Writers’ work


Paul Halliday

Paul Halliday will be writing an introduction to the forthcoming publication.

Anthony Iles

Photography on the Commons

Anthony Iles writing addresses the relation between common land and the politics of representation. Iles has written about the photography in the project as a means of developing to his ideas of the commons which he argues has the potential to radicalise a notion of landscape and raise questions of existing assumptions about land use and property relations, our relationship to nature and to the environment, which historically were not always so.

Kate Soper

Edge of a Dream: ‘Utopic’ Photography and the Political Mediation of Aesthetic Response

The paper explores the complexities of the ‘utopic’ register of the images with a particular focus on the questions they raise about the ways in which affective and aesthetic responses to landscape are always politically mediated and moulded. Though noting the lack of overt moral rhetoric in the photographs, and contrasting that with some other approaches in environmental art, it suggests that all the images can be read as questioning, in diverse ways, the continuing realism and practicality of our dominant culture and ways of life.

John Wood

Shadows of Utopia

It is tempting to assume that, as low bio-diversity landscapes are less stable than richer ones, ecologically speaking, they would be less pleasing to the eye. In the quest for a new ethics of ecology, the presence of ‘bio-diversity’ may be most eloquently explored through aesthetics, rather than logical argumentation. The work of four photographic artists, curated by Virginia Nimarkoh, offers a diverse set of aesthetic experiences of landscape. While there is no explicit discussion of ethical concerns, each artist offers an aesthetic experience that enables the viewer to experience their own sense of the ‘good’ (and the less good).

Background


The starting point for the Edge of a Dream project is W.J.T. Mitchell’s essay Imperial Landscape, and his call for art historical accounts of landscape to acknowledge the inherent politics therein. Mitchell argues that, “histories of landscape [...] continually present it as breaking with convention, with language and textuality, for a natural view of nature, just as they present landscape as transcending property and labour.” (1)

The project relates those concerns to contemporary visual representations of landscape. Mitchell’s call for an inter-textual approach to critiquing landscape has very much shaped the nature of the project. It has been a means of interrogating art practice via other disciplines; specifically, using writing from design, philosophy and new technology perspectives.

Kate Soper’s essay, ‘Privileged Gazes & Ordinary Affections’, gives a critique of left-wing writing on representations of landscape (such as Raymond Williams and John Berger) noting that: “What has been emphasised [...] is the need to inject a class – and gender – dimension into accounts of landscape appreciation: to recognise the extent to which tastes and fashions in natural scenery, or for landscape design and its pictorial and literary representation, have been determined by those in positions of socio-economic power – in ways that reflect their sense of the world and interests.” (2)

Soper’s wish list for alternative accounts of landscape can surely be expanded upon. Indeed, the project has sought to engage both local and global perspectives on landscape. Edge of a Dream raises a number of questions, such as: how might photography employ the conventions of landscape (pictorialism, perspective, beauty) critically? How might it usefully engage with other discourses (such as architecture, new technology, design, writing)? At a time of economic and ecological crisis, can such images help us to visualise other possibilities for how we might live? Or record our failures for posterity? What, then, is the role of the artist in contributing to our understanding or interrogation of landscape and its inherent politics?

(1) WJT Mitchell, Imperial Landscape, in Landscape and Power (2nd Edition), The University of Chicago Press, 2002
(2) Kate Soper, Privileged Gazes and Ordinary Affections: Reflections on the Politics of Landscape and the Scope of Nature Aesthetic, in Deterritorialisations…Revisioning Landscapes and Politics, eds. Marks Dorrian and Gillian Rose, Black Dog Publishing, 2003

Utopia, Landscape
& Contemporary Photography

The Project

Edge of a Dream is a research project looking at contrasting ideas of utopia in recent landscape photography, in the context of global capitalism. The project considers how such photography might contest received ideas of property, community, location and beauty, etc.

Photography by artists Simryn Gill, Mandy Lee Jandrell, Virginia Nimarkoh and David Spero provides the catalyst for new writing by Anthony Iles, Kate Soper and John Wood.

Edge of a Dream involved a series of seminars held at Camberwell College of Arts and Goldsmiths during 2008 and 2009. Research from the project will culminate in a book to be published in 2009, with an introductory text by Paul Halliday.

Camberwell College of Arts Research Office and the Department of Design, Goldsmiths have supported this project. Edge of a Dream is a research project led by Virginia Nimarkoh.

© All images courtesy the artists


News & comments

If you attended the final seminar and want to respond to any of the speakers, or have any comments on the project in general, please email us.


Publication

A publication bringing together photography and new writing from this research project is now available. Edge of a Dream: Utopia, Landscape & Contemporary Photography is published by Affram Books.

Invited Artists & Writers


Artists

Simryn Gill

Simryn Gill is an artist based in New South Wales. Between 2000 and 2003, Gill photographed abandoned, decaying building projects around Malaysia. The series presents ambitious, never-completed structures include apartment blocks, hotels and shopping malls; they are epic monuments to the Asian economic crash in the late 1990s. Alongside these contemporary structures sit abandoned properties that are the legacy of the colonial period. In the intervening years, the tropical landscape slowly reclaims these sites. Gill’s work has shown at Tate Modern, the Sydney Biennale, and the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.

Mandy Lee Jandrell

Mandy Lee Jandrell is an artist based in London. In projects such as ‘Eidyllion’, Jandrell photographs wildlife parks, theme parks, botanical gardens, historical recreation sites, etc. Her work examines the notion of nature as leisure activity within a consumer culture. Jandrell’s photographs expose a highly constructed manifestation of nature courtesy of the global leisure industries. Jandrell’s work has shown at Whitechapel Art Gallery, the Johannesburg Biennale, and the Royal Academy of Art, London. See, www.mandyleejandrell.info

Virginia Nimarkoh

Virginia Nimarkoh is an artist based in London. She photographs urban municipal green spaces such as parks, community gardens, city farms, etc, in south London. The project, ‘Urban Utopias’, looks at how such spaces contest our understanding of the city. Key to the work is a notion of community and provision, evident in the self-sufficiency of the allotment movement, for example. Her photography presents a horticultural ideal that belies the modest urban location. Her work has shown at ICA, London, Threadwaxing Space, New York and the Renaissance Society, Chicago.

David Spero

David Spero is an artist based in London. In ‘Settlements’, Spero photographs low impact, ecological housing in rural Britain. The structures contest what we understand as contemporary architecture, being self-built and made from recycled, natural materials, often garnered from their locale. Spero’s poignant photographs provide a view of communities whose lifestyle choices contest current debates on property, land, and the environment. Spero’s work has shown at Tate Britain, the Photographer’s Gallery and Photo España, Madrid. See, www.davidspero.co.uk

Writers

Paul Halliday

Paul Halliday is a photographer, filmmaker and cultural sociologist based in the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR). His main research interests are urban photography, visual ethnography, sociologies of art practice, ethnographic and experimental film. Paul completed a twenty-year photographic and film project about public places in London in 2006 (www.paulhalliday.org), and is currently completing a book project focusing on a series of urban walks in Berlin, Shanghai, London and other global cities. After several years in the CUCR as a visiting fellow researching the relationship between photography and urban ethnography, he is now the course leader of the Centre’s international MA in Photography and Urban Cultures.

Anthony Iles

Anthony Iles is a freelance writer and editor based in London. He is a contributing editor to Mute, an online and quarterly print magazine: metamute.org and a regular contributor to current debates about the urban regeneration around the London 2012 Olympics. He is author of the essay ‘Of Lammas Land & Olympic Dreams’: www.gamesmonitor.org.uk/node/322, ‘Heavy Opera’ a review of a climate change opera/audio tour produced by the environmental group Platform: www.metamute.org/en/Heavy-Opera and a self-published pamphlet entitled ‘The Lower Lea Valley as Fun Palace and Creative Prison’: www.divshare.com/download/6016897-66

Kate Soper

Kate Soper is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy in the Institute for the Study of European Transformations at London Metropolitan University. Her research interests include theory of needs and consumption, environmental philosophy and the aesthetics of nature. Her recent study on ‘alternative hedonism’ was funded in the ESRC/AHRC ‘Cultures of Consumption’ Programme (www.consume.bbk.ac.uk). She has contributed to Radical Philosophy, New Left Review, and Capitalism, Nature, Socialism. She is the author of What is Nature? Culture, Politics and the Non-Human (1995), and has recently published The Politics and Pleasures of Consuming Differently (ed. With Lyn Thomas and Martin Ryle), Palgrave, 2008.

John Wood

John Wood is Professor of Design at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is coordinator of the MA Design Futures programme. He has published over 100 papers, articles and chapters, in addition to several books, the most recent of which is The Design of Micro-Utopias (2008, Ashgate). John co-founded the Attainable Utopias Network and the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (Intellect), which he also co-authors with Julia Lockheart. Since 2005, he has led an EPSRC/AHRC funded research project exploring ‘metadesign’ and is a member of several think tanks.

Goldsmiths Session 5
22.08.08: Writers discuss their developed writing

In this session, the writers presented their developed texts to the artists.


Goldsmiths Session 4
03.07.08: Writers present their draft texts to a small audience


Goldsmiths Session 3
29.05.08: Participants present to a small audience

Both the artists and writers outlined their research interests to the group. The writers gave their initial responses to the photography.


Camberwell College of Arts Session 2
08.05.08: Artists & writers first meeting

In this session, the artists presented their selection of images to the writers. The writers also outlined their research interests to the artists. The writers then selected which photographs they would use as the basis of their writing.

Each of the writers received a box of photographs containing their selection for the duration of the project.


Camberwell College of Arts Session 1
21.04.08: Selecting the work

The first session involved the London based artists meeting to select the photographs that the writers would write about. We also made an initial selection of images from Simryn Gill’s monograph. Simryn then made a final selection based on this choice.


David Spero
From the series ‘Settlements’


Virginia Nimarkoh


Mandy Lee Jandrell


Simryn Gill
From the series ‘Standing Still’
2000 - 2003


Utopia, Landscape
& Contemporary Photography

One-Day Seminar

Saturday, 31st January 2009, 10am – 6pm

   Goldsmiths, University of London
   Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building
   St. James, New Cross
   London SE14

The Project

Edge of a Dream is a research project looking at contrasting ideas of utopia in recent landscape photography, in the context of global capitalism. The project considers how such photography might contest received ideas of property, community, location and beauty, etc.

Photography by artists Simryn Gill, Mandy Lee Jandrell, Virginia Nimarkoh and David Spero provides the catalyst for new writing by Anthony Iles, Kate Soper and John Wood.

The seminar on Saturday 31st January is the culmination of a series of workshops held at Camberwell College of Arts and Goldsmiths in 2008. It will involve presentations from the artists and writers; Paul Halliday will chair the event.

Camberwell College of Arts Research Office and the Department of Design, Goldsmiths jointly present this event. The research from this project will culminate in a book to be published in 2009. Edge of a Dream is a research project led by Virginia Nimarkoh.

How to Book

The event is free, but booking is essential. Places are available on a first come, first served basis. To reserve a place, or for more information, please contact: (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 020 7919 7788.

© All images courtesy the artists