‘Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation’, symposium 2020

The symposium Practicing Landscape:  Land, Histories and Transformation was organised by the Reading Landscape Research Group, formed by artist-academics from the School of Fine Art, Exhibitions Department and Design History Theory at the Glasgow School of Art.

It ran over six Fridays, from 6 Nov – 12 Dec 2020.  The symposium comprised of two Keynote speakers – Ingrid Pollard and Dr Louise Purbrick – and four thematic sessions, each with three 20 minute presentations, chaired by a respondent from the GSA. Read the speakers biographies here

The symposium asked: How do contemporary art and other interdisciplinary practices engage with (and expand) the themes of Land, Histories and Transformation? How can such practices work with contested histories, identities and remoteness in specific locations? What do land and other material practices reveal in terms of transformation, heritage and sustainability?  Which practical, creative and critical theoretical frameworks are currently being utilised to interrogate the politics of Land, Histories and Transformation? How can a reflexive curatorial process activate these themes?

The Symposium had four key themes:

  • Wild spaces (including peripheral territories, deserts, forests or ideas of remoteness);
  • Histories (including land ownership, commons, cultural perspectives, border territories, heritage and preservation);
  • People and Place (including alternative voices and experiences of landscape including embodiment and auto-ethnographic practices);
  • Contentious Landscapes (including sustainability, interventions, conservation and ecology).

The schedule was as follows:

SESSION 1: Fri 6 Nov 2020         

Keynote Dr Ingrid Pollard, Respondent Dr Tiffany Boyle (GSA)

A mixed-media artist and researcher, Pollard uses digital, analogue and alternative photographic processes, also incorporating printmaking, image-text and artist books, installation, video and audio. Pollard studied Film and Video at the London College of Printing and MA in Photographic Studies, University of Derby and holds a PhD from the University of Westminster.

SESSION 2: WILD SPACES, Fri 13 Nov 2020

Dr Elizabeth A. Hodson, (Lecturer in Fine Art Critical Studies, GSA), The Posthuman Sublime: The Art Practice of Katie Paterson

Dr Nalini Paul, (Lecturer in Fine Art Critical Studies and Design History and Theory, GSA), Embodying Language in Wild Spaces: Place, Memory and Transformation

Sam Nightingale (PhD Candidate, Goldsmiths), Salt: a crystal image of time

Respondent Justin Carter (GSA)

The panel expanded upon the theme of ‘Wild spaces’, to encompass contemporary art practice, peripheral territories, ideas of remoteness along with notions of the sublime, embodiment and materiality.

SESSION 3: HISTORIES, Fri 20 Nov 2020    

Seán Laoide-Kemp (Masters by Research Student, IADT Dún Laoghaire), Landscape as Witness: Aftermath Photography, Oral History, and Ethnography in Representing the Public Works Scheme of the Great Irish Famine

Joe Crowdy (PhD Candidate, Oslo Centre for Critical Architecture Studies), Writing Rack Fen: 1583-1606 and 2019-20

Dr Frances Robertson (Lecturer, GSA) Alien Introductions: trees, memory and landscape history

Respondent Michail Mersinis (GSA)

The panel expanded upon the ways art practice and historical research investigate this theme to address land as witness, oral histories, cultural perspectives shaped by politics and memory, through issues of heritage, ecology and conservation.

SESSION 4: Fri 27 Nov 2020  

Keynote: Dr Louise Purbrick (School of Humanities, University of Brighton), Respondent Dr Marianne Greated (GSA)

Purbrick’s keynote reflected upon empty, or almost empty, distant landscapes, examining the ruptured nitrate fields of the Atacama Desert. From the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, the Antofagasta and Tarapacá regions of north Chile were extensively and intensively mined for nitrate. The industry, which supplied the agricultural economy of Northern Europe with fertiliser and its chemical industry with explosives, was driven by British capital. Residues of a history of the past exploitation of life remain in the desert landscape and appear in the present in other landscapes and in other forms: archives and images. Purbrick also considered the once derelict site of the H Blocks. 12 miles south-west of Belfast, it was the largest male prison for those serving life sentences for ‘conflict-related’ offences and frontline in the Northern Ireland conflict. Through the political stalemate of the peace process of the last 20 years, this site of conflict became a source of disagreement, a space of denial and silence. Most recently, it has been transformed, ecological and economic forces taking their effect, yet the site of the H Blocks still raises the question of how the material forms of history remain in landscapes of loss.

Louise Purbrick is an academic, activist and artist based at the University of Brighton. Principal Lecturer in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, her work is devoted to understanding the sites of extraction and incarceration; she investigates the material culture of conflict and everyday life.

SESSION 5: PEOPLE AND PLACE, Fri 4 Dec 2020          

Dr Nicky Bird (GSA), Raging: Revisiting Raging Dyke Network

Jordan Whitewood-Neal (MRes student, University of Brighton), Epistemological Hinterlands: Non-Normative Embodiment and Sublime Perceptions of Landscape

Dr Jo Vergunst (Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen), Exploring landscape decision-making with the arts: agency, scale and temporality

Respondent Dr Frances Robertson (GSA)

in this session on the theme of ‘People and Place’, the panel teases out questions of community, alternative voices, gender politics and experiences of landscape including embodiment and auto-ethnographic practices.


 Minty Donald (Professor of Contemporary Performance Practice, University of Glasgow), Erratic Drift: approaching human geological performance

Jane Brettle (Visual Artist, in collaboration with Robin Mason: Musician) Mine – walking

Jasper Coppes (Artist / Tutor Royal Academy of Art, The Hague), Mud

Respondent Susan Brind (GSA)

Led by three distinct contemporary art practices, the final panel draws out the tensions and legacies of between the human and non-human environment, including sustainability, interventions, conservation and ecology.

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