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Monday, 21 September 2015

The Everyday Landscape: Which we See, Hear, Feel and Taste

From The Cave Mouth and The Giant Voice by Rupert Cox and Angus Carlyle (from a project on WW11 Hiding Places in Okinawa)

Music, Words and Landscape: Limits of the Visual at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:30 tbc  
Buy Tickets here

I am sitting in my allotment in Bath. There is a gap in the trees through which I get a perfect view of Solsbury Hill. All around the birds are singing, robins, blackbirds and green finches today. The sweet smell of rotting grass cuttings mixes with that of the dirt on my fingers and the scent of old mint I've just ripped out of the ground.

I pick a raspberry and its tang combines with the taste traces of soil and late summer cosmos pollen that lines my mouth. It's a pleasant cocktail. 

To the east, I see the A46, to the south the TV tower on Claverton Down rising above the River Avon and Brunel's Great Western Railway. 

It's a perfect spot from which to take in the view, but it's more than a view; it's a total sensory experience of a landscape that at first sight seems merely pastoral. But it goes beyond that. Mixed in with the visual beauty, there are sights, sounds, histories, emotions, textures, and tastes. Sit there long enough and still enough and it will envelop me. It's not an outside thing,

Here landscape is melded with body and soul, with collective history. It's not something cold and distant, it's something we are part of; not in a mystical, sublime way, but in a very basic human way where we live and breathe, without being aware of it, the world around us. It's everyday landscape.

This totality of landscape, and the way it is represented in contemporary photography, is the broad focus of a day of talks organised by Max Houghton and I for Saturday November 7th at the Southbank in Bristol. The day is the first in a series of exhibitions and publications that we are planning based around the idea of representation of the living landscape; that it is not just how we see the world around us, but how we sense it on every level. 

Why does it matter? Forty years ago, the New Topographics moved landscape on from the pastoral. Landscapes became something built on and inhabited and very grey. This is the next step forward; landscapes are built on, inhabited and experienced. We see them, we feel them, we hear them, and for the last 50 years at least (think Richard Long here for example) people have been making art that represents this. 

Aren't we above all this sense and emotion nonsense? I wonder about this as I sit looking over Solsbury Hill, taking in the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the touch. How would it be if it were different, if the birds stopped singing, the trees stopped rustling? What if  total silence reigned?

A couple of years back, there was a feature on journalist who went in search of the most silent place in the world. He found in Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota. This is what he said: 

'I became aware of the sound of my breathing, so I held my breath. The dull thump of my heartbeat became apparent – nothing I could do about that. As the minutes ticked by, I started to hear the blood rushing in my veins. Your ears become more sensitive as a place gets quieter, and mine were going overtime. I frowned and heard my scalp moving over my skull, which was eerie, and a strange, metallic scraping noise I couldn't explain. Was I hallucinating? The feeling of peace was spoiled by a tinge of disappointment – this place wasn't quiet at all. You'd have to be dead for absolute silence.'

He ended up enjoying the silence, but he was the exception. Most lasted barely ten minutes. Silence is unnerving, and unnatural.

Sound and landscape, what happens when there is silence, what happens when sound intrudes, are at the heart of the work of Angus Carlyle. He will talk about sound and landscape, and how the one affects our experience of the other, how sound cuts through time, how sound creates pressure, how sound ties to emotion, memory and landscape. 

To get an idea of what he does, seee a clip from his Air Pressure here, a project which records the sound experiences of  '...the last farming family living within the concrete and steel infrastructure of Japan's largest airport, where noise - of taxiing and of take-offs and landings - exerts a constant pressure from before dawn until well after dusk.'

Music, Words and Landscape: Limits of the Visual at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:30 tbc

Buy Tickets here

It's a  day of talks and screenings looking at how landscape, words, music and sound connect us to ourselves and the places we photograph. Speakers include Beth and Thom Atkinson, Angus Carlyle, Susan Derges, Paul Gaffney, Max Houghton, Jem Southam, and Ester Vonplon.

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