Photography: Ed Brookes
This week’s landscape surgery explored the world of analogic and subterranean geographies. Hosted by Flora Parrott (TECHNE PhD, RHUL Geography), Rachel Squire (Lecturer in Human Geography at RHUL) and Pete Adey (Professor of Geography RHUL). Split into two parts; Flora presented her work on caves, followed by Rachel and Pete and their research into the subterranean realms of analogic spaces.
Flora Parrott – Caves
We are first invited by Flora to consider what motivates us to try and grasp the insurmountable. In particular how cave exploration is associated with an endless process of discovery and encounter with the unknown. Using stories, images and her own artwork she takes us on a journey through ideas associated with ‘the cave’ and how we come to know them. Her talk asks questions about the structures of feeling that emerge in our engagement with subterranean spaces and how we can begin to grasp the ineffable.
Photography: Ed Brookes – Shute Shelf Cavern Blueprint
We are all handed a blueprint of Shute Shelf Cavern, a cave system in Somerset, and one of the caves that formed a case study in Flora’s research. Throughout the presentation we are provided with a vivid retelling of her experience moving through each separate part of the cave, as we go from entrance to exit, navigating tight, dusty, crawl spaces and pitch-black, damp caverns. Flora uses these stories to present how notions of the artificial and the real cave are intertwined. As she juxtaposes images of an artificial cave network with the stories and images of real caves, constructing the idea of a ‘cave imaginary’. These ideas are developed further as she recounts her experience of the ‘Mer De Glace’, an ice cave in Chamonix, which had the rather unusual feature of carpeted floors and opportunities to take ‘selfies’, challenging how we come to know subterranean environments.
Image Courtesy of Flora Parrott – Artificial Cave
As we go deeper into Shute Shelf Cavern Flora discusses her experience with the Imperial Caving Club and their trips to Slovenia. She highlights their reluctance to use modern cave recording equipment so that they can spend more time exploring the cave network. In this way she presents how the notion of the cave offers a means to explore the mind, offering a form of introspection and spiritual meditation; a point further iterated by her trip to the Mother Shipton Cave in North Yorkshire. Here a unique feature known as the ‘Petrifying Well’ slowly turns things to stone, as the slow dripping of mineral-rich water petrifies anything from leaves to teddy bears. Many of the petrified remains are hung up by the owners or sold in the gift shop. Flora presents how the slow dripping comes to represent the slow build-up of thoughts in the mind, a combination of memory and magic, probing the neurological cave of our perceptions.
As we near the near the end of our cave journey Flora discusses the blurriness of her own memory and how in looking back the hard edges of the cave are softened and become elusive. Images are used as tethers to stop memory and self from melting into the darkness. However, what is clear is how the cave offers a way to engage with the unknown and a means to push the limits of the unknowable. Finally, we are invited to exit the cave, where the body emerges in one piece and where our phones once again have signal.
Image Courtesy of Flora Parrott – Recent Studio Work
More of Flora’s work can be found at: http://www.floraparrott.com/
Rachel Squire and Pete Adey – Analogic Spaces and the Ends of the Earth
Our subterranean journey continues with Rachel Squire and Pete Adey as they discuss their research into analogic spaces. They present analogic space as environments which attempt to recreate specific conditions of usually hostile or uninhabitable places such as the vacuum of space or deep under the sea. Their researched looked to engage with how we think through such spaces and how they facilitate imaginaries of the ends of the earth.
They begin with a promotional video of one of their case studies ‘Blue Abyss’, to be built at a science park in Bedfordshire that aims to provide a place for humanity to work in extreme environments. It plans to offer commercial astronaut training centre alongside one of the deepest pools in the world. In this way they highlight how analogue spaces can push the limits of human living to extreme depths in contained environments.
Image Courtesy of Blue Abyss Website http://blueabyss.uk/
They set out by explaining how this project builds upon their previous research interests, as Rachel’s PhD explored ‘Sealab II’ a US naval project in the 1960s that probed the possibility of undersea living. That project looked for end-of-earth alternatives with the threat of nuclear destruction within its historical context of the Cold War. Such underwater labs have since received a great deal of interest from NASA, including the Aquarius Reef Base in Florida, as the sealed environment reflects many of the conditions faced by astronauts in space. Pete’s previous research interests explored airport evacuation software and how virtual environments have tried to illustrate emergency situations. From these interests they highlight how their research came together over four case studies:
- Blue Abyss – A Bedfordshire science park that looks to prepare people for future space travel
- Aquarius Reef Base – A Florida underwater lab supported by Nasa that offers a space for astronauts to train for space travel. Although it is currently undergoing repair after recent hurricanes.
- Nemo’s Garden – An Italian, family run, underwater farm. Initially set up after a failed basil crop, the family looked-for alternatives and turned to growing crops under the sea.
- Biosphere 2 – An earth system science facility in Oracle, Arizona. Originally it was intended as a closed system experiment for future living in space, but was fraught with issues and subsequently became a research facility.
In using these four case studies they present the issues raised by analogic spaces. For instance, building at extreme depths raises questions around territory and security, as many of these spaces are not traditional security spaces and therefore fraught with vulnerabilities. They also question such spaces more broadly and the worlds that these locations aim to create or protect and in turn what futures they imagine. For example, many analogue spaces offer ‘privatised bunker’ style facilities for select individuals or research communities only. In this way they present how certain aspects of analogue space contribute to notions around the earth’s future and its imaginaries, and what future governments and corporations appear to be creating.
Image Courtesy of Blue Abyss Website http://blueabyss.uk/
They also highlight the distinct aesthetic that follows analogic space, as many such as ‘Blue Abyss’ perpetuate notions of containment or being hermetically sealed. In a science fiction style they also add to narratives of the heroic explorer or pioneer which are largely dominating and masculine. They end by presenting how many of these spaces are at the limits of what geography does and the issues in approaching analogue space. With many questions still left to explore they look to investigate how the issues that analogue spaces raise can be brought to the wider public, and how the technologies that such spaces are involved in developing can be put to work on earth.
After two fantastic talks, it is clear that the subterranean world presents geography with new ways of apprehending the life world. Whether through the quiet introspection of the cave or the geopolitical consequences of undersea research labs, the world below is brought vibrantly into question by Flora, Rachel and Pete’s research.