Material

A significant, small piece of paper

On my desk is: a stack of 250 visiting cards.

I’d rather not call them “business cards”, because in Sensescapes you are no customer, naturally.

You are a visitor, and will therefore have a visiting card. No, even more! You are a cooperator! A play mate!

Or even: a brother or sister.

Lately, while participating in festivals and other gatherings, I have missed something to hand out when asked about my thesis work.

“Sensescapes” what is it? A  little tricky to pronounce. Even harder to explain. Still, perhaps less difficult to understand.

But you will, I guess, have to activate other parts of the brain than the logical-linguistic sense to reach an understanding that fits the sensorial concept.

You will, perhaps, besides speaking to me and sense my enthusiasm, have to try it for yourself.

Try it for yourself.

I find this to be one of the most difficult parts of the production process. A concept has been developed, tested and found fit for use. Now how can it become known, how can it be used, how can it spread and reach to those who – perhaps without knowing it – is likely to benefit positively from an experience like this?

Paradoxically, I find that pictures from the walks are useful to represent the concept and give some sort of feeling of the non-visual experience.

On my desk is: love of the material. Trees, cut, made, dumped and made again into recycled paper, printed with pictures of landscapes from Sensescapes. Cultivated nature, added a few verbalisations about the non-verbal.

Ready to go in the suitcase to Nordic Summer University in Iceland and be handed out.

Here you are! Pictures of pictures!

See you on the other side of Iceland.

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Categories: Iceland, Material, PR | Leave a comment

To re-sense the experience. Reactions from a participant.

This week I will give the words to Stephan Gustin, a talented architect who went with me on one of the walks in Aarhus. Ealier I have posted some photos from Stephans’ walk. A week after the walk he sent me a short recording of his impressions, based on the six key words (or key sentences) he had come up with in our feedback session. The highlighted key words indicate immidiate descriptions of the overall experience and on the landscape (see this post for a collection of key words from all the walks). I have translated Stephans’ impressions from Danish, and bring the translation here.

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Stephan and I in the middle of the road. Photo: Rasmus Skov

”This is Stephan’s impressions from the sensorial walk, which was a very good and strong experience. Something I noticed was atmospheres in spaces. Obviously that is also because I am an architect. But your senses became sharpened enormously in relation to the atmospheres. Both in relation to different spatiality, types of acoustics when walking in open space – nature has its own atmosphere in its own space – but also spaces in space. Though I knew we were in a park and a natural resort, then in some places there was a lot of traffic noise, in some places there was echo and in some places sound fell complete silent. That was a fairly intense experience to get. But also to enter rooms. I mean, the tunnel was a room. Or an inflatable room. Or a dome. To re-sense it. You can register it logically, but to be blindfolded, be guided around and feel for yourself. That was a nice experience! To re-sense the experience.

Something I also noticed was the closeness between people. You had someone who had your full attention. It is not so often you experience that, besides talking about girlfriends and love. Usually that is one person, but between foreign people, other people, it can happen that you experience flirt, poetry, dialogue, social contact or friendship. But to have a certain bond… Even though I was blindfolded I could feel there was one hundred percent contact and attention. And that part is terribly strong!! It was not until afterwards I discovered: oh my god, this is what I give my children. But how important it is to do this, because – wow! – how you lack this in real life! So, that was a pretty impressive experience.

Some of the sensations that also lingered afterwards were sounds and light. When you are blindfolded, you obviously listen more that you see. But actually light was the stronger of the two, because it was such a thing that came sneaking in silently. You started outside, but even in the outside space – as with the sense of space – it varied. There were nuances, lots of nuances! To feel, before going into the tunnel, that now you approached another kind of light, another lightning, to suddenly walk under a bush and become confused – I did not know we were under a bush, I just knew we were outside in open air – and still there was a roof. Things like this that “stumbled”, and were light was tricking in some way. One moment all the light was… what I later found out was frosted glass, but I could not perceive that. It sharpens the senses to become a little confused. When your logical sense cannot register things precisely, then you kind of let the imagination rule. That is interesting.

Then I have written a note on urban nature. I am interested in the way we register nature. At one point I was standing, embracing a tree I the middle of a routing of a road, with cars rushing on both sides, and I experienced the bark smelling extremely of particles, that is, petrol fumes. And this gave way to mixed emotions; because the structure of wood is old and here, you were suddenly given hundred years of history from a person that was a tree… a personality… a personal tree… who has a huge history. But we shower it in fumes, and that was… that was damn unpleasant, actually! I like the urban nature, it is a breathing hole, and the place we were in was magical and enchanting. But it was also enormously forlorn. It gives some sense of being out in wild nature, but it is also a little difficult for me. That was my sense of the urban nature. Still I believe that the sensations you get are completely real and can be compared to wild nature. Of course there is no difference, because the body makes registrations in a way. But I do not think the body becomes relaxed the same way as if you were in a place with no sound of birds escaping from traffic, children playing, a lawn that needs mowing or a bed that needs to be leveled. I also experienced the area as very hilly. It is in reality, of course, but especially you feel it when you are blindfolded and have to feel your way around.  It too gives a new and quite peculiar experience of the landscape. Several times since then, I have driven by and looked at that landscape. Even though I see a lot of landscapes as a part of my job, this sharpened my senses enormously. Very well done! I called it semi-dramatic. On the border between… To rediscover that even little things in the landscape can be dramatic.

The last note I have made is a flood of emotions. No doubt an experience like this creates contact to ones’ emotions and emotional self. I do not know what words to put on it. You become grounded, you get yourself to the ground, you have time to breathe, you lower your shoulders and become less shifty-eyed, you are more focused, your breathing becomes deeper. Afterwards I instantly had the feeling that it is okay to just sit and look, to let the eyes drift and to get this calm feeling. It is okay to do it. There is something natural about it. But that is not the natural feeling you have with a deadline ahead of you, knowing that after deadline there are some kids that need to be picked up, and after picking up the kids there is a new deadline and a lot of things to be done. This here, it makes you get a more simple view of reality, and you see that “oh well”, at the same time as getting things done and do what you need to do, you can actually enjoy life and feel peace in your mind, your belly and your body. So thank you for this good experience”

Categories: Blindfolding, Closeness, Feedback, Landscape Dialogues, Material, Thesis experiment, Touch, Trust | Leave a comment

Small stories of today II

Participants for the walks

Today I have received reservation nr. 2 and 3 from people who want to participate in the sensorial walks in April. These are people I haven’t ever met, and it makes me very grateful and excited that someone from outside my own network shows interest in my experiments. If you are interested in going on a walk, read the invitation in the latest blog post and contact me at mielotus@gmail.com.

Research question

So far, this is the reseach question that frames the overall thesis project:

This production thesis investigates sensorial perception and non-verbal, bodily experiences as a possible way towards a deeper understanding and awareness of relations and encounters in the local landscapes that surround us. With the creation of a series of sensorial walks for one person at the time, I ask: How can landscapes be understood as relations? And how can an aesthetic experience contribute to such an understanding? The goal of the thesis is to critically bring the philosophy of phenomenology into life in the production and analysis of the sensorial walks. The walks will serve as an empirical platform to investigate the significance of sensorial perception as a fundamental mode of being in and connecting to the landscapes we are a part of.

Motivations

Yesterday a was in a coaching session with a girl from my entrepreneurship course. She asked me about my motivation for working with sensorial walks. Answering that question made me instinctively aware of my personal drive and dreams. The cure of my motivation… is stories like this:

Last fall I did a series of blindfolded walks in Iceland. After the walks, one participant told me how struggling with cancer had made her body incabable of doing some specific movements with her arm. During the walk, a moment of contact improvisation between her and I had made her do some of the movements she could not do when she was sick. We both became very touched when she told me how these movements on the walk had made her feel free and relieved.

Last summer I did a small series of short, blindfolded walks in Mols Bjerge. During the walks I took the participants into a stable to meet a horse. After one walk the participant told me how she usually fears horses, but this time she had felt safe. Now she thought she would not fear horses anymore.

Two days ago I showed a blog post to two girls in a feedback group at uni. One of them told me she became so inspired by reading it, that she now wanted to consider how she can implement the things she works with in her thesis into her everyday life.

Small awareness practice: 

Since I am working with landscape as a relational and multisensory concept, part of my investigations is to test and practice how the term “landscape” can literally be used to describe something else and more than visual representations of beautiful, natural scenarios. In my theoretical starting point of the thesis, landscape is a concept of “embodied practices of being in the world, including ways of seeing but extending beyond sight to both a sense of being that includes all the senses and an openness to being affected” (Dewsbury and Cloke, cited in Benediktsson and Lund 2010: 2). Here landscape is relation. It is what continuously goes on between myself and my surroundings. In this phenomenological approach landscape includes “a consideration of fluidity, transition and motion” (ibid. 3).

Today I am working at home. And so, a moment ago I walked around the apartment and took some pictures to share my everyday landscape – my life world – with you. When I saw the pictures afterwards I discovered how I had unconsciously been looking for plants, window views and cozy scenery to present to you as my local landscape. Then I went back to my desk and decided to delete all the photos. Instead I sat on my chair while looking around. Bam. Change in view. Change in perspective. Change in attention. This is the task, and you might as well try to do it where you sit right now:

Stop. Look.

Look again.

What do you see?

How do you see it?

This is a main point in my sensorial walks: It is not necessarily what is seen that is of importance, but how it is seen. Or not seen.

Here is my current local landscape seen in a moment of awareness. All the photos except the first are taken from the chair (in the first photo) where I’m sitting right now.

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Now I keep discovering new details in this small world of two squaremeters.

I can recommend this small practice of awareness. Try to take a couple of minutes’ break from whatever you are doing, to open your gaze and look around. Perhaps something will show up that you never noticed before. Perhaps you will see things. And people, if there are any. I mean, really see them. Encounter. Engage. Relate.

Then I read this:

Awareness of the unfamiliar is, however, generated through encounters with the familiar (ibid. 6)

Perhaps this post could be an example of how the familiar has now, in a few moments, shown itself from an unfamiliar perspective.

Peace,
Lotus

Literature: Benediktsson and Lund, 2010: Conversation with Landscape, University of Iceland, Ashgate

Categories: Blindfolding, Landscape Dialogues, Material, Motivation, Playfulness, PR, Sensorial meditation, Short experiment, Thesis experiment | Leave a comment

The Farm II

This week I’ve been on a small retreat. The artistic leader of Secret hotel, Christine Fentz, has opened the doors to her home in Mols Bjerge and let me stay here.

Two days ago Christine went to Copenhagen to work and left the farm in my care. Since then I have enjoyed the farm land all by myself, with space to think, to dwell, to open up and to start the process of preparing the big work ahead. The contract for the final thesis is signed and delivered to Aarhus University. So now the thesis project has officially started.

So. Here’s another way to enter the proces:

Go away from the library, the reading halls, the desks and the usual procedures. Go to somewhere with lots of space and air.

Think.

Go for a walk in the woods.

Go for a walk around the house and look for poetic inspiration.

Get distracted by that same poetic inspiration.

Investigate the place. Take pictures. Take the temperature. Take a deep breath.

Share.

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In April, the first series of sensorial walks will be held here, around the farm.  The participants will be blindfolded, so they will watch the farm land with their hands, through their feet, ears and nostrils.

Exciting?

From three days’ work and life here on the farm evolves Process Lecture Nr. 1 for the thesis student:

It is good to go on a walk each day.

While writing this, I realize how this very simple thing – a walk –  connects to the starting point of the thesis. I propose that the physical act of walking/moving with a certain (aesthetic) attention through the landscape can become a way of connecting to something. That “something” could be anything around: the cold wind, the soft ground of the woods, a bird among the trees, my own breath or my whole body. Or it could be something less material: feelings of sadness, boredom, longing, a realization of confusion, satisfaction, tiredness, stress or the arrival of certain crucial reflections and thoughts. Here the moving, perceiving body in relation to the surroundings is what creates these connections.

So. Let’s have a look in the theoretical section.

There are several ways of describing this body-landscape connection theoretically. Rebecca Solnit writes about walking:

 Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body and the world aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be on our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being made wholly lost in our thoughts. (Solnit, 2001: 5)

Solnit’s ideal kind of walking seems to be peaceful and harmonic. What do you think about that?

In the foreword to an antology about landscape conversations, Katrin Anna Lund and Karl Benediktsson writes that the landscape is:

 …not comprehended as a predetermined, culturally contrived “text”, but as a conversational partner that is certainly more than human […] (Benediktsson and Lund 2010:8)

Now, if landscape connections can be seen as a (peaceful and harmonic?) conversation, how does the landscape communicate? DOES the landscape communicate? This is one of the questions I ask in my research.

At the moment the thesis process is facing a mountain of words yet unread. Not my words, but others’. Yesterday I wrote a very long literature list of things I want to read. Interesting books are lying in stacks, waiting to be read or re-read. Here are some of the works I expect to be key-works in the thesis so far:

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And there are many more. An interesting, but surely not very easy mountain to climb. I love and hate reading. It can be so tiring. Boring. And sometimes eye-opening! Words, words, dead and alive. New horizons. New land.

BUT. As this project seeks to move away from a system dominated by words and images by introducing an aesthetic perception mode with multiple sensorial sensations, my imaginative mountain of words wants to be combined with other inspiring landscapes. Like this farm land itself. Or in fields of artistic works by others.

Here’s the book I found most inspiring among them all yesterday.

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A short artistic work called “Slices of Wood”, with poems about trees and pictures of trees.

Words about trees on material made of trees. Underlining the belief that it is nonsense to construct a split between nature and culture.

Tonight I go back to the city. With slices of the farm on my camera and my mind. Next thing will be to open some of those books!

Another way to enter the process:

Close the computer.

Read.

Take the weekend off.

Go for another walk. Ideal or not ideal.

Be imperfect.

Litterature:
Solnit, Rebecca, 2001: Wanderlust: A history of walking, Verso

Categories: Country side, Landscape Dialogues, Material, Motivation, Process, Secret Hotel, Sensorial meditation, Silence | 1 Comment

A beginning: or Ways to enter a Final Thesis

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This picture may be a typical social media post for a home-alone-with-my-thesis-situation. I have seen similar pictures posted often on facebook. Candles, food, drink, computer, indicating a surplus of personal resources and creating a feeling that NOW things are rolling!

Perhaps they are. Rolling, I mean.

Tonight I’m the protagonist in this tale of the beginning of a final academic production, and this picture shows the scenery I face at the moment in my living room.
(Although while writing this the blueberries and cheese are long gone.
And the other half of the table is really messy.
And in spite of the candles it’s a little chilly in the room).
Things are much more than what meets the eye.

Anyway. There are much I want to share with you.

First of all I want to tell you about the birth of Sensescapes.

The name was conceived in my mind one day in Iceland when I read the title of the text that lies here next to my computer. It is an article by the Latvian geographer with the quite special name Edmunds Bunkse. The title of the article is:

“Sensescapes: or a Paradigm Shift from Words and Images to All Human Senses in Creating Feelings of Home in Landscapes”

A few days ago I finally got to actually read the article. It is only five pages and I can recommend it to anyone who is interested in landscapes and perception theory. I started a note book for reading notes for my final thesis. Here’s what the first pages of the note book looks like now:

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After reading I was left with so many associations on the subject that I didn’t read much more that day.
(I am learning that slow reflection and time to contemplate can sometimes be more effective than tons of input. This is not what the education system teach us. They teach us to read, read, read, be updated all the time and gain as much knowlegde as possible.
But what is knowlegde?)

Back to the birth story. Last week Sensescapes was born, shaped like a word on this blog and in the title of my production thesis. The thesis has been mentioned in a couple of official announcements today and yesterday, which makes me feel that things ARE beginning to roll now – whether I like it or not. Most of the time I love it! Simultaneously there are lots of nervousness, fear and doubt. Complexity. Paradoxicality. Of course.

In all this, it feels crucial to try and keep things simple.

A simple question was given on facebook today, when Secret Hotel linked to my project under the title:

“What is Sensescapes?”

Spot on.

Here’s the first of several answers-to-come for that question. Directly derived from Bunkse, who is becoming my main inspiration at the moment:

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What do you think of the statements in the pictures?

Here’s what I think:

About sight:
I am going to discuss a little with Bunkse. I don’t agree that we cannot enter a landscape by gazing at it. Who has not been lost for hours in some other-worldly food for the eyes? Films, photos, paintings, drawings… visual art offer whole worlds to enter and explore by sight and imagination. As the French philosopher Jacques Ranciere has stated, seeing can be an action in itself, and thus every spectator has the opportunity (and according to Ranciere also the ability) to jugde and associate from what he sees (Ranciere p. 13).

About all the senses:
What I DO agree with is Bunkse’s crucial point: that the dominance of pictures and words in our Western culture has moved us away from contact with our primal nature. Primarally I am a sensing body. I smell. I touch and grab things. I eat. I am cold and warm. I constantly orientate myself by my senses. I hear directions, taste if the food is good or bad, I search for signs in other people’s faces or in the sky, observe the ground with my feet and store knowlegde about places in my nostrils.
What I DO agree with is Bunkse’s suggestion for a sensory turn away from objectification and distance in a paradigme of words and images, and instead moving towards new (or old) ways of encountering and relating that includes all the senses. This is why I make sensorial walks. And this is why my walks are designed to focus on all other elements than seeing and speaking.
I will of course elaborate on this as the research goes on.

In Bunkse’s theory the concept of sensescapes is defined with the anthropologist David Howes:

“[sensescapes] is the idea that the experience of the environment and of the other persons and things which inhabit the environment, is produced by a particular mode of distinguishing, valuing and combining the senses in the culture under study” (Bunkse p. 13)

What is Sensescapes? It is the center of my final thesis. Well. Calling it a final thesis seems a little off the point. Sensescapes is not anything final. It is not even the beginning of anything final. Others have began the work in the same fields I am investigating, doing things related to what I am doing, for decades (perhaps centuries, or if you look at it philosophically, likely for ever). Part of Sensescapes is to become aware of relational matters, like the one of belonging to a history of senses and sensorial investigation.

This is the beginning of my final thesis project. And it is not. In real life and in primal nature there’s no strict beginnings or ends, are there? Things change, they take new shapes and forms, they die and give life to something new.

There’s no beginning or end. Only the beautiful, terrible, fun, frustrating, revealing, radical, intense, never-ending proces.

Or: on micro levels there are perhaps only beginnings and endings.

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Literature:

Bunkse, Edmunds: Sensescapes: or a Paradigm Shift from Words and Images to All Human Senses in Creating Feelings of Home in Landscape in Proceedings of the Latvia University of Agriculture, Landscape, Architecture and Art, Volume 1, Number 1, p. 10-15

Ranciere, Jacques: The Emancipated Spectator, Verso 2009

Categories: Birth, Landscape Dialogues, Material, Motivation, Process, Sight, Thesis experiment | 2 Comments

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