Tag Archives: Geography

‘Spiritual Flavours’: A Screening of Laura Cuch’s Documentary Film

24829372_10155809955311000_1955958520_n

Photography by Ed Brookes.

For the last Landscape Surgery of Term 1, Surgeons were invited to a screening of the film ‘Spiritual Flavours’. As detailed on the film’s website (http://www.spiritualflavours.com/page.php?series=film) ‘The film Spiritual Flavours interweaves biographical narratives and spiritual accounts from Betty, Aziz and Ossie (who belong to a Catholic church, a mosque and a liberal synagogue, respectively) with the experiences of cooking in their homes. The chosen recipes weave together the narratives of past, present and future aspirations, spirituality and the everyday. The commonalities and differences between them are expressed through visual and sonic synchronies and asynchronies; and a variety of visual materials and formats make visible the nature of the film as a research process. At the end, Betty, Aziz and Ossie meet, cook and eat together’.

LCuch_SpiritualFlavours_Still_02

Image courtesy of Laura Cuch

Spiritual Flavours is a collaborative arts project with members of different faith communities in the area of Ealing and Hanwell, who contribute recipes that they relate to their spirituality and religious practices. Through interviews and cooking sessions, the project pays attention to affective relationships with food, as a vehicle to explore ideas about inheritance, tradition and belief.

LCuch_SpiritualFlavours_Still_01

Image courtesy of Laura Cuch

The project is part of the wider Making Suburban Faith 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 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 diverse faith community case studies selected to represent different faith and migration traditions. These include a synagogue, a Sri Lankan Hindu Temple, a mosque, a Sikh Gurdwara, an Anglican church, a multicultural Roman Catholic church and an ethnically diverse Pentecostal church.

LCuch_SpiritualFlavours_Still_07.jpg

Image courtesy of Laura Cuch

The film is directed by documentary and fine art photographer Laura Cuch (Geography, UCL) as part of her practice-led PhD which uses photography and film to explore the domestic material cultures of faith in suburbia, with a particular focus on food and foodways. After the screening of her film, Laura led surgeons in a discussion of the film itself and the themes it explored.

LCuch_SpiritualFlavours_Still_05

Image courtesy of Laura Cuch

Discussion began with Laura explaining the theoretical lens of the film which sought to investigate the relationship between material culture, religion and domestic space. Laura described how she used food as the foci to explore this focus on material culture as she felt there was a fundamental relationship between food and faith which crossed boundaries of religion/secularism and community/private/public space in interesting ways. Surgeons then discussed with Laura, ideas of participant recruitment and choice of food featured within the film. Laura described how she chose participants in order to best display both gender and generational differences and similarities between food and faith within the film. Discussion then turned to ideas of visual culture and questions surrounding whether Laura felt an obligation to present a positive narrative within the film.

LCuch_SpiritualFlavours_Still_03.jpg

Image courtesy of Laura Cuch

Laura rounded off the discussion by highlighting the potential contributions of the film and the wider Suburban Faith project. These potential contributions were many and varied but included the idea of food as a research medium, food as material culture, the journeys of material cultures within and between community faiths and spaces, ideas of practice as research and the creation of new spaces of public engagement through research.

LCuch_SpiritualFlavours_Still_06.jpg

Image courtesy of Laura Cuch

Surgeons credited Laura on the affective capacity of her film, the film’s evocative stills and soundscape and how the film eloquently captured and explored both the sensory surfaces and soundscapes of food and cooking. On behalf of Landscape Surgery as a whole, we would like to thank Laura for sharing her wonderful and thought-provoking film with us and wish her all the best with the project!

LCuch_SpiritualFlavours_Still_04.jpg

Image courtesy of Laura Cuch

A trailer to ‘Spiritual Flavours’ can be found here:

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Meet the editors!

Hello! We are Nina and Ed and we are the current editors of the Landscape Surgery blog. We are both first year PhD students and members of the Social, Cultural and Historical Geography Research Group at Royal Holloway University of London. We are both extremely excited to take over this role from Huw and Katy and to continue to dissect the exciting dialogue generated by this research group at our bi-weekly ‘Landscape Surgery’ meetings. We are also looking forward to operating an informative blog which highlights the research groups contributions in publications, through public events and academic conferences, interdisciplinary workshops and dialogue with other institutions. We welcome submissions from all ‘surgeons’ relating to their topical research interests, upcoming events, general PhD life, post-doc and career advice; and generally, all things Geography (and beyond!). We also welcome any guest posts and/or advice and ideas to improve the blog!  If you would like to submit a blog post or have any comments or queries, we would love to hear from you! Please get in touch with us at Nina.Willment.2013@live.rhul.ac.uk or Edward.Brookes.2015@live.rhul.ac.uk 

So here is five quick fire questions to get to know us a little bit better..

Ed Brookes

ed brookes

  1. Current Research Interests:

My current research foci centres around urban geography, with particular interests in social housing, architecture and home. My PhD combines these foci as it looks to explore the social history of the Robin Hood Gardens council estate in East London during its demolition. As part of that I’m also heavily looking into contemporary archaeology and how it can be used by cultural geography as a toolkit for exploring urban spaces.

  1. What was your MA dissertation about?

In short it was about corridors. I wanted to examine some of the spaces that we overlook in our everyday lives, the corridor being a place many of us frequently walk through but spend little time thinking about. Using this as my framework, I explored the corridor artwork of two artists; Bruce Nauman and a Danish architectural duo called ‘AVPD’. Using their work, I attempted to highlight how the corridor can provide a means to engage with the often-overlooked aspects of lived architectural space.

  1. What do you do outside academia?

Outside of academia I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy… probably an unhealthy amount. Films and board games also take up a good chunk of my spare time. I also love to cook, so am frequently found trying out new recipes for cakes and other unhealthy baked goods.

  1. What is your favourite song to work too?

Well I can’t work to anything with lyrics otherwise I get distracted. But anything by Thomas Newman is good. If I had to pick one of his pieces it would be ‘Any Other Name’, which was used in the film American Beauty (A good watch if anyone hasn’t seen it).

  1. What is your favourite book

Probably a cliché but it’s got to be ‘1984’ by George Orwell. Dystopian fiction at its best. Also, its got some solid corridor imagery.

Nina Willment

nina-willment.jpg

  1. Current Research Interests:

My current research interests are around the intersection of economic and cultural geography, especially in relation to creative work. In particular, I am interested in the politics of creative labour and forms of aesthetic, affective and curatorial labour. I’m also interested in digital and visual methodologies and how these can be used to understand the changing form of the workspace. I’m currently trying to figure out a new empirical foci through which I can develop these themes.

  1. What was your MA dissertation about?

Within my MA dissertation, I wanted to examine the forms of aesthetic labour undertaken by DJs involved in London’s grime music scene. I developed three areas of focus to investigate the concept of aesthetic labour relating to the physical, performing and digital body of the grime DJ. Through these three foci, I aimed to expand the currently limited conceptions of aesthetic labour to include ideas of digital aesthetic labour and ideas of aesthetic labour as the propagation of affective atmospheres.

  1. What do you do outside academia?

Outside of academia, I absolutely love travelling! I try to go away as much as I can (probably why I have no money) Apart from that, I love walking my miniature dachshund (probably why I own waaay too much sausage dog stationary) and upcycling furniture (probably why procrastination always ends in the need to rearrange my room).

  1. What is your favourite song to work too?

Ahh I’m one of those people that have to be in absolute silence to get anything done but if I’m ever having writers block or feel a bit down, I always whack on Clean Bandit’s New Eyes album and instantly feel a bit better!

  1. What is your favourite book?

I’ve absolutely adored the Harry Potter books since I was a kid but more recently I’ve fallen in love with Brandon Stanton’s ‘Humans of New York’ book series, which has been adapted from his Humans of New York blog. I’m also a fan of Khaled Hosseini’s and love his ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ novel.

Nina Willment

 

Tagged , , ,

Decolonising geographical knowledges or reproducing coloniality?

23666740_10155225931903693_505717603_nImage of Huw and Joy. Photography by Nina Willment

Geography: “a discipline that may not be ready to, or even capable of, responding to the challenge of decolonisation,” (Esson et al., 2017: 384).

Huw Rowlands (AHRC PhD, RHUL Geography) and Joy Slappnig (CDA PhD, RHUL Geography in collaboration with the RGS-IBG) expertly led Landscape Surgery this week, in a “Contemporary Debates in Human Geography” session concerning “decolonizing geographical knowledges” – a topic that not only formed the locus of important discussions at the recent RGS-IBG conference, but also inspired a forum in Transactions. Together we sought to ultimately explore and unpack the question: decolonising geographical knowledge or reproducing coloniality? To begin exploration of this challenging but salient topic, Huw and Joy posed three key reflective questions:

-What is geographical knowledge? How is it perpetuated? Why should we address it?

After a few moments of personal reflection, we were asked to document our initial reactions to these questions on post-it-notes, which we then used to populate flip-charts posting these questions around the room.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

Analogic Spaces, Caves and the Ends of the Earth – Flora Parrott, Rachel Squire and Pete Adey

IMG_3507Photography: 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.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

Culture as an expression of ‘National’ Identity in Cornwall

Paulo Freire sees the relationship between a periphery and the state which sees itself as its ruler as being that between the Oppressor and the Oppressed. For Freire, cultural invasion (ie the ‘ruling state’ imposing its own culture on the periphery) is one of the main tools in achieving dominance. “Invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, in disrespect of the latter’s potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression” (1983: p133).

In recent times, indigenous Cornish culture has became a major rallying point for those living in the territory, something which formed an integral part in the Cornish being granted National Minority Status under the Council for Europe’s Framework Convention. This legislation seeks to protect indigenous languages, culture and encourage the national government to recognise this sense of difference and take it into account when considering policy and funding.

But, for all the positivity that was there with the recognition of National Minority Status, Cornwall’s identity on a cultural and linguistic level has not previously received the recognition that it  Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

Speculation and Meaning in the 1980s Swedish Arts World: The Making, Display and Dispersal of the Financier Fredrik Roos’ Art Collection: Jenny Sjöholm

Landscape Surgery’s summer term programme started on 2nd May with a round of news about the varied and fascinating things that Surgeons have been up to over the past few weeks. These involved suitcases, corridors, conferences, placements, submissions, and a fellowship. The one I will give a specific mention to is Ben Murphy’s show at the Architectural Association’s School of Architecture until 27th May, to give you all a chance to see it in the next couple of weeks or so. It sounded like Ben gained some rich experience about dealing with press interviews along the way.

For the main part of afternoon, Jenny Sjöholm, Marie-Sklodowska Curie Fellow with the Department, introduced us to an art collection created by Frederick Roos. This collection was remarkable in many ways as we shall see; but Jenny’s particularly fascinating work has been to trace the collection over its life. This is not an object biography but a collection biography if you will. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Using comics to communicate research to a research audience

eric-laurier-2This landscape surgery session, under the general theme of ‘Visual methods and visual communication’, featured Dr Eric Laurier Reader in Geography and Interaction at Edinburgh University, who introduced us to his broader development of visual methods and more specifically ‘Using comics to communicate research to a research audience’.

Eric has been a pioneer in research on everyday practices and in ethnomethodological developments in the social sciences, particularly known for his use of video technologies and methods. This session was based on a project, organised by Shari Sabeti at Edinburgh bringing researchers from different disciplines including education, English literature, anthropology and sociology to work with a comic artist, Simon Grennan. We started by sharing the experience of Eric and his colleagues as they engaged for the first time with the comic form, using Sharpies and paper to try and communicate aspects of our research. In what could become a new hashtag trend, #heardatlandscapesurgery, the experience evidently triggered some uncomfortable memories for some: “this is stressful,” “painful,” “surprisingly stressful,” “oh no!”

Demonstrating great perseverance in the face of this stress, everyone produced something and Eric considered that the results showed pretty advanced skills and techniques, such as the use of perspective and representation of time, interspersed with a good peppering of familiar stick people. You can see for yourself in the gallery of examples below.

Eric and his colleagues followed up these beginnings with more in-depth work such as exploring the work of four comic artists, focusing on details such as the use of colour, and transitions from one frame to the next for example.

In the next part of his talk, Eric introduced us to some aspects of the relationship between comics and human geography. Much work has been done about comics rather than using comics. Examples include examining geopolitics (for example, Klaus Dodds on Steve Bell’s cartoons of the Falklands war); the representation of place; the production, circulation and consumption of comics, and practices of reading comics. The only article written as a comic, as far as we know, is by Wilson and Jacot in Geographical Review. One PhD thesis has been submitted in comic form, Unflattening by Nick Sousanis, at Columbia University, published by Harvard University Press.

Much of the relationship between comics and human geography has been as a communicative enterprise. Here Eric was keen to point out the baggage of comics in the British cultural context. This carries an assumption that comics are a way of simplifying research complexity and therefore mainly a means of communicating with a public beyond the academy. Eric’s approach, on the other hand, is very much focused on exploring the role of the comic form in communicating research to a research audience. In this respect, publishers such as Taylor and Francis have created comics of abstracts, although the excessively colourful style makes them harder to read than the abstracts themselves. This style perhaps also reflects the British cultural baggage of comics, both with the authors and the readers, which contrasts particularly with the French cultural context, where, for example, it is easy to find Proust in comic form.

A further aspect of the relationship between comics and human geography is to be found in examples of documentary or factual research. Joe Sacco’s ‘Palestine uses comics to communicate his research through extended interviews. He produces drawings based on his field photographs, but notably brings himself into the frame; the style is busy and contains dense blocks of text. Joe’s style contrasts with Chester Brown’s work on Quebecois Louis Riel which has much simpler images, which he extends and links to his sources in extensive endnotes. Among other examples, Eric cited Steffan Kverneland’s ‘Munch, which conveys a polyphony of voices through the use of different visual styles alongside each other. How do people work with the comic form in practice? As a way of answering this, Eric took us through Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and illustrated the methods in applying the comic form that are revealed in his notebooks. The book is based on Art’s interviews with his father, and his notebooks show through juxtaposition how he substantially reduced the transcripts to speech bubbles laid out in panels; the drawings were added once this had been done.

We then moved on to look at how time is dealt with in the comic form, following Scott McCloud’s work on comics as sequential art. We looked at the example of conveying the duration of pauses. This can be shown through one or more panels with no speech, through a single but wider panel, or through the content of the panel, where rain can convey an endless quality or experience. There are critics of the idea of comics as sequential art; Marcus Doel and Chris Ware to name two. Ware describes comics as ‘a jigsaw where the puzzle does not quite fit together’ (2003a). Simon Grennan, the comic artist that Eric and his colleagues worked with, has criticised Ware’s work in turn, describing it as more like diagrams than comics. A particularly fascinating example of duration can be found in Richard McGuire’s ‘Here. McGuire presents the same space from the same perspective but has multiple points in time, including geological time, within the frame.

Eric rounded off this part of his talk with a look at narrative and perspective in the comic form, citing Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and Simon Grennan’s ‘Dispossession. Bechdel’s work uses a complex stance including the subjective, with her narrative voice running over the top of the story. Grennan’s work creates Trollope’s narrator’s perspective in an adaptation that pairs comic and other text. Eric drew our attention to Grennan’s illustrations from the perspectives of different characters, supported by the strong use of colour.

In the next section, Eric took us on his particular journey through the comic form, starting from the challenges he faces in communicating transcripts. With illustrations of the Jefferson transcription system in examples from Schegloff’s data of phone calls and Mondada’s multimodal work on mobility and talk, showing how they work as a complementary literary pairing, the complexity for the reader of following what’s going on was made very clear. This was the basis of Eric’s clear attraction for using graphic transcripts in comic form. So what are the main elements of comic form? Bubbles convey speech, captions convey non-verbal action, frames convey sequential events and their form, visual content conveys dynamics, social and spatial relationships and duration, and different points of view convey different spatial and personal perspectives. All of these can be used to create a much more accessible and straightforward way of communicating transcripts. The advantages of the comic form were explored in the project’s workshops, with experimental hybrids being tried through various iterations.

An interesting point that Eric raised was how this application still left the argument, an essential if not the essential element of communicating academic research, outside the comic elements. The comic form was used to convey transcript information, but not to advance the argument itself. Comic content remains a form of illustration to complement text. The challenge then is to bring the argument within the comic form, so that it embraces the research as a whole. Eric concluded with three illustrations of experiments started with Tim Smith’s work on street performances, (see photo), in which an event is ‘read’ from two perspectives, starting from the top left and bottom right, and moving into the middle of the page. A further example was in Eric’s digital poster comic, with short sequences of moving images (rather like gifs) and fixed speech bubbles. A final example was in the form of a flip-book hybrid, offering temporality in a fixed text format.

A lively discussion followed, which covered questions about the baggage of the comic form in a British cultural context; whether this work has changed Eric’s writing and editing practices; and applications in other disciplines such as architecture. One key advantage of the comic form that came out of a question on Eric’s experimental video and speech bubble experiment was the particular reading practice that the comic form offers over video. Here the reader can backtrack through the piece in a way that is easier than video rewind/replay.

There was a brief discussion about the focus in the talk on temporality compared with spatiality. The form also seems to offer up significant opportunities to explore ways of considering space. For example showing different spaces simultaneously, using different visual forms like maps and diagrams, and working beyond the frame to the page as a whole. Eric referred us particularly to the changing perspective in Simon Grennan’s ‘Dispossession as a significant way that the comic form can engage with its spatial opportunities, but also reiterated Grennan’s criticism of Chris ware’s work as not being comic. He mentioned Matt Madden’s experimental graphic work ’99 ways to tell a story’. While we didn’t explore this issue further, it strikes me that there is much to unpack here. Does the circumscription of the comic form limit the opportunities for communicating research? Is it more important to embrace the conventions of the form that give it coherence and structure?

We considered the pressure that researchers might feel in using a particular medium, comparing their use of it to its professional practitioners. Whether this is the comic form, film and video production or drawing, the value in using the medium does not depend on how it compares with the best in the business: we are researchers, not comic artists or film directors. This part of the discussion was reminiscent of the point made on research exhibitions last month – bringing up again the tensions between the medium as process and as product in a research context. We can perhaps forgive standards of academic writing that do not always match those of the ideas they communicate, although this is not everyone’s view. How do we, or will we, respond to amateur quality in other media despite its contribution as research method and/or form of communication? This discussion moved on to consideration of drawing, which has particular capacities for understanding in drawer and viewer. The advantage of the comic form in communicating research to a research audience is that it is more compatible with the sequential construction and communication of an argument, which, as we have noted, seems to be the main point.

You can find out more about Eric and his work at http://www.ericlaurier.co.uk and the comics and research communication project he has been part of with Edinburgh School of Art, at https://sites.eca.ed.ac.uk/comicpraxis/.

Katy and Huw

Photo gallery of surgeons’ comics (photography by Huw):

Tagged , , , ,

Introducing New PhD Students 2016/17

 

 

Adam BadgerScreen Shot 2017-01-06 at 18.08.55.png

Space, Freedom and Control in the Digital Workplace

Having undertaken both BA Geography and MA Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, I am delighted to return to the department for PhD study. This time, however, with a twist! As a Leverhulme Trust Magna Carta Scholarship funded candidate I have been given the opportunity to work in a wholly interdisciplinary capacity between the schools of Geography and Management. With my supervisory team – Prof. Phil Crang (Geog) and Prof. Gillian Symons (SoM) – I will be investigating the contemporary digital workplace through a range of analytical lenses. Of particular interest currently are the themes of ‘surveillance, display, and (de)territorialisation’, in addition to the development of methodological toolkits geared toward today’s changing work environments. In this race – both with and against Moore’s law – this line of study will hopefully generate exciting research into digital workplaces and, in addition, build bridges between the disciplines of Geography and Management.

 

Ed Brookes Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 20.24.59.png

Excavating the contemporary urban geographies of Robin Hood Gardens, London

Before joining the Royal Holloway family I studied at the University of Southampton, graduating in 2013 with a BA in human geography. With a brief interlude for various jobs and travel excursions it wasn’t until 2015 when I returned to academia, enrolling in the MA Cultural Geography course at Royal Holloway. It was during this time, and with great help from the Geography Department, that I managed to secure a PhD with funding by the ESRC. With a start date of September 2017, the PhD (supervised by Dr. Oli Mould and Prof. David Gilbert) aims to explore the social and cultural urban geographies of the Robin Hood Gardens housing estate in East London. More specifically it will focus on how the present-day site, and its on-going political contestation, is continually ‘produced’ by historical and layered assemblages of materiality, culture and urban politics.

In terms of my wider research foci I am particularly interested in the geographies of home, geographies of architecture and concepts of liminality. With a particular fascination with how individuals create and navigate the spaces in which they live as well as how intimate and ‘everyday’ architectural spaces are linked to a wider urban politics. Looking beyond my academic interests, I fill my time with manufacturing unhealthy baked goods and consuming large amounts of dystopian science fiction.

 

Daniel Crawford

dan

 

(Dis)Assembling the Sacred

 

I’ve been a student in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway since 2012, completing a BA in Geography and MA in Cultural Geography during that time. Funded by an ESRC 1+3 studentship, my PhD aims to investigate how meanings and experiences of sacred spaces are influenced by processes of material change. Within the ‘infrasecular’ present such processes are pervasive, as the relationships between communities and individuals, belief, non-belief and alternative forms of spirituality become increasingly complex, and, in parallel, sacred spaces are transformed and repurposed, made and unmade, neglected and conserved. I am interested in exploring these shifts with reference to various religious and non-religious understandings of the ‘sacred’ itself, many of which offer compelling and provocative ways of thinking about its geographies (architectural, natural, bodily, textual). These inform my current theoretical work looking at how and where silence, nonsense (and non-sense), emptiness and other negative projections of the unknowable might exert themselves. Finding suitable case studies and methodologies to clarify and focus these concerns will be my next step.

 

Katy Lawn picture1

Affective geographies of the contemporary British workplace: lifeworlds, biopolitics and precarity

I completed my undergraduate degree at Durham University, where I focused on cultural and literary geographies through a comparative study of Jack Kerouac novels and the philosophy of the (then) recently translated You Must Change Your Life by Peter Sloterdijk. After completing my undergraduate degree in 2013, I worked in a large publishing house for a year – which meant I got to meet David Starkey (very briefly). But the call of the academy was still too strong… and I returned to complete my MA at Royal Holloway in 2016 with a sustained interest in philosophies of living and emotional geographies. My PhD  work – supervised by Prof. Phil Crang and Dr. Oli Mould – will carry this interest through with a particular focus on the geographies of work, and within that, the role of affect and emotion in the workplace. I also have an interest in creative methods in social research – for example poetic ethnography and visual methods. When I am not reading critical management theory, I also like to paint, draw, and go to spoken word poetry events.

 

Flora Parrott

Swallow hole: the pursuit of darkness and uncertaintyparrott

 

I studied Fine Art at The Michaelis School of Art in Cape Town, The Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art graduating with a Masters in Printmaking in 2009. Exhibitions include, Robin Gibson Gallery in Sydney, Herbert Gallery and Museum in Coventry and the Ryedale Folk Museum, The Cosmos, Residency & Relatively Absolute at Wysing Arts Centre, The Negligent Eye at The Bluecoat, Liverpool, and Thin Place, Oriel Myrddin, Wales. In 2012 I received an Artist International Development Grant to travel to Brazil, the resulting project ‘Fixed Position’ showed at Tintype London, Projeto Fidalga, São Paulo and in The Earth Science Museum at The University São Paulo.

My teaching experience includes: Lecturer at Norwich University College of the Arts and Senior Lecturer at Kingston University. I am also currently visiting lecturer at UCA, and the universities of Birmingham, Bath and Bournemouth.

In 2016 I was Artist in Residence at RGS-IBG and The Leverhulme Artist in Residence in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway University London, developing a project titled ‘Swallet’. Current projects include a publication with Camberwell Press and an upcoming group show at Norwich Castle Museum.
 

Huw Rowlands

Huw.png

Historical and contemporary performance of cross-cultural first contact encounters: temporal and spatial dynamics

As first year AHRC-funded PhD student, I focus on re-performances of first-contact encounters in colonial-indigenous relationships. My research explores the roles of these encounters and their subsequent expressions in a range of media and contexts, such as neo-historical novels, dance/theatre, oral traditions, and exhibitions, including in the contemporary world. Seen through the lenses of performance and performativity, the research aims to understand the role of first contact re-performances in the cross-cultural dynamics of contemporary societies. I am supervised by Felix Driver and advised by Helen Gilbert.

A ‘Surgeon’ since undertaking an MA in the department 2014-15, I particularly enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of surgeries. Interdisciplinary, eclectic, curious, these are all words that seem to characterise my life; so far anyway. As a public/third sector project manager for 20 years, I worked on such diverse projects as the creation of a long-distance footpath between Winchester and Mont Saint Michel, funding Gaelic language tourism in Scotland, looking for life on Mars, and organising a multicultural percussion festival in the mountains of France. I taught geography, junk percussion and creative writing in both France and in UK Steiner schools over four years, and am also currently working (very) part-time as project co-manager, modern maps processing at the British Library.

My other interests include samba-reggae, photography, knitting, garden design, drawing, theatre, world music, walking and badminton.

 

Joy Slappnigjoy.JPG

The Indigenous Map

My PhD project (which is part of the Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) scheme and supervised by Prof. Felix Driver and Dr. Catherine Souch) seeks to establish Indigenous contribution to the map collection at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), and to explore the historical significance of “Indigenous maps” as sources of geographical information, as ethnographic objects, and as artefacts of encounter. I’m new to Geography and intrigued by the diversity of the discipline, and to see what my academic background can bring to my PhD. I completed a BA in History at King’s College London (my dissertation focused on the influence of bebop on racial integration in New York during the 1940s and ‘50s), and an MSc in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology at the University of Oxford (where my final project investigated how the “remnants” of repatriated objects in American museums (catalogue records, exhibition labels, photographs, etc.), influence Indigenous presence in those institutions). I’m interested in the geographies of exchange and encounter, material anthropology, post-colonial studies, as well as ethnographic collections, and the ways in which they have been assembled (and sometimes disassembled), displayed and otherwise engaged with, and used in the production of knowledge. I really liked participating in curatorial research internships at the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, during which I worked on a repatriation procedure with the Laguna Pueblo tribe, and on an exhibition of pre-Columbian architectural models. A you might expect, I enjoy visiting the London museums in my free time (the Hunterian Museum is a recent favourite), and I also like going to the movies. I’ve just moved to the northwest of London and I’m currently enjoying the novel NW by Zadie Smith. 

 

 

Tagged , , ,

Curating a Research Exhibition

dscf8465Landscape Surgery’s current theme of ‘communicating research’ took a look at research exhibitions, and revealed ways in which exhibitions can be far more than valuable forms of communication. The session was stimulated by three panelists: current surgeon and 3rd year PhD student n the department Katherine Stansfeld, ex-surgeon and PhD student and now British Library curator Phil Hatfield, and Carey Newson, who recently completed a collaborative PhD with Queen Mary, University of London and the Geffrye Museum of the Home.

Katherine introduced her research on mapping superdiversity and outlined several reasons why an exhibition might form part of PhD research: as a means of communication, particularly in reaching audiences beyond the academy; as research or analytical process, alongside other methods; and as a way of starting or continuing a dialogue with people who may be interested in or have participated in the research.

Three aspects of Katherine’s experience stood out. The first relates to planning and spatial materiality. An exhibition budget enabled a diverse team to be involved, including an artistic director and production staff. This increased planning and coordination time that Katherine has been spending on the exhibition. It also revealed how significantly the materiality of an exhibition space and design affects the way people can interact with an exhibition. The second and linked aspect is the process of deciding what to show and how to show it. This is clearly not a neutral process, and can be driven as much by material priorities as research or aesthetic ones. Collaboration was the third aspect, and Katherine shared her experience of working with young artists on alternative mapping. In conclusion, she commented on how the more time-consuming communication that results from these three aspects offers both challenges and opportunities.

In contrast to Katherine’s exhibition being very much within her research, Carey’s followed the completion of her thesis. Her research project, in collaboration with Queen Mary and the Geffrye Museum speaks to the material culture of domestic space, geographies of young people and the study of the home, and explored the meaning and significance of the teenager’s bedroom and its material culture. Visual anthropologist Kyna Gourley took photographs of the bedrooms, and Carey returned with a selection of these later to stimulate interviews with both teenagers and their parents. Some of the findings included the way the rooms reflected and expressed teenagers’ personalities and lives, and so changed over time; that the bedrooms were retreats more than social spaces; and that the 24 rooms studied were very different, yet with recurring themes. Teenagers were pre-occupied by dilemmas around what to keep and what to get rid of, recalling Nicky Gregson’s work on the relationship between ridding and dwelling.

Moving on to the creation of the exhibition itself, Carey, like Katherine, mentioned the materiality of the space, especially the glass cases which, initially thought to be problematic, led to the development of a series of installations. There were also particular challenges and creative design solutions in relating the objects to their bedroom contexts. The creation of a full-scale installation of a bed and contextual material was assisted by the original room’s occupier, and made a fascinating difference to the way the teenage audience engaged with the exhibition at the opening. Playful forms of engagement, such as sitting on and in the bed and taking photographs of each other, stood out. It seems curious the way these rooms are exhibitions in themselves, and this was in some ways an exhibition of exhibitions.

Phil’s presentation gave us an opportunity to take a broader perspective on exhibitions in the context of major cultural institutions, based on his involvement in six exhibitions at the British Library. One of the first points Phil raised was the effect of space and time and other resource pressure in such places. Large institutions have relatively complex planning and approval processes which impose longer lead-in times. They also have more proposals for exhibitions than space to accommodate them. Add to this the range of costs, that can be in the £100,000s, together with the numbers and seniority of staff involved, and you have a set of factors with very significant impacts on exhibitions. These collectively mean that the opportunities to integrate an exhibition into the timescale of a PhD are very limited, effectively nonexistent.

However, successful exhibitions still happen regularly at the British Library, and Phil identified a number of other more positive factors. By keeping in touch with curators over the long-term, there is more chance of being able to take advantage of unexpected opportunities that do come up. A case in point is Phil’s own forthcoming exhibition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the federation of Canada through the Library’s photographic archives, based on his PhD completed six years ago. In dealing with large cultural institutions, flexibility can be very helpful too. By contributing in small ways to exhibitions and book projects, blogs and public programming, you build a relationship based on relevant collaboration that can enhance other, greater opportunities.

A very interactive discussion followed, aided by the contrasts between the three speakers around the common theme. The contrasts highlighted the range of relationships that an exhibition can have with research as research method, output, opportunity for participatory involvement, and engagement with more diverse audiences. Even in the British Library, an exhibition can feed into the institution as a whole, beyond the specific research that it is focused on.

An interesting theme developed around the risks and other dynamics involved in showing a work in progress, as in Katherine’s case. This raised the importance of managing expectations. It also illustrates how the material processes of exhibition production can be significantly different. Take photographs for example. The specification of photographs being produced in the role of final record is different from that where they are being displayed as research tools. Applied to Katherine’s video work, this also highlighted the way editing affects the research process in important ways.

This is magnified in larger projects, where the numbers and specialisms of people involved make exhibitions effectively massive collaborations, where the identification of the work with the names of only one or two curators seems at the very least inadequate. Further discussion looked at the use of the term curation and the development of curatorial skills in more detail.

An intriguing thread led us through issues of presenting items to speak for themselves contrasted with the use of explanatory text. There was some link to the timing of the exhibition in relation to the stage of the research project. Katherine felt that, as a work in progress, she had greater freedom to allow the work to be displayed with limited explanation. Carey noted the importance and value of experience in advising and editing display text. Phil took this further to remind us of the intensely collaborative nature of producing display text.

These examples contextualised a point raised about the roles of artistic practices as research processes, where the output is less of a primary objective than gaining perspective through externalising ideas and thereby generating different modes of understanding. This linked intriguingly with contributions about what constitutes an exhibition, covering pop-ups and the example of using a Premier Inn room below the radar, and inviting people in four at a time. A retrospective thought on this is the way artistic practices and exhibition works in progress may be seen as failures in many traditional exhibition contexts. I wonder how an institution’s conditioning of exhibitions would engage with such unresolved dynamics and ephemeral events.

– Katherine Stansfeld: current third year PhD student in the Department of Geography at RHUL, and surgeon, who is in the final stages of preparing for her research exhibition ‘Superdiversity: picturing Finsbury Park’, which will open in Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park itself in mid February.

– Carey Newson: a completed PhD student from the Department of Geography at QMUL, whose project was a collaboration with the Geffrye Museum of the Home, London E2. Her PhD was about about teenagers’ bedrooms, and an exhibition based on that research is currently running at the Geffrye (until April 23rd 2017). You can see more about the exhibition here.

– Phil Hatfield: Honorary Research Associate of the Department of Geography at RHUL, Digital Mapping Curator at the British Library, and once upon a time a surgeon and a CDA PhD student with the British Library, whose topic was Canadian photography. Phil has also led and participated in a number of Library exhibitions. The most recent of these – Lines in the Ice – resulted in a book that is currently available.

Huw Rowlands

Tagged , , , , , ,

Souvenir Geographies — My first year PhD presentation in Landscape Surgery

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

The first-year PhD presentation day is a tradition of Landscape Surgery. I attended it last year as an audience member when I was a MA student, and was honoured to be a speaker in it this year. For the LS presentation, I created a slideshow to help demonstrate my PhD (available here), which can also give you a taste of my PhD.

This project looks at a widely-loved object: the souvenir. Many people keep souvenirs as reminders of a person, place, or event. A souvenir is inherently geographical based on its nature. A souvenir’s mobility is its most outstanding geographical characteristic: souvenirs move from the place of tourism to the place of home; from ‘extraordinary’ place to the world of the ‘ordinary’. Although souvenirs take on many forms, functions and representations, they are often formally associated with a specific geographical place.

Studies related to souvenirs in SCG are rare. Morgan & Pritchard (2005) studied souvenir and self-identity; Hashimoto & Telfer (2007) talked about authentic geographical souvenirs in Canada; Ramsay (2009) had an impressive field work of souvenir production sites in Swaziland; while Peters (2011) studied banal souvenirs’ home placement. Souvenirs studies have potential for exploration.

My PhD project ‘Souvenir Geographies: Authenticity and Place Making’ focus on souvenirs on two way: one is to explore how souvenirs’ authenticity and meaning change along with places; secondly it looks at how souvenirs shape places in the terms of place making. This process is revealed by following souvenirs in a linear route: from the making sites, tourist sites, transport sites (AKA non-places: airports, train stations; Augé, 1994) and then to the tourists’ homes. In this quadruple layer process, souvenir’s spatiotemporal peculiarity makes it a great object to follow, and to analysis from a geographical perspective. Putting my Cultural Geographer’s hat on, I analysis souvenirs based on their spatial movements.

In the terms of methodology, ‘following the thing’ and visual ethnography are the most basic and key methods used through out the whole project. Apart from these, semi_structured interviews, using postcards as a method, participant observation, keeping fieldwork diary: text, image and video, and blogging as a method (project blog) are also used in this project. When it comes to field work, two fields are considered for this project. The first one is UK, and the other is China. In each case, equal factories, tourist sites, transporting sites and homes will be visited and same number of postcards will be handed out.

Souvenirs studying is an innovative and novel topic area in Cultural Geography, which promises to contribute to discussions in a range of geographical topics: material culture, place and, in particular, tourism studies.

Zhuyun (Amy) Zang, PhD Candidate

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,