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Spectral Traces

Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery University of Leeds
Saturday 13th February 2010

Spectral Traces, our most recent LAND2 symposium was held in the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery University of Leeds on Saturday 13th February 2010.

The title Spectral Traces is borrowed from the geographer Karen Till. We are going to use the symposium to consider the implications of this notion for practice in relation to aspects of psychogeography. Iain Sinclair will be the keynote speaker. Iain Biggs will present his considerations of “deep mapping” and this triangular relation should prove a fruitful topic for debate and has resonances with many artist members’ practices.

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Keynote: Iain Sinclair : GHOST MILK (Calling time on the age of the Grand Project)

Iain Biggs A personal view of links between “deep mapping” and Karen Till’s work on spectral traces as documented in Mapping and Excavating Spectral Traces in Post-apartheid Cape Town.

This paper will identify what I understand by the terms ‘deep mapping’ and ‘spectral traces‘, taken in the context of academic Memory Studies and the “liberation psychologies” of social activism beyond it. Adopting the partial perspective of someone trained in the visual arts, I will offer an account of the emergence and significance of a visual arts approach to ‘deep mapping’ - drawing in particular on Clifford McLucas - and refer to some examples. I will then turn to Karen Till’s use of ‘spectral traces’ as this is inflected by my own research around the issue of the figure of the ‘revenant’ and its relevance to a more local understanding of spectral traces. In doing so I will touch on issues of ethics, hospitality and social responsibility in a “post-disciplinary” world where deep mapping might be taken as a potentially exemplary practice.

Iain Biggs is Reader in Visual Art Practice in the Faculty of Creative Arts, UWE, Bristol, UK and Director of PLaCE, an interdisciplinary research centre focused on issues of place, location, context and environment. An artist, printmaker and writer he co-convenes LAND2, is a former editor of The Journal of Visual Art Practice and has contributed chapters to New Practices New Pedagogies: a Reader (Routledge); Thinking Through Art: art / philosophy / language (Routledge); Surface: Land/Water and the Visual Arts (University of Plymouth Books) and a wide range of academic journals - including the European Journal of Arts Education, The Blue Notebook, engage, Arts and Community, and Landscape Research. He has just published the 2nd volume of Debatable Lands – an international project taking the ‘supernatural’ Borders ballads as a starting-point - and is working on a collaborative “deep mapping” of older people’s connectivity with their environment in rural North Cornwall as part of a major ESRC-funded research project Gray and Pleasant Land? He regularly exhibits work in a variety of media and publishes bookworks through Wild Conversations Press.

Mary Modeen Polyvalent Perception and Cultural Memories of Place.

Abstract Perception is not solely the mechanical, physiological activity of the eyes, nervous system and cerebral cortex. Rather, it is a rapid and complex negotiation of sensory stimulus and interpretation; the latter constitutes aspects of subject-specific experience, education and expectation, of whole-body sensation (Merleau-Ponty), and of culturally influenced values and philosophical beliefs. As adults, we see largely what we expect to see. And beyond this intricate subject-specific combination of factors, lies those ‘other sensors’ with which Western academics feel uncertain. These non-metric receptors have no English name, no discreet acceptance by European-tradition scholars other than as pseudo-metaphysical phenomena. But to indigenous communities around the world, these attunements to the invisible presences and traces of the unseen are accepted and known as parts of daily life. For example, for M?ori they are wairua, for the Ojibway (known in the USA as Chippewa) they are manitou; cultural differences show us that language reflects understandings and priorities which differ greatly from English-speaking Westernised culture. In part, these wairua and manitou typify invisible ‘presences’ inherent in specific places; but more than that, to those in the culture that name them, they are real and abiding (harking back to early notions of the verb, to bide-to dwell, in a Heideggerian reference) ‘spirits’. But a culture that is not respected loses its ability to offer its own names, its own language, and its own values. Here, relying on the English word ‘spirit’ as I have had to do, to carry this multiple meaning of ‘presence, totem, deity, immortal, ancestor, non-corporeal being’ as a translated word itself demonstrates language’s ability to limit or shape thinking. And as such, is at the core of a discourse around ‘spectral traces’; how do we know what we know when we cannot point to it and have no names? As an artist approaching this question of perception of the unseen, artistic visual statements have the ability to open up repressed histories and cultures, to view places in ways which suggest temporal and perspectival depth, moving beyond singularity and its suggestion of fixed vantage points or singular (colonial?) insistence on only one way of seeing. Multiple-perspective, multi-cultural readings and interpretations, and non-centred performative viewings of place are each discussed and illustrated in this presentation.

Mary Modeen is an artist/printmaker who also works in artist books, installations, and recently, in video and sound. She is also an academic of nearly 30 years full-time experience in higher education, residing in Scotland where she convenes the Art, Philosophy and Contemporary Practices at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee. Born in the USA (Madison, Wisconsin) of Scandinavian and Native American ancestry, she lived and taught in many states, latterly in New Hampshire where she lectured at Dartmouth College until moving to Scotland in 1989.

David Walker Barker A view from our house

‘The pit has fired’

This was a cry that often resounded in the streets of coal mining communities in the 19th and early 20th century. It announced the most fearsome misfortune visited upon a coalmine. The dreadful consequences of an explosion deep underground in the confined spaces of a mine are barely imaginable. Entire generations of grandfathers, fathers, brothers and sons were wiped out.

If the firedamp didn’t get them then the choke damp did. Human beings were brought to the pit top terribly burned or mutilated or conversely as if they had simply fallen asleep, with not a mark on them. Others were never recovered.

When asked about the state of the Oaks Colliery some thirteen years after the explosion of the 12th December 1866 that claimed 361 lives; John Edward Mammatt, who had taken part in the rescue work, commented:

“Some eighty bodies are still unaccounted for. We sometimes come across some bones, we did the other day, and we sent them to the top, but nobody claimed them, and they were buried; there was only a skull and a piece of leg bone”.

David Walker Barker purses a long-standing landscape-based art practice, is lecturer in School of Design at the University of Leeds and gained an AHRC resrach leave award in 2005-6. He has exhibited widely in the UK and the USA. His next solo exhibition Objects of Curious Virtue opens at the Ruskin Library, University of Lancaster in October 2010.

Claire King You are Here? - Mapping Experiences of Rural Places

Abstract This talk will be about some of the issues arising when developing strategies for alternate modes of narration within and through a hybrid art practice in two rural areas; the Isle of Mull and the Avon Valley, in order to explore the idea of “archaeology of absence.” In these two areas, I am exploring ways to reveal and articulate the landscapes of those who, according to Phelan (1993) and Bender (2006) are ‘out of sight’? This work considers the roles of human and non-human agents in landscape and place and the work of De Silvey (2006) and Edensor (2005) in relation to the material cultures and processes of ruins and decay.

Claire King is a part-time PhD student at UWE Bristol and an artist/maker. She has a BSc (Hons) Computer Science from De Montfort University and a BA (Hons) in Art and Design from Coventry University. Her practice-led research and research-led practice is concerned with issues associated with place, memory and identity in relation to rural places, specifically within the Avon Valley. Claire’s professional practice includes working with local community groups, undertaking the ‘Along the River’ residency at Stratford Gallery and occasional visiting lecturing slots at Coventry University. She is currently focussed on her personal practice within the Avon Valley working in traditional and digital print media and natural materials to develop works on-site and for display in gallery/non-gallery spaces. Claire exhibited work as part of the LAND2 Group exhibition and symposium ‘Fieldwork’ held at An Tobar Arts Centre, Tobermory, Mull in 2009. This work developed as a result of a field trip to Mull and subsequently her experiences of Mull have acted as a counterpoint to her ongoing local engagement in the Avon Valley.

Owain Jones Looking across - looking back. Experiences and practices of a lost farm landscape.

Abstract I grew up on a farm on the edge of Cardiff, South Wales, in the 1960s, partly on the levels which adjoin the Severn Estuary. This was a very rich (childhood) landscape of fields, barns/sheds, machines, animals, farm workers, weathers, the estuary, sea walls and tides, and the life a large family - 6 siblings and 4 adults who lived in the large ramshackle ancient house, and numerous cousins, uncles and grandparents who lived in 4 neighbouring farms/houses. All this was swept away when I was in my late teens, as the farm and those around it were bought by Cardiff City Council using Compulsory Purchase Orders to build new housing estates. We stayed on in the house for a while, watching the fields turn slowly to housing estates and the farm buildings demolished. This landscape still haunts me. I dream of it often. I took hundreds of photographs as the farm vanished, many never, as yet, printed. My father’s rich (bitter) memories of it are now fading in his late old age. We moved from the farm in Wales to a new farm in England, over the great bridge that crosses the Severn Estuary. By pure chance, from the hills where we now live we can see back over the unseen void of the estuary into the hazy space where the farm used to be, so everyday I (we) look back to the Welsh farm. I became a geographer interested in place, landscape and memory through a roundabout route. Now this absence of place is occupying my thoughts more, and in some quite troubling ways. I seek ways of narrating this which reveals, rather than smooth over, the confusions/pain of absence, the lacunae of memory and entanglement of self-in-landscape in what Heddon calls ‘autotopography”.

Owain Jones is a cultural geographer with interests in place, landscape, memory; entanglements of nature-culture in places and landscapes; and also the geographies of childhood. I have an arts (rather than academic background) and thus bring artistic sensibilities and practices into my academic work. I also seek to operate in a space which overlaps arts and humanities approaches to place, landscape and nature and social sciences approaches. This is in part driven by the non-representational turn in geography and the social sciences in which knowledge (theory and method) is seen as active, creative practice that is required for creating a richer, fuller account of everyday life in places/landscapes.

Judith Tucker Spectres on the Beach: Concrete Remains, Ghost Rockets and Pleasure Cruises.

Abstract This paper explores the meeting of personal memory, social history, and a beach landscape. It is written from a practitioner’s perspective, it proposes a progressive relationship with a particular place through the process of drawing. This is a development of my work stimulated by pre-war holiday photographs informed by Marianne Hirsch’s considerations of “postmemory,” I investigate a triangular relation between three types of place and temporalities: pre-war snapshots, contemporary beach resorts and a third place between history and memory: re-presentations of the former two through drawing. In many ways drawing might be considered a privileged medium through which to explore connections and disconnections. In this instance I develop my ideas in relation to two concepts: memorial cartographies and haunted archaeologies as outlined by Julian Jonker and Karen Till. Here I consider the implications of my series of drawings exploring the beaches of Baltic Island of Bornholm.. Bornholm has a very specific mix of tourist idyll and a history of strategic military importance. During the 1920s and 1930s it was seen as an alternative to the Mediterranean by German tourists, later it was occupied by Germany relatively early in the Second World War, and served as a lookout post and listening station during this time. Importantly for my project several concrete coastal installations were built during this period. These remnants of the Third Reich have become neglected and sit in close proximity to holiday homes. We might consider that the remnants operate both as uncanny double of the ‘homes away from home’ and as unresolved remainders.. Through these explorations both the apparently benign beaches themselves and the drawn representations of these beaches emerge as tense, contested sites where linear memorial narratives are disturbed.

Judith Tucker is a painter and lecturer in Art and Design at the University of Leeds. She trained at Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art and has a PhD from the University of Leeds. From 2003-6 she was AHRC Research Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts at Leeds. She is co-convenor of LAND2. Solo exhibitions include Myles Meehan Gallery, Darlington, ICIA, Bath, Gainsborough’s House, Suffolk, New Hall Art Collection, Cambridge, Gallery Oldham, Visual Arts Centre 20 21, University Gallery Leeds and Only Atelier Vienna. Group Shows include Blue Gallery, Newcastle, An Tobar, Mull, Brindley Gallery, Mercer Gallery Harrogate and Lounge Gallery, London. Her published writing includes Belated Landscapes: A Second-Generation Aesthetic Practice in a British Journal for the Study of British Cultures (2009), The Lido in the Forest: Painting, Memory and Subjectivity in Memory, Mourning and Landscape: Interdisciplinary Essays (Rodopi, 2010).

Louise K Wilson On the Plasticity of Echoes: sites and their acoustic traces

Abstract This talk will touch on the processes of research underlying a series of journeys to uncover the 'sonic unconscious' (Piette). These projects - undertaken at various heritage and military sites in this country and abroad - will be considered in the light of certain prevailing mythologies of recording technologies.

Louise K Wilson is a visual artist who makes installations, sound works and videos. She has undertaken numerous artist residencies and commissions and exhibited widely in North America and Europe. Recent exhibitions include Composure at Impressions Gallery in Bradford (2008); Post-Cinema, RMIT Project Space, Melbourne (2007); Sonic Arts Network Expo in Plymouth (2007) and the International Film Festival Rotterdam (2005). Her published writing includes an interview with Paul Virilio (CTHEORY, 1994), a commissioned essay for Private Views: Artists Working Today (Serpents Tail, 2004), artist pages for Zero Gravity - A Cultural Users Guide (Arts Catalyst, Cornerhouse books 2005) and book chapters for A Fearsome Heritage: Diverse Legacies of the Cold War (Left Coast Press, 2007); Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating Now (UCL Press, 2006) and New Aldeburgh Anthology (Boydell Press, 2009).

Stephen Felmingham Making a place for the sublime: Recent drawings 2009-10

Abstract Stephen Felmingham makes drawings that engage with archetypal experiences or dreams such as those experienced in childhood. The moments in the drawings are fundamentally wordless and dense with feeling, conveyed through a sense of the uncanny. This paper will examine his recent drawings in the context of the ‘uncanniness of the “already there”’ (De Certeau), militarised landscapes of the Cold War and the self as a crucible for the sublime.

Stephen Felmingham is an artist and lecturer at Leeds College of Art. He studied drawing at Wimbledon School of Art and is currently undertaking doctoral research for a practice-based PhD at the University of Leeds. His research interests include landscape, place, drawing and the contemporary sublime. He was shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2009.

Ingrid Pollard The Spectre of the Black Boy

Ingrid Pollard is a Visual Artist whose visual practice is primarily photographic. With a basis in drawing, screen-printing and ceramics, she studied Film and Video BA and MA in Photographic Studies. Ingrid's artistic practice employs media from chemical photography, alternative processes, digital, text, video, 3D installation and sculpture. Her practice questions popular cultural notions of class, identity and 'Britishness', examining common-sense through genres of documentary, landscape and portrait photography. Ingrid makes work that explores the relationship between race and ethnicity and public spaces. Her work is influenced by her interest in popular culture and recent research deals with models to establish commonalities across social and cultural differences. She is an associate researcher at the Centre for Urban and Community Research Goldsmiths College, where she is working on a Leverhulme funded project ' Spectre of the Black boy’. The motivation for her work has been to inspire change through interpretative dialogue and to challenge everyday assumptions and stereotypes.

Jane Millar Missing

Uncovering a narrative of missing, and searching, for someone who is lost, in work made from 2001 to 2009. Making images is also a way of locating, of giving form to an absence. One has to ask questions: is this ‘missing’ abduction, retreat or hiding?

Jane Millar studied painting, then tapestry at the RCA. She is a member of LAND2. Recent exhibitions include Fieldwork, Mull, and So Near So Far, Ebersberg and London. She has taught Textile Art at Winchester School of Art, currently lectures in Fine Art at Leeds and South Kent College, and is developing projects interpreting and constructing heritage at a London cemetery as part of an MA Education in Museums and Galleries, IoE.