Art and Geography at RGS Conference

I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of fine art into Royal Geographical Society’s (with IBG) Annual Conference. The RGS has a commitment of pairing artists and geographers to help broaden the student’s view of their professions. Many were recipients of awards from the Leverhulme Trust’s Artist in Residence program. I saw many new ways people are interpreting geography, landscape and place that I can apply to my own work.

There was so much to take in and reflect on from this conference, I can’t do it in one post! Click here if you want to read how I mustered up the guts to attend a major conference in a field I know (knew) nothing about. Click here for more about the conference sessions I attended.

Here’s a smattering of what I saw:

Luce Choules lived in and photographed mountains, and other landscapes, and presented them in printed “maps” of her own photographs. From these “maps” you get a sense of the area, the topography, the plants and scenery. They are not “maps” in the typical sense of the word. They are about reading landscapes. It turns out Luce was a graphic designer. She has invited me to her studio (in response to me inviting myself, really).

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Charlie Rawson draws a line on a digital tablet, everywhere she goes. These jagged, random markings “map” her journeys. So simple. She spoke of “non places”, the spaces between the beginning and end of your journey. Her lines are the connectors between places. I introduced myself to her and as we chatted, she drew on her business card. I now have an original Charlie Rawson!

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Jane Dudman also worked in inbetweens. She cataloged the small everyday motions people go through such as shaving or washing dishes. She records her own thoughts to find out about things that aren’t normally verbalized.

Lucy Livingston lived in three very different places, one of which was the air base of the Enola Gay in the Nevada desert. Here she studied the land and created performances in reaction to it. I was so energized by this session.

Globe is a large copper sphere equipped with cameras that gets rolled through the streets. “She” was displayed in one of the halls at the Society during the conference. I had been looking forward to learning more about this project since I had read about it in conference materials. It seemed as though it was very interactive, and its size (about 1 meter in diameter) just made it plain disruptive. During lunch, I was admiring Globe as Janetka Platum and her geographer counterpart, Olivia Sheringham, walked in and sat down. I introduced myself to them and we talked a bit. They were watching people’s reactions to seeing Globe on its pedestal. I offered to tweet about Globe for them to drum up a few more people to come see it. In their session about home, Janetka described how she and Olivia rolled Globe through the various East London neighborhoods. People would approach the artist and to ask questions. Through these questions, a dialog about home and place was started. One man they encountered was 90 years old and standing outside a house he lived in when he was brought to London with the Kinder Transport in 1939. He and his son were tracing his London roots at the same time Janetka was rolling Globe around East London. They had several great interactions with locals and tourists in the area. Janetka is in the process of editing the footage from Globe.

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Unfortunately, Globe was not rolled around the conference.

Flora Parrott and her geography counterpart, Mike Smith, presented a project that Fine Art and Geography students created, based in the disused 19th century Grand Entrance Hall to the Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe, London. The students had a few weeks to devise different ways to “read” the landscape of the tunnel. They created casts from parts of the tunnel. One student gathered single words from fellow students to describe the tunnel. They only had a couple of hours to complete their work in the tunnel. Students measured and made charts, they took photos and later did some 3d modeling of the space. They put it all together in a film, with spoken word lists as the soundtrack. This was a very ambitious and impressive project.

Mike also presented an interactive kiosk space where he and his students recreated the studio of Eduardo Paolozzi in 3D. You could move around the studio and click on things that were of interest to you.

There was a fabulous film screened “Babushkas of Chernobyl.” It was about these tiny hardy elderly ladies that lived and farmed for themselves outside of Chernobyl. It was very moving. You’ll enjoy watching it. Not sure if you can stream it in the States, though.

Neither ornithologist nor geographer, photojournalist Toby Smith went to Gabon to document the disappearing habitat of the Cuckoo in Africa. Chasing Cuckoos.

Tom Wolseley showed images from his film “Vertical Horizons”. He took photos of the Shard in south London, very every vantage point. Unfortunately, I missed the screening, but the photos were great. You can get a sense of how the Shard dominates certain parts of south London in his photos. I too, live in the shadow of the Shard. It pops up here and there, in places you’d least expect it. Coming from New York City, I have experience living in the shadow of famous, and infamous architecture, and how it becomes part of your life. And how you miss them when they are gone.

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The Shard pops up everywhere in South London. (photo: ddavid)

Apologies to those I’ve not included and for any misprints about this information! Please contact me with any corrections.

Read more about the conference here.

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