‘Landscape – Narrative, Palimpsest, Metaphor? OR: “Landscape as a Provocation’

Bristol 10th November 2007

Landscape – Narrative, Palimpsest, Metaphor?Or: “Landscape as a Provocation”: navigating Doreen Massey’s recent writing by way of visual imagination.

Dr Iain Biggs, Reader Visual Arts, UWE, Bristol

A note to the Reader.

The following written notes are the textual elements of a visual presentation that cannot be re-presented in its original form because of issues of visual quality and the complexities of reproduction rights. The text is slightly more expansive than that presented, which had to be edited ‘in process’ as a previous presentation had run over by ten minutes!

As an alternative – but very much in the spirit of the original presentation – I have both included references to the works of art reproduced in the original talk so that interested readers can trace them if they so wish, but also replaced the original visual material with images from Navigations (A visual conversation with Doreen Massey), a sequence of paired drawings that I made as I was working on this presentation. Some of these drawings appeared without comment in the original presentation and I owe a debt of thanks to Bronwyn Platten for encouraging me to ‘do something with them’

Flash Presentation Reconstruction:

Landscape – Narrative, Palimpsest, Metaphor? Or: ‘Landscape as a Provocation’ : navigating Doreen Massey’s recent writing by way of visual imagination. Dr Iain Biggs, Reader Visual Arts, UWE, Bristol

3. Background Context : Space & Place Space as: ‘the sphere of coexistence of a multiplicity of trajectories’.

(Doreen Massey For Space 2005 p. 63)

‘Place as meeting place rather than as always already coherent, as open rather than bounded, as an ongoing production rather than pre-given’.

(Massey ‘Landscape as a Provocation: Reflections on Moving Mountains’, Journal of Material Culture 2006 p. 34)

4. Part One – Contexts & Questions


Q. –

How do works of art function as intermediary objects / metaphors in the ‘landscape’ of the life-world? An aim for my practice? – To evoke the multiplicities of the lived landscape through interweaving hybrid strategies and practices, located both in and between academic and creative disciplines?

6. Doreen Massey – In Search of the ‘Undisciplined’ Landscape? ‘ Landscapes refuse to be disciplined. They make a mockery of the oppositions that we create between time (History) and space (Geography), or between nature (Science) and culture (Social Anthropology)’.

Barbara Bender (quoted by Massey 2006 p. 2)


Q. –

Landscape as intermediary ‘Object’ /Metaphor? Griselda Pollock: landscape painting as “both what is other to the human subject” and “the space for projection … a sublimated self-portrait”


Andrezej Jackowski Standing Train 2 1997

8. Landscape as intermediary object / metaphor…

…in narrative (narrating: giving an account of any occurrence: inclined to narration: story-telling) – As an element in an unfolding through time in (linear?) space?

…as palimpsest (comparable to a manuscript in which old writing has been rubbed out to make room for new: or a monumental brass turned over to make a new inscription) – As an ongoing enacting of the overlaying of spatial traces/trajectories through time?

…as metaphor (“a figure of speech by which a thing is spoken of as being that which it only resembles, as when a ferocious man is called a tiger”) – As ”the transference of the usual name of a thing to another thing by virtue of their likeness… enabling an illogicality, an impertinence … to become pertinent” so that “the logical space changes”. (Nicole Ward Jouve).


Q. –

Is the Instability of Metaphor a Key Signifier of the Ambiguity of dwelling?


Andrzej Jackowski Dwelling 2007



Judy Pfaff Flusso e riflusso 1992


Qs. –

What are the lived parameters of landscape metaphor? – the spectrum of the sensuous apprehension of time/space? “The long view” – the geological meta-narrative (Massey’s implicit metaphor for the political?)


(image) Per Kirkeby Withdrawn From The World 1997

13. ‘The constancy of transience’ – the second by second change of humidity/temperature in the narrative of climate / weather? (For example, Constable and the ‘poetics’ of dew – see Peter Bishop

(1995) An Archetypal Constable. National Identity and the Geography of Nostalgia.)




Joyce Kozloff Rocking the Cradle 2003

15. Trancience & the Field of Landscape as Metaphor An example: unseen erosion (the sinkhole): narratives of collapse / introversion

16. Narratives of collapse / introversion … ?

(image) Guillermo Kuitca ‘Untitled’ 1992

17. Narratives of collapse / introversion … The ‘landscape’ of Alzheimer’s disease – erosion of a world of human memory.

18.Part Two Positions re space:

Q. –

Who tells the stories (narratives) of space and in whose name?

Space as a ‘multiplicity of trajectories’ seen as ‘provisionally intertwined simultaneities of ongoing, unfinished, stories’. (

Massey 2006: p. 46)

19. Guy Claxton :

The Wayward Mind: An Intimate History of the Unconscious – a history of the continually changing ‘explanatory landscape’ concerning human psychology.

‘The primacy of the unconscious brain … is becoming increasingly evident’, so that we need to build “not just one but a variety of models of the world (landscape) for different purposes’ .

(pp. 257 & 288).

20. Richard Fortey

: Earth: An Intimate History 2005

‘…geology underlies everything: it founds the landscape, dictates the agriculture, determines the character of villages. Geology acts as a kind of collective unconscious for the world, a deep control beneath the oceans and continents’.

21. Three positions? Claxon – a variety of intellectual models of mind necessary for different purposes because the unconscious is polymorphous / polyphonic. Multiple intersecting “landscapes”.

Fortey – primacy of a single model of the unconscious: geology as the earth’s “deep control”. Primacy of the Geological?

Massey – the primacy of politics / [ethics?] as a necessary perspective on the multiple “provisionally intertwined simultaneities of ongoing, unfinished, stories”.

22. Massey’s conflict (my conflict with Massey?):

Q. –

Do we want to privilege a political/ethical disciplining of landscape?

Space-time as a ‘mix of order and chance” that is characterised by inclusion of ‘the loose ends, the elements of chaos, the meetings without merging‘.

(Massey 2005

(emphasis mine)

, p. 126)

A ‘spatialisation of social theory and political thinking” that can “ force into the imagination a fuller recognition of the simultaneous coexistence of others with their own trajectories and their own stories to tell’

(Massey 2005: p. 11).

23. The dilemma: The primacy of social theory, political thinking, and a “forcing” of imagination

An undisciplining of landscape?

‘Metaphors … act as transitional objects” that “negotiate a relationship between subject and world’, and are ‘about moments … of being … moments of oneness – of transport – of joy’.

(Nicole Ward Jouve Female Creation: Creativity, Self and Gender 1998 p.218)

24. Another possible route? Metaphor as ongoing imaginative process.

(In praise of other stories – Rebecca Solnit’s post-Judeo-Christian reading of landscape: improvisation and beauty).

The paradoxical politics of metaphor as ”the transference of the usual name of a thing to another thing by virtue of their likeness… enabling an illogicality, an impertinence … to become pertinent” so that “the logical space changes”

(Nicole Ward Jouve).

25. Phenomenological being (placed in the moment here & now) AND Political becoming (in historical time and geo-political space). Living with/in multiple viewpoints?

Re maps: “Not all views from above are problematical – they are just another way of looking at the world… The problem only comes if you fall into thinking that that vertical distance lends you truth”

(Massey 2005 p. 107).

26. An undisciplined telling: against the map as privileged overview?

Edward S. Casey: Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps, 2002 & Earth-Mapping: Artists Reshaping Landscape, 2005.


is Edward Casey right to attempt to “rethink art as a form of mapping”?

(Casey 2005: p.xi)

(image) Annette Messager Le Jardin De Tendre 1988

I would suggest that it is significant, in relation to the claim that “landscapes refuse to be disciplined”, that the artist Annette Messager names herself, among other persona, as: “trickster, schoolteacher, vampire, witch, undertaker, knitter, linen keeper, little girl, voyeur, ethnologist, precursor, collector and storyteller.

27. An undisciplined telling ……

(image) Andrzej Jackowski Station 2004

28. Part Three: mapping / evocation?

Q. –

Is there a “problem” with the metaphor of the map as palimpsest?

29. ‘Palimpsest’ – (as verb!) – an ongoing re-covering.

To ‘palimpsest’ as an illuminative metaphor for understanding geography as a series of erasures and over-writings that have and will continue to transform the world?

30. In Mynydd Epynt Walking and placing small lead signs as a metaphorical re-covering / annotating of the military occupation of an upland landscape.

31. The problem with palimpsests?

(Massey, 2005 p. 110)


Massey: The palimpsest (noun) ‘continues to imagine … heterogeneous multiplicity in terms of layers. Yet ‘layers’ (as in ‘the accretion of layers’) would seem rather to refer to the history of a space than its radical contemporanety’ – ‘Palimpsest is too archaeological….the figure of the palimpsest is to stay within the imagination of surfaces’.


Does this argument against the metaphor of the palimpsest depend on the palimpsest being taken as static – as already written rather than as an ongoing erasure/writing)?


If so, how does this sit with Massey’s promotion of the dynamic geology of Skiddaw – a body of 500 million year old metamorphosed sediment deposited one third of the way south of the equator moving to become a the slate mountain in the Lake District and still on its way north?

32. Solnit as supplement to Massey? – NB. What lies behind Massey’s lack of attention to art (although she’s now working on film).

Massey’s approval of the Solnit passage quoted by IB, but the art work of Lewis DeSoto is central to Rebecca Solnit’s understanding of contemporary landscape art – she acknowledges that his early work was central to the development of her understanding of art in relation to ecology and landscape.


Lewis DeSoto (image) El Cerrito Solo (Tahualtapa Project) 1983-1988

(Project illustrated at

34. Four “ages” of a mountain – Tahualtapa (Hill of the Ravens) / El Cerrito Solo (little hill that stands alone) / Marble Mountain / Mt. Slover – a piece ‘as much about about the metamorphoses of perceptions of the mountain as the mountain’s own metamorphosis’.

35. Polyvocal/palimpsestic mapping as a knowingly incomplete re-covering: – a “showing” located between metaphorical narratives and visual palimpsests.

(image) Iain Biggs “Hidden Wars” 2007

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