Artful geographies


Researching and Living Differently

Arts practices – broadly understood – have been part of the nature and expression of geographical knowledge for centuries. The common ground but also the productive differences between geography and the arts, perhaps especially literature and the visual arts, have long been recognized by key commentators to offer forceful contributions to the mapping and making of knowledge and worlds. Thus, we find arts practices proffering everything from an empirical naturalism in the service of eighteenth and nineteenth century geographical sciences, to the “soul” of twentieth century disciplinary geography wherein they provide a riposte to the “arid formalism” of a positivistic geographical science of the mid-twentieth century. Whether set in the service of or as a critique of geography’s disciplinary interests, arts practices take up a disciplinary place as a generative force in the making, shaping, and most recently the transforming of subjects, imaginaries, disciplinary knowledge and worlds.

Geographers’ engagements with artistic practices have become increasingly diverse of late, finding expression in a vibrant body of research that enrols a wide variety of themes, approaches and artistic mediums from across a series of time periods. So we see studies of painting; installation; sculpture; social sculpture; participatory work; new genre public art; photography; performance art; sound art; bio art; body art, and Surrealist and Situationist inspired works together with a range of urban artistic walking practices. This range of work is matched by a display of thematic profusion, engaging such diverse themes as; touch and the body; landscape; rubbish; nature; commodity politics and activism; mental health; identity and place; material culture; home; memory and urban politics; post-humanism; post-colonialism and so on.

Mirroring this, we find within the art world a myriad of instances where geography provides an analytic, a set of conceptual frameworks or practices. The relationship between artistic production and location has for example, been an important art world analytic since Antiquity, and such geohistories of art can be traced to present day studies of the geo-biographies of individual artists, art schools and styles and their changing global geographies. Furthermore, geography has an important role to play in the art worlds increasingly complex querying of art-site relations. Along rather different lines arts practitioners and theorists take up and problematise a range of practices and concepts that we might regard as inherently geographical, for example; questions of space and subject relations; theorisations of bodies and mobilities; the politics of critical urban spatialities; topographic studies of place and location; globalisation and theorisations of place, community and locality; landscape theorisations; critical cartographies and mappings.

If the common ground between art and geography is perhaps more studied then than it once use to be, one area that has tended to be overlooked is the question of shared practices.The nature of the relationship between geography and the art world is changing, diversifying from recent foci on the geographer as interpreter, or geographical thought proffering an analytic framework. Rather geographers, art theorists, historians and practitioners are coming together in a range of practice-based ways. So we see geographers becoming involved across the art-making process; from commissioning works to curating exhibitions, as well as being involved in artistic practices, sometimes pursuing their own practice, other times working in collaboration.To be clear, from a geographical perspective, this is not just to talk about art as a “source material,” wherein artistic practices are part of a broader suite of cultural products that proffer geographers empirical entry points into a diverse range of issues. Rather, it is about making space for geographers to recognise the expanded role of artistic, and creative practice-based research within geographical scholarship.

Furthermore, if Hal Foster once identified the artist as ethnographer and also as archivist, then the time is perhaps ripe for thinking through the artist as geographer. Within the emergence of what have been termed “Experimental Geographies,” we find a strain of practitioners exploring ways of knowing and critically occupying spaces and places. This is perhaps evidenced most clearly in artists’ cartographic enactments. These are increasingly often bound-up with radical political practices or modes of critical or subversive engagement with place, elsewhere we see artistic re-interpretations of map-making in clay or through movement offering the possibilities to reflect anew on mapping, extending its dimensions through explorations of materiality and embodied practices. This is a reciprocal relationship, with critical cartographers – theoretically inclined GIScience practitioners and geovisualisers – turning to artistic and creative practices as a means to engage and develop new forms of mapping practices. Elsewhere, rich intersections are developing around shared explorations of place, as artistic techniques are brought into play to aid in coming to terms with changing epistemological assumptions regarding places, and the associated methodological demands for multi-sensuous and affective explorations.


Event: Thinking Landscape: Data, Geography, Arts, Writing, Patterns, Collecting and Interdisciplinarity 16/9/16, University of Wollongong

28 August 2016

From data to drawing, to writing and collections of material culture, scholars and practitioners have long developed a suite of ways to think and imagine the landscapes and environments in…


Collaboration/Publication : Centre for the GeoHumanities Mappazine

12 June 2016

As part of the launch for the Royal Holloway Centre for the GeoHumanities  I have been working in collaboration with artist Luce Choules to develop a mappazine that show cases GeoHumanities…


Subterranean Spaces with Flora Parrott

6 April 2016

Subterranean spaces conjure up powerful geographical imaginaries; the unknown lurks in their dark unfathomable depths; their damp volumes unsettle, disarming with their challenge to visually dominated sensory regimes and discomforting…