MA in Literature, Landscape & Environment

Landscaping Change: making connections between research, creativity and activism

Introduction to the project from MALLE Tutor and Lecturer in English Literature: Writing and Environment, Dr Samantha Walton.

Changes in landscapes inevitably impact on local communities. Whether they are caused by environmental events, regeneration and conservation initiatives, or development spurred by business, changes to the material fabric of place can disturb the experience of those whose sense of identity and feelings of belonging may be entangled with that place. Through the support of the British Academy’s Rising Star Engagement Award, over the course of 2015, I will be hosting a series of events around Bristol and Bath which aim to foster critical discussion and performative evaluation of landscapes and places under processes of change.

As 2015 European Green Capital, Bristol City Council has launched a range of green regeneration policies and activities focused on enhancing the city’s infrastructure sustainably, improving access to natural environments that sustain health and wellbeing, and enhancing habitats for wildlife. Although the Green Capital is, in my opinion, a fantastic initiative which aims to make environmental issues publically engaging and essential to policy and local politics, at a grassroots level responses to the changes the city has undergone over the course of the last year have been mixed. The ‘Landscaping Change’ events will connect writers and artists with early career researchers and, most importantly, local community groups seeking to influence policy to ensure that changes to environments work for local wildlife and connected ecologies and for local people.

On the 15th October I hosted the first of the Landscaping Change events, which focused on the theme of Earth. MALLE Student Sheryl Medlicott attended and has written a report of the event.

Starting the MALLE; Landscaping Change at the Arnolfini

As a Bristolian and new student on the MA Literature, Landscape and Environment I was thrilled to be invited to an event at the Arnolfini in Bristol by one of the MA course tutors, Dr Samantha Walton.

It was a fantastic evening exploring our relationship with soil, and the first in a series called Landscaping Change. The events are being curated by Samantha, who has created programmes bringing together academics, artists and campaigners.

The theme of ‘connections’ emerged in several ways throughout the evening and resonated with me personally as I start this course, meet new people and start to read around subjects raised by the MA.

Maddy Longhurst spoke about how the Blue Finger Alliance came together through their deep respect for the grade one agricultural soil at the Feed Bristol site. Interestingly, the initially combative relationship between the group and town planners (their eventual evictors from part of the land) has become more collaborative, enabling the Alliance to continue to advocate for the site.

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett read poetry expressing how she relates and responds to the terrain when she is running, with memorable imagery of diamond studded blades of grass bending upwards and the soil as a sea teeming with protozoa.

Amy Cutler’s quick-talking presentation on forests and the language we use to define them gave as much of an overview of her work as possible in the time available. It was highly inspirational for a new student.

Miche and Flora of Touchstone Collaborations then co-opted us into reconfiguring the room and we ended the evening sat in groups, holding leaves, encircled by red wool discussing what ‘ecology’ means to us. The most common answer was connectedness, which rather brings things together nicely.

Report written by Sheryl Medlicott

The value of connecting those interested in local environments from very different backgrounds and perspectives comes from the recognition of how rich and layered what we call ‘place’ really is. A place is—in simple terms—a physical area demarcated in some way, but how we demarcate that place is cultural, personal and political. Do we define the place by its usage (which is subject to historical change), or its meaning to the people who live there (who may move in or out of the area, or whose views may be excluded from dominant narratives of that place)? Is place to be defined geographically according to the river that waters it, or in a wider context; by bioregion perhaps? How will such ways of thinking of place withstand alterations to the water table caused by damming or deviating a river, or indeed through far-reaching climate change events? While the main focus of ‘Landscaping Change’ is to explore the values of place at a local and personal level, the environmental and social challenges Bristol currently faces are also being faced by communities in nations across the world, in the context of climate change and devastating threats to green and blue environments and the cultures that depend on them. These series of events hope to spark discussion about these challenges by organising collaborative and multidisciplinary discussion of pressing issues: building green economies; understanding how sustainable development can meet local cultural needs; and advancing environmental legislation which ensures nature’s recovery and enhances human wellbeing.

It is my hope that the ‘Landscaping Change’ events will help affirm the role of subjective and creative responses to environments and will bolster and enrich debates about the value of place-making in discussions concerned with enhancing relationships between nature and society.

To find out more see our website, and join us at our next event on 19th November where Jethro Brice, Marianna Dudley and Owain Jones will consider ‘Water’. Also see the British Academy’s own blog Where We Live Now, which explores thinking about place and policy.

26. October 2015 by Samantha Walton
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