Monthly Archives: September 2012

Visualisation, Truth and Trust- Norrköping, Sweden

Last week the neat and ergonomic post-industrial town of Norrkoping, Sweden, hosted a European Science Foundation conference on Visualisation, Truth and Trust. The event drew together a set of practitioners that was diverse even by Landscape Surgery standards. Artists, physicists, medical engineers, philosophers, media theorists, historians, and publishers spent three days examining and discussing scientific imagery. I presented a poster tracing the influence of early 20th century botany on military aerial photography during World War I. The eclectic nature of the delegation led to some fairly lively debate, and dense exchange of views.

A few points emerged that seemed important to me, and might be of interest to Surgeons…

Different scientific disciplines have very different sensibilities about what counts as stylistic ‘interference’ in the representation of phenomena. This is a particularly key problem when using digital imaging software to ‘enhance’ or ‘clarify’ pictures of galaxies, cells, quantum particles, bones, or genes.

Particular software choices seem to be homogenising scientific imaging outcomes across very different disciplines- not only in the case of presenting images ‘captured’ in the laboratory, but also in the illustrations provided in more ‘magazine’ style publications.

-There is a great deal of very interesting work going on addressing the role of brain-scans and nanotechnology imagery in public understanding of the field, and also investigating how interpretations are constructed by the public.

In the context of contemporary scientific research it can still be surprisingly difficult to find ways of discussing visualisation as ‘producing knowledge’ or as being a site of negotiation. During this conference, the visualisation practices of ‘Science’ often appeared to be locked into opposition with a fairly dry conception of ‘Art’ in its contemporary, secular, Western form. Despite excellent work in the History of Science, Medicine or Geography- there is still a long way to go to achieve a more post-colonial or anthropological outlook.

Finally- a trip to the Visualisation Centre of Linkopping University was for me one of the highlights of the conference. See the video below for one of the technologies they have been developing. Virtual autopsy– the interrogation of causes of death through manipulating a 3D scan of the corpse. Coming soon to a morgue near you…

Liz Haines, PhD Candidate

Time, Trade and Travel- from Accra to Amsterdam

Time, Trade and Travel is small but satisfying group exhibition currently being presented by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. The project took shape through artists residencies conducted both in the Netherlands and in Ghana. The focus of the show was not so much on the colonial past, as on its legacy and persisting forms. The result was a series of works that interrogated the exchange and translation of material, visual patterns, ideologies and practices, (in sculpture, painting, installation and film). They were largely presented as fragmented and unique experiences rather than as monumental ones. Humorous and generous, not all mistranslation was framed as ‘failure’.

Problems of mobility seemed momentarily to have been eased by the lubricating power of contemporary art- until one looked closely at which of the artists were going to be giving talks or interviews within the events programme. The lack of Ghanaians featured on this list showed the frictions still in place. Perhaps these artists will speak when the show travels to the Nubuke Foundation in November? I hope to conduct fieldwork in Accra later in the year, it would be extremely interesting to see the exhibition in both locations.
Image 1 (above): My Lifetime (Malalaika), Katarina Zdjelar, 2012 (video still)

Image 2 (below) :  from a photographic series by Bernard Akoi-Jackson

Liz Haines, PhD Candidate

Prestigious Award for Passengerfilms

Amy Cutler, Elizabeth Haines, and Rupert Griffiths

Amy Cutler, Elizabeth Haines, and Rupert Griffiths collect the Film Society of the Year Award for Best Film Education Programme.

PASSENGERFILMS—the cultural geography film series, run by postgraduate students in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London—has today won a prestigious national prize: the Film Society of the Year Award for Best Film Education Programme. Amy Cutler, Elizabeth Haines, and Rupert Griffiths (Ph.D. candidates) accepted the award at a ceremony at the Institut français du Royaume-Uni in South Kensington.


Days of Culture

During the Summer, with the Landscape Surgery term complete, those few still residing in Central London met up for ‘Days of Culture’ and a catch up. Landscape Surgery’s ‘Days of Culture’ are an opportunity to visit some of the fantastic museum and gallery spaces London offers in abundance. In May, LS visited the Victoria and Albert Museum for a guided viewing of the ‘Recording Britain‘ Exhibition by curator Gill Saunders.

Over summer a smaller cohort of surgeons attended the ‘Vanity of Small Differences’ exhibit, by Grayson Perry at Victoria Miro gallery and ‘Superhuman’ at the Wellcome Collection. Both exhibitions spoke to the theme of self-improvement and its objects, methods and performances.

The Vanity of Small differences exhibited the tapestries produced by Grayson Perry for the Channel Four documentary ‘In best possible taste’. The documentary explored the material cultures of the ‘taste tribes of Britain’. Perry collected stories about family background, class journeys we take and the ways we shape ourselves, and our material cultures along the way.  Six tapestries documented these findings around ‘class mobility’ through the character of ‘Tim Rakewell’. It was comforting, and discomforting in equal measure to be confronted by the objects and things we emotionally invest in our everyday lives. Objects we recognise, value and use to create a sense of place and belonging. Personally, I cringed as I recognised my prized ‘penguin classic’ mug illustrated in one tapestry, I smiled as I clocked the ‘miners lamp’ and familiar ornaments from my family home in another.


From the ordinary, to the spectacular – ‘Superhuman’ at Wellcome Collection explores the theme of ‘human enhancement’ with focus on the body, science and sport. One section focused on the role of prosthetic objects, displaying the ingenious ways that humans have compensated for loss of function throughout history – from false teeth and artificial legs, to knitted breasts. Another focused on sport, performance and chemical enhancements. Athlete’s bodies, which become in and out of place dependent their use of ‘enhancement’ and the historical, social and cultural relations that define the legality and ethics of the ‘enhancement’.


Tom Hicks, winner of 1904 Olympic Marathon. Hicks collapsed, delaying the medal ceremony, he had consumed large doses of strychnine in brandy throughout the race. In 1904 performance enhancing drugs were accepted practice at the time, but ‘intensive training’ was limited to just four weeks before the race (Wellcome Collection, 2012).

Both exhibitions highlighted the objects, substances, and things that make space matter, and affect our experience of place, right down to the body.  Both highlighted the social conflicts, hierarchies and power relations through which choices in these matters come to matter.

Though the Grayson Perry exhibition is now closed; ‘Superhuman’ is open until October 16.

On Defoe

Bill of Mortality (1665)

Bill of Mortality (1665). From the Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images (L0030700).

On 19 September 2012, the Historical Geography Reading Group met at Bedford Square to discuss Daniel Defoe’s A journal of the plague year (1722). The book, which was introduced by Amy Cutler (Ph.D. candidate), offered up several interesting points of discussion, ranging across the significance of testimony and credibility, literary genre and pseudo history, the regulation of space (both public and private), and the tricky question of determining Defoe’s literary and political intentions. Although not superficially a work of geography, Defoe’s exploration of the 1665 plague in London addresses what me might now regard as important geographical themes: mobility (and the lack of it), networks and rumour, and the politics of space. At once a grim and fascinating read.

The Group—Caroline Cornish, Amy Culter, Felix Driver, Carlos Galviz, Innes M. Keighren—will next time tackle Ian Hacking’s The taming of chance (1990).


Science Museum’s Research & Public History Department

Hilary Geoghegan

Former Landscape Surgeon, Hilary Geoghegan, at launch of the Science Museum’s Research and Public History department.

Tonight I attended the launch of the Science Museum’s new Research and Public History department. Although there is a long history of research at the museum—much of which has involved geographers from Royal Holloway—the new department marks a clear future commitment to research and collaboration. To quote from the department’s launch brochure:

research is at the heart of the Museum’s mission. Without it we would not understand the stories our collections tell, how our audiences engage, or how to slow the deterioration of our objects.

It was great to see a number of current and former Landscape Surgeons at the event, including Alison Hess, Hilary Geoghegan, and David Rooney (Liz Haines being at a conference in Sweden). Working in collaboration with the Science Museum, Landscape Surgeons have examined topics ranging from enthusiasm and broadcasting technology, to aerial survey and the geography of London’s traffic. We look forward to further exciting collaborations with the Museum in the future.


To Avignon with Macintosh

Archival bundle

Bundle of archival material.

Innes M. Keighren talks about the excitement and challenge of archival research over at his blog.