Last Friday I attend ended a seminar by Amy Woolvin, a research assistant at the Centre for Mountain studies at Perth College UHI. Amy’s PhD research explored the multiple ways that people value landscapes using walking interviews, arts-based methods and key-informant interviews (with local and national landscape managers) . Within minutes of her talk, she had revealed some beautiful paintings that she had completed on location in her two sites of study, Assynt and Applecross. Although she is a geographer, she is also accomplished painter, and her paintings had a real charm to them with appealing use of colour, composition and the way she captured the light in the landscape. I found it interesting that she tries to capture her experience in the landscape through the medium of painting, just as the Romantics and Neo-Romantics had done, giving the paintings a more textural and descriptive feel to them, paying attention to the overlooked details, the way that the wind affected the heather or trees. She is not just merely painting a pretty picture or an obvious scene but instead opting to capture locations off the beaten track in the middle of nowhere, giving me the feeling that I wanted to walk through the canvas and place myself in these wild surroundings. She mentioned how through art we are able to capture the memory of a particularly walk or time in the landscape, whether through drawn, painting, photography or collecting souvenirs. The landscape is constantly evolving with the changes in weather and growth/decay – the only constants are day and night.
Much of what she said resounded with my interests, for instance how we consider landscape, do we look at the micro or the macro. Where do we look when we go for a walk? Straight ahead at eye level, or do we look down at the details or the ground under our feet? Are we gazing at the landscape as spectators, or are we embodied within it, experiencing the smell, sounds and the haptic sensory experience of walking or moving through the terrain? We also need to take into account our emotional response to the landscape. Does it hold particular memories, or trigger emotions as we make a new discovery or see a familiar sight? Is there more of an interconnected way of seeing landscape, by joining up the elements such as land as sea or land and sky?
Amy’s work investigated some of the productivity aspects of landscape and whether old practices such as crofting should be revived, or perhaps landscape needs to be rethought and new sustainable ways of using it such as bee-keeping and hydro schemes might be considered. She worked with people from the two communities and went on walking interviews with them, used artspace methods to encourage them to use their creativity to express their relationship to the landscape around them, and she ask conducted key informant interviews with stakeholders such as landowners, councils and the local landscape partnership schemes.
Another interesting aspect which came out of her research was that the locals felt like a second wave of “highland clearances” was taking place, where people weren’t allowed to use their land due to very strict conservation issues, which seem perhaps to be counterproductive in some ways.
I managed to have a quick chat with Amy after the seminar, and have since spoken with her via email. I’m hoping that sometime in the near future (after my MA is completed) we might be able to do a collaborative research project or exhibition together concerning landscape. I’m very pleased to have made her acquaintance and found her work very interesting.