Friday 8th March:
Peter Dickens, Department of Sociology, Cambridge University, University of Brighton:
‘Alienation and the Uncanny: Orford Ness as ‘Untrue Island’’
Freud described ‘the uncanny’ as a sense of ‘not feeling at home’ in the world. Strange, ambiguous, objects are encountered – bringing a return to repressed childhood- terrors. Uncanniness stimulates passivity: it leaves us upset about the world rather than contesting it.
Freud’s understanding of the uncanny resonates with theories of alienation advanced by Marx and Simmel. Capitalism separates people from one another and relations with nature are alienated by property-relations. Culture and landscapes are a ‘second nature’ – produced by human beings but not understood by humanity as a whole. States are what Marx called ‘alienated communities’, working in a common interest but in practice working for vested interests. In sum, the sense of ‘not feeling at home’ is a social product.
Orford Ness is a 2000 acre coastal area in Suffolk. Until recently it was a secret testing- ground for missiles, bombs and surveillance. An early nuclear bomb remains on public display. Orford’s remains are ‘uncanny’. One commentator (W.G.Sebald) describes them as ‘our civilization after its extinction by some future catastrophe’. The temple-like buildings designed to test atom bomb fuses are similar to ‘tumuli in which the mighty and powerful were buried in historic times’. Local fishermen have been emotionally disturbed by ‘the Ness’ and a nearby group of artists, poets and teachers name the area ‘Untrue Island’.
Orford’s ‘uncanny’ is a product of extreme alienation. Overcoming such alienation entails recognising its sources. National Trust tours of Orford suggest that close relations between the state, science and war are now long-gone but, although the military-industrial-complex has left Orford, it remains well established elsewhere.
Dr Tim Edensor, Division of Geography & Environmental Management, Manchester Metropolitan University
‘Atmospheres and the experience of the uncanny’
Gernot Böhme conceives atmosphere as an ‘indeterminate, spatially extended quality of feeling’ that suffuses a setting which both attunes our mood and extends our mood outwards. Atmospheres are therefore relational and offer opportunities to explore how actors and energies emerge, relate, and are distributed differently across space to form fields that meld affect, emotion and sensation. It is crucial to acknowledge our role in co-producing these atmospheres, for we enter most realms with anticipation and expectation, based on previous experience. As with landscape then, we experience the world with atmosphere, as part of an ongoing becoming. A focus on these temporal qualities of atmosphere – its flow – is useful in thinking about how we are occasionally plunged into a setting and overwhelmed by its strangeness, or suddenly become aware that something feels not quite right, that there is a suspension in the usual apprehension of familiar space. Drawing on my own experience of ruins and ghosts, I will explore how paying attention to atmospheres can help to explore how places, spaces and landscapes are suddenly rendered uncanny.
Michael J. Flexer, Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities:
‘‘Zum Haus, zue Familie gehörig’: schizo-architecture and writing out the asylum’
‘A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch. A breath of fresh air, a relationship with the outside world.’ Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari
The boundaries between the self and the outside world are highly porous especially in those with that most uncanny of disturbances: schizophrenia. This paper examines the dialectic relationship between sufferers of schizophrenia and the built environments which they inhabit, and how these are mastered, re-architected and escaped from through writing. This paper will argue that schizophrenia holds a person in a relationship with external reality that is simultaneously Unheimlich and Heimlich – what should be homely is made strange, and the strange is made into a home for the self.
This paper will demonstrate how through the delusional, hallucinatory environmental material providing an architecture to the sufferer’s psychosis is either supplemented or even supplanted by the concrete environmental reality of the asylum, the very Unheimlich second home for the schizophrenic. The paper argues that as the demands of the illness have promoted architecture-as-therapy in the construction of asylums, reciprocally, the demands of asylums have promoted architecture-as-symptoms in the construction of schizophrenia. The paper explores this with particular reference to Daniel Schreber’s mapping of asylums – ‘the Devil’s Kitchen’ and ‘the Devil’s Castle’ – in his Memoirs and to the intricate, torturous architecture of the Combine in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Schizophrenic re-architecting of built environments through the writing of fiction and illness narratives will be assessed as a therapeutic practice. These accounts will be contextualised by landmark studies in the sociology of asylums – Erving Goffman’s Asylums and Michel Foucault’s History of Madness – and by the schizo-geographic theories of early Situationist writings, especially Ivan Chtcheglov’s ‘Formulary for a New Urbanism.’
The paper considers the validity of reading asylum architecture as an embodiment of values and attitudes towards mental ill health, and concludes with a consideration of the practical usefulness of schizophrenic responses to asylum architecture for those involved in the maintenance, running and design of these buildings, and the services they house, define and metonymise.
Rupert Griffiths, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London
‘Reimagining the margins – occluded landscapes in the Lee Valley’
This paper will draw on the work of a number of artists and photographers whose engage with the infrastructural landscapes of East London, in particular the lower Lee Valley, much of which fell within the masterplan for the London 2012 Games. This region is physically inscribed by major transport infrastructures such as the Lea Navigation, the A12 and A13, the DLR (Docklands Light Railway system), City Airport, the East London Overland, as well as major utility infrastrcuture, such as the Northern Sewer Outlet and the electricity infrastructure for the Jubilee Underground line and much of East London.
Artists such as Stephen Gill and Laura Oldfield Ford have worked extensively in this region of East London over the past decade or more. Their practices will be looked at as material and embodied engagements with landscape, performances which often wilfully decentre the human subject and demonstrate a distributed understanding of agency. Their work also tends to simultaneously foreground the perceiving subject, emphasising a lived experience of landscape which is spectral, atmospheric and transient. This apparent contradiction where distributed agency and subjective self coincide can be seen as performances of landscape where technical systems, lived experience and an urban imaginary converge. This paper will consider how these artists’ practices create a porosity between the materiality of these infrastructural landscapes, embodied practice and an urban imaginary, an ambiguity between self and landscape understood as entanglements of identity, technology, nature and culture.
Matteo Melioli, Bartlett School of Architecture and Università Iuav di Venezia
When landing at Marco Polo airport, if a traveller gazes out of the right side of the plane, he will catch a glimpse of the unmistakable profile of Venice. In the afternoon sunlight, when the sun’s low rays reflect the colours of the lagoon, the city’s sinuous shape seems like a precious pearl set into a delicate filigree of land and water.
Glancing inland, towards the west, at the end of the lagoon a world ends: here an expanse of oil platforms, fields of containers and tanks, dreadful and sublime at the same time, greet our eyes. The undeniable magnificence of these structures contends with Venice for primacy within the city’s own territory .
Using this experience as an introduction, I would like to direct the observer towards the industrial landscape lying at the margin of the tourist city. Driven by my interest in no-man’s-lands and intrigued by the abandonment of industrial settlements, I would like to accompany the reader inside these plants to encounter the apprehension, anxiety and dismay of these architectures that is found there.
We will enter a space “saturated by man’s technological endeavours, a landscape where […] abandoned warehouses and rusty carcasses replace Poussinesque ruins.”1 Two myths – the city suspended on the water and the steel factory – overlap along the very same skyline. Domes and containers, bell towers and silos all describe a fragmented space, remnants of a plenitude irrevocably lost.
In this paper, we will see how the abandonment of industrial architectures can be identified with the metaphor of a maimed, aching body, confined to a distance that seems tantamount to a cover-up or kind of removal. While investigating the urban and psychological causes of this anxiety, we will call upon the labyrinthine nature of industrial space, its being a contaminated object in terms of its buildings, as much as it is in the memory of a community who has seen hundreds of its workers die here. Without laying claim to an unequivocal conclusion, this paper will attempt to cast light on a space that is as close to our experience as it is forsaken by memory. The dark industrial outskirts, in Venice like elsewhere, represents a constitutive and necessary condition of contemporary urban space. Like a reversal Campus Martius, which displays what is left uncovered in the decay of Rome’s classical body, the industrial areas behind the lagoon become the place where the marginality and otherness which is excluded from touristy Venice is covered. Far from being the displacement of a presence with an absence, voids, darkness, abandonment, lead us directly to sites of crucial disjunctions , revealing the historic significance of structures that toda’s urban renewal have consigned to the tabula rasa’s oblivion .
section 2: Venice and Marghera, the Site and Counter-site
section 3: Body in Pain
section 3: Labyrinth
section 4: Fear and Removal
section 5: Conclusions
1 Antoine Picon, Karen Bates, Anxious Landscapes From the Ruin to the Rust, Grey Room, MIT Press, No. 1 (Autumn, 2000), pp 64-83.
2 Stanley Allen, Piranesi’s Campo Marzio: an Experimental Design, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Journals, December, 1989, pp 45-47
Prof. Steve Pile, Professor of Human Geography, The Open University
‘What is Uncanny about a Landscape?: Cloverfield and the overly familiar strangely familiar’
One of the most familiar descriptions of the uncanny is that it is the “strangely familiar”.
The question this paper asks is this: under what conditions might we say that a landscape
is strangely familiar? To get at this puzzle, I correlate images of 9/11, taken by the Naudet
brothers during the attack, with it’s strangely familiar re-rendering in the 2008 horror movie,
Cloverfield. There are strong correspondences between the ‘in real life’ filming of destruction
of the Twin Towers and the imaginary destruction of New York in Cloverfield. For example,
there is the repetition of the attack by unknown forces, the “jump cuts” between scenes, the
disorientation, the sense that something overwhelmingly horrific is happening, the falling
of buildings, and the aftermath – which is ghostly and/or surreal, but also deathly. Indeed,
popular imaginaries continually repeat the falling of the Twin Towers. Somehow, though,
Cloverfield does not quite evoke the uncanny, at least not in the way that similarly structured
movies, such as the Blair Witch Project, managed to. While there are lessons to be drawn
from Cloverfield about the ongoing “horror” of cityscapes (which is not quite where we
expect it to be: the familiarly strange?), maybe it also tells us as much about the limits as the
possibilities of working with notions of the uncanny.
Dr Douglas Spencer, Architectural Association:
Flat ontologies might be said to find their ideal exemplification in a certain idea of landscape. Especially where its lateral assemblages of social, biological, geological and infrastructural elements are valorised as the means to address the problems of the contemporary city — as in ‘ecological urbanism’ or the ‘new naturalism’ of Andrea Branzi’s ‘weak urbanism’ for instance — one can observe the figure of landscape working to level out and disperse the social within a horizontally articulated ‘new materialism’. Such ontologies of emergence, self-organisation and autopoiesis are understood to function through laws immanent to the organisation of matter itself and operate according to a logic of purely local and environmental interactions. In thinking the relationship between the subject and the landscape according to such paradigms, the tendency has been to employ models drawn from the world of physics and biology. Swarm-modelling and the terminology of particles, molecules, even ‘plankton’ (Branzi), are held to be an adequate, even progressive, way of understanding the subject’s actions and agency. Thus flat ontologies tend to posit the subject as ‘at home’ in a terrain that operates according to unified and unifying principles.
This paper offers a critique of this understanding of the relationship between the subject and the landscape. Exploring its historical dimensions — in the stadtlandschaft of Hans Bernhard Reichow for example — and its current manifestations in models such as weak urbanism, and biourbanism, the political and ideological implications of such seemingly post-ideological and post-political positions will be addressed. Central to this critique will be the argument that the subject, rather than finding a home in the nature of the landscape, must always encounter it through an experience of artifice in which nature is socialised, even in and through the very models that would refuse the possibility of this.
James Thurgill, Deaprtment of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London
‘Den Geist aufgeben’: exorcising ghosts from the hauntological uncanny.
The German phrase ‘Den Geist aufgeben’ , literally translates as ‘to give up the ghost’. This paper will argue for a reading of hauntology that is emancipated from ghosts, favouring one which elucidates the continual memorialisation, animation and vitality of place. Since his Spectres de Marx (1994), Derrida’s terming of the hauntological has come to be used synonymously with descriptions of a ghostly spatial-temporality. Readings of the landscape as ‘haunted’ have become ubiquitous amongst scholars in Geography and cognate disciplines and as such we have come to view the environment we inhabit as a spectral ecology, where the past continuously pierces, disrupts and problematizes our existence in the present. However, such an employment of the hauntological as this is but an abstraction, it refuses to deal with the process of haunting in favour of describing its symptoms.
Derrida inherited his critique of presence from Heidegger, whose own thinking dealt less with ghosts than it did with the ‘knowing’ of being. An ontology which haunts does not necessarily do so through pure spectrality, rather it does so through the interplay between the present and the absent, the material and the immaterial. By returning to Heidegger, one can utilise a hauntology that deals with things, understanding place within a process of revealing; exposed but yet somehow unknowable in its entirety. It is this sense of the ‘unknowable’ that renders place uncanny. This paper then, seeks to work beyond the reductive terminology of figurative spectrality and towards a more concrete account of the Heideggerian hauntological, an account that deals with absence not as ghostly detritus but as both necessary and intrinsic to our understanding of the world. Looking at the ways we encounter and recall places as haunted and uncanny, I aim to deconstruct the hauntological so as to highlight its role not only in our perception of place, but in the very makeup of place itself.
Prof. Lisa Tilder, Associate Professor of Architecture, Knowlton School of Architecture, The Ohio State University, USA:
‘De-Naturing and the Architectural Uncanny’
The emergence of concepts of expanded nature within contemporary architectural discourse has spawned numerous trajectories of architectural production, from hybrid disciplines such as Landscape Urbanism to seemingly radical concepts of Second, Third and Next natures. Many of these operate through a transposition of the pastoral for the performative. Underlying this shift is a renewed interest in the so-called “construction of nature,” countering notions of originality, purity, and authenticity by activating architecture’s latent potential to engage the mythology of nature. Nature has always been a human-centric concept essential to the production of meaning in architecture. One might argue that nature as we imagine it does not really exist; it exists as an intellectual device of otherness that allows us to conceptualize the world around us. Yet the introduction of an expanded nature (e.g. natures in the plural) invites the possibility of the multiple as a primary condition, an essential ambiguity that ultimately challenges architecture’s traditional autonomy, authority and its very identity.
The idea of an “expanded nature” positions landscape as a territory for architecture to absorb: In place of traditional architecture/environment dichotomies, architecture has incorporated landscape into its means of production in order to mine the ambiguity and multiplicity of nature for an unfolding of new projective possibilities. From this perspective, architecture can be seen as eating nature as it claims it as a means of its own production. Architecture, with its traditional qualities of stasis, slowness and fixity, is a kind of dichotomy-producing machine of separation. In this sense, it must absorb landscape in order to regain its potential and relevance in contemporary culture. It is the unstableness of nature itself that architecture desires, a renewed positioning of the architectural uncanny as a type of agency.
A strategy of “De-Naturing” becomes a means of reconsidering the construct of nature in contemporary architecture. Denaturing, as a literal term, means to deprive of natural properties, to corrupt. Yet De-Naturing proposes not a contamination but a repositioning, one that examines the ambiguity of nature as a means of architectural production. This talk will examine contemporary notions of the architectural uncanny through the presentation of a series of critical design projects. Through the analysis and repurposing of a de-natured, revised Canon of the Avant-garde, a series of architectural constructs –landscapes, figures, monsters– resituates the position of nature in contemporary culture and with it, that of the architectural uncanny.
Wednesday 6th March:
Oscar Aldred and Gisli Palsson, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, Newcastle University (Aldred) & AOC Archaeology (Palsson):
‘In-betweeners: the uncanny lightness of landscape’
In this paper uncanny landscapes are considered from the perspective of their evolution as spaces, taking into account the coordination of multiple elements. In a word, the coordination of features is a ‘choreography’, acting through intersections, convergences and chiasma, and producing multiple entities but also coherent singularities. This paper begins to question the emergence of space when it is viewed in separation as either a material and embodied coordination. In this paper we take the implications of Gil’s ‘the space of the body’ (2004, 2006) seriously by extending it to the other kinds of spaces beyond the body to examine the mutual constitutions of interior/exterior spaces that act as counterpoints or as porosities. In this formulation space as a landscape is secreted through the mobile choreographies of bodies and materials in a flattened ontology. It is in through this interstitial interface that uncanny landscapes emerge, in a constant state of becoming. Thus it is the surprising affect of choreography that creates vibrancy in these spaces (after Bennett 2010), upsetting the normative flow of what a landscape is; as either a material object or perceived subject. This paper draws on the empirical work of the two authors based on research of Iceland’s landscape that gives a new rendering on how landscape’s are examined.
Bennett, J. 2010 Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press.
Gil, J. 2004 The dancer’s body, in Massumi, B. (ed.) A shock to thought. Expression after Deleuze and Guattari. London: Routledge. Pp. 117-127.
Gil, J. 2006 Paradoxical body, The Dance Review 50:4 (T192): 21-35.
Kevin Logan, Maccreanor Lavington Architects:
‘Contested Fringe-Scapes – Traces of Marginal Uses – Cultural Life in the Margins / Periphery’
Marx observes that capitalism is cyclical in nature, producing periods of crisis. These crises result in the destruction of capital, which spatially manifests in the physical abandonment of urban spaces. The process of destruction results in residual, fragmented, and dispersed, fringe-scapes with tracts of land, infrastructure and built fabric following fallow, and declared valueless by the prevailing neo-liberalist system. However, closer examination finds that such fringe-scapes often support a tantalising ecosystem evolved over time that is threefold in character: ecological, cultural and pictorial. The emotive value projected onto these spaces latterly bestows them the status of place and with this, the complex legalities of ownership and use are blurred.
As is the cyclical nature of capitalism, opportunities are sought for surplus capital absorption, residual spaces are re-examined resulting in land being re-valued and redeployed. A paradox occurs, risk adverse by nature, development seeks banality, anything other than neutrality equates to a detrimental economic condition. Fringe-scape as valid cultural landscape proves vulnerable within the cycle of rediscovery, viewed as potentially presenting jeopardy to the market-led production of the built environment. Indeed, situations occur where cultures are actively suppressed or extinguished, in order to secure the site’s potential future economic certainty.
This paper explores the uncanny landscape quality of the residual versus the tension of future rediscovery coupled with marginal exploitation. It questions the need for neutrality in order for development to occur and explores whether vulnerable cultures can be protected, transcend their finite existence and be propagated within the regeneration process. Indeed, the paper goes on to question whether cities can exist without fringe-scapes and give the general globalised commodification of space has fringe in itself become an understood and desirable urban spatial typology?
Siddharth Pandey, Centre for Children’s Literature, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge:
‘Of ‘Simla’ and ‘Shimla’: The Becoming of ‘Little England’ in an Indian Landscape’
It was at the height of colonial supremacy that the British in the mid-nineteenth century set up the first ‘hill-stations’ of India along the ridges and summits of various highlands. These hill stations represented a new development in urban history, as it was here that the colonizers experimented most passionately with their idealized ideas of home, based on highly conscious notions of ‘similarity’ (with the houses and urbanscapes of Britain) and ‘difference’ (from the indigenous townscapes of India), resulting in the production of what I argue as an ‘architectural-affective uncanny’. In this paper, I wish to explore this material-experiential complex by looking at the most famous hill stations of all, Simla or Shimla, the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’, that also served as the ‘Summer Capital’ of British India from 1864 to 1947, and now serves as the capital of the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
The concept of the uncanny in relation to the colonial city has recently been explored by the architect-writer Swati Chattopadhyay in her 2005 work Representing Calcutta: Modernity, Nationalism and the Colonial Uncanny, and my study of the uncanny in the context of hill stations is inspired by her work. Simla, like most other hill stations, lived its half-yearly existence as the summer capital with an almost diametrically opposite ethos from the plains: neo-Tudor structures, Scottish castles and Romantic cottages were built to recreate the idea of ‘home’ in a landscape removed by more than 7000 miles from Britain, and the affective domain of nostalgia became the basis of an entire lifestyle. Yet, as critics have noted, these hill stations could never remain ‘properly British’, since native servants were always required for their upkeep, whose very presence simultaneously ripped apart the notion of an ‘ideal home’. By primarily looking at architecture and its ideologically driven documentation in colonial literature, lithographs, paintings, photographs and postcards, I wish to systematically reveal Simla’s ‘colonial uncanny’ in its various forms. Finally, by looking at the post-colonial period, when S(h)imla serves as a pre-eminent tourist city, I will interrogate how the spatial-affective practices of the present replicate and diverge from those of the past, and in turn, contribute (cancel?) to the sustenance of the uncanny down the ages.
Elizabeth Straughan, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow:
‘Submerged with the Uncanny’
The Snowdonia national park in North Wales is a landscape pitted with slate quarries, whose high polished walls stand as a legacy to the bygone slate industry. One such site is Vivian Quarry, which was last worked in 1958 and has since filled with water to a depth of 18 meters due to run-off from the surrounding area. Taking advantage of the Quarry’s slate substrate, which results in clean, clear water with very little sediment, a scuba diving center has established itself, developing the quarry into a training ground. Drawing on ethnographic research into the experience of being a dive instructor in this fresh waterscape nestled within the towering tiered walls of the quarry’s exterior sides, this paper traces through an Open Water training dive (the first stage of becoming a qualified diver) to focus on the relations that emerge between myself as dive instructor and a disable dive student, that lead to the mobilization of uncanny qualities of feeling (Freud 1919). In doing so I consider the uncanny effects that emerged on this dive from the flooded quarry, which produced a particular ‘affective atmosphere’ (Anderson 2009), before moving on to consider the uncanny relations that develop between myself and my dive buddy, a relationship that resonates with Freud’s thoughts on the double wherein we each become the ‘co-owner of the other’s knowledge, emotion and experience’ (Freud 2003:142).
Pip Thornton, Department of English Kings College London:
‘Unknown Soldiers : Building Bodies in(to) the City’
On 11th November 1920, the corpse of a British soldier arrived ‘home’ in London from the Great War. Exhumed and re-entombed after five years buried in a ‘foreign field’, the body of the Unknown Warrior – perhaps composite, certainly mutilated – was welcomed as a symbol of national mourning and commemoration, and remains built into the fabric and psyche of London to this day. “Unknown, and yet well known” – the words from Corinthians inscribed on the slab of Belgian marble which covers the Tomb in Westminster Abbey – the body of a soldier reifies both the foreign, gruesome, unknown and unknowable horrors of a mechanically and geographically impersonal war, but is also the morally exculpable embodiment of countless sons and husbands – a paradoxical symbol both of identity and anonymity; and a tension between the familiar and the unfamiliar typically associated with ideas of the Uncanny. This paper seeks to expand on what Laura Wittman refers to as the “disquieting” effect of the Unknown Soldier and, using as a comparison the empty tomb of the Whitehall Cenotaph, which was unveiled on the same day as the reburial of the Unknown Warrior, will explore the potential repression of the actual corporeal materiality of the exhumed body, both in terms of the occupied tomb and the empty one, with all the Biblical and Gothic connotations which that might entail. It may be possible to conclude at this stage that the ‘Uncanniness’ of the (dis)embodied soldier in the built environment was – and possibly still is – more easily repressed and accepted than the prospect of the living soldier in the city, manifest either in the mutilations of survival or as the embodiment of unpopular foreign policy.
Hagit Zimroni, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
‘Uncanny School Landscapes: Children Creating their Private Places in Democratic Schools’
The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the relationships between children and uncanny landscapes through the way children use their school territory. Although school territory is not usually characterized as a ‘homely’ place, the spatial design in democratic schools is intended to reduce the separation between teachers and children and among the children themselves, and to create free, pleasant and comfortable places where children and teachers can meet each other and the children can feel ‘at home’.
Based on the theoretical framework of children’s geographies, which argue for the agency of children by creating places for themselves, I shall focus on the ways in which teachers create the ‘homely’ places in democratic schools, and the reasons why children feel alienated and uncomfortable in such places, as well as the ways the children create their own hidden places where they can meet privately in the school’s landscape.
This research, using the methodology of Qualitative GIS, demonstrates the various ways in which children experience familiar places in school, and reveals their practice of being ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ those places.
The connection between ‘uncanny landscapes’ and school territory sheds light on the practice of creating ‘hidden places’, and can contribute to our understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of ‘hidden places’, characterized by the duality of feeling uncomfortable and being ‘at home’.