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:
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?”
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:
What do you think of the statements in the pictures?
Here’s what I think:
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.
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