Creative Landscapes ?

Feather BeachWhat is the relationship between landscapes and creativity? Do some landscapes afford more creative potential? Do some landscape characters (e.g. upland, coastal, woodland) inspire and provoke greater creative responses?  Do some landscapes have more components (material, emotional, spiritual, historical, ecological etc) and complexity which can be drawn upon?  Is it the person, the intention, the practice brought to the landscape which catalyses creativity?  Is it a complex relationship, a conversation, between a person and a landscape which co-produces?  Does landscape based creativity capture a fleeting memory of the past, or a glimpse of possible futures?  Is experiencing, dwelling within a landscape, always a creative process: an entanglement, a negotiation, an innate ability to express ourselves in a myriad of different ways?

What landscapes inspire a creative response in you?

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Footprints Beneath The Sea

It was amazing to see the footprints which had been revealed by the sea.

Footprints beneath the seaThese are located on the north coast of England and are currently in the inter-tidal zone.  They probably date to over six thousand years ago, when the feet of people and animals sank into the upper surfaces of peat.  They were then sealed beneath sands for thousands of years when the coastline had retreated.  Now, these footprints are revealed daily by the action of the sea, they get covered by water during high tide and are exposed to the wind when the sea retreats: natural rhythms which will eventually scour theme away.  So it is perhaps no surprise they aren’t perfect in form…!

Ancient Peat on CoastlineOur landscapes have changed radically since the last Ice Age.  The water taken up to form ice sheets lowered the sea levels around the world, and where these massive ice sheets sat on land, their sheer weight pressed the ground down.  Since then the ground in Northern Britain has slowly been ‘springing’ back up, and shore lines have changed radically over this period.  Such changes are most strikingly evident, with the remarkable insights in recent years into the submerged landscapes around Britain’s coast, not least with the scientific work which has mapped ‘Doggerland‘: a low lying boggy landscape of river and lakes.  There was thus a time when you could walk across the lower ground between Britain and Northern Europe.

Such insights may cause us to think differently when we pause to contemplate a seascape: in many cases there may be the remains of ancient landscapes preserved beneath the water.

Contemplating SeascapesA location on the coast does, however, mean when such remains are present they are particularly vulnerable to damage through erosion.  Climate change may result in rising sea levels, and more frequent, higher energy, storms and waves, which is accelerating such processes of destruction.  This also now leaves difficult decisions about how we manage our coastlines, and what their character will be in the future: where can controlled retreat, such as the creation of salt marshes, take places; or where do we create hard edges to defend against the power of the seas?

Coastal DefencesIt also reminds us that for millennia people have, not only been transforming landscapes, but responding to the processes of change inherent in them.

A complex dance which sometimes reveals footprints in surprising places…

Glasgow’s Schools of Art

Glasgow School of Art (GSA), is world renowned as a center of creativity, synonymous with the striking Mackintosh building at the heart of its campus.

Glasgow School of ArtI only recently discovered, through a commemorative sign elsewhere in the city, that GSA had previously been located at two other places before it was housed in the Mackintosh building.  The previous buildings would have undoubtedly been architecturally very different, in style and arrangement of space, from the Mackintosh building.

GSA pre-Mackintosh signageThere is further change for Glasgow School of Art, with another striking building currently emerging close to the Mackintosh building.

Glasgow School of Art - FutureThe new campus building is in striking contrast to the Art Nouveau style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  It is designed by Steven Holl Architects who explain the relationship to past on the site, including a drumlin (a post glacial geo-morphological mound upon which the buildings sit), and in their design of the new building.  They also reflect on the future, considering the:

potential to transform the GSA’s presence in the city to a 21st century vibrant, cutting-edge art school that simultaneously values continuity with history.’

Further information, including a webcam showing the construction works, can be found at the GSA Campus Redevelopment website.  It will be interesting to see how well this ‘complementary contrast’ of styles works when completed.

GSA, tangled in an historical web of different places, buildings and styles…and looking to the future.

Euro-Local-City Heritage

Stark contrasts, perhaps naively, surprised me in Brussels.

I anticipated encountering the instruments of European governance amongst the European Quarter of Brussels.  As such, I was not surprised to find myself wandering amongst the glistening buildings of the European parliament in Espace Léopold.  The main elements, the Paul-Henri Spaak building and the Altiero Spinelli building, were constructed in the 1990’s on the site of an old brewery and railway yard.

Already these public spaces have been supplemented with a wide range of artworks, interpretative and memorial signs.  The majority of these evoke key moments of the European project: perhaps best well known is ‘Europe’, the Bronze statue of Europa carrying the symbol of the Euro overhead, by sculptor May Claerhout; a plaque to Solidarność (Solidarity); a vast neon heart to Václav Havel by artist Jiři David (which in 2002 was hung over Prague Castle); an arc of banners ‘Out of the Abyss‘ displaying key moments in the emergence of Europe; and many others…

Out of the AbyssLooking to the past, to look to the future, these works presence elements of a common European Heritage.  The continued significance of the past to this ongoing project can be seen in the adjacent Parc Léopold: there is also, the little known, European Union time machine !

Parc Léopold contains the 15th century Eggevoort Tower and also contains one of the last ponds in the Maalbeek Valley: the pre-city land form.  The pond is fed by the Maalbeek river (in Dutch ‘The Mill Stream’) which flows through this part of the city.  The park was established as the Royal Zoological Gardens in 1851, but was closed following an epidemic, and in 1880 was named Parc Léopold after the first two kings of the Belgian state.  The park was subsequently the location for several large public buildings including The Solvay Library and The Pasteur Institute.  Building works are taking place on another large public building in Parc Léopold, the Eastman Building, which is a former dental institute.  It is currently being extended and converted it into The House of European History, within which ‘different viewpoints and diverse interpretations of history’ will be presented.

Such public works could be anticipated, but what surprised me more was the striking contrasts I found in close proximity to the glass and chrome of European Institutions:

Stencils on the boundary of Parc Léopold, beyond which The House of European History is being constructed within…

Parc Leopold, Eastman Building

Abandoned buildings and stalled spaces…

68 Rue de Trèves

The Space Invader…!

Space InvaderWhat struck me most, however, was found on the other side of Parc Léopold.  In the shadow of the Paul-Henri Spaak building (holding the debating chamber of the European parliament) and close to the 15th century Eggevoort Tower in Parc Léopold, there is a patch of ground.

20130125_083434This once derelict ground, situated on Avenue du Maelbeek, has been the focus of local actions which are exploring the nature of relationships (social, political, environmental, historical) in this part of the city.  This process started in November 2010 when Citymine(d) gathered delegates in the European Quarter to explore how, local action can engage with derelict urban spaces, using them as places of imagination and positive action.

A collaborative mapping exercise, that explored the public space was facilitated by MAP-it, in which local residents, European civil servants, artists and neighbourhood groups participated and asked the question:

‘What can small and grass-roots initiatives do to tackle urban issues in the European Quarter?’

MAP-it extract

Extract from Small Initiatives in the European Quarter by MAP-it, PUM Collective and Thomas Laureyssens

Further details of this process can be found at the MAP-it website: where more information about MAP-it tools (which could be used in other participatory mapping exercises)  can also be found.

From this participatory mapping process, emerged a collective response to the creative potential of Eggevoort Wasteland, known as the PUM Project: ‘Projet/participation Urbain/urgent Maalbeek’.  The PUM Project engages creatively with the themes of water and the potential of urban space through a range of small art projects, many of which have an environmental and / or heritage theme, examples of which can be found here, falling under the banner:

‘Small initiatives in the European Quarter :: water, the city, the people and the Eggevoort Garden’

Further details about PUM Project can be found at the project website and can also be found in a downloadable booklet: Small Initiatives in the European Quarter. From MAP-it to PUM

By means of the MAP-it method PUM transforms the analysis of interacting powers and potential of urban spaces into creativity and collective action.’

and hence transforms Eggevoort Wasteland into Eggevoort Gardens.

PUM ProjectThe short time I spent exploring the European Quarter of Brussels revealed an incredible richness of cultural activity, which was permeated with history and heritage, but in some ways ridden with tensions about the vision for this part of the city.

A wonderful reminder that cities, like all landscapes, are contested and dynamic….

and that we all can play a part in maintaining, imagining and creating sustainable cities of the future.