Ursula Winkler and their priceless skills in editing and proofreading the texts and references with carefulness, accuracy, and sensitivity to language as well as to the themes in every chapter.

We are extremely grateful to Lisa Jeschke, for her support and accuracy for the translation.

Our very special thanks go to the Government of Styria, which generously supported the conference as well as the print of the book. For the preopening we highly would like to thank Mag. Patrick Schnabl and his reception at the Orangerie in the Gardens of Graz Burg and local councillor Elisabeth Potzinger for the lunch reception.

Special thanks also go to Angelica Scholze from the Peter Lang publishing group in Switzerland. It is gratifying to work with someone so professional and insightful.

A special courtesy indeed goes to all the contributors to the conference and this publication. Without their engagement and participation, such critical and vivid discussions and enthusiastic debates would not have been possible.

We are indebted to those artists, scholars and institutions who have graciously granted permission to use the images that accompany the essays. ← 7 | 8 → ← 8 | 9 →


Tendencies in contemporary art have for some time now testified to a ‘rediscovery’ of nature and its meaning for art. Such a linking of art and nature draws on a variety of precedents.

In the traditional understanding of the relation between art and nature, nature functions as a model [Vorbild literally translates as pre-image, translator’s note] for art, and this is the case for painting in particular.1 In the German language, the word plays with an unreachable ideal; it is precisely the elusiveness of the ideal that is the qualitative characteristic of the subject or object measured against it. Furthermore, it indicates a temporality in which one state of things precedes another one.

This model character, however, does not fully explain the relation given, for as our knowledge from art history indicates, painted nature has in turn affected the perception of reality. Hence perception, nature as object world, imagined and experienced nature and the experience of nature overlap, thus defining the contours of nature in the first place.

The twentieth century was marked by artistic practices, techniques, strategies and materials making use of nature: as material, as in land art, or as an ecological aesthetic movement, such as in eco art. This engagement was accompanied by a multiplicity of art-theoretical and philosophical reflections. The most recent documenta in 2012 featured workshops and other discursive platforms alongside the exhibition for the discussion of anthropocentrism in our view on nature and possible alternatives to that anthropocentrism. An example might be theories of the “post-human” age as developed by Bruno Latour, among others.

Art and nature: the two fields have stood in a peculiar kind of relation, unified and divided all in one breath.

But how might their relation be conceptualized as not equivalent to a reality – to their reality?

In contemporary art, we can distinctly observe a questioning of clear-cut divisions between art and nature. Currently nature is neither a model nor mere material or object for art. In contemporary works of art, it does not function as representational symbol.

The modalities of the current relation between nature and art require a fundamental re-conceptualization away from traditional lines. ← 9 | 10 →

It is precisely these tendencies that are negotiated by the authors assembled here. The volume goes back to an international conference of the same title and engages with those kinds of nature phenomena in which nature itself is art, with a focus primarily (but not exclusively) on contemporary art. The aim is to find and demarcate new theoretical and methodological perspectives for the relation between nature and art. This is the case especially if it is possible to assume as a given a liberation of art and nature from the order of precedence. Rather, they show themselves according to their own order, “one of a contingent or constructed assemblage, an invite to meaningful discoveries which cannot be assigned to a fixed position in the world image”.2

In this publication, nature is not considered as theme or artistic material. At stake in the artworks to be examined are not concepts and phenomena of nature that are transferred into art, but those that constitute the work of art as such – to summarize the thesis advanced by the publication. The thrust of “Naturally Hypernatural – Concepts of Nature” is four-fold. First, it seeks to look into what kind of concepts of nature found the phenomena discussed. What are their historical roots and how have behavioral modalities in relation to nature and perceptual models patterns concerning nature developed over differing periods? What role does art play in these concepts of nature? How can the relation between the artificial and the natural be captured in terms of an aesthetics of nature? These reflections lead to another emphasis placed by the publication, namely the emphasis on a sensory access to nature under the sign of a “phenomenology of nature”.

Nature and art cannot be understood as distinct, as divorced from one another. Rather, they condition and shape one another. It is only then that we can find the perceptual space for the atmosphere of nature, hence for instance the feeling of experiencing nature as magical. The emotional behavior in and experience of nature is relevant in this respect. Nature in this sense is not selfcontained; rather, we are speaking of an experiential space, that is, of how we might be able to perceive a certain part of nature at a certain point in time under specific conditions, as and when we are present.

In this respect, the anthropocentric approach as represented by Hartmut Böhme, among others, needs to be expanded in terms of a “biological phenom ← 10 | 11 → enology”3. Correspondingly, there is no further differentiation between a (nature) phenomenon observed on the one hand, and its observer on the other. Instead, both are understood as part of one and the same process. It is as impossible to divide the process of perception from the ‘how’ of perception as from the structure of that which is perceived, of which the recipient forms part.

Concerning the phenomenon of nature in art, the reference points of ‘reality’, ‘space’ and ‘imagery’ are to be newly formed into a nexus of nature and art, with the aim of sharpening the contours of that nexus. For if nature can be understood as something which does not automatically give itself to culture, then this unavailability of nature is not to be determined from an anthropocentric viewpoint. Instead, the viewpoint presented by the publication is that of art, or the interrelation of nature and art. This theoretically implies constituting a phenomenology of nature which makes it possible to experience not its availability, but its unavailability, for nature is “a part of the real which does not fully give itself to our mise-en-scène.”4


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (April)
ästhetische Theorie Gegenwartskunst Kunsttheorie Kunstgeschichte
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 214 pp., 57 coloured ill., 25 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Suzanne Anker (Volume editor) Sabine Flach (Volume editor)

Suzanne Anker is a visual artist and theorist working at the nexus of art and the biological sciences. Her work has been shown both nationally and internationally in museums and galleries including the Walker Art Center, the Smithsonian Institute, the Phillips Collection, P.S.1 Museum, the JP Getty Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art in Japan. Her seminal text The Molecular Gaze: Art in the Genetic Age (co-authored with the late Dorothy Nelkin) was published in 2004. She is the Chair of the Fine Arts Department of School of Visual Arts in New York since 2005. Sabine Flach is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Graz where she is also Chair of the Art History Institute. She studied art history, theory of literature, philosophy and humanities in Marburg, Perugia, Kassel and Berlin.


Title: Naturally Hypernatural I: Concepts of Nature
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216 pages