Reece Page proposes the lawn as Anthropocene object: this highly managed crop presents a clear contrast to intrinsic values of nature. An understated symbol of privileged living and suburban expansion with high environmental demands here on Earth, the lawn is also suggestive of future imaginations of the colonisation of space.
Museum of the Anthropocene: The Lawn
In the Anthropocene – an age where water security, biodiversity, and land availability are under threat – lawns are an understated symbol of the way privileged communities live in conflict with environmental demands.
Lawns have become the most abundant crop in America and are a common feature among suburban landscapes across the world, but how did they become so dominant? The first uses of grass for non-agricultural purposes were seen surrounding European manor houses. Lawns were used by elites to mark the boundaries of privately owned land and were tediously and routinely trimmed by skilled, but low-paid workers. Their purpose was to display power and wealth through the ability to control the natural environment, transforming it into organised, rational space.
It was not coincidence then that lawns followed the globalisation of capitalism during the colonial expansion, as the original principles of lawns were applied to the capture of the American continent. Despite indigenous communities living on these lands, they were deemed as ‘untouched’ as they were not being ‘worked’. To claim land, settlers transformed the natural landscape into organised space, giving rise to the popularisation of plantations. It is here that Europeans set about redefining the relationship between humans and the environment – the chaotic quality of nature must be tamed to maximise capital gain.
Wealthy landlords also took this opportunity to force indigenous and African slaves to maintain their lawns, reinforcing the connection between lawns and White Rule.
After World War II, the use of lawns saw a dramatic shift. Nuclear threats and the rise of consumer capitalism called for dispersed populations and more commodities. By reconfiguring weapons of war to motorised mowers and pesticides, the American suburbs arose and became the face of The Great Acceleration.
This new era popularised the expression of White Rule through controlling nature. The suburbs were intentionally designed to allow wealthy white people to escape the polluted urban centres, and to keep black Americans out. Introduced by authoritative bodies, lawns were constructed to eradicate plants, animals, and people that failed to meet the systemic standards of beauty. In conjunction to their historic uses in creating landscapes of order, control and surveillance, the association of lawns with white neighbourhoods made them a symbol of cleanliness, purity and conformity more than ever.
The expansion of the suburbs and everyday activities of its inhabitants mirrors the actions of the colonial journey, but also reflects future imaginations of the colonisation of space. In a decaying world, who will space exploration serve? Perhaps there is reasoning behind why it is not uncommon to see lawns in western representations of space colonies.
Lawns present a clear contrast to the intrinsic value of nature. Their capitalist, racist and authoritative principles function to reduce creativity, disorder and diversity to maximise economic and individual social value at the expense of the environment and communities. Do lawns that perform on these standards have a place in a future in which we succeed in overcoming the climate and biodiversity crisis?
The Lawn was contributed by Reece Page, who says “Through the most fascinating module I engaged with, I have learned how anarchist theories can help us understand human-nature relationships on a deeper level. Taking inspiration from what lawns call attention to, this has led me to seek a career in urban planning to encourage the creation of community projects that can adapt to and support diverse local needs, synergising with the adaptive, diverse qualities of the natural world.”