Thesis experiment

From landscape to sensescape

What is a landscape? How do you relate to your landscape? How do landscapes affect us?

Departing in phenomenology’s notion of the body and the world as inseparable, I approach the term landscape as an entrance to a specifically embodied conceptualization through the following three statements:

A) Landscape as relation.

As the philosopher Christopher Tilley has pointed out, using the term landscape in a phenomenological perspective will appear antithetical to the conventional Western understanding, where landscape is “[…]implying separation and disinterested analytical observation, a particular way of seeing exemplified in the linear techniques of perspective developed in landscape painting since the Renaissance[…]” (Tilley 2004:24). A search in the Oxford Dictionary confirms that landscape is still first and foremost understood as a picture, a painting, a view, a scenery, a map, a background or simply just “the object of one’s gaze”, depicting a piece of mostly natural inland (www.oed.com). This understanding, argues Tilley, is turned around in a phenomenological idea of landscape defined as “perceived and embodied sets of relationships between places, a structure of human feeling, emotion, dwelling, movement and practical activity within a geographical region which may or may not possess precise topographic boundaries or limits” (ibid.:25). From such a perspective, landscape is understood radically different than visual representations of beautiful, natural scenarios. It is not some object in front of my gaze, but a continuous dynamic process of relation between my embodied being and the being of my surroundings in “a consideration of fluidity, transition and motion” (Benediktson and Lund, 2010:3).

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Relations. Participant: Søren. Photographer: Christine Fentz

B) Landscape as more-than-human.

Phenomenologically speaking, landscape can also be understood as a dynamic relation between the human and the non-human. In the philosopher David Abram’s ecology, this implies a form of radical conversation, where “[t]he landscape as I directly experience it, is hardly a determinate object; it is an ambiguous realm that responds to my emotions and calls forth feelings from me in return” (Abram 1997:33). Continuing this conversation metaphor, geographer and anthropologist Karl Benedikson and Katrin Anna Lund defines landscape as a continuous dialogue between interdependent entities, in which: […]landscape implies a more-than-human materiality; a constellation of natural forms that are independent of humans, yet part and parcel of processes bywhich human beings make their living and understand their own placing in the world” (Benediktsson and Lund 2010:1). Because landscape is both shaped by human but also shaping the human, it is a more-than-human constellation that, after all, remains undisciplined (ibid.:9). Benediktsson and Lund goes as far as to state that landscape is “not comprehended as a predetermined, culturally contrived “text”, but as a conversational partner[…]” (ibid.:8) Now, if landscape connections can be seen as conversations or dialogues, how can such connections take place and how can they be experienced? This is part of my investigation.

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More-than-human. Participant: Birthe. Photo: Rasmus Malling Lykke Skov

C) Landscape as multisensorial.

My intention in the process of creating and facilitating sensorial walks with blindfolded participants, is to test and practice the geographer Edmunds Bunkse’s concept of landscape as “a unity in one’s surroundings, percieved through all the senses” (Bunkse 2007:222). This theoretical starting point adopts landscape as “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 2009: 696).

Now, landscape becomes multisensorial. It becomes sensescapes. In David Howes’ anthropology of senses, sensescapes is defined as 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” (Howes 2005:143). An anthology by the philosopher Madalina Diaconu a.o., uses the term in the title “Senses and the city. An interdisciplinary approach to urban sensescapes” (2001). Surprisingly it does not seem to undergo any further definition in the book, though Diaconu do seem to encourage the same sensory revolution as Howes and Bunkse (Diaconu 2001:7, Howes 2005:1, Bunkse 2012:12). With Bunkse, however, the concept moves from an anthropological to a geographical-philosophical approach to landscapes as home. Departing in his own history as a Latvian emigrant trying to find his feet in the States, he states:

[…]contact with our primal nature is in more than pretty pictures or designs of landscapes. Pictures are abstractions, we do not enter the landscape by gazing at it and taking ever more pretty pictures of it. Having a handful of thorny needles from a devil’s club may hurt for a week, but it is thus that one becomes part of a landscape. It is how familiarity is acquired with many other sensory aspects of wild landscapes that Canadians fondly refer to as the “bush”. And familiarity makes the heart fonder. It then feels at home (Bunkse 2007:14)

Bunkse makes a crucial point that the dominance of pictures and words in our Western culture has moved us away from contact with our primal nature (ibid.:221). This refers to the phenomenology of perception as a movement back to a naive and sensuous contact with the world. Primarily I – the phenomenological “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, observe the ground with my feet and store knowledge about places in my nostrils. Bunkse’s sensory turn moves away from objectification and distance in a paradigm of words and images, and towards new (or old) ways of encountering and relating to the landscape as home. Inspired by this approach, I suggest a definition in this thesis, of sensescapes as a landscape inhabited and experienced through a multisensory mode of being with and in the world. My proposal of a movement from a concept of landscape to a concept of sensescapes, leads to the production of Sensescapes as a multisensorial connection between the self, other selves and the surrounding land, and as a method of inhabiting and experiencing one self and one’s surroundings in the same movement.

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Smellscape. Participant: Stephan. Photo: Rasmus Malling Lykke Skov

(The text is an excerpt from the introduction chapter in the master thesis I am currently working on, titled: “Sensescapes. The Phenomenology of Sensorial Landscape Connections”)

References:

Abram, David, 1996, The Spell of the Sensuous. Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, Vintage Books, New York

Benediktsson, Karl and Lund, Katrin Anna, 2010: “Introduction: Starting a conversation with Landscape” in Benediksson, Karl and Lund, Katrin Anna, Conversation with Landscape, University of Iceland, Ashgate

Bunkse, Edmund, 2007, “Feeling is believing, or landscape as a way of being in the world” in Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography: Geografiska Annaler, Series B, Volume 89Issue 3pages 219–231

Bunkse, Edmunds, 2012, Sensescapes: or a Paradigm Shift from Words and Images to All Human Senses in Creating Feelings of Home in Landscape” in Landscape, Architecture and Art. Proceedings of the Latvia University of Agriculture, Volume 1, Number 1, p. 10-15

Dewsbury, J.D. and Cloke, Paul, 2009, Spiritual landscapes: existence, performance and Immanence, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol , Bristol, BS8 1SS, UK file:///C:/Users/acer/Desktop/Dewsbury.pdf

Diaconu, Madalina, Heuberger, Eva, Mateus-Berr, Ruth and Vosicky, Lukas Marchel, 2011, Senses and the City: An interdisciplinary approach to urban sensescapes, LIT Verlag

Howes, David, 2005, Empire of the senses, Bloomsbury Academic

Tilley, Christopher, 2004, The Materiality of Stone. Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology: 1, Berg

Categories: Blindfolding, Cityscape, Country side, Landscape Dialogues, Thesis experiment | Leave a comment

Holding hands

“When I hold your hand I hold a miracle”

– British writer AL Kennedy, in a BBC radio programme 

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Photo: Rasmus Skov

Holding hands.

Something I do so instinctively, so intuitively.

To grab the participant’s hand and walk like we were friends.

When I reach for your hands, it is not only to guide and lead, but merely to say: I want to be WITH you in this, not ahead of you.

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Photo: Christine Fentz

I find that this simplicity of relation between hands does the difference in my guiding method.

On the blindfolded walks of Sensescapes, we explore the environment of everyday life as it is, completely out of the institutions art, with a minimum of pre-build constructions for the event, no fictional frame and no intended audience. For the staging of a walk I make either no, or very few, changes on the site.

And yet everything changes.

The change lies merely in the blindfolded experience, but this experience would not have such strong and emotional effect of etc. pleasure, relaxation, safety and playfulness, without the intimacy of the moving, breathing body of the “we” that is created in the connection between blindfolded and guide.

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Photo: Søren Gammelmark

Here at the farm or in the park, the meeting of your hands and mine change the experience of the relational space around us from everyday-like to something both familiar and extraordinary, both distant and very intimate.

In an abstract and curious dance between blindfolded and guide, our bodies merge into one.

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Photo: Angela Rawlings

It is all set in the beginning of the walk, in the radical shift from two strangers talking briefly in a yard or on a pathway, to the appearance of a vulnerable, curious pair of connected entities, through touch of hands and through a constant mindful awareness of each other.

We meet.

I ask you a few questions to get to know a little about you.

Then you put a blindfold on.

But then… I take your hands and we breathe together.

Both pair of eyes is closed, because I want to sense what you are sensing.

I want us to arrive in our bodies together.

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Photo: Rasmus Skov

Then we walk, hand in hand.

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Photo: Rasmus Skov

Perhaps the essence of Sensecapes can be summed up in the togetherness of hands being in touch, eccoing A.L. Kennedy:

“When we reach out for each other, we don’t just reveal our highly evolved and respectable selves. When hands open for each other, they open deep impulses, primate truths, touched before agriculture, before tools, before speaking.”

– A.L. Kennedy in the above mentioned BBC programme.

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Photo: Roland Schild

I find the feeling of deep connection and intimacy most meaningful when shared, like in this re-post of a reaction from one of the participants in the thesis-experiement:

“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”

– Stephan Gustin, participant on a walk in Aarhus, April 2014

I guess I fall a little bit in love with most of my participants. There is a powerful and mindblowing force in the freedom of being childish together, being brave together, being vulnurable together, being close together for a brief moment in life.

I love it.

Lotus

Categories: Blindfolding, Closeness, Hands, Thesis experiment, Touch, Trust | 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

Sensescapes in Aarhus#3

On a hot and sunny Saturday in April, Tanja and I set out to explore the Botanical Garden of Aarhus together.

She was the last blindfolded walker of the 15 that have participated in my thesis experiment.

There were A LOT of talking, walking, running, curiously observing, playing and sun bathing humans in the park that day.
And bird life.
And dogs.
Horse carriages, even.
Do you know how distinct a smell such a thing has?

We walked through them all in silence. And from the feedback afterwards, it appears we both had a great time, exploring the sensescape of the busy park.

Tanja even climbed a tree and unintentionally swung herself in a branch!

I will take this opportunity to give my deepest thanks to all the involved hands, bodies, brains and other landscapes that has been a part of the series of walks hosted by Secret Hotel.

Thanks to Christine Fentz, Line Rostrup Henningsen, Rasmus Skov, Birthe Krag, Søren Fiskaali Gammelmark, Martabolette Stecher, Annette Trap Friis, Helle Trap Friis, Jacob Vibe, Ada Holst Pallesen, Anette Kærgaard, Malene Dyrberg, Tanja Schmidt, Stephan Gustin, Lauge Rasmussen, Tanja Vestergaard and Trine Vestergaard.

Thanks to the wind, the sun, the farm, the hills and the park.

You have all been wonderful to work with.

May your days be drenched in sensorial encounters!

Peace and light,
Lotus

Participant: Tanja. Photographer: Trine Vestergaard

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Categories: Blindfolding, Cityscape, Closeness, Euphoria, Gratitude, Landscape Dialogues, Thesis experiment, Trust | Leave a comment

Impressions from the blindfolded walkers

Sensescapes has officially ended as a thesis experiment. Within the last three weeks there has been 15 sensorial walks in Mols Bjerge and Aarhus. I am delighted to say that the concept has been developed, tested and found fit for future practices! Slowly adjusting to the academic office life, I am now dreaming about more walks, more playfulness and much more curious investigation in the (near) future.

As dreams and visions of Sensescapes unfold, it is time to transcribe interviews, look at film recordings, analyze words and pictures, discuss, reflect… and start writing.

As an anchor and lighthouse in the beginning of this process, I open my guestbook.

A small book with big words.

Here it is.

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In the end of all 15 walks, a feedback session have started by asking the participant to verbalize the overall experience they have just been through, with the first 3 words that comes to their mind. These words have then created a basis for our talk about the walk. In the end of each feedback session, the participants – or the walkers, as I would call them by now – have written their specific words in my guest book. Sometimes, by then, they have chosen new words they would think fit their experience better.

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Here is a line of their first 3 (or more) words, the way they are ordered in the guest book. One line for each participant. (Translated from Danish).

Experiences on the old farm in Mols Bjerge:

Wet- Silent – Waves

Different – Intense

Haptic – Playful – Delicate

Magical – Sensuous – Life force

Trust – Calm – Timelessness

Sensuous – Life-affirming – Spring – Rewarding  – Nature

Closeness – Good guiding – Vulnerability

Presence – Warmth – Comfort

Familiar – Great – Shift

Experiences in the Botanical Garden in Aarhus:

Strong emotions – The present moment – Contrasts

Childhood – Unrestrained – Curious

Senses – Curiosity – Trust

Atmospheres in spaces – Intimacy between people – Smells/Sounds

Cool! – Silence – Sensory

Joy – Merging – Childhood memories

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A moment in a feedback session in Mols Bjerge. Participant: Birthe. Photographer: Rasmus Skov.

Later in the feedback sessions, I have asked each participant to describe the specific landscape they have encountered on the walk, also by 3 words. Here are likewise the landscape impressions, also ordered as they are written in the guest book.

Landscapes on the old farm in Mols Bjerge

Farm – Hilly – Weeping willow

Open – Calm – Silent

Succulent – Hilly – Luminous

Fertile – Hilly – Exceptional

Depth – Lightness – Accommodating

Stillness – Eternity – Joy

Countryside idyll – Intimacy

Wild – Magnificent – Calmness

Vital – Calm – Familiar

Landscapes in and around the Botanical Garden in Aarhus:

Spring – Fertile – Human made

Forest – Breathing space – Cultivated

Differences – Senses – Experience

Urban nature – Natural manipulation – Feel hand – Flood of emotions

Terrain – Different  grounds – Sun, summer, spring

Texture – The wind –  Surfaces

 I will not go into analysis here, but let the words create their own associations and curiosity.

With many hours of recorded interviews, hundreds of pictures and a full film recording of one of the walks, I am drowning in interesting, useful, emperical material. It all comes down to these first hand impressions. I am thrilled by the difference in experience and verbalization, and the various emotions and elements the walkers have brought with them to the feedback table. Though a bit overloaded and exhausted from the last weeks, I am so very grateful for the outcome of the project so far. I CANNOT wait to get the thesis writing done, getting ready to do more of this, that I am becoming more and more happy to do.

See you soon!

Peace and light,

Lotus

Categories: Cityscape, Country side, Feedback, Landscape Dialogues, Thesis experiment | 2 Comments

Sensescapes in Aarhus#2

May I present participant nr 4 in Aarhus this week. Stephan is a talented architect and it was a pleasure to investigate the different atmospheres, spaces, tactile surfaces and other sensory aspects of the urban-natural (or naturally urban) landscape with him today.

Mostly we just played around like curious kids.

One of the things I really love about the concept of Sensescapes, is that it creates a possibility for both the participant and me to be playful and enjoy our time together!

May all the pictures from Sensescapes be enjoyable for you and may they become an inspiration to sense, play and investigate more.

Participant: Stephan. Photographer: Rasmus Skov.

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Categories: Blindfolding, Cityscape, Closeness, Landscape Dialogues, Playfulness, Thesis experiment, Touch, Trust | 1 Comment

Sensescapes in Aarhus#1

Spring is under and over and inside my skin!

The feeling of Green. The sound. The smell.

Yesterday I started a week of sensorial walks in Aarhus.

The walks take place in and around the botanical garden in the city center.

A wonderfully various landscape to investigate!

Todays’ participant was curious and brave like a playful child. He almost jumped up in the first tree I showed him!

Unafraid.

Self-confident.

Afterwards he told me how much he loves trees and woods.

His courage was very inspiring.

In the pictures you can probably see what I mean.

(By the way, I have an available walk on Thursday at 13.00)

Participant: Søren. Photographer: Christine Fentz.
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Categories: Blindfolding, Cityscape, Landscape Dialogues, Playfulness, Thesis experiment | Leave a comment

Sensescapes in Mols Bjerge#3

Today will be the last day in my experiment with sensorial walks in Mols Bjerge.

It has been magical.

Sensorial encounters everywhere.

Silence.

Streams and fields of emotions.

Playfulness.

Laugther.

Important states of exploring inner and outer landscapes.

Lovingly wonderful participants.

Today, in the last walk, I will be blindfolded myself. Christine will guide me.

Thanks to all of you: the participants, the photographers, the farm owners, the horses, the buildings, the land. You have made beautiful things happen, and for that I am grateful.

Here are some pictures from walk nr 4 out of 9 this week.

Participant: Martabolette. Photographer: Søren Gammelmark.

See you in two weeks for sensorial walks in Aarhus!

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Categories: Blindfolding, Closeness, Country side, Euphoria, Gratitude, Landscape Dialogues, Playfulness, Thesis experiment, Trust | Leave a comment

Sensescapes in Mols Bjerge#2

Glimpse from the first ten minutes of today’s walk with Christine.

She lives here on the farm.

So in a way she was the host and I was the guest.

We had a wonderful time exploring her local landscape together.

Photographer: Rasmus Malling Skov

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Categories: Blindfolding, Country side, Hands, Landscape Dialogues, Secret Hotel, Thesis experiment, Trust | Leave a comment

Sensescapes in Mols Bjerge#1

Yesterday I arrived at the farm.

Today I had the first two sensorial walks. On the first it rained.

Steady sounds of water drops on our hoods and boots and on the house and ground and everywhere.

Vertical landcape connections.

Soaked.

On the second walk photos were taken.

The participant’s name is Birthe. The photographer is Rasmus.

Here is a glimpse of the first part of the walk.

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Oh, and by the way, there are still two available walks in Mols this week. Friday and Saturday. Contact me at mielotus@gmail.com if you want to come on a walk.

Peace and light,

Lotus

 

 

Categories: Blindfolding, Closeness, Country side, Landscape Dialogues, Silence, Thesis experiment, Trust | Leave a comment

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