After a well-deserved break over Christmas and New Year, the SCHG’s Surgeons were back on the 12th January to catch up, chat about research and working during the pandemic, and offer each other advice on a range of things. Out of this discussion, a number of useful resources were shared, so we thought we’d share them here too…
The Forest App is a playful yet helpful way if you need to focus away from your phone.
To keep up to date with all things critical and radical geography, there is the Crit Geog Forum mailing list.
‘@PandemicPGRs’ is an account organising and advocating for Post Graduate Researchers during the pandemic.
Pulling upon and resonating with a lot of the work that has been done in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, The PhD Life Raft podcast hosted by Dr Emma Brodzinski discusses issues and provides strategies and support for those doing their PhD.
For a break away from the computer screen, ‘Moving on Fiction’ is an audio event happening on both the 17th and 24th January, 12-2pm in Hilly Fields and Hampstead Heath in London, but it is also available to those outside of London too.
If there are any other suggestions for this list, please do comment below!
For the last session before the respite of the Christmas break, the Surgeons were fortunate to hear from two of the Geography Department’s PhD students, Ed Brookes and Tess Pinto, who presented their work on the aesthetic politics of London’s post-war built environment. Focusing specifically on the home and using several examples between them, they painted a potted history of different attitudes and approaches, from the 60’s to the present day, that have shaped domestic architecture in the capital.
Tess began by discussing three different local authority responses to the perceived failures of modernist mass housing estates, which attempted to revive, redeploy and in some cases reimagine ‘the street’ within the new architectural urban schemes of the 70’s. Having been replaced by the largely ‘private’ aerial walkways of the city’s quarter of a million high rise flats, there were serious concerns about the loss of community life and spontaneous neighbourhood activity.
First stop, the three-story terraces of Camden; where the Council’s Architect’s Department had sought to reproduce the immediacy of contact with others in the neighbourhood and a connection to the existing fabric of the city through public and semi-private spaces and direct openings onto the public thoroughfare. As Tess explained, Alexandra Road Housing Estate was where this vision was best realised by the Labour Council and their architect, Neave Brown. However, an enquiry into the building design process by Camden’s new Chief of Housing in 1978 – Ken Livingstone – to find out why the project overran on both time and budget led the estate to be known as a wildly expensive disaster and become the focal point of a right wing attack on social housing.
Second stop, the dilapidated council houses of Central London; where under Horace Cutler’s homesteading scheme first time buyers could acquire a 100% mortgage to modernise and renovate these neglected properties. By returning to the low-density brick street, preserving the existing fabric of the city and providing the opportunity for ownership, this Conservative Greater London Council administration sought to maintain London as a federation of individual towns and smaller communities.
The third and final stop of Tess’ tour was Walters Way in Lewisham. Moving away from the terraced model, Walter Segal’s ‘self-build’ system was championed by the socialist councillor Nicholas Taylor and managed to create a ‘village feel’ in the South London Borough, with the serendipitous houses interspersed with trees and imbued with a peaceful atmosphere. Similar to homesteading, the owners had a role in the creation of their own homes, and the flexibility of the stilted timber constructions has allowed for continued adaptation and the accommodation of individual taste. The original residents who are still there today recall the camaraderie of the construction projects which laid the foundations for a tight knit community.
Although being the work of architects decades ago, Tess emphasised that all these attitudes and approaches to housing are not relics of the 70’s but continue to shape contemporary ideas and the designs of prominent architects engaged in social housing today, such as Peter Barber and his work on Ilchester Road in Barking.
The tour guide flag was then handed over to Ed who took us to the Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, where only the East block temporarily remains as its redevelopment into the luxury flats of the Blackwall Reach estate has begun. Looking instead at the destruction of architecture, he navigated us through the aesthetic strategies that have been deployed to tarnish the old brutalist estate as ‘anti-beauty’ and a complete failure that can only be rectified by its demolition. Although there has been a counter-narrative that has sought to establish the estate as a modernist masterpiece that deserves preservation, it was denied national protection by English Heritage on the grounds of a lack of architectural significance. Three types of aesthetic strategies, Ed explained, played an important part in this decision.
To begin with, Ed took us through the aesthetics of brutalism. With its origin as an opposition to traditional ideas of the beautiful and a critique of the frivolous and bourgeois architectural movements of the time, this architectural style was vulnerable to being painted as ‘ugly’. Made only worse by the Council’s neglect of the estate which was in dire need of maintenance and investment, the ‘politics of ugliness’ was used to divert attention away from the social and economic needs of those that rely on the estate and justify the reuse of the land for more profitable ends.
Next, it was the aesthetics of disparagement, and the potent post-war cliché of modernist buildings as ‘concrete monstrosities’. Associated with anti-social behaviour and substandard living, this strategy has been used to suggest a failure on behalf of the architect to provide for the residents of the places they designed. Ed demonstrated this with a range of quotes, such as one from the Daily Mail in 2008 that read: “To those unlucky enough to live there, it is a grim, concrete monstrosity blighted by urine-soaked stairwells and marauding gangs of youths who lob rubbish – and worse – from its brutally modernist aerial walkways.”
Finally, Ed showed us the impact of the aesthetics of marketing used by the developers of Blackwall Reach. In order to sell the new estate to investors and buyers, their speculative images of how it will look and be used are highly idealised, sanitised and sterilised, and devoid of many familiar social activities. Most significantly though, Ed pointed out how, despite the ethnic diversity and prominent Bangladeshi population of the local area, it is only an affluent white community portrayed in these images, revealing their desired clientele.
Together, Tess and Ed gave us a glimpse into the complex aesthetic landscape of architectural change and development and the political forces behind its variation and fluctuation. We’d all like to thank Tess and Ed for an engaging and enlightening session that draws to a close a term at the end of a strange and challenging year.
Our Landscape Surgery session on 24th November was organised by Royal Holloway’s PhD student William Jamieson with invited guest, Professor Uma Kothari (University of Manchester). The session was called ‘Shifting Sandscapes’ and consisted of Uma sharing her recently published work on Shifting sands: The rhythms and temporalities of island sandscapes, followed by Will’s reading from his body of creative and scholarly writing on sand and land reclamation in Singapore. Both areas of research explore storytelling and creative methods, in their ability to narrate the precarious shifting of sands in differing landscapes, enacted by multiple human and non-human processes which contribute to the looming global sand crisis. For example, the UNDP state that sand is the most extracted material on earth, after water. The session culminated with a dynamic open discussion with the wider Landscape Surgery audience.
The session began with Uma’s fascinating account of her research into the shifting sandscapes within and surrounding a Maldivian island. Uma opened the discussion by asking ‘What is it about the idea that within its minuteness a grain of sand encapsulates greater things, that is a metaphor for a grander scale, that has a story to tell? (Welland, 2009: 2). The quote mapped out the direction of discussion, traversing the many temporalities and rhythms of the movement of sand around a small island in the Maldives and the human and non-human entanglements which affect this flow. Sand has remarkable characteristics. As well as existing in suspension both in the air and in water, it also forms the two fundamental materials of glass or cement, giving it unique significance to people. Its multifarious uses have led to increased competition and conflict over it, it has become a new tradable resource subjected to uncontrolled extraction and military ‘sand wars’ and its desirable aesthetic and sensory qualities are mobilised for tourism purposes. Sand is crucial to a sense of islandness, which Uma stresses is not bound to the borders of an island, often conceptualised as disconnected landscapes bound by water. Islands are in fact part of a broader picture of assemblages, their borders are permeable, undergoing a dynamic process and flux, connecting distant people and places.
Uma’s focus on the Maldivian island gives a rich insight into the temporalities and rhythms of everyday shifting sandscapes. The ceaseless movement of grains interconnects temporalities of place and can be influenced by people, weather and non-human agencies. Sand in these tropical ocean regions traverse 30 million years to come into being, bringing this sense of ‘deep time’ into present moments of short term morphological changes, such as beach erosion caused by human building, monsoons, climate change and rising sea levels. Sand is constantly moved and manipulated by the tourism industry and resorts, creating idealised environments for visitors. This intense management is hidden from tourists, involving beach sweeping and sand pumping. The tourist island imaginary encapsulates the myth of the unchanging culture of place. Uma’s research focuses on North Male Atoll, a 1km long island with a population of 1200 people. Interviews with residents were conducted in the form of a ‘sandscape walk’ around the periphery and interior of the island, to encounter place and the rhythms and movement of sand. The resulting narrative is composed of multiple stories and embodied experiences taken from these walking interviews, encouraging interviewees to take part in reflexive attunement with their environment.
The walking encounters opened discussions about island erosion and the fears of the ocean encroaching on residents homes, due to many combinations of human interventions and environmental climate change. The struggles between the human and non-human emerge, as people attempt to mitigate non-human processes by attempting to slow the sands progress along the coastline. The temporal speed and pace varies greatly across the island. The sandscape walks illuminated the emotional meanings attached to the movement of sand and the affective qualities of sand in creating a sense of place and how these are enacted daily. Sand is both cultural and material, differing in the range of emotional and sensory reactions, across temporalities. The performativity of sand means an island is constantly being made and unmade due to human and non-human processes, and is crucial in our understandings of islands in this era of environmental change. This situated narration of sand allows for an insight into its multifarious human and non-human relations.
Following Uma’s discussion, Will opened up an alternative narrative account of a differing sandscape, creatively illuminating the political and economic implications of shifting sandscapes in Singapore, as part of his wider PhD project entitled ‘Granular Geographies of Endless Growth: Singapore and the Spatial-Cognitive Fix’. Since Singapore’s independence, in the last five decades, it has continually been expanding geographically through land reclamation and importing sand to construct territory. The sand extraction has occurred informally, by networks of contractors and subcontractors, producing tensions in other areas of South East Asia. Sand commodity chains in Singapore are complex, and by taking a closer look at these networks it gives an insight into the multifarious political, environmental, economic and spatial implications of shifting sands in the region. Sand is the focus of many political tensions and conflicts at the scale of the nation state. Will presents interesting critical creative geo fiction insights at this nation state scale by sharing with us short stories, including the keynote address by Professor Soon, Emeritus of Construction and Engineering, to the Singapore Sand Committee at the first public ASEAN Conference of Transboundary Aggregate Regulation. Will notes, the talk was intended to centre on how to achieve proper regulation within the dredging industry, instead he begins to go off course, almost as if he himself is no longer speaking:
‘You see, it isn’t that there are transboundary issues regarding the construction aggregate market throughout Southeast Asia, problems of its extraction and regulation. It is that the sand itself is speaking to us through these transboundary issues, and it has selected Singapore as its representative, medium, shall we say. As we will see, Singapore is not haunted by sand in some metaphorical sense, but literally possessed by it. In the Sejarah Melayu, it is not the misidentified Singha, the mistaken lion of our nation’s mythical history, that Sri Tri Buana notices first, but the sand of the coast that is white like a piece of cloth, and thus decides to found Singapura within what was then known as Temasek, literally Sea Town in Javanese. Even from that mythical point in our prehistory, the sand was luring men to come here to found cities, against their better judgement, against the judgement of history. Even then the sand of the coast was a blank slate for the inscription of geohistory. Such is the treachery of geohistory, such is the vast conspiracy of sand that we all find ourselves planted firmly on. Sand is more and less than a geomorphological text. It is mediated by the flows of rivers and the pounding of coasts, wrenched from the face of a mountain range by glaciation: but in order to become a text it needs hundreds and even thousands of years of these phenomenon before we can even recognise it in its perplexing abundance. That is Geomorphology 101. Southeast Asia’s difficulties regarding transboundary construction aggregate management can be said to more or less start with this outsized city-state, whose own problems regarding this very issue we can more or less pinpoint to a precise year if not a precise month in time: 2007. That is the year that Indonesia stopped exporting sand to Singapore.’
Will’s rich account of geo fiction narrative, gives a full picture of the overall affective experience of the address. The sites for Will’s project are in fact impossible to visit, as the construction sites do not permit visitors, therefore these geo fiction creative methods are crucial insights into the conceptualisation of sand in Singapore. Will’s exploration of critical creative methods, provide us with an in-depth insight into the multifarious politics, tensions and power agencies surrounding the shifting sandscapes of Singapore, shaping place and space. Will and Uma’s fascinating sandscape accounts, led to an open discussion on the multifarious implications of the cultural, economic and political manifestations of sand in increasingly precarious and changing environments. We discussed the contrasting creative methods of storytelling, narratives and walking. Acknowledging Uma’s walking methods, as a physical engagement with sand, differed to Will’s geo fiction accounts, which allowed for an imaginative insight into sandscapes impossible to physically encounter. Uma’s use of the mundane, habitual process of walking enabled islanders to be attuned to the distinct qualities of the landscape. It enabled connections and relationships to be formed between the rhythm and pace of islanders, sand and landscape. The open discussion then moved to consider where these differing sand discussions sit in relation to emerging geographies of ‘wet ontologies’, bridging the ontological gap between the land and the sea. Although, we discussed the potential for ‘more-than-wet’ ontologies to include these ‘inbetween’ sandscapes, or thinking beyond terracentric ontologies, to include perspectives from the sea.
Both Uma and Will’s projects, drew on the themes of sand and time, commenting that the forensic scrutiny of sand can reveal the memories it holds, connecting distant people and places. We discussed how sand remembers recent history, holding the rhythms of the sea. This is linked to the innate connection people feel to sand through their own memories and identity, connecting them to place, for example, Maldivian residents always remembering specific shapes and forms of islands. These circulations of memories and affective experience in sandscapes, shape place as a dynamic process of becoming, sand is a meeting point of conversations, both human and non-human. These sandscapes are not only governed by national politics, and economic motives, but non-human processes and emotional affective experiences, everyday interactions at the local scale, and notions of identity, shaping place and space. These differ greatly across nation state scales and at the scale of the body, as depicted by these diverse Maldivian and Singaporean examples. The ever-changing dynamic interaction of these processes, makes up this unique flow of landscape and meaning, shaping and altering our relationships with sandscapes and the materiality of them in the context of environmental change. These accounts perhaps highlight the need for questioning our relations with sand globally, raising important environmental concerns.
Welland, M.2009. Sand: A Journey Through Science and the Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
On the 5th May 2020 Landscape Surgery held its first virtual session, in response to the Covid19 pandemic and subsequent closure of all but essential services in the UK— and elsewhere across the globe. Sasha Englemann valiantly led the way to the Surgery’s first foray into the digital— hosting us from a various locations via Zoom. I joined from my living room (a name which has growing pertinence) in Plymouth.
“For Brazil is a country of cultural contrasts and of a strong spatial dynamism.”
Roberto Lobato Corrêa & Zeny Rosendahl (2004)
The session introduced us to two visiting scholars: André Reyes Novaes and Mariana Lamego. Based in Brazil at Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, André and Mariana were visiting the UK and spoke to us from their temporary base in Angel, London.
The title of their presentation was “Historical and Cultural Geography in Brazil: Institutions, Practices and Subjects,” and was an overview of doctoral research in Geography in Brazil. André and Mariana discuss the importance of Maurice Abreu to Brazilian geography —noting that he is the only South American geographer who’s obituary has been published in JHG (Journal of Historical Geography). However, they stress that this does not represent the consolidation of historical geography as a sub-field of geography in the country, and its recognition as a field of geography at all is a relatively recent one. They argue that part of the reason for this is how little international work is translated and published in Portuguese to make it accessible to scholars in Brazil.
In the 1990s there was a new turn toward cultural geography, which was indeed aided in no small part by translation. Since it first began publishing in 1995, the journal Espaço e Cultara, has focused on disseminating research on the spatial dimensions of culture, and contributing to the expanded field of cultural and human geography— in the Portuguese language. Likewise a series of books called Geografia Cultural aimed to contribute to a solid theoretical base from which Brazilian cultural geography can thrive from. These translations included the work of Landscape Surgery’s own Denis Cosgrove.
The feeling is that there is more to be done. In an article shared ahead of the session Roberto Lobato Correa and Zeny Rosendahl state:
Brazilian cultural heterogeneity has spawned, on the one hand, a rich literature of an urban and regional nature, and, on the other, a rich geographical output. The dialogue between both, as suggested by Brosseau (1996) is only just beginning in Brazil.
Roberto Lobato Corrêa & Zeny Rosendahl (2004)
André and Mariana share an excellent film of their students discussing their research which we have the pleasure of sharing here. The students discuss the challenges of undertaking doctoral research in Brazil, including precarious funding conditions and marginalisation of social research more generally.
Overall, the session gave us a great insight into realm of human geography in Brazil. It reminds us too that academia is not a level playing field, exemplified here by the domination of the English language in social research, and on another level by place-based structural challenges in Brazil.
Special thanks to Sasha Englemann for organising and hosting LS’s very first virtual session, to André and Mariana for joining us, sharing their work and that of their students— and to all who made it on the 5th May 2020.
Roberto Lobato Corrêa & Zeny Rosendahl (2004) Brazilian studies in cultural geography*, Social & Cultural Geography, 5:4, 651-662, DOI: 10.1080/1464936042000317758
Our first Landscape Surgery presentation of the autumn term was on 17 November and was organised and presented by Dr. Poppy Spowage and Dr. Sofie Narbed, both experienced UK-based researcher-practitioners. The session looked reflexively at performance as a subject of research in cultural geography and how coloniality and contemporaneity has shaped this topic.
Poppy, who completed her practice-based PhD at Royal Holloway this year, is a Creative Producer and Researcher with over ten years’ experience producing contemporary art and cutting-edge performance projects in the UK, East Africa and Latin America. Since 2016, she has helped produce a music festival in Uganda, public art events in Nairobi and art residencies in Kenya and Tanzania; each of which has looked to create new opportunities for artists and audiences and raise the profile of the regional contemporary cultural scenes.
Sofie was previously a lecturer in Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, and is currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow who has explored the geographies of dance and bodily practice, with a particular focus on Latin America. For her PhD, Sofie engaged in in-depth ethnographic research between 2012 and 2014 to study contemporary dance practice in Quito, Ecuador. After giving us an overview of their backgrounds and research and what they are currently up to, Poppy and Sofie came together for a conversation on a range of topics about their shared passions and research areas.
Poppy reflected on several areas related to her research and current work, including how atmosphere in performances can alter their effective qualities, whether the vagaries of funding leads to self-censorship by artists, what inequalities arise due to a lack to resources, and whether such issues are down to coloniality. As an example, she described one particular project she is involved in the production of – East Africa Soul Train in Kenya (watch a short film at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zC144qXSRk) – which she says was borne out of these very challenges and issues. By creating an environment of trust, this innovative project allowed artists to take creative risks in a range of media – from film, music, art and dance, to fashion and literature – and allowed them to reflect on complex issues and themes, including questions of politics, power and privilege. What allowed the project to grow and have a more meaningful effect for the artists beyond her research, she explained, was the long-term funding and resources that were available to her.
Sofie currently finds herself looking back on her ethnographic work into dance in Ecuador, unpicking this research to further develop its themes. She discussed her thoughts on how identity politics can be expressed through dance, and how artists negotiate coloniality through this medium. She discussed the ‘body as memory’ – a corporeal archive – and how the body is grounded in history and physical knowledge. Her research drew attention to how dance is a ‘way of doing’ and a way of connecting to place and creative heritage. She reminds us that while contemporary dance, as most of us know it, is dominated by European and North American performances, other continents and countries can and do offer their culturally valuable interpretations to the conversation about what can brought both physically and imaginatively to dance practice. It is important that we go beyond euro-centric frameworks in how we think about dance and performance. Reflecting on ‘messiness’ in her research and her attempt to find coherence for her thesis, Sofie explained how she is now conscious of not reducing the discussion to one voice, but rather to including the many different voices that she encountered, and also those that she did not encounter due to language barriers.
This notion of reducing the messiness of research encounters to the clarity of the written word captured the imagination of some of the session’s participants, leading to an intriguing discussion about how we should better embrace and provide space for this messiness in academia. With funding and jobs predicated on publications, the creation of a journal dedicated to disseminating research in its ‘messy’ form was one idea that was suggested as a way of countering the structures and practices of academia that are inherently ‘anti-messy’.
Another key takeaway from the discussion was the significance of shared experiences and exchanges with the artists and the importance of creating relationships with them, as such long-term sustainable relationships are key to this kind of practice-based research in the arts and humanities. Despite such projects allowing for trust to be formed, and for access to be gained to hidden worlds and voices, and the impact they can have, one’s immersion within such artistic forms for research purposes is still looked down upon in academia due to concerns of objectivity. In response, the work of cultural theorist Yves Citton and his book The Ecology of Attention (2016) was drawn upon. According to this line of thinking, we orientate ourselves in relation to pre-conceived perceptions and modes of attention, and we project these onto new experiences and situations in an attempt to gain a mastery of our surroundings. To see past this, we need to immerse ourselves within such new experiences and environments to open our eyes to other possibilities of seeing and understanding. Moving forward, both Sofie and Poppy are sharing their research with different groups to gain new perspectives on dance as creative heritage and on the telling of shared stories and struggles.
We’d like to thank both Poppy and Sofie for their thought-provoking discussion which took us to some amazing places, to Sasha Engelmann for convening the session, and to all the Landscape Surgery participants that offered some interesting questions and discussion points.
NB: Prior to the session, we were pointed to a text for background reading: ‘Positionality, and Languages of Collaboration in Feminist Fieldwork’, pp. 81-104, Nagar, R., 2014. Muddying the waters : coauthoring feminisms across scholarship and activism
Our Landscape surgery session on 11th February was a session organised by Royal Holloway’s own PhD Student Laura Shipp and Julia Slupska, a PhD student from the Centre of Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity and the Oxford Internet Institute, also the sister programme of Laura’s interdisciplinary project (Geography/Information security).
The session was an active one, in which we participated in the Re:configure: Digital Privacy Workshops, co-facilitated by Julia and Laura. The workshop applies feminist principles to cyber security, in both theory and practice. It aims to democratise cybersecurity by opening it up to be more open, fair and inclusive and providing cybersecurity advice in a space that is approachable and accessible way.
The session started with an introduction from the co-facilitators. We learn that the project rose out of frustrations with the exclusive realms of cybersecurity, that are often male-dominated, hierarchical and elitist, in which there are definite rights and wrongs, and opinions of those outside of the space are invalid, resulting in an intimidating and in many cases condescending space. The workshop then, offers a chance to destabilise this narrative and create a space in which to learn and share ideas for those who are generally excluded from it. It forms part of a larger project of Julia and Laura’s that aims to listen to opinions of a broad range of people, with an emphasis on those who are generally excluded from cybersecurity discussions and bring them back into cybersecurity research, as well as offer cybersecurity advice in an inclusive and supportive environment.
To this end, the workshop was split into two sections, a threat modelling section and tech support section. Firstly, in the threat modelling section, we split off into groups and shared ideas about what online data we wanted to protect most. Topics of conversation spanned from personal photos, smart home systems, financial data, passwords, location data and cloud-based back-up data. The discussions were often informed by personal experiences of life online, and things that made us feel insecure for multiple reasons. From there, we were then encouraged to think about how we could improve our current security practices in regard to the things we valued most valuable to protect.
Secondly, in the tech support section, we were introduced to a wide range of resources that could help us in that task of protecting the data valuable to us. A noteworthy resource here is the DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity (https://hackblossom.org/cybersecurity/). At this point, we were given just over half an hour to scour the guide (usually this time is an hour, but we were on time constraints so had to run a condensed version of the workshop), which offered simple, and mostly free, methods to improve our cybersecurity, as well as an opportunity to ask to facilitators for advice of help with case-by-case confusions or worries.
Importantly, the workshop provided a great space to discuss openly what we didn’t know (which for me, is quite a lot!). We were given time to articulate what we considered important in data privacy, and then offered ways to improve on those things. Personal experience filters into how we experience the world, both physical and virtual, and so everyone’s online life is different, and people have different values and methods in conducting themselves. Crucially then, this workshop realised that, and offered cybersecurity advice in a space that brought people together, as well as allowing us time that we may all put off in doing our own cybersecurity work. By paying attention to feminist approaches and concepts such as inclusivity, personal experience, consent and hierarchy more broadly, the spaces of cybersecurity can be fundamentally changed, and can have a significant positive impact on how people experience and conduct their life online.
Our most recent landscape surgery session was presented by Dr Yoav Galai, a lecturer in global political communications from Royal Holloway’s own department of politics, international relations and philosophy. Yoav’s research is concerned with narrative politics, visual politics and collective memory.
The presentation was of an ongoing project of Yoav’s that is exploring the ways in which interventions in the natural world are used to legitimise political claims to land, with a specific focus on the production and realisation of Jewish imaginaries in Israel and the dispossession of Palestinian land. Yoav made frequent reference to Zionism here then, which for him, refers specifically to the ‘redemption’ of a Jewish nation is what is now Israel. Indeed, as can be seen below, these two lands often come into close contact.
Yoav adopts stereoscopic photography to visualise the overlapping cultural, social and political layers, that define these contested territories. This technique, very popular during the beginning of the 20th century, is used to portray picturesque views of urban landscape, consists of capturing and displaying two slightly offset photographs to create three dimensional images. Using two paired digital cameras and a visor to merge the resulting images into a three-dimensional composition, Yoav produced a series of landscape photography of contested areas in contemporary Eastern Jerusalem. The talk began with Yoav showing us a photo of his taken as such.
From there, we discussed interventions on the land and photography more generally. The two main discussion points were interventions with flora on one hand, and fauna on the other, highlighting how each of these have been utilised in various ways to project the imaginaries of redeeming and restoring the Holy Land onto the landscape.
The first example we were presented with was flora, namely, an ongoing project of afforestation by the Jewish National Fund, to create abundant tree cover to Israel in attempt to re-create a landscape associated with ancient Jewish ownership. As Yoav notes, this is in line with the ‘making the desert bloom’ narrative, restoring the barren Palestinian land’s former vitality through Jewish reoccupation.
Of course, this example serves popular discourses such as caring for the environment, and creating natural public spaces, yet Yoav argues that it simultaneously works to legitimise Jewish ownership of the land, under the guise of what he calls an ‘angelical narrative’. It is thus an act that is weaved into that general category of redemption. We also learn that there is a ₪7000 (ILS) (this is currently around £1500 or €900) fine for removing the trees, and even the possibility of jail time, meaning that once these trees have been planted, that land is off limits.
We now turn to some of his more recent work, similar in nature, but this time concerned with live animals, the fauna. Hai Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve was established in Israeli in 1986 with the aim of re-introducing the biblical animals (to varying degrees of success) that are said to have been made extinct in the wild during Muslim occupation, such as the donkey, oryx and addax. The animals are bred here and then re-introduced into the wild.
The point of the Hai Bar then, is clear, to restore the land to its supposed former state, with a lack of modern intervention, recreating the fertile land associates with Jewish ancient occupation. Yoav reminds us here that, of course, it is not a biblical safari, but is a reproduction, bringing an imagined land from the past, to the present.
At this point, we spend some time thinking about the role of photography in this construction of this imaginary. Yoav introduces us to the late nature photographer Gail Rubin. Her posthumous publication Psalmist with a Camera (1979) worked hand in hand with the aims of the Hai Bar. Within are wide framed shots of the animals of the Hai Bar, representing at once both the fertile, rich lands and the fauna that belong in them. They are shot in such a way as to document the existence of the ancient Jewish lands, both influenced by and feeding the Jewish imaginary through representation, and thereby working to establishing the facts of the realm.
Gail Rubin’s (1979) Psalmist with a Camera: Photographs of a Biblical Safari. Abbeville Press.
An interesting point here is the contrast between Gail’s nature photography and Yoav’s photograph included above. Gail’s work aims to represent solely Jewish ownership of the Israeli lands, denying the possibility of Palestinian associations by excluding the Palestinian lands from her lens. On the other hand, Yoav’s image above shows the reality of Israel’s contested lands, and how both Palestinian and Jewish claims to the land are not as separate as the former collection implies. We must remind ourselves then, that the camera is not an objective tool. In every photo, the photographer choses what to include and exclude, whilst these choices are often framed by social context and subjectivities of the photography. What is not in the frame then, can tell us as much about the image and what is visible.
So, what we are seeing with these examples is the construction of a biblical gaze that works as an antagonism, redeeming and restoring the former Jewish lands as legitimised by pro-environmental discourse, whilst dispossessing the Palestinian of that same land. It is, Yoav argues, the mobilisation of biblical narratives in various ways that work to legitimise a political, territory-based narrative.
Yoav finishes by reminding us that all of this is still ongoing in some ways, and that the take home point is that it is important to put such interventions under scrutiny, highlighting their political nature and origins.
Our most recent session was organised by Jihane Dyer (Royal Holloway), a 2nd year PhD student, and featured presentations from Dr. Rachel Hann (University of Surrey) and Prof. Judith Clark (London College of Fashion). The session explored the term ‘scenography’, how it can pull apart and expand, and what benefits this creates when thinking about exhibitions, experiential spaces and events.
Firstly, Jihane reminds us that scenography is a technical term denoting the art of perspective representation and is associated most closely with set design in the theatre. In this sense, scenography is about communicating a pre-determined idea to a spectating audience. We were encouraged to think about how this idea can be taken away from the theatre and thought of horizontally as an assemblage of facets and agents that come together when exhibiting things and places.
Judith Clark’s presentation was entitled ‘retrieving exhibitions’. Judith trained as an architect before becoming a curator and exhibition maker. She reflects that while fashion exhibitions are well documented in catalogues, these catalogues usually only include representations of the garments shown. They rarely include, until relatively recently, a sense of how they were exhibited or ideas about the physical curation of the exhibition. The questions that Judith asks us are: what happens behind the scenes of an exhibition? And, what about the spaces between the objects?
We are introduced to Judith’s exhibition Fashion and Heritage – Conversations at the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa, Getaria, Spain (2018). Judith used a double narrative in the curation to both explain the evolution of Balenciaga’s designs and its historiography– through scenography and the use of visual ‘captions’. These captions would often reference (or retrieve) previous exhibits of Balenciaga. One example is a miniature installation replicating a photograph from a previous exhibiton: Balenciaga Ouvre au Noir, at Musee Bourdelle, 2019, which sits next to a dress displayed on a mannequin. Judith notes that this image always came to her mind in relation to this dress and seemed relevant to this exhibition. It also pushes forward the theme of sculpture, and the evolution of sculptural elements in Balenciaga’s clothing.
The point here is that past exhibitions can offer information that is pertinent to the objects on display in a current exhibition. The space around the object is important, in terms of both immediate physical space and the intellectual space in which they are thought about. Time; place (both the place of creation and places of exhibition); the garment; the garment’s production, are all equally relevant in costume history.
Rachel Hann’s presentation offered an insight into the work presented in her recently released book ‘Beyond Scenography’ (Routledge: 2019). Rachel’s first point of departure is that scenography is not necessarily an individual phenomenon but can be thought of as a process rife with multiplicity and plurality. In this sense, Rachel notes that thinking of scenography in this way allows us to move beyond the notion that scenography is exclusively a visual phenomenon, but instead a multisensory process comprised of both human and more-than-human elements that come together in assemblage to create what Rachel calls ‘feelings of place’ or ‘of world’.
For Rachel then, scenography is about investigating the processes and assemblages of the tangible and intangible, and of matter and mind, that are involved in the making of world. She reminds us that we are not simply looking at the world, but instead are intrinsically bound up, or with the world. To illustrate this, she details a first-person experience of a Vietnamese restaurant in Guildford that is designed to mimic a Bangkok street market. Here, one experiences a multi-sensory dynamic of smells, tastes, and aesthetics that work together to elicit a feeling of place through artistic, and indeed culinary, means.
Both presentations here were clearly rather different, one exploring museum space and the other the notions of place and world. What we see in both cases though, is how the idea of scenography can be expanded and deployed in various ways, aiding our understanding of both of these topics in some useful and insightful ways.
We would like to thank both Rachel and Judith for their thought-provoking presentations, to Jihane Dyer for organising and convening the session, and to all the landscape surgery participants that offered some interesting questions and discussion points.
The start of the new academic year brought some new additions to the Landscape Surgery cohort. Seven PhD students joined us in Septembe 2019, bringing a set of new projects that span the discipline(s). Some of these projects are practiced based, whilst others will deploy some unique creative methodologies. Together, they tackle an array of interesting and pressing issues, showing strong variety, and are sure to lead to great bodies of research.
So, introducing our new doctoral researchers..
Angela is a doctoral researcher with StoryFutures, Royal Holloway’s new immersive and VR lab. Her research focuses on creative clustering, exploring the business models and behaviours that drive successful growth in the digital and immersive sectors. Her particular focus is on the role that diversity plays in innovation and new forms of digital storytelling.
Bethan is an artist working with installation, objects, writing and artists books. Her practice-based research takes as a starting point the excavation of Gully Cave in Somerset and practices of climate reconstruction.
With a background in architecture, urbanism and sociology, Stefano’s work explores the intersection between photography and cultural geography. Stefano’s practice-based research investigates the ERUV, the ritual urban enclosure that allows Orthodox Jewish communities to circumvent some of the restrictions imposed on the public domain during Sabbath and other festivities.
Rachel’s research explores geographies of garments and making, and how these can be expressed through cartography. Her AHRC Techne funded PhD employs creative practice-led methodology, with a specific focus on London’s fashion industry.
Holly’s research, “British Board Games and the Ludic Imagination, c.1860-1960”, explores the history of play, materiality, intergenerational familial dynamics, and understanding categories of age through analysing the presence of board games both in domestic spaces and their wider cultural presence.
Jack is a Doctoral Researcher with StoryFutures specialising in cultural and political geographies with his PhD research focusing on freelance labour in the video games industry. He has been at Royal Holloway in the Department of Geography for 4 years, completing a BSc in Geography and MSc in Geopolitics and Security.
Rhys’ PhD explores skateboarding’s debut inclusion into the 2020 Olympic Games, and the tensions that this has with skateboarding as it is practiced and lived in the urban environment, created ultimately by the further entrenchment of the neoliberal doctrine onto a subversive urban practice.
The last Landscape Surgery session of the decade was opened by Katrina Navickas’s (University of Hertfordshire) presentation :‘Customary rights, property and contested belongings in English commons and village greens, 1765-1965’. The seminar was a collaboration with Provincialism at Large – a new seminar series co-ordinated by Ruth Livesey (RHUL), building on the collaboration between the Centre for Victorian Studies and the Centre for the GeoHumanities. Katrina was joined by Ruth and two PhD researchers (RHUL) Saskia Papadakis and Gemma Holgate, whose doctoral research projects are titled ‘Northerners in London: Englishness, place and mobility’ and ‘Writing Socialist Feminism: Women Activists and the Novel, 1887-1908,’ respectively.
Katrina positions herself firmly as a regionalist, and promotes the study of particular regions in English history. Today, she is presenting her research on legal geographies of the commons and village greens in England. The 1965 Commons Registration act was legislation which aimed to survey all common land in England and Wales, however it was flawed and revealed the widespread difficulties of defining a common, its rights and ownership — many of which still exist today. The resulting registers are inaccurate and conflicting.
But, how is common land defined? We were challenged to define these three terms as a group– with varying degrees of success!
Common: Private land which is subject to rights of common– including pasture, turbary (taking peat or turf), estovers (taking wood), piscary (taking fish)..etc. The land could be fenced or open and was usually attached to private property.
Waste: Land which belongs to the manor, is uncultivated and while is not subject to rights of common can be used for pasture.
Village Green: Land ‘owned’ by the village parish, which has been allotted for recreation and leisure for the inhabitants of the village.
Katrina reminds us of the importance of commons, to working people particularly, throughout history as meeting places; their integrity to political movements; the commons preservation movement; and points to the new shift to ecological concerns.
Today many are fighting for their commons to prevent housing developments and retaining commons as nature reserves. Katrina also points to the landmark case in November 2019 in the which the Supreme Court ruled the banning of Extinction Rebellion’s Autumn protest between 14-19 October was unlawful, which reminds us of how important laws on customary rights can be in the present: the right to liberty and protest still need to be protected.
We would like to thank Katrina Navicka for her engaging presentation, and imagery; Ruth Livesey and Sasha Engelmann for organising this session; Saskia Papadakis and Gemma Holgate for presenting their research; and the other Landscape Surgery participants for their contributions to the discussion.