Visual Evidence: Absences and Presences in Landscape, Cityscape and Marinescape

How can we perceive, understand and interpret a particular environment surrounding us? The workshop “Visual Evidence: Absences and Presences in Landscape, Cityscape and Marinescape” was organised by Durham’s Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC) to explore questions of evidence, image making practices and looking practices concerning different environments and landscapes. The workshop provided a framework to explore these themes from a multidisciplinary point of view and facilitated discussion between academics, artists, students and professionals.

The workshop focused on tracing visual evidence of absent, erased or hidden structures and phenomena in landscape, cityscape and marinescape which are usually neglected due to their invisibility. Similarly, specific looking practices and image making practices may selectively bring to attention only some patterns or structures of evidence while erasing others. The workshop addressed these themes and questions from an interdisciplinary perspective with a range of international examples being covered. A particular focus was given to the landscape, cityscape and marinescape structures in the North East.

Four panels were held over two days, followed by a discussion after each panel. A wide range of departments and staff members from the Universities of Durham and Northumbria as well as artists and professionals were involved with stimulating presentations on such diverse topics as visualisations of bodies of water in Latin American cinema (Dr Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián); sea surface, depth and movement in the Tyneside Extraction Complex (Prof Phil Steinberg), figure/ground reversal patterns (Prof Rona Lee). The workshop’s third panel session consisted of a stimulating walking tour of Durham, led by Dr Adrian Green, to explore Durham’s cityscape and landscape in more detail by focusing on the intersections between the past and the present in Durham’s architectural landscape.

The workshop’s concluding panel on cityscapes consisted of Professor Maggie O’Neill’s talk on Walking, Sensing and Participatory Biographies which explored the transformative role of art in relation to mediated personal narratives of women refugees. The session focused on two examples from participatory arts projects and included a map-drawing exercise which provided an insight into Professor O’Neill’s walking methodology. Walking methodology allows participants to engage in an exploratory and embodied experience of their surroundings, their place and their personal narratives, hence accomplishing a connection between place, history and lived experience. The session also included a screening of the short film “Searching for Asylum” produced by Jan Haaken and Maggie O’Neill in collaboration with the Open Door Refugee Support Organisation.

The workshop was followed by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture Annual Lecture in Environments and Visual Culture. Professor Robin Veder, who is Associate Professor of Humanities, Art History and Visual Culture at Penn State University, presented “The Concept of Empathy in Early Twentieth-Century Dance Choreography and Garden Design”. Professor Veder explored how landscapes influence and change the bodies of people who move in them by kinesthetic empathy. Kinesthetic empathy suggests that aesthetic experience is realised when one’s body empathises with the shape, structure or form of a landscape or design. Thus, landscapes, garden designs, but also choreographies, could offer a way to structure and shape bodily experience and the body’s movement within these different environments by means of empathy.

Nelly Stavropoulou and Lara Ehrenfried April 2016

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