The natural sublime can be described as a feeling of awe, grandeur, terror and stupor which arises from the confrontations humans have with nature. Many might have heard, or be familiar with this sensation of sublimity. In fact, the natural sublime is one of the most established categories within the historical discourse of this topic, but nonetheless, one that still exerts much force to this day, especially within the context of climate change. In today’s fractured ecological landscape, what can we learn from revisiting the natural sublime in a New Media or Digital Art context?
If the thoughts of mastery over nature established during the enlightenment appeased the many prominent thinkers of the eighteenth century, nature – and well – all those glorious thoughts of superiority, came tumbling down, quite spectacularly, in the twenty-first century (at humanity’s expense!). The ‘Grand Tour’, that rite of passage for all the decadent aesthetes of the seventeenth century, took unsuspecting British blokes on a whirlwind tour of Europe’s most daring natural artefacts. From the icy perilous slopes of the Swiss Alps to the vicarious ridges of southern Italy’s majestic volcanos. The tour throttled the barely-of-age landed gentry into landscapes far more violent than the docile and green rolling hills of England they were accustomed to. There, amidst the perfect storm of being a typical tourist in a foreign treacherous land, and being exposed to the frightful elements – the youngsters realised nature’s full dramatic extent and then hastily returned back home, now armed with all those great ideas that would later turn into the Industrial Revolution. In other words, after being absolutely petrified by the natural landscapes they saw both in real life and spread all over those canvases painted by Caspar David Friedrich, J W Turner and Theodore Gericault, the boys decided enough was enough, nature was to be tamed.