Fractured Earth: Unsettled Landscape through Art Practice
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To allow publication of this research elsewhere
This thesis brings feminist ontologies into a renewed dialogue with post-phenomenological landscape studies through the development of a critical arts-research practice. Contemporary landscape scholarship in cultural geography foregrounds landscaping practices as performative; visual culture studies, similarly influenced by phenomenology, critiques the powerful fixings of representation; whilst current commentaries on art-geographies focus on questions of interdisciplinarity, rather than the potential for art practice-as-research to be generative of politically complex cultural geographies. Landscape, replete with complex power geometries and tension, both resists fixing and framing, and also becomes defined or imaged by these same operations. My goal in this thesis is to find a way of working, as an artist, with an understanding of landscape as being continually in eventful—and sometimes violently eventful—process, beyond conventional framings of image and landscape. Initially, this art practice (undertaken as research within cultural geography) worked with a violent flash flood and resultant loss of life, and was set against the backdrop of picture-postcard West Cornwall. Whilst focused through practice on this usually trickling mile-long moorland stream, something happened. This research became infected by concurrent geo-political events. Through practice in the studio, the violent lifeworld of the stream collided with an activist project associated with the 2014 Gaza conflict. Land and image became both occupied and ghosted. This corporeal and material collision of practice(s) afforded a productive entanglement of practice and theoretical engagement. My search for a way of working with landscape as an artist that accounts for the unpalatable dimensions of material formations, for the dying within living, for the exclusions, subjugation, violence, or even extinctions of landscape—led me to realise that I cannot stand back innocently and safely behind the camera, outside of the frame. I propose that landscape is inherently violent, and that as such, landscaping practices are always politically differentiated and situated. It is a violence in which there can be no innocent place of on-looking; we are all mutually implicated in landscape and landscaping-practices, and indeed, the ghosts of our own vulnerabilities are never far away. The thesis demonstrates that the unpredictability and riskiness of researching through a critical arts practice, can produce the conditions for disruptive interventions generative of new ways of (body)knowing in the world. These ways of knowing serve to confront the violence and contradictions of a fast changing enviro/geopolitical landscape. Working from within an art practice—as geographical research—contributes a perspective of political complexity and generative encounter, in which unexpected collisions, between things, practices, and bodies function to produce spatial connections beyond contemporary analysis.
Arts and Humanities Research Council
PhD in Geography