Landscapes of the Mind

Lead Research Organisation: NERC British Geological Survey
Department Name: Earth Hazards & Observatories


"Works of art are landscapes of the Mind" Ted Godwin

How does the landscape change over time and what does that mean to, and for, us? Our view of the landscape, and the actions we take to use and value it, are steered by a complex mix of factors, many of which are often unconscious. Some of these factors are related to the rise of technology-mediated experiences changing the way we interact with nature, whilst others are imposed on us when decisions have to be made about resource management and sustainable urbanisation. Increasingly, decision-makers are gathering around issues about the Earth, our environment and the nexus with society, "Do we want fracking or wind farms in this place?"; "Should a mine be opened or closed?"; "Should we bury our waste here?"; "Are we doing enough about climate change?" Addressing these complex questions requires a holistic approach to both understanding the problem and the actions we take to solve it. Decision-making requires an evidence base, but this has to be greater than the sum of its parts, requiring knowledge across seemingly disparate aspects of science and society.

This project aims to contribute to an evidence base to support decision making about landscape, as well as open up dialogue about the contribution and importance of the arts in environmental research. Increasingly, local-to-global challenges are being addressed by integrating knowledge from seemingly disparate disciplines, including the arts, even if collaborations between artists and 'other' researchers are slow to be endorsed. In this project, collaborating artists and geoscientists will develop new ways of working and co-create new artworks. Their focus is on the evolution of Scotland's landscape, particularly the balance between landscape conservation and adaptation to changing culture, communities and societal needs.

On the surface, the core creative team of this project may seem an unlikely grouping to develop an arts-based network - a volcanologist, marine geoscientist and a soil hydrologist. Yet all three are practicing artists, and regularly use creative approaches to develop and communicate their research. The team are collaborating with award-winning contemporary sculpture park, Jupiter Artland, and Edinburgh's science centre, Dynamic Earth, to develop a network of artists and geoscientists and undertake innovative transdisciplinary activities to inspire participants to think, learn, and create in unfamiliar territories. By fostering an open attitude towards the way the network sees and represents the landscape, their aim to more effectively exchange knowledge with stakeholder groups attentive to landscape decision-making in the UK.

Planned Impact

"Impact" can occur over many different timescales, and can encompass academic, economic and societal benefits. The aim and objectives of this project seek to have both an immediate impact as well as a longer lasting societal benefit. The project aims to bring together land users, land planners, science and arts researchers and practitioners, to explore our links to the landscape through discussion, form and creativity. We will provide an open forum where numerous voices can be heard and recognised, where stories about interactions with our landscape can be told and where as a network group, we can assess how to best manage demands on land uses against the need to maintain some inherent connection to a cultural and historical past.

The impact from achieving the above, developing a framework within which discussions about the land use and landscape in Scotland can occur in a multi-disciplinary way, will concentrate on transforming evidence based policy in practice and influencing and informing practitioners and professional practice. However, the project team do not want to lose any lessons learnt during this process, and so will develop a methodology that could be applied on a much wider basis by any other team in the future.

The primary impact would be the projects ability to influence the decision-making process surrounding land use and the Scottish landscape by seeking to broaden the way in which our landscapes are viewed and considered. When considered as a wider landscape, anyone who engages with that landscape or benefits from it would be considered as a beneficiary. This could include residents, farmers, government groups who asses land usage such as local planning officers, and archaeologists looking to preserve the historical and cultural uniqueness of landscapes. We will engage with these beneficiaries via our bespoke project website, mailist and exhibition of artworks

A secondary impact will be increasing public awareness and understanding of science and how science feeds into economic and societal issues and decisions. Many "publics" can feel alienated from the decision-making process, not fully understanding how and why decisions about land use are made. By openly showing a cross-disciplinary process through investigating one aspect of land use, exhibiting the outputs from this process, the thinking behind the outputs, giving the public a chance to hear a scientist and artist speaking about the process, and seeing the final exhibition, we would hope to engage with a wide range of publics on a new level. From evidence gained through The Art of Geology Exhibition, we know that engaging in a visual or aural aspect of science is often an easier road into discussing scientific topics for non-specialists. It is our hope that we can apply the same methodology to engage people with the decision making process, facilitating them to consider their relationship to the land around them, and what they need or take from the landscape - for example, is it purely resource based or is the landscape important for emotional well-being?

All of the above groups historically have a siloed perspective to how they interact with those outside of their own discipline. Scientists may well talk with other scientists, but are unlikely to approach artists with regards scientific questions. However, by forming a network of people with diverse skillsets and expertise, it is possible to holistically address challenges in landscape research and issues of land use from multiple perspectives, so opening up the discussion to both specialists and non-specialists.


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