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The University of Southampton
TAG 2016 Southampton

S12. Gone to Earth: Uncovering Landscape Narrative through Visual Creative Practice

Session organizer:

Leah Fusco (Kingston University,

Gone to Earth

Session abstract:

This proposed session explores the materiality of place and the agency of landscape in unearthing historical, social and cultural narrative. Examining the role of the artist as facilitator, serving to bring hard to reach narratives to wider audiences, creative fieldwork from selected individuals will be presented and discussed in a practitioners forum. The work investigates a range of case studies, including a deserted medieval village, burial grounds and pilgrim sites and explores visual creative practice and approaches to making across painting, photography, drawing, mark making, printmaking, moving image and sound. The work will offer variations on ways of seeing and recording place, encompassing the interpretation, reading, uncovering and experiencing of landscape through varied methodologies. Positioning the artist as a communicator between past and present, the session will interrogate visualisation through memory, knowledge, experience, imagination, conceptualisation, reconstruction and speculation across visual creative practice within the following areas:

Wider points we hope to discuss after the presentations with the audience include:

The session aims to explore approaches to landscape in visual creative practice, in order to understand how this unfolds and activates historic, social and cultural narrative. Another aim is to consider and employ visual creative practice for wider engagement with lost, hidden and unseen places through interpretation. We hope that the session will contribute to current academic research surrounding the visualisation of such spaces.

Contributor Abstracts:

Session 1: Materiality and time

Visualising Entropic Narratives of Deep-Time: A presentation of fieldwork from the Broads

Sinead Evans (Norwich University of the Arts)

Funded by the Broads Landscape Partnership Scheme and the National Lottery Heritage Fund,myself and three colleagues at Norwich University of the Arts are currently contributing to a cross-disciplinary research initiative. Titled Mapping The Broads, the initiative aims to diversify and strengthen public engagement with the national park.

Capturing visual traces of entropy in the Broads landscape takes the eye to edges. Crumbling edges of banks, eddies of sand under the lips of lapping water, surface currents, piped torrents, submerged foliage, pools brimming with eutrophic matter. Geo stories are epic tales to human eyes, time runs differently here. It is slow, slower than slow, but micro movements hint at the macro epic as it unfolds.

Benjamin writes; the materials of memory no longer appear singly, as images, but tell us about a whole, amorphously and formlessly, indefinitely and weightily, in the same way as the weight of his net tells a fisherman about his catch (Benjamin, 1999). Materiality acts as a surfacer of memory, and simultaneously a revealer of entropic journeys. By reading this we can consider the past and the future in the present second of time. Illustration can allow us to time travel both back and forth in the same space. To consider time beyond our ourselves and our own comprehension of human life. Materials of the landscape present themselves as a combination of matter and form. The form is effected by entropic pressures. This is where the narrative starts to present itself, through tacit associations the materials impart their stories.


Benjamin, W.(1999). Illuminations. New Ed. edition. London: Pimlico.

Deborah Westmancoat

Deborah Westmancoat is a British contemporary artist based in Somerset, UK. She has a long term interest in alchemy and the philosophical sciences and how they help us to understand landscape and our place within it, particularly how the traditionally held metaphysical stages of alchemy: nigredo (blackness), albedo (whiteness), citrinitas (yellowing) and rubredo (redness) might appear within the natural environment. Paintings begin in the quiet places where these stages become apparent and are made as a direct result of first hand experience within the landscape. Samples of site and weather specific waters – flood, rain, hailstones, dew, frost and snow melt – are collected and combined with ink and locally found elements to record the peculiarities, mysteries and attitudes of water held within the British landscape.

Informed by local flooding, recent works have focused on a visual understanding of nigredo, the dark, formless first state of alchemy, as experienced through the element of water. Paintings became experiments in understanding the nature of immersion, how to lose oneself in the work and absent oneself from the outcome. As part of the making process, panels were repeatedly immersed in black writing ink and local flood waters. Each time the previous story was washed away and a new story ‘written’ upon the surface. These durational works were an attempt to understand the nature of beginnings, of how the movement of water can alter the ‘known’ over time, and how our psyche is affected by the temporary loss of the familiar in our environment. Current paintings investigate the second stage of alchemy, albedo, introducing the transformational action of albedic light and order. Particular virtues and qualities of form and light observed within streams, icicles, hoar frost and hailstorms have been the catalyst for new works which use collected samples of each to express the inherent beauty and dynamism of water in these specific places and forms.

The Inbetween: landscape image and landscape objects

Rachel Lillie MA (Royal College of Art)

There is a space that lies between walking and making, between observing and drawing, between lived experience and reflected experience, between being witness and being interpreter, and between landscape image and landscape object. Process, content, form, symbolism and materiality are all at play here.

This presentation considers Illustration as an explorative and poetic practice and seeks to engage the audience to meditate on these spaces within and beyond the boundaries of illustration, reaching to archaeology, engineering, conservation and craftsmanship.

The first (Case study 1) seeks to explore to the history of Epping Forest, Essex, using drawing to interpret the seen (present) and the object to reveal the unseen (past). Experience of landscape through walking provides content here. The work explores narratives that are recorded in the land, shaped by man, but often overlooked. Pictorial representations of significant locations are exhibited alongside cod-historical wooden artefacts, hand carved from fallen wood in Epping Forest. Collectively it invites the audience to explore the space between the past and the present, knowing and unknowing and between image and artefact.

The second (Case study 2) considers the narrative of Wallasea Island, on the coast of Essex, currently in the process a landmark conservation and engineering project. Here 4.5 Million tonnes of earth removed from London’s Crossrail has been relocated to recreate ancient wetlands and mud flats, to help combat the threats of climate change and coastal flooding. My role as illustrator looks towards understanding a past and communicating the future of a place very much in transition and whose history is displaced and reformed. I will discuss my experiences at the site, the potential for drawing to record the progress of a changing landscape, and for the object to intervene and inhabit the landscape to create spontaneous encounters and experience for the audience.

How can reflexive indexical image making expand the visual communication of geographic liminal space?

Benjamin Hunt (University for the Creative Arts)

What kind of work is involved in the co-emergence of interpretation and reality, and what role do materials play in this process? Alberti, Jones, Pollard, J. (2013)

The paper makes reference to recent work I have developed that explores the themes from this recent research. My work attempts to fuse experimental photographic art with visual anthropology/archaeology. The paper aims to outline the debates/ problematics/ catalysts that exist combining these two seemingly polar opposite practices and the hierarchies / consequences between making as process and as finite outcome.

The paper is divided into three segments as would be this proposed presentation. The themes within these segments are inexplicably linked and are at first separated out diagnostically, and then related in their complexities and overlapping’s.

Indexicality: An issue that has arisen is the relationship between the indexical and the iconographic. There are tensions between direct index’s, displaced index’s and the icon, thus complicating the notion of semiotic relativity / arbitrariness.

Reflexivity: A debate that has opened up is the tension between a Hegelian and Marxist Dialectic in relation to the indexical image and its referential space. A common misconception between the ontological nature of the image and its epistemological interpretation is opened up.

Between Art and Research: Relationships between the previous two segments are woven and related to archaeological and anthropological practices in order to tease out the mechanisms within my practice.


Alberti, Jones, Pollard, J. (2013) Archaeology after Interpretation. Returning materials to archaeological theory. Left Coast Press: Walnut Creek, CA.

Session 2: Mapping the Unseen

The Priory Tunnels

Mireille Fauchon (Kingston University, London)

There are networks of tunnels under Streatham and Tooting. They run between the old sanatoriums, so that crazed inmates could roam freely without disturbing the sane living in the normal, healthy hustle and bustle above.

This isn’t true.

Inspired by schoolyard mythologies, local hearsay and archival materials sourced from local heritage centres, The Priory Tunnels present a series of interwoven historical narratives and local lore from the Tooting Common area. This is a satellite project within my current PhD research exploring the use of narrative illustration as a transferable social research methodology. This body of work explores the use of visual storytelling to document an alternative interpretation of our everyday surrounds.

As a native Londoner, local lore features predominately in my previous research and practical work with the intention of questioning how and why local communities preserve specific knowledge. Rather than the grand historical narrative, it has always been the personal and immediate that has compelled me, the anecdotal, vernacular or unofficial story. Far from the practice of the formal historian, it is not the rigour of accuracy that captivates but the muddles that ensue from the converging of fact and fiction as details distort through continual recounting; this is ‘history’s nether-world — where memory and myth intermingle, and the imaginary rubs shoulders with the real.’ (Samuels, 1999:6)

An exploration of the marvellous within a seemingly mundane setting, The Priory Tunnels draws together stories of underground tunnels, a Victorian murder mystery, the disputed existence of a C14th priory and recently deceased local resident infamous Cynthia Payne.

Unstable Architecture

Gareth Proskourine – Barnett (Royal College of Art)

When a building is demolished where does it go? What happens when a site becomes dematerialised? Does it have a virtual afterlife?

The idea of our virtual and physical worlds being separate entities is becoming indistinct and the question of which space is more real increasingly blurred. This paper adopts the role of the cyber-flaneur to interrogate examples of Brutalist architecture within Google Street View, specifically the moment a buildings structure collapses as you change your location. I will explore the implications of these fractured perspectives on architecture and how this alters our perception of fact and fiction.

As our cities expand buildings disappear and reappear. Architecture once seen as futuristic and progressive is now deeply unfashionable; standing in the way of economic growth. Modern ruins or sites deemed unfit for purpose are being demolished to make way for urban regeneration. Demolition is big business. Sites such as the Birmingham Central Library are stripped of any assets before the concrete is crushed and turned into an aggregate which can then be either recycled or sold to local construction firms.

Despite no longer occupying physical space a building like the Birmingham Central Library is viewable from within Google Street View’s panoramas of stitched images. This space provides an alternative territory in which to (re)engage with buildings that have disappeared. The library lives on within cyberspace but this is an unstable territory. As the building mutates information is lost and new meanings are up for grabs. New histories can be understood and the ghosts of unfulfilled futures become visible. As the buildings form collapses so does the idea that architecture is static or immobile. We are not moving, the buildings are.

Reclaiming past, present and future stories of a deserted medieval village

Leah Fusco (Kingston University, London)

This practice-based research explores challenges in documenting the physically shifting site of a deserted medieval village, previously an island and now a reclaimed landscape, located on a saltmarsh in East Sussex. Marshlands are areas of transience; geographic and human details are revealed and concealed repeatedly through dynamic water levels. I’m interested in how illustration can explore and capture alternative timeframes and readings of place.

Scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, Northeye DMV has experienced significant change since documentation of the site began in the 13th Century. Tsunamis, salt mines, the Black Death and smuggling have shaped the physical geography and socio economic history of the area, with a series of shallow trenches remaining as the only visual evidence of the village foundations at the site.

Reclaiming stories across 1000 years, from Holloways and smuggling routes to soil profiles to drainage management, I propose to reveal shifting, overlapping and converging stories from above, below and ground level at Northeye DMV.

I’m interested in scientific and experiential modes of measurement through fieldwork, encompassing oral histories, drawing, archival research and geoarchaeological information

This submission forms part of my practice-based PhD research exploring lost histories in landscapes, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and seeks to build on developments between visual creative practice and humanity disciplines. I am currently initiating a new educational project that involves cross disciplinary fieldwork methods for the visualisation of site.

Navigating Non Linear Seas

Sally Troughton

Sally Troughton is a contemporary artist based in London, UK. Her practice spans ceramics, video, textiles and sculpture, but her use of time as a medium itself in both her research and craft define her practice. Taking on time and space in visceral ways she negotiates the shifting terrain of how we locate ourselves within identity and place.

Notions of archaeological methodology and place making are of key interest to her practice. Locations of historical and archaeological significance from across the UK, such as the small Norfolk village of Happisburgh, all the way to the Greek island of Thera, have acted as starting points for works. The works themselves often encompassing collected site-specific materials, such as soils, waters and clays.

Considering notions of orientation, her practice looks at how we position ourselves in a world that invariably shifts across lived and reflected realms, between the digital and the analogue.

The presentation will draw from recent works presented in the summer of 2016, which using a wide variety of materials, fluctuate between structure, image and object to explore connections between home, identity, modes of orientation and new technological perspectives.

Session 3:Folklore and buried beliefs

The Illustrated Pilgrim: a collaborative exploration of Pilgrim sites in North Wales

Desdemona McCannon (Manchester School of Art)

During 2014, in the company of the poet Eleanor Rees and the Singer Emily Portman, I participated (in Lévy-Bruhl’s sense of the term) with the landscape in several places in North Wales associated with pilgrimage- through walking, swimming, sleeping. I spent time drawing and documenting my sense of the place in each location.My creative response to each pilgrim site was a response to the materiality of the place but also acknowledged the ‘patterns of sanctity’ (Eck’s phrase) that have contributed to its meaning.

My paper will describe the ways in which images have been used to re present, describe and explain the sites, the images in the sites and how this has informed my visual response to the phenomena of each place.

I am interested to examine the role 'illustration’ – popular and mass produced images- has in brokering our understanding and engagement with the ritualised narratives of belief associated with pilgrimage. I am particularly interested in the ways that illustration and pilgrimage intersect with the popular imagination, and in understanding the expression of vernacular faith and ‘folk’ beliefs- the ‘marginal actors’ in the performance of religious observation, and the evergreen religious practices surrounding images in the widest sense of the word.

I will look at the idea of the ‘graven image’, in the iconographic sense, but also in the most literal reading of the word, describing the act of carving whether to make a three dimensional form or a pattern for pilgrim badge or print. Specifically I will be looking at the ritualistic veneration of images, the belief in the magical properties of images, and the creation of impromptu images and marks within the sites.

The byways of the South Downs: when and why did they originate? by who? and what is their continued significance today?

Melanie Rose

This practice-based proposal investigates and critically explores the ancient tracks and footpaths that traverse and remain on the South Downs. This under-explored area of research will address these routes using a time-frame that spans pre-history through to the formation of the South Downs National Park. Integrating specific but highly significant information associated with the ancient tracks including artist’s responses to this unique environment and pertinent folklore and customs. The exploration is a synthesis of disciplines brought together to create an autobiography of specific paths.

With emphasis on the human geography associated with each path the presentation will include an overview of the research and accompanying art practice, the projects ultimate aim and where I am currently, which is locating the route of a path called Upper Lamborough Lane which follows a ridge way as well as a manmade bank forming part of an ancient parish boundary, but more importantly goes through at least two woodlands one of which was significant to charcoal burners and itinerant gypsies and is still a place of gathering.

Sir Thomas Browne and the Man in the Moon; the Falcon Bride and an Elegy for Donegal - A look at some of my Artists Books as repositories of collective memory and buried beliefs

Carolyn Trant

Artist Books can position themselves outside the usual (often proscriptive) gallery system and facilitate direct confrontations with people looking at the work – sharing narratives, memories, ideas and responses. As a landscape painter they allowed me to develop the narrative and sequential nature of my work.

In the very early 1990’s I was working with archaeologists, looking at marks and signs on the landscape, and exhibiting alongside artefacts in museums - landscapes often brought into conjunction with objects’ taken’ from sites.

I have since enjoyed a long-standing collaboration with a young poet James Simpson, who mirrors my continual obsession with shared archetypal narratives based around landscape mythology. I have also produced many other books based around fairy tales, nursery rhymes (Who Killed Cock Robin) and folk tales, which seem repositories of collective memory and buried beliefs.

A residency in Donegal, Ireland I based around a self-imposed quest to find the place where the Meenybradden bog-body of a medieval woman was found.

The Falcon Bride was a large room-sized installation based around Kracow in Poland. It contained ‘artefacts’ which blurred the distinction between artist-made and ‘archaeological’ objects, questioning the appropriation of history at tourist destinations, particularly at sensitive ‘sites’ such as Kracow with its previous Jewish community. It was again shown where it would attract audiences outside the usual exhibition-visiting public. The title referred to Egyptian falcon mummies in Kracow’s museum, which were ‘faked’ by priests at the time and have been shown to have never contained any bird remains.

Images of these and other works will be shown and discussed.

Visualising Invisible Oceanic Landscapes

Sarah Langford (Winchester School of Art)

A workshop to map information and data collected from submarine canyons, by World Leading Researchers at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

I am currently undertaking a collaborative project with the Natural Environment Research Council’s National Oceanography Centre (NOCs), and the University of Southampton’s Ocean and Earth Science department, to visualise for the very first time data gathered from mapping exercises of submarine canyons. The Centre hosts one of the world’s largest groups of scientists and engineers devoted to research, teaching and technology development in Ocean and Earth science and is ranked second in the UK for research recognised as world leading (Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, REF, 2014). This new project is working directly with leading Ocean and Earth Science Researcher Dr. Esther Sumner. The workshop will be a way of understanding these complex and non visual oceanic landscapes through illustration. We will be mapping the unseen, specifically looking at the limitations of picturing, documenting, and explaining the process of how sediment is transported on the sea bed.

This visualisation of this data will enable researchers, students and the public to engage and understand our Oceans in ways that have yet to be realised or understood and could be used to support teaching and learning directly within the Ocean and Earth Science department and within there world leading online MOOC (Massively open online course) with the Open University and Future Learn. The unknown, undiscovered element of these mysterious terrains are fascinating to me.

Workshop outline


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