Research Group, School of Fine Art, The Glasgow School of Art
Author: Reading Landscape Research Group, The Glasgow School of Art
Reading Landscape provides a context for predominantly Fine Art practice and research interests through a programme of research seminars, and knowledge exchange in addition to practice-led research projects and exhibitions
Two research outputs were presented by Michail Mersinis in Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation. These built on Mersinis’ research enquiry on the questioning of a Photographic image when the site is subject to liminal changes. The first, ‘The going of snow’ takes the form of an analogue slide show made of 80 images. The work was made in the duration of a day during the research trip to Loch Ossian, and is a response to the landscape directly, the conditions that alter the perception and its appearance. The images progress from light to dark to light and attempt to address the Deleuzian notion of time-image, albeit in singular form, the optical qualities aspire to speak to the qualities of recollection both as manifestations of image as well as manifestation of the appearance of the landscape in transition between seasons.
The second work is made of a composite of 7 individual works, all made in the summer of 2019, as part of an ongoing project that questions the agency of the photographic image. These works were made during earthquake season. The works question the apparent subject of the photographic, as each was determined (optically and technically) by the duration of an earthquake. Negating the immediately unidentifiable subject matter, the coexistence of fragments of time-exposure and space propose question of the simultaneity, coexistence and fragmentary representation of events that take place outside of an image plane, and find themselves in an uncertain representational state.
Following a solo exhibition there in 2018/19 entitled ‘La Tierra de Rulfo : Ficciones Mexicanas,‘ she travelled south to Oaxaca to expand on more specific strands of this research. The work within the exhibition, concerns itself with the interweaving of time and highlights time as a construct for narrative. Focussing on the mnemonic role of trees and their potential to link the sub-terrain, with the earth’s surfaces and skies and the past with the present and future, she responds to a number of specific trees which hold great cultural and spiritual significance. This includes El Arbol de Tule (The Tule tree) which, with a circumference of over 46 metres has the widest trunk in the world.
A subtext to the work concerns itself with medium specificity and a questioning of the relationship between the image, the material and the process. Works have been made using a range of Alternative Photographic printing processes that use the elements from the landscape (e.g. silver, salt, sunlight) to create the image. Additionally, some prints have been made onto untreated recycled paper, reinforcing the cyclical connection between the paper, pulp, wood and tree.
TOP IMAGE: Christina McBride, ‘Silver Ceiba,’ 2018 (40cm x 40cm): Triptych (Detail). Scanned analogue negative digitally printed onto recycled paper. Photo: Jack McCombe
Gina Wall works in place, and through the memories of place, to explore the relation between land, photography and text. Sceptical of ocularcentrism, Wall practices photography as a kind of writing, engaging with the landscape as living archive. She explores the space between practice-as-writing, nature writing and archaeology to articulate place as event encounter. Recent work has focused on the development of a methodological approach that Wall describes as archaeospectrography which engages specifically with the hauntology of the archaeologies of the present and the practice of photography within the quantum entanglements of space and time. This methodology seeks to develop a photographic praxis in the broadest sense: to research locations and conduct fieldwork; and to interact with these places through a diffractive photographic practice of temporal re-cutting. Working in this way, Wall aims to disrupt anthropocentric paradigms of human-world relations, challenging the privileging of the ocular and visionary to bring to light a space in which practice-as-writing resists individual vision to inscribe the image as a diffracted, distributed, polytemporal array. For Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation, Wall presents a combination of previousand new work which has as its connective tissue the question of landscape and time, expressed by her interest in synthetic and archaeological landscapes of the 20thcentury which hang on in the present as affective places. The complexity of time works its way through her practice in the exploration of the polytemporal, the spectral and, more recently, following Karen Barad, the notion of thick or queer time.
For over a year and a half, Amanda Thomson has been filming an alder by the burn outside her window, sometimes two or three times a day, occasionally once a week, sometimes just once or twice a month. The resulting work in Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation reveals the slow and shifting changes of season, light, and time passing. Aar (a Scots word for alder) also includes notes from a shared diary of recording sightings – often the first flowers or migrant birds of the year: cuckoos, house-martins, geese; spring primroses, summer germander speedwell, late summer creeping ladies tresses. These aren’t necessarily systematically recorded but speak to what is simply noticed when there, and what is seen and heard in the course of the everyday. The diary also records the fleetingness and luck of seeing of residents such as eagles, crossbills, and hares, or a flock of redpolls scared up by a sparrowhawk. Aar is part of what will become a phenological exploration and reflection of a place and ongoing change, questions of attentiveness and care, and human and more-than-human timescales. It feeds into Thomson’s ongoing research and investigations which incorporate a visual arts practice and creative non-fiction and explore questions of slow looking and attentiveness, Scottish landscapes, language (as in her book, A Scots Dictionary of Nature), walking and reflections on the interrelationships of place with self, migrations, native/non-native/‘invasive’ species, and conceptions of home.
Waterdrop on hot stonetakes its title from a poem written by Bertold Brecht in 1931 Ballade vom Tropfen auf den Heißen Stein. As this sculpture’s title, it initially sounds like a poetic mediation on the impact of materials upon one another yet it also relates specifically to the dystopian reality of Brecht’s text. The waterdrop represents actions taken to resolve a problem, while the hot stone represents the magnitude of the problem. Thoughts and questions emanating from this idea are folded into Michael Stumpf’s work for Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation. Rather than being immobilized by the notion of the hot stone, this sculpture explores how material collaborations can contribute to contemporary poetic thought about our relationship to landscape. Examples of successful collaborations taking part in the natural world (such as the combining of fungi and algae to form lichen) invite us to speculate on human and material interaction.
TOP IMAGE: Michael Stumpf‘Water drop on hot stone’, 2019, (detail). Photo: Jack McCombe
Through her painting practice Marianne Greated explores how sustainability manifests within the landscape. Her work addresses landscape painting, constructing uncertain narratives around human intervention into the landscape. The paintings in Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation focus on renewable power structures, displacing the notion of the site and redressing histories of landscape painting. Greated’s research includes field trips, such as a site visit to Southern India from which these paintings stem, and ongoing explorations of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The visual representations of the environment are informed by the complexities of sustainability, public and political influence and how the landscape is forged by industry and power. The paintings seek to challenge our perception of landscape and the role landscape painting has in representing our environment.
TOP IMAGE: Marianne Greated installing ‘Pertaining to the Sun’, 2020; Acrylic and gesso on board. Photo: Nicky Bird
This exhibition brought together the work of sixteen The Glasgow School of Art researchers, who are part of a research group called ‘Reading Landscape’.
Collaboration is a vital part of the Reading Landscape Group Ethos. This show included collaborative works: Nicky Bird with Alice Andrews; Sue Brind with Jim Harold; Alex Hale, Historic Environment Scotland; Creative Centre for Fluid Territories members and Rachael Flynn.
Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation features Blood from Stone, a body of work produced by Justin Carter during a residency in Fineshade Wood, Northamptonshire. The work is inspired by the regional relationship between Oak and Ore. During an intensive research period the site was identified as an area of ancient industry – iron smelters having been fuelled by the abundance of wood fuel from Rockingham Forest.
Transforming this relationship into the visual, Carter combined oak galls and tree bark with rust removed from dragline buckets used in local quarries. The resulting ink was used to create prints suggesting life forms or taxonomic specimens.
TOP IMAGE: Justin Carter, ‘Blood from Stone – Impressions of Life’, 2018 (Detail); Oak gall ink on paper. Photo: Jack McCombe
Organised and facilitated by artist Lesley Punton, this enabled the group to further engage with planning and developing the group’s aims; to further conversation and dialogue around future projects; and to provide a supportive peer network to discuss research areas of interest.
The fieldwork methodology incorporated production of visual materials/new work, photography, documentation and further work on conference and exhibition planning. Related to the Research Group’s pre-set key themes, members continued the conversation informally addressing research questions:
Q1: How do contemporary art practices engage with (and expand) the theme of Landscape and embodiment?
Q2: How can such practices work within the contested terms ‘identity and remoteness’ in relation to specific locations?
Q3: What is the role of contemporary art in relation to Ecology and sustainability within the Northern Hemisphere?
Q4: Which practical and creative frameworks are needed to develop and sustain interdisciplinary relationships between artists and other experts?
Q5: What cross-disciplinary practice-led methodologies might emerge in response to Landscape and physical layering of history?
The project’s Primary Objectives on the field trip to Loch Ossian were to:
Practising Landscape was a practice-led, action-research project undertaken by 10 members of the Reading Landscape Research Group, 1-7 November 2015.
Beginning in Glasgow, the journey passed through the Cairngorms, to Abderdeen, Helmsdale and on to Orkney. The choice of route being, firstly, determined through an extensive mapping exercise based on the Reading Landscape research group members sharing knowledge and divergent research-practice interests in specific sites; and, secondly, for its productive connections to an extended network of artists, anthropologists, curators working cross disciplines within specific locations en route.
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The project’s methodology incorporated subject specialist-led seminars with external collaborators, discursive workshops, site visits, production of visual materials, photography, documentation and reflexive curation. Related to the Research Group’s pre-set key themes, GSA project participants led individual seminars and dialogues, according to their own areas of research expertise at various stages of the journey (although all were active participants at all times), addressing the following questions:
-How do contemporary art practices engage with (and expand) the theme of Landscape and embodiment?
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-How can such practices work within the contested terms ‘identity and remoteness’ in relation to specific locations?
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-What is the role of contemporary art in relation to Ecology and sustainability within the Northern Hemisphere? -Which practical and creative frameworks are needed to develop and sustain interdisciplinary relationships between artists and other experts?
-How can a Reflexive curatorial process facilitate and help disseminate a mapping of the research journey?
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-What cross-disciplinary practice-led methodologies might emerge in response to Landscape and physical layering of history?