Landscape perceptions and experiences

The aims of this blog is
1) to gather material which helps us to view 'Landscape' from many different perspectives (Science, Phenomenology, Aesthetics, Ethics etc)
2) and secondly to record 'Landscape experiences' from our workshops (Reports) and my own experiences (Diary).
For our workshops see our website

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Landscape perception workshop 10-17 july 2010 (short version)

 This report was written by me and then edited and published by Bud Young from 'Landscape Research'

Lac Montbel

At Lac du Montbel , the first day, facing south towards high mountains, a varied group of European landscape enthusiasts examined what it was they saw. Using drawing it was evident that everyone noticed the lake, the hill with its village, an intrusive water-tower and fields. Behind that they recorded a hill-ridge covered with trees and still beyond, the high mountains. Notably each person had a different take on the scene.  One looked at geological features, one just at colour, another majored on agricultural features and the other noticed the mood/atmosphere including the sounds. Predictable perhaps, interesting certainly. The 'Legible Landscape' manual, which is widely used in Holland to engage people in landscape and its development, was issued to offer guidance for the following days.

Recognizing that landscapes contain many different factors, both large and small, the next day the group concentrated on plant observation by walking through a deep gorge to a high mountain plateau. The main task was to observe the many different manifestations of plant growth (forms, colours etc.) in relation to their distinctive sites.

In the evening they were introduced to Merleau Ponty through a work by David Seamon  and discussed how we experience and are engaged in the world. The main idea is that it is through our perceptional experiences that our body-subject learns/knows  how to interact with the world and it is only partly through cognitive (conscious) endeavours that we experience the unlearned.

The group went out for a day to practise a ‘Legible Landscape’ session on the edge of a large flat valley facing Puivert Castle.
In the evening through a work by G Maier the group was introduced to Aesthetics as a new way to acquire knowledge, based on sense-perception and experience and not on logic or abstract thoughts. What came to the fore was that any appearance is a combination of many factors and elements (they can even be in a certain way, outside our vision e.g sun in case of shadows or plant growth) many of which we miss due to our original intentions. The main aim was to bring across how the many factors: light, weather and even personal attitudes, play a crucial role in how we ‘meet the appearance’ or ‘how we experience the event’ and the more conscious we are of these relationships and the more numerous they are, the richer the aesthetic experience. The group seemed to have taken this in and the theoretical parts became more a discussion group around a few central thoughts, readings or texts, rather than a course instructor’s presentation.

near Lac Soulcem
The next morning, they visited  the 'End of the World, a valley deep in the high mountains bearing the imprint of human presence; the water reservoir, the shepherds huts and cheese making rooms and the grazing cattle. What the group asked itself here was, what would it look like without such signs. Here the combination of sheer vastness of it all, the feeling of the pre-historical ---geology) and understandable history (the shepherding activity), the silence and their own small presence, constituted an experience of the sublime.

Plateau du Sault
Subsequently on the Plateau du Sault, a remote high place between the mountains, the group explored together a landscape which has not yet been spoiled by adverse developments. There, a 'Legible Landscape' walk and the act of drawing architectural features in the village  revealed the bones of an archetypal mediaeval landscape: the church in the middle, houses all around and beyond these the intensive vegetable and fruit gardens  and the further fields with a mixture of variable arable crops and intensive meadows, all encircled by more extensive grass fields; beyond this the forest.  It was an experience that the landscape here was a cohesive unity and had a strong identity as if everything grew ‘out of the ground’  Was it because it was so isolated? Certainly it was not easy to get there!

The group's experience of how the landscape reflected  mediaeval Occitan society was deepened by visiting the medieval centre of 'La Cite' in Carcassonne and  a village where the houses were situated in an accurate circle around the church. From Fanjaux, a hill-fort village and important historical site they had a marvellous view of the large broad valley below,  situated between Bordeaux (Atlantic) and Narbonne (Mediterranean), with  its harmonious patterns of fields, hedges, and villages, and across in the far distance the Montagne Noire (Haute Lanquedoc). A true example of the working together of nature and culture through time.
View from Fanjaux

Editor’s note
This appears to have been a thoroughly European event. The group comprised one Welshman, one Latvian, one Dutch lady living in Finland and a man and woman from Spain. Days in the field were accompanied by evening discussions and a presentation.

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