Fernando García Dory for the catalogue of the exhibition "There is no road" curated by Steven Bode and shown at Laboral in 2008.

Of the millions of people who visit Asturias every year, the vast majority view its landscape as its main attraction.
Its outer appearance is given such an interesting expression by its geographical and geological peculiarities, coupled with its climate. The mountain range, its heady peaks, craggy outcrops of limestone rock sculpted by glaciers, and cut through by rivers and torrents, giving shape to gorges and narrow passes. The sharp relief of its mountains, the exuberance of its vegetation, and the cliffs on the coast enthral the visitor in the face of the “delicious horror” of the sublime landscape.
On the other hand, the patchwork of meadows, woods, bushes, shrubs and paths dotted with hamlets and villages, huts and winter stables with their ash trees, in an undeniably evocative view, also stakes a claim to this landscape as picturesque.
Bringing together the categories of Burke, another key to the success of the landscape in this region can also be found in the theories of Wilhelm Hellpach, in the influence of what he called the geopsyche in the psychology of peoples. The articulation of changes, the movements of habitual forms, combined in different ways, and the colouring (green is soothing to the eye because of its wavelength, and its radiation on the skin, producing a pleasurable feeling) transmits fertility and abundance to our subconscious. By instilling the landscape with a psychic dimension, over and above mere geographical features, Hellpach formalised the feeling of romantic travellers and their sentient experience of the voyage and the landscape, in search of freedom, the untamed and the natural powers that underscored human smallness.
“The romantic traveller became one with the vital surroundings he journeyed through. Therein lies the importance he gave not only to visual perception, but also to interior perception, considered as the victory of expression and feeling over rules and laws. It is unquestionably the romantic traveller who has come closest to the contemporary tourist.”
This closeness is at least obvious in their shared yearning. Nowadays the range of media available to the tourist to satisfy his desires is completely different, yet ultimately, in return for his endeavours, the traveller might well find nothing more than trodden paths.
The high esteem in which landscape like this is held is widely accepted by the Bollywood film industry, which populates its productions with references to the green mountains of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. The fact that, given their remoteness, inaccessibility and insecurity (question of geopolitics), they are often replaced by the green meadows in the Swiss Alps, has had the side effect of making Switzerland one of the favourite destinations for Indian tourists on their trips to Europe.

In the case of Asturias, the Picos de Europa mountain range is a paradigm of the shift in the perception and construction of the landscape, insofar as an aesthetic philosophical interpretation of the territory that underscores new problems and social values. Starting out from the qualities proper to the medium, we owe the rest of the merit to the elite that manages it.

The geographical and geological exploration of these mountains in the second half of the 19th century, by Casiano de Prado and then by the Count de Saint-Saud, and the young German geologist and mountaineer Gustav Schulze, moved to another dimension with Pedro Pidal, Marquis of Villaviciosa and intimate friend of King Alfonso XIII. Both of these were instrumental in the construction of the basilica of Covadonga, a sanctuary reminiscent of Lourdes that was to attract pilgrims from all over, and coinciding with the creation of the National Park of Covadonga mountain in 1918, the first of its kind in the country. The idea was to protect a “natural wonder” for the edifying enjoyment of the ever growing urban population. The railway to Covadonga and the construction of a road leading to the lakes, at the very heart of the Park, which the Marquis wanted to extend right to the very peak, made these spots accessible. Nowadays they are well known through countless television screenings of the Vuelta a España, the famous annual cycling race, another milestone that punctuated the construction of our “natural paradise”.
The Picos de Europa exemplify the reassessment of the mountain as a symbolic reference for romanticism, and the “aesthetic geography” inherited from Humboldt, at once framed within an intellectual project to recover the "national identity", the "original essence" of nationalist pride. This process of recovery also knew how to make the most of the romantic interest in the ruins of lost civilizations, and would even justify the colonization of lands considered backward, uncivilised or barbaric. Covadonga, the birthplace of the monarchy and the Catholic reconquest, was also imbued with the political significance of the natural beauty of its surroundings, forging over many years a touchstone identity for the region and the rest of the Spanish nation.

At the current moment, given over as it is to territorial marketing, the recent campaign identifying Asturias with Yogi Bear, at a cost of almost six million euro, fulfilled its function to perfection.
We also enter into the confusing totum revolutum, where cultural alienation is acculturation based on alien references that exploit the spectacular dimension of the landscape. In this romanticism of opulent masses, the landscape became a spectacle and even lost its aesthetic category, becoming instead a business of the simulacrum. Reflecting the very shortcomings of industrial development, Disney creatives not only build replicas of castles, jungles and glaciers, but also social surroundings, like the urban utopia of Celebration, reaching a point of no-return insofar as the loss of all real historical references to the use of the land and collective populations.
In the midst of the brutal reconversion of the rural environment, with rural tourism being advocated as an alternative lifestyle, strewn with leisure areas, adventure sports, festivals and concerts, entertainment activities for sporadic visits, there is a dangerous tendency to accept still existing realities as dead and buried, until turning the rural landscape into a mere postcard or theme park.
Preparing the exhibition “Pastores, Nómadas, Trashumantes” [Shepherds, Nomads, Transhumants], I came across something Antón Reixa, the artist from Galicia, said about the closure of livestock farms because of the crisis of the mad cow disease that sums up the whole situation to perfection: "I don’t know whether the cow is going to disappear altogether from our geographical and human landscape", he said. "We arrived late to everything, to industrialisation, to changes in agriculture, and they have robbed us of a part of our identity. I believe that identity should be connected with the production of something, and I don’t see how rural tourism is going to save the countryside. One part of the world wants to set us aside for the service industry, and that is a trap. Something must be produced, but we don’t know what it is they have prepared for us".

The belief that the National Park meant a revaluation of its pristine nature and totem animal is an understandable reaction to the general deterioration of the surroundings, and a tribute to the economic growth of developed industrial societies. Nonetheless, by fencing off a certain portion of the land in an attempt to save it, the complexity of the uses and management of this ecosystem is very often overlooked. The raison d’être of Yellowstone Park, the first national park in the USA and indeed in the world (and home to Yogi Bear), created in 1872 to preserve a landscape “free from commercial exploitation, dedicated to the satisfaction of the public”, would not find space almost anywhere in Europe. In Europe and a large part of the world (where half the population lives in and from the countryside) we find anthropised landscapes, agro-ecosystems resulting from the co-evolution of the natural environment and the communities that a maintain sustainable management of their resources.
The final battle will be fought in the field of culture and, in my opinion, in art, as a powerful and useful generator of symbolic contents and references. Yet, the transcendental question is, Is this totemic animal a bear or a cow?

Recognising this rural knowledge is one of the premises of Agroecology, a multidisciplinary focus that combines the design of sustainable agricultural systems with a strengthening of rural communities towards an endogenous development of the rural environment.
These same communities are often affected by the restrictions meant to protect the environment which were drawn up in a land zoning plan around an office desk. The landscape is always in the making and generations of rural dwellers have coexisted with the natural wealth that sustains them.

This is the central thesis of Jaime Izquierdo and Gonzalo Barrena, who make a distinction between three periods of environmental management in the century of the Picos de Europa national park: aristocratic, technocratic and biocratic. All preceded, of course, by a period of 6000 years of communal shepherding and self-management. The whole landscape as modelled by the shepherd “has been repeatedly ignored by official versions of history, and by the shepherds themselves, and still remains invisible to the gaze of public institutions. The last one hundred years of lack of cultural understanding, far from alleviating the secular mistakes, has produced a shocking result.”

This lack of understanding can be traced back at least to 16th century. The anti-peasant prejudices were influenced by the image of rural life created by the dominant streams of thought, ranging from the Enlightenment all the way to the current technocratic environmentalism. Voltaire described the peasant as a class of “rustics living in huts with their women and animals (...), speaking a jargon no one can understand in the cities, given that they have few ideas and, as a consequence, few expressions.” And he declared that “savages like this exist all over Europe.”
A couple of centuries later, the ideologists of the Green Revolution reproduced almost word for word the same type of prejudices. Everett M. Rogers, one of the most relevant social scientists in the neoliberal schools of agricultural modernisation, in his book Social Change in Rural Society, defined them “as suspicious of personal relationships; perceiving good as limited; hostile to government authority; confined to the family; lacking in innovative spirit; fatalistic; limited in their aspirations; very unimaginative, or lacking in empathy; non-savers because of the absence of unsatisfied desires; with a local outlook and a limited vision of the world.”

The land in Asturias, probably since the Roman conquest brought about an end to the cult of natural gods that included forests and mountains, has been perceived as disadvantaged, difficult and inhospitable, at least from the perspective of production. For centuries the Asturian farmer was subservient to the privileged classes. Barely managing any more than subsistence living, still today almost half of the owners of rural land possess no more than around one hectare for crops or pasture. Production was made possible thanks to an accumulation of efforts, with a sophisticated and intensive system of zoning and exploitation based on the association and rotation of crops combining livestock uses to maintain the fertility of the soil. The peasant farmer also developed a wide variety of institutions to order the land, regulating exploitation and communal uses, and reinforcing solidarity and collective work around the nucleus of the village or hamlet. These moments combined the shared development of agricultural tasks with celebrations and festivals, with all their cultural expression (gastronomy, music, dancing..) and the weave of social relationships based on shared values like generosity or mutual support.
Even today, Asturias is mostly considered by EU Agricultural Policy as a “disadvantaged area”.

Nevertheless, at the current moment in time, overlayering this idea, the so-called rural space is no longer that poisonous, cultural barren land impregnated by authoritarianism, traditionalism, conservatism and ignorance, and, in a translocation of values, it has become newly appreciated because “all that smacks of rural or natural clichés partakes in the seductive power of the exotic.”
Perhaps it is the inertia of the perception of the well-off social classes that, especially since the Renaissance and the Baroque, gave rise to a pastoral genre and a certain mystification of the countryside.

The idyllic postcard scene offered to tourists is far removed from the reality of rural communities and very often the folklorist stage set drowns out the possibility of real rural cultural expressions that reflect another kind of creativity and values, by and from the immediate surrounding environment, with a contemporary perspective.

To define any decision on the management of the land it is first necessary to avail of effective participative processes, and for their execution, mechanisms of sociability that create an emotional bond with the landscape, now that in this “post-agricultural” era radical changes have taken place in the relationship of the inhabitants and their landscape, erasing the former relationship of fusion created via affective work. Nonetheless, it is an essential feature of rural landscapes that cannot be overlooked and replaced by suburbanisation or by the delimitation of natural/theme parks.

To preserve this environmentally and culturally rich landscape heritage, Antonio Gomez-Sal reminds us that "it is essential to maintain uses, or at least equivalent uses, that facilitate the validity of basic processes, constitutive of the essence of each landscape. Many of them have their analogy in natural processes, while others are more cultural or historical (forms of exploitation, elaboration of products, crafts, food, festivals...)."

The more we advance in this direction (from a productive landscape to a consumer landscape), the more we will have to re-create the feeling of belonging and community around this landscape. Ultimately, we cannot afford this ecological inefficiency, because in the dismantling of agro-ecosystems we pay the cost of the productive intensification of some to pay for others now in disuse, yet equipped as scenarios.

In this regard, a new importance is gained by the posits of new movements of Environmental Collaborative Art and Rural Art, interventions in the environment in which the artist, as agro-ecologist, is the catalyst for social processes within a wider cultural strategy for the rural. This is a challenge both for society as well as for the artist, often used to dealing with transcendental themes in a superficial fashion, as mere visual material for a work of art, emptying its proposals of content and engagement, with a view to pleasing the senses and aesthetic pleasure, or the art market or the cultural establishment.
As Ian Hunter, defender of a new rural culture, explains: “We already see how food production and the experience of landscape and nature are becoming increasingly removed from people’s own experience and understanding. Their impression of the countryside has largely been reduced to the mostly nostalgic images produced by marketeers. Many observers now see increasing alienation between people and farming, food and nature. Changes in agriculture and the search for our origins are taking place in a global context. Can sustainability, in the sense of respect for nature and environment, be advanced by re-connecting culture and agriculture?”

The works on view in the exhibition “There is No Road”, by Simon Pope, Roberto Lorenzo, and by Alexander and Susan Maris, based around the action of walking, or a reencounter with the landscape, inasmuch as site-specific works, open up the possibility of a reflection on the future of the management of this landscape. They involved the whole range of players and meanings, and they question how we position ourselves in the face of the challenges of today and of the future.
In his essay “Que la tierra te sea leve”, Fernando Castro addressed the loss of meaning of the voyage, in the time of permanent mobilisation, when we are aware of the absence of any final destination, which nevertheless does not lead us to a complete standstill, but to the vertigo of displacement to nowhere, combined with the tourist’s obsession for "having been there". He mentions how, when writing about tourists, Nietzsche wrote “they climb mountains like animals, stupid and sweating: one has forgotten to tell then that there are beautiful views on the way up".
Having said that, the truth is that real journey is already virtually impossible, because everywhere has been submitted to neo-colonisation, where the only "ideology" is that of consuming, in which unquestionably there is also an element of folklorism and the search for pseudo-danger in the exotic or remote. And Castro concludes that “it is true that man has to relearn how to travel again, though that might mean losing himself or knowing that there is no return and, of course, accepting that the map does not coincide with the territory.”

In this confusion, straying off the path, increasingly closed in by mist and the falling night, it would be our good fortune to meet a shepherd, nomad or transhumant, those people who, because they are the territory, know nothing of maps but everything about final destinations and, what is often more important, the roads.

HELLPACH, Willy: Geopsique. El alma humana bajo el influjo de tiempo y clima, suelo y paisaje. Madrid, Biblioteca de ideas del siglo XX, Espasa-Calpe, S. A., 1940.
SOTO, Fernando: El viajero del romanticismo. El siglo XIX y la experiencia sensible del viaje.
GALILEA, Carlos: “La voz de Bollywood” in El PAIS, 12/7/2008
El Comercio, 14/11/2006
This conservationist mentality connects with the biocentric thinking of Deep Ecology, which idealises wild nature unspoiled by human traces. On the other hand we have Social Ecology and Agroecology which look for ways of harmonising social uses and environment.
IZQUIERDO, J, BARRENA, G.: Marqueses, funcionarios, políticos y pastores. Oviedo, Ediciones Nobel, 2006.
FONTANA, Josep: “Los campesinos en la historia: reflexiones sobre un concepto y nos prejuicios” in Revista Historia Social no, 28, 1997, cited by Marc Badall in Viejas herramientas para nuevas agriculturas. Conocimientos campesinos, una herencia despreciada, unpublished, 2008.
SEVILLA GUZMAN & GONZALEZ de MOLINA: Ecología, campesinado e historia, La Piqueta 1993, cited by Marc Badall in Viejas herramientas para nuevas agriculturas. Conocimientos campesinos, una herencia despreciada, unpublished, 2008.
ENTRENA DURÁN, Francisco: Cambios en la construcción social de lo rural, Tecnos, Madrid, 1998.
At the end of the 18th century  in a socially fractured England immerse in a crisis of traditional agriculture and the exodus of the poorest rural population to the new industrial towns, great houses were decorated with bucolic scenes which bore no similarity with the absolute misery of the majority of English peasants at the time. Ibid. 6.
GOMEZ SAL, Antonio: “La Naturaleza en el paisaje” in Paisaje y Pensamiento, Abada/CDAN, Madrid, 2006.
HUNTER, Ian: “Linking culture and agriculture as a strategy for a meaningful countryside”, Groeneveld Forum, November, 2008, unpublished.
KWON Miwon: One Place After Another – Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA & London, 2004.