Geography, Art, Research
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Geography, Art, Research

Artistic Research in the GeoHumanities

Harriet Hawkins

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eBook - ePub

Geography, Art, Research

Artistic Research in the GeoHumanities

Harriet Hawkins

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About This Book

This book explores the intersection of geographical knowledge and artistic research in terms of both creative methods and practice-based research. In doing so it brings together geography's 'creative turn' with the art world's 'research turn.'

Based on a decade and a half of ethnographic stories of working at the intersection of creative arts practices and geographical research, this book offers a much-needed critical account of these forms of knowledge production. Adopting a geohumanities approach to investigating how these forms of knowledge are produced, consumed, and circulated, it queries what imaginaries and practices of the key sites of knowledge making (including the field, the artist's studio, the PhD thesis, and the exhibition) emerge and how these might challenge existing understandings of these locations. Inspired by the geographies of science and knowledge, art history and theory, and accounts of working within and beyond disciplines, this book seeks to understand the geographies of research at the intersection of geography and creative arts practices, how these geographies challenge existing understandings of these disciplines and practices, and what they might contribute to our wider discussions of working beyond disciplines, including through artistic research.

This book offers a timely contribution to the emerging fields of artistic research and geohumanities, and will appeal to undergraduate and postgraduate students and researchers.

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Teaching Art



It was a wet day in June. I had forgotten my waterproof. We drove through a very muddy field, across some open land and parked up near some trees and a wooden fence. We carried our kit through the woods, a short walk up to the cave site (Figure 1.1). Artist Flora and I were visiting Gully Cave, Somerset (SW England), a site that has been the subject of over a decade of excavations by a team of physical geographers in our department of Geography at Royal Holloway. They have been finding, logging, and identifying Pleistocene faunal remains, using these as proxies to explore past climates and to think forward into the future.
FIGURE 1.1 Gully Cave, Somerset, England. (Image, author’s own)
There was a generator, a tarpaulin, an archive section. After a tour, we got down into the cave, at that point some ten feet or so, and started scraping, trowelling at the earth, putting it into buckets. We suspected we had been given an area in which no one really expected to find anything. It is very calming, patient work. In the cave there are plumb lines, hanging threads, there are trowels, buckets, leaning mats. There is a high degree of precision, finds are mapped and plotted in three dimensions, logging their place in space and so in time. But there is also a significant amount of making do and getting by, a makeshift tarpaulin covers the site from the weather, it was being rearranged when we were there, it is somewhat ad hoc, but it clearly works. We reflect on the temporalities of research, digging for over a decade, and the place of the imagination as the team uses the finds to story the past of this place: flood waters choke the cave, the roof falls in, inhabitants, including bears, are buried. Some struck flint flakes, burnt bones and charcoal indicate hominin presence.1
Every year, after a few weeks at the cave, Prof Danielle Schreve and her team bring sediment back to the lab to sift and sort for tiny bones and teeth that might have been missed and might offer the clue to something’s life, behaviours, and diet in the cave. It is not known how far down they can dig before they meet the floor of the cave – will each year bring an end to the excavation?
Six months later, the Bussey Building, Peckham.
Danielle, head of the Gully Cave dig stands in the midst of an installation Flora has made. Elements of the field site have been transposed into the gallery space: the grid from the cave is marked out on the floor in hatched chalk and hazelnuts (Figure 1.2). Finds are marked with sculptural forms and tags hanging from the ceiling, located in imagined time-space. Danielle stands and talks in the midst of the grid of finds. She describes the histories, the time frames, the animals involved. She contours the spaces of the past in front of us. Whilst she never refers directly to the space or sculptural objects she stands within, the objects and her words weave together, inviting us to reflect on the imagined and material field practices that summon past worlds from earth and bones (Figure 1.3).
FIGURE 1.2 These Pits and Abysses, The Bussey Building Peckham, Flora Parrott (2016). (Image, author’s own)
FIGURE 1.3 These Pits and Abysses, The Bussey Building Peckham, Flora Parrott (2016). (Image, author’s own)
There are two other ‘fields’ in the installation space. One, occupied by political geographer Rachael Squire forms a kind of fabric capsule, streams of printed bubbles rippling as the air moves across the space. Standing in this undersea space, Rachael offers an account of her research on SEALAB, a US Naval experiment in undersea habitats developed during the 1960s. In the final under-surface field space Flora has created, I sit as if in a void. A series of sculptural fans printed with underground images surround me. There is a black fabric backdrop onto which is projected a live stream feed from the camera hanging from the ceiling pointed downwards at my head. It looks like I am sitting in the bottom of a hole (Figure 1.4). I read a text that draws together a sequence of six different underground imaginations.2
FIGURE 1.4 These Pits and Abysses, The Bussey Building Peckham, Flora Parrott (2016). (Image, author’s own)
Accounts of field and gallery work with Flora Parrott
It seems appropriate that we begin in the field. The field has long been a primary site for the ‘doing’ of geography; indeed it has been understood as the site of ‘real’ geography and the locus of ‘becoming of the geographer.’ Yet it has also, especially in its inheritances from exploration, become lambasted for its masculinism, colonialism, and romanticism.3 Felix Driver however, noted that despite its importance to the discipline, geographers had not really attended much to the field.4 He urged us to pay more attention to the ‘materiality of the field, the contingency of encounters within it, and the embodied practices of fieldworkers themselves.’5 In the wake of this call, other more complex cultures and practices of fieldwork began to be built for geography.6 Meanwhile, within the art world, the field has become a site of interest. We see a growth in artistic practices conducted through fieldwork and exploration, such as the Unknown Field Division’s exploration practice or Cape Farewell’s trips to the Arctic and the Amazon with artists and scientists.7 We also find the field being recreated in gallery spaces, such as in Flora’s work These Pits and Abysses, or in Mark Dion’s archaeological digs.8 Other artists are engaging with the material culture of the field, producing field-kits and guides as sculptural practice and textual form to induce audiences into field imaginations or encourage them into the field themselves. We might think here of the collaboration between geographer-poet Eric Magrane and writer Chris Cokinos which resulted in The Field Guide to the Sonoran Desert.9 We even see the writing of field-reports and the creation of field-guides as increasingly popular forms of catalogues and gallery-guides.10
If both geography and art have a growing interest in the field, this chapter sits in dialogue with this interest through its exploration of the ‘field’ as a site for the unfolding of creative practice and geographical research relations. It does so through the lens offered by the folded modalities of fieldwork that occurred over the course of a Leverhulme Trust-funded artist residency conducted by Flora Parrott in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London.11 During this residency we brought together our interests in the underground as a site of scientific practices, embodied experiences, and imaginative potential. In retrospect the residency unfolded as a series of ongoing field and gallery-based experiments (although I use this latter word with caution), of which I will offer a further two examples in this chapter, others appear in later chapters. The visit to Gully Cave, detailed at the start of this chapter, offers a microcosm of these fieldwork forms. First, it took Danielle’s fieldwork in the cave as an object of research; second, in doing so it constituted fieldwork for our own investigation of the underground; third, I was entwining (not without challenges), fieldwork on the underground with fieldwork on what artists do ‘in the field.’ Finally, Flora created/recreated ‘field-spaces’ through her installations encouraging us to encounter these spaces anew. These folded fields constituted a productive sequence of field experiences that stimulated at once both intense points of recognition, where the field and what I was doing within it clearly slotted into accepted geographical practices and imaginations of fieldwork, but also moments where I felt very unsettled. It is in the midst of these points of recognition and difference that this chapter’s discussion of creative fieldworkings emerges.
Situating my sequence of field experiences in the context of other accounts of creative practice-based fieldwork offered by others in written texts and during interviews, this chapter explores the imaginaries of the field and fieldwork that emerge. In exploring these myriad creative fieldworkings, this chapter recognises the field as a site where we both reflect on and shape how we actually do geography: methodologically, epistemologically, conceptually, and ethically.12 The field is a key site where geographical problems are defined, analysed, and actually acted on, but it is also a ‘shared space,’ that as Louise Bracken and Emma Mawdsley suggest, crosses the sub-boundaries of Geography as a discipline, helping to shape its contours.13 Both geographers and wider science studies scholars have recognised, as Felix Driver puts it that ‘the theme of fieldwork raises questions about the boundaries between different kinds of knowledge.’14 Indeed, the field repeatedly emerges as a site of encounter, an unsettling space that puts into question disciplinary identities and methodological strategies.15 As such, this chapter joins those recent explorations of fieldwork that enjoin us to attend to the nature of fieldworkings and to ‘the very acts of boundary-work which define our field– spaces.’16 The fieldwork Flora and I did with Danielle drew a lens onto intersections of human geography, physical geography, and art.17 This focus is deepened through two further accounts of being in the field with Flora – in another cave and on a glacier. Ahead of this however, I want to reflect on other instances of how creative practices have begun to reshape wider disciplinary imaginations of the field.

Reimagining the field

Geography has long been engaged in a project to reimagine the field. I would include within this project diverse work on the histories of geography, from post-colonial critiques of exploration to discussions of the bodies considered proper for fieldwork; debates over whose stories – and thus forms of fieldwork – are allowed into the ‘canon’; and the kinds of techniques that are valued as opposed to those that are dismissed.18 I would also include the wealth of scholarship that addresses how new concepts often demand new field practices. This could, of course, cover almost any form of methodological literature, including embodied, emotional, affective, sensory, and practice-based approaches...

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