In Monday’s class, Prof. Harmansah talked about the visceral reactions to “seeing the geology performing its miracles” in the photograph of the source of the Loue, as it poured out of the cave, loud and spraying, so that the very air was full of water, thereby contributing to the sensory experience of the watercourse. Movement – in this case, of the water itself – plays a big part in the apprehension of fluid landscapes. This got me thinking: what about the stillness of water, which has an equally significant influence on the experience of a landscape, and its impact?
I googled “still waters” and discovered a really interesting study attempting to discern the gut reaction to four models with various situations of water and reflection, specifically in ponds, not just in reflectiveness but in their very materiality (as part of the theory of landscape architecture): transparent water (sand-bottom pool with water); transparent non-water (clear glass on top of sand bottom pool, no water); reflective non-water (mirror on top of pool); and reflective water (black-bottom pool filled with water). [You can see images and read the article: J.L Nasar and M. Li; 2004. “Landscape mirror: the attractiveness of reflecting water,” Landscape and Urban Planning 66: 233-238.] Subjects rated the different models according to “bi-polar adjectives”: beautiful-ugly, attractive-unattractive, harmonious-discordant, and pleasing-annoying; calming-upsetting, relaxed-tense, and gentle-stiff; and imaginative-unimaginative (236). “Respondents judged the reflective water as the most attractive, the transparent glass as least attractive, and the two water conditions as more attractive than the two artificial conditions” (236). These findings can really be unpacked to think about humans appreciate their ‘natural’ landscapes and the role of water in it. The subjects’ preference for reflective water, the authors suggest, “may relate to the variety it offers through the number of objects visible in the reflective surface, to the promise of new information it provides as the observer moves, and to the vegetation reflected, factors which research has found related to preference” (237, my emphasis). Clearly, movement plays an important role in the experience of watery landscapes, whether they are rushing and roaring or quiet and still. [NB: I did the Strang 2004 reading after publishing this post, and just wanted to add her note that “Water is never still: even captured and contained, it shimmers and transforms itself from one form to another” (125).]
Movement comes up again in the article, in discussion of the unanimous preference for reflective water at the expense of transparent water. This surprised me, as one of my favorite watery landscapes is off the south coast of Turkey, around the sunken city of Kekova; but their findings are based on pond landscapes in Ohio, so perhaps that shouldn’t be so surprising! The authors do note that “in transparent water, a more varied view possibly with movement – consider a colorful coral reef or colorful fish – would likely receive higher ratings” (237).
This all goes back to Prof. Harmansah’s lecture on Friday and weekend post: our bodies, their movement and our resulting total-body perception of the world around us, very much influence our experience of watery landscapes.