benchmark #1

BM_1In a comment to a recent excellent blogpost survey of a move ‘towards new landscape aesthetic‘ I suggested to the site’s author, Eddie Procter, a label of radical topography rather than deep topography for this movement. Radical topography is arrived at:

via the process of and interest in deep topography. It pulls topography out more broadly to make its relevance to all more urgent perhaps. This links through to Guattari’s The Three Ecologies. In a collection of essays on the ecology of Deleuze and Guattari (Ed. B. Herzogenrath, 2009) Hanjo Berressem’s suggests a move from Naessian deep ecology to radical ecology to explode the subject/object divide and here that could help blur the culture/nature one. It also overcomes the ‘landscape as palimpsest’ trope which you mention. I think this ‘radical’ element could also be moved on to ‘radical place’ as well to leave behind the arrogance of local authority (etc.) ‘place-making’.

This concept of radical topography combines nicely with the concept of the autopoietical landscape. Movement and flux is embraced as a counter mechanism to homogenization. This flexibility is also championed by Gregory Bateson in his Steps to an Ecology of Mind (flexibility as ‘uncommitted potentiality for change’ (505)). Could this radically flexible aspect of landscape be a challenge to the wind farmers blanding of Esgair Cwmowen as “a moderately attractive landscape with few features of note” for example?

A return to Nottingham please

I was in Nottingham twice last week.

Train rides through ecotones of urban, ruderal, rural, industrial, post-industrial and pre-post-industrial landscapes or, as I like to call them, landscapes.

Nottingham_rockOn Tuesday I was at Nottingham Contemporary for a talk by Isabelle Stengers. The talk consisted of a conversation between Stengers and critical geographer Sarah Whatmore followed by a fairly lengthy Q&A session by the end of which Stengers was clearly flagging. Current reading in CFAR’s Radical Matter sessions has centred on Michel Foucault’s Society Must Be Defended and there was much from the evening with Stengers that chimed with the writings of Foucault. And with Guattari’s Three Ecologies which I have also read a couple of times recently.

Much of this is about how we have had thought taken from us (in some cases wittingly in others not so) and had this replaced by law – perhaps juridical law but especially Scientistic law. The latter form is held in sacred reverence by our great masters at Westminster. With this removal of thought we have the subjugation of knowledge and associated homogenization of our lives and those of all around us (animals, plants, mountains, wind, fizzy pop bottles, buried treasure…so much buried treasure). Stengers urges us to ‘pay attention’ in order reclaim our capacity for thought. Urges us individually to pay attention, not the Scientists (note the capital ‘S’ for Stengers isn’t anti-science as many would like to believe but rather pro- ‘scientific achievements’ – see here for more on this).

Stengers calls for a slowing down, a removal of this obsession with ‘progress’. A hesitation. A stutter. A discussion of things in front of (with) those who may be(come) victims. The idea of reclaiming is used a lot by Stengers. It’s a strong idea in that it suggests that these knowledges which have been buried may be taken back and put to good use.

Thursday saw me back at Nottingham Contemporary for a look around the Rights of Nature: art and ecology in the Americas exhibition and the associated study session on Guattari’s Three Ecologies. I think I am tiring of contemporary gallery art and I found the exhibition in the main rather uninspiring. Rather lazily some simply jarred with my visual aesthetic. Some I thought poorly rendered. Some I found impenetrable – I know this isn’t an easy subject but… There were a couple of works that somehow, albeit slightly, hooked me.

The Otolith Group‘s ‘film essay’ had a meditative quality as it combined filmed footage and spoken word. It reminded me a little of some of Brian Eno’s recent projects where he has combined music and spoken word/poetry. The filming was thoughtful and the ‘score’ eased in and out of my awareness offering poetic couplings and insights into local lore in Southern California. The work really required more time than I had and I as victim of progress and fast-paced living had to move on. There was also something in the work of the Center for Land Use Interpretation‘s work. But it is also easy to lose their meaning in the camouflage of their movement.

From the gallery it was down to ‘The Studio’ for the study session on Guattari’s essay. I’m not sure what I had hoped for from this but I came away rather dispirited as things seemed to get stuck in a looping discussion on evolution, economics, capitalism and Marxism. The perceived lack of guidance in Guattari’s writing was seen by some as a major stumbling block as they asked ‘If it is a manifesto why doesn’t it tell us what to do?’. Tutorial with Isabelle Stengers required I think. For me the text calls for an utterly radical (that’s like the football manager’s 110%) re-thinking of how we as humans interact between ourselves and with the more-than-human world. This is going to require some tough decisions and when the only obvious approach seems to be off-grid living it feels like an immediate pass is given to those worshippers of Progress to take over just a little bit more of the world/universe/… . As I said dispiriting.

Y Glonc

Y Glonc forms the heart of an area of upland to the north of the main road from Caersws to Carno in Montgomeryshire. Speed’s 1611 map of the county indicates little detail in the Y Glonc area beyond the coloured heaps that generically indicate hilly country and the blue bladder which stands for Llyn Mawr which feeds the Afon Rhiw – or Rue Flud to Speed (the other two lakes, Llyn Du and Llyn y Tarw, seem to have passed these early cartographers by).

With a mind pre-occupied and flat I visited the area a couple of weeks ago – walking up from Caersws by way of Alltyffynnon and Mynydd Llwytgoed. There had been a thaw in the recent snows but the day was very cold again and the roadside puddles didn’t melt from one end of the day to the other. The low sun was caught in thin cloud and offered a nebulous, yet brilliant light which eventually gave in to a cloud front from that moved in from the west. This brilliant and later, watery sun did little to improve the heavy fog of my mind and in fact helped to trap me in cycles of self-absorption. From this mental studium certain details did though manage to prick through: a small stream crossed my path on Bryn Du and sent me into a few minutes of Shepherdian contemplation as I crouched down to it and became entranced by the cold, flowing water for little or no reason. Bubbles, eddied and moved on and reflections and colours scintillated. Further round on the edge of Mynydd Cerrigllwydion I paused to take a photograph or two and was absorbed by the colours. They were at once muted by the snow that sat amongst the grass yet somehow presented a wide and varied spectrum – maybe the ochres, rusts and greens were set off by the blueness of the snow-shadows.

By the mid-1800s the cartographers have found the other two lakes up here (Llyn Du and Llyn y Tarw) and some tracks or roads are indicated penetrating into this ’empty’ quarter. In the 1880s the Ordnance Survey arrive and their 1:10,560 scale map holds a wealth of detail which underlines human presence in the area. [1] The area is shown criss-crossed by boundaries and paths and pockmarked with cairns and boundary markers. Some of the boundaries march geometrically across the terrain whilst others curl protectively around their associated buildings. Sheepfold, hafod and lluest. Most of the land parcels are filled with the stipples which indicate rough grassland or the more hummocky indicators of bog; it is the smaller pockets near the buildings which shine white with their improved pasture. Archaeological studies of this sweep of land suggest that the first observable human settlers were around in the Bronze Age and that this borderland (up here, between two valley settlements) may have been seen as a special place to celebrate gods or bury the community’s dead as evidenced by ‘burial and funerary structures or more isolated monuments’. [2] Stone circle, kerb cairn, and ring bank.

The surrounding valleys and their arable lands stagger up to about the 350 metre OD contour and the area tops out at 485 metres OD in the shape of Carreg-hir. Surface geology is of upland loam and peat. Peat was cut up here for centuries and the remains of this work are still evident in the form of platforms, cuttings and shelters. Underlying the peat is an area of Wenlock sandstone-dominated mid-Silurian deposits which has its most obvious presence in the linear rock outcrops to the south and the Tan y Foel quarry to the north-east. Tornado jets crash past through the valleys below. Unsurprisingly the area’s toponyms relate very directly to the terrain and are not always particularly unique: Bwlch y Gors (‘pass of the bog’); Bryn y Fawnog (‘hill of peat’) and Mynydd Cerrigllwydion (‘grey stone hill’).

The height up here gives added geographical context – in the south the horizon is relatively close with the windfarms on Dethenydd dominating; to the west Pumlumon and its watery realm attracts attention; in the east are the obvious lumps of Breidden Hill and Moel y Golfa; in the north-east the land further corrugates, reaching a crescendo in the north with the fine rocky outlines of the Berwyn Mountains; and then round to the north-west are the impressively craggy Aran Group dominated by Aran Fawddwy. A thousand triangulations to hold me here.

[1] ‘OS Map name 028/SE,’ in Map of Montgomeryshire (Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1885-1896), accessed February 3, 2015, AND ‘OS Map name 028/SW,’ in Map of Montgomeryshire (Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1885-1896), accessed January 31, 2015,