Monthly Archives: February 2016

Upcoming Event: TOXIC MATERIALITIES – Where Heaven Meets Hell

News of the next Passengerfilms event on Monday 29th February. There’s a stellar panel lined up to discuss toxic materialities and the stunning film by Sasha Friedlander: Where Heaven Meets Hell (2012). Join us if you can.


Join us for a screening of Sasha Friedlander’s stunning film ‘Where Heaven Meets Hell’ (2012), and an exploration of toxic materialities presented by Passengerfilms in collaboration with

Indonesia’s stunningly beautiful Kawah Ijen volcano, a popular tourist spot, belches smoke hundreds of feet into the air. Through the smoke tourists can see men carrying heavy baskets on their shoulders. These contain blocks of bright yellow sulphur chipped from the volcano’s smouldering slopes, destined to help make a range of everyday stuff from matches and fertilizer to cosmetics and sugar. Sulphur dioxide gas is thick in the air. It corrodes the miners’ lungs and the filmmaker’s cameras. Winner of multiple documentary film awards, Where Heaven Meets Hell provides not only a vivid insight into the harsh industrial landscapes of resource extraction but also prompts wider questions about the toxic materialities of our modern consumer cultures.

PF Toxic Materialities-POSTER-page-001

The film screening will be followed…

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On 23 February, Surgeons were offered a special tour of the British Library by ex-Surgeon Phil Hatfield, now Lead Curator for Digital Mapping.

The visit began in the courtyard outside the building, where we were reminded we were standing above thousands of books stored in four floors of shelving, the largest subterranean tower block in the world. Phil talked about the structure of the building and its ‘ship-like’ design (which is only visible from the street), the history of the site, the broader area of Somers Town and the process of gentrification it has gone through over the past decades.
Inside the building, we were introduced to British Library’s founder collectors (Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Hans Sloane, Robert Harley, and King George III) and had the opportunity to wander through the Treasure Gallery, whose riches range from Magna Carta and Gutenberg’s Bible of 1455 to Coronelli’s celestial globe and handwritten lyrics by the Beatles.
We then moved into staff areas of the British Library with a collection display in Meeting Room H, where we had the privilege to take a close look at rare eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books related to polar collecting and exploration, including Thomas Pennant’s Arctic Zoology (1784) and William Scoreby’s An Account of the Arctic Regions (1820), and books on plantations and anti-slavery. These included Sir Hans Sloane’s, Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbadoes, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica (1707-1725), Olaudah Equiano’s, Interesting Narrative (1789) and Amelia Opie’s, The Black Man’s Lament (1826).
We are most grateful to Phil for this amazing opportunity.




A still from the video “Do the Right Mix” (2014) by the European Commission.

On 26 January, 2015 we presented some preliminary results and insights from the two-year project “Living in the Mobility Transition”, funded by the Mobile Lives Forum. The project investigates how transitions to low-carbon mobility are envisioned by policy-makers in 14 countries as well as at the EU level and by the UN and associated bodies.

The countries covered in the study represent a diversity of geographical, political and socio-cultural contexts as well as ways of dealing with the low-carbon mobility agenda. They are the UK, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Norway, Portugal, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand.


A bike-share docking station in Astana, Kazakhstan. Photo by Anna Nikolaeva.

In each country members of our research team have produced surveys of national policy regarding low carbon mobilities as well as three “local” case studies, illustrating how national policies are applied locally or how alternative or complementary visions are developed in a bottom-up fashion. These include e.g. Rapid Bus Transit, cycle schemes, the development of electric vehicles, forms of telework and road pricing among other cases. In particular, we are interested in the ways that mobility policies portray and represent particular kinds of mobile life-styles and, ultimately, give mobilities meaning. Some of these policies are also quite speculative and so we are also interested in how certain mobile futures are being imagined and anticipated.

In the end we will have 14 accounts of national government policy and 42 local case studies in addition to accounts of policy constructed at the international and supranational level in the United Nations and European Union.


A zero-emission truck “Cargohopper” on the streets of Amsterdam. Source:

The project is carried out by research teams at Northeastern University, Boston, and Royal Holloway, University of London. The team includes seven researchers: Tim Cresswell (Northeastern), Peter Adey (Royal Holloway), Cristina Temenos (Northeastern), Jane Yeonjae Lee (Northeastern), Andre Novoa (Northeastern), Anna Nikolaeva (Royal Holloway) and Astrid Wood (now Newcastle University).

The audience responded to the presentation both with comments on the theoretical underpinnings of the project (how to define a “transition”? how do we know that transitions are happening?), questions to the historical situation of mobility transition, as well as with questions on the specifics of findings (are mobility transitions primarily urban, and what historical urban networks have seen certain policies take hold in particular places?). A productive discussion also developed around the issue of the relevance of the nation-station for such a study: on the one hand, visions of low-carbon mobility are themselves mobile as consultants and experts travel the world and ideas are reposted and retweeted; on the other, the nation-states still officially carry the responsibility to report on CO2 emissions and reduce them. Our preliminary findings suggest that cities and NGOs may often be more actively involved in putting transitions forward (and may even sue the state in the court of climate inaction as Urgenda did [add link], yet the states still take decisions on key issues that have impact on mobility and climate change mitigation (e.g. taxation).

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New book: Landscape, Nature, and the Sacred in Byzantium

Landscape, Nature, and the Sacred in Byzantium

This month sees the publication of Veronica della Dora’s new monograph, Landscape, Nature, and the Sacred in Byzantium, from Cambridge University Press. The following blurb offers a sense of the book’s ambitious scope:

Nature is as much an idea as a physical reality. By ‘placing’ nature within Byzantine culture and within the discourse of Orthodox Christian thought and practice, Landscape, Nature and the Sacred in Byzantium explores attitudes towards creation that are utterly and fascinatingly different from the modern. Drawing on Patristic writing and on Byzantine literature and art, the book develops a fresh conceptual framework for approaching Byzantine perceptions of space and the environment. It takes readers on an imaginary flight over the Earth and its varied topographies of gardens and wilderness, mountains and caves, rivers and seas, and invites them to shift from the linear time of history to the cyclical time and spaces of the sacred—the time and spaces of eternal returns and revelations.

The book can be ordered from the Cambridge University Press website.

Innes M. Keighren

Making Suburban Faith

On 12th January, the ‘Making Suburban Faith: Design, material culture and popular creativity’ project team presented our research in the Landscape Surgery Seminar Series.

This project is a current research project funded by the AHRC as a part of its Connected Communities programme, and is a collaboration between the Geography Departments of UCL and Royal Holloway. The research team is Claire Dwyer (PI UCL), David Gilbert (CI RH), Nazneen Ahmed (PDR UCL), Natalie Hyacinth (PhD RH), Laura Cuch (PhD UCL) and Christian Sayer (Admin, UCL).

The project explores the ways in which suburban faith communities create space focusing on architectures, material cultures, rituals, music and performance. The project is based in Ealing in West London and focuses on eight different faith community case studies selected to represent different faith and migration traditions. These case studies also represent different aesthetic and material cultures in their faith traditions and practices and in their buildings and community spaces.

The project involves four main research strands: survey and ethnographic work in all eight case study sites; ethnographic work with community members to explore home-based faith cultures and practices; ethnographic work on religious music and performance; three artistic projects which involve people from across different faith communities. In his introduction to the session, David Gilbert discussed the relationship between religion and creative practices, arguing that recent work on the geographies of creativity has marginalized religion, and indicting the hidden creativities of everyday religion – in its music, dance and performance, its craft and material culture, and in its architectures. Central to the methodology of Making Suburban Faith is active participatory research, involving faith communities and other publics from Ealing, and professional arts practitioners. The first of these involved sixth-formers from Brentside School in Ealing working with the international architecture firm Mangera Yvars in imagining and developing a multi-faith space for the suburbs. This creative participatory methodology is the focus of a session at this year’s AAG in San Francisco.


A feature of the project is that it includes two PhD projects – while these contribute to the overall research of the project team, they are also independent pieces of work, developing their own ideas and perspectives on issues related to issues of faith, creativity and place. These PhD projects, by Natalie Hyacinth (RH) and Laura Cuch (UCL) were the focus of the session, and they have both posted separately, reflecting on these presentations.

David Gilbert

Food, Faith, Home: A visual exploration of religious and domestic material culture


It was a fantastic experience to present my doctoral research at the Landscape Surgery seminar series on 12th January. Mine is an interdisciplinary practice-based PhD, using photography and film to explore the relationship between religious practices and home of the different faith communities that form the case studies of the overarching project Making Suburban Faith, in which the PhD is embedded.

I structured my presentation through the key terms of home, faith and material culture, which I juxtaposed to the presentation of both visual work by artists that have explored these concepts and my own visual work developed over the first year of my PhD. The purpose was to create a dialogue between the theoretical and visual approaches underpinning my research.
I first drew on a critical geography of Home (Blunt and Dowling, 2006) to examine what might constitute “domestic” religious practices for different faith communities. This critical theoretical framework is poignant for my research as it enables an interrogation of home which is not limited to the physical space of a household, and which takes into account: imaginaries of home; relations of power which are constitutive of people’s identities and their experience of home, and how home is open to and constituted through the relationship of different scales.
Second, I drew on Sophie Watson’s paper ‘Performing Religion: Migrants, the Church and Belonging in Marrickville, Sydney’ (2009), which explores the role played by various Christian churches in Sydney from different religious traditions to accommodate and integrate migrant cultures, as well as Blunt and Dowling’s (2006) idea that experiences of home are multiple and mobile, to interrogate to what extent the congregational spaces of the faith communities in our case studies are experienced as home.

Linked to this question, I introduced an undergoing visual pilot project (with the provisional title of ‘Looking after Faith’), which reflects on the experience of people who undertake typically “domestic” tasks in congregational spaces, such as cleaning, cooking, decorating and caring. This project has a visual approach that combines interviews and images of objects, as well as portraits, which aim to make visible the more “behind the scenes” practices involved in the daily functioning of such congregations. Here, I drew on my experience as a photographer ( to also elaborate on how visual practice and the interplay between image and text might be particularly relevant for the study of embodied and affective religious experiences.

Betty cleaning at Our Lady & St Joseph Church in Hanwell (© Laura Cuch, 2015)

Throughout my presentation I also reflected on the significance of material culture, especially that which relates to food, in mediating religious practices at home, as well as those practices that cross the boundaries between the house and the congregational space. By paying particular attention to the material culture of food and food practices, my research also aims to contribute knowledge on the relationship between food, religion and home. This will be the focus of one of the main visual practice elements of my research and I ended my presentation with some preliminary visual notes.

Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Temple in Ealing (© Laura Cuch, 2015)

Despite the limitations of time, some really interesting questions came up in the discussion, which I hope will develop further in conversation with the LS community. These covered: issues of representation and consent; the meaning and significance of ‘inter-faith’ research and; the necessity of making visible the significance of the particularity of the locality of our case studies.

Finally, it was very inspiring to see how presenting alongside other members of the Making Suburban Faith research team, David Gilbert and Natalie Hyacinth, generated a dialogue between some of the different dimensions of the overarching project, which people engaged with and gave really interesting feedback on.

AHRC Project: Making Suburban Faith
Laura Cuch’s photographer website:
Laura Cuch’s website:

Three Musics…Three Worlds: Religion and affective atmosphere in three West London faith spaces

I had a wonderful time presenting at my first Landscape Surgery seminar on Tuesday 8th January 2016. I introduced my first year PhD research into sacred sounds and presented findings of my autumn 2015 ethnographic fieldwork with three faith communities: the Sri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Hindu Temple, Ealing Christian Centre and St Thomas the Apostle Anglican Church. I spoke of my work as an ethnographically centred research project that contributes to the study of creativity, material culture and space in Ealing as part of the AHRC funded Making Suburban Faith team. I outlined my developing research questions that concern themes of the performativity of faith, the body and the senses and the construction of emotion and affect.

I explained to the group that affect and emotion are terms that have arisen much during my first year of research. Music is an undoubtedly emotive and affective art form and so I have become more and more interested in how emotions and affect are produced and understood within the musical celebrations of faith communities.

A Sunday musical “celebration” service at Ealing Christian Centre, December 2015

I pre-circulated Ben Anderson’s 2009 paper ‘Affective atmospheres’, as I believe his related concepts and focus upon the term atmosphere provides an interesting route into my developing ideas, particularly with regard to the atmospheres created by faith spaces and through sacred sounds. I read to the group the 1856 Karl Marx quote Anderson outlines in the beginning of his paper, it reads:

“the atmosphere in which we live, weighs upon every one with a 20,000 pound force, but do you feel it?”

Anderson suggests that Marx’s quote discloses the ambivalent meaning and nature of the term “atmosphere”. On the one hand, an atmosphere is a real material phenomenon that physically “weighs” or “presses” upon people, things and areas. Yet atmospheres also affect in an ambiguous and often “unsayable” way. I also presented Anderson’s key concept of “intensive spatialities” as a method to explore how music affects the intensity of religious services and celebrations.


Lord Ganesh shrine, Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Temple, December 2015
In order to illustrate the ways in which an affective atmosphere can be created, felt and produced in various ways through sound, I presented three central pieces of music from each community to the group. I played a snippet of the “Porti” chant from the Hindu temple, “Softly” by Will Todd which I sang at St Thomas’ as part of the Nine Lessons & Carols Christmas Choir and “Joy to the World” which is sung at the Ealing Christian Centre. I explained how an affective atmosphere is created in each space through various means of repetition, language and breathe.

For example, the Tamil word “Porti”, meaning praise, is repeated at the end of each line of a 108-line chant, the first page of which is below:

“Porti” 108 line Chant, Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Temple

Hindu devotees at the Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Temple consider this repetition the necessary spiritual medium through which Goddess Thurkkai Amman’s cosmic energy, or “shakti”, becomes activated through the recitation of each line. I noted how Hindu devotional songs place much significance on the Tamil language as containing affective power and the importance of the repetition of sounds such as “porti” and “om” in creating a divine affective atmosphere.

I contrasted this with “Joy the World” sung at Ealing Christian Centre which focuses much less on language and words and so more on rhythm, “feeling” and the emotive, performative way songs are sung. For example, a whole verse of “Joy to the World” was left out so that a more seamless feel and focus upon the rhythm was ensured.

By contrast, the deliberate focus and application of “breathe” emerged as an important method in which to create a certain atmosphere of “softness” during rehearsals for the Will Todd carol “Softly” for St Thomas’ Christmas concert. Ironically, during my time rehearsing this song, “softly” became the hardest word to sing!! So it was interesting and helpful to present the contrasting findings of my research at these faith communities as it made me think through more closely the meanings and terms I had been working with.

“Softly” by Will Todd
Finally, in relation to this I posed a query to the group regarding my thus far application of the terms “affect” and “atmosphere”, inspired by Anderson, to the musical celebrations of the three faith communities. I noted how I had found that each community had their own particular set of words or terms to describe the specific atmosphere that music and sound conjured in their world. I asked the group how translatable the term affect was, and importantly how could I approach and explore further conceptual ties that link each space.

I received really helpful comments from the group and though I was a little nervous at first, I quickly felt relaxed in what was a friendly and encouraging atmosphere…

Thank you to Surgeons for their kind and helpful comments, encouraging manner and patience!!
Natalie Hyacinth
Doctoral Researcher
AHRC Project: Making Suburban Faith