Composting Estate seminar: Steven Ball and Louise Fowler 13 December 2019

A series of seminars examining processes and materials of composition and decomposition of site and place.

Room A002 Central Saint Martins 
10.30am  – 1.00pm
13 December 2019

Steven Ball
Amateur Archaeology

‘Amateur Archaeology’ follows on from ‘Of the Estate’, my presentation at Approaching Estate, which discussed the painting practice of my late uncle Terry Ball, who painted landscape views of the St. Helier council housing estate in South London where he lived from early childhood to late in life. His paintings were made from around the mid 1950s to the late 1990s, after which he moved from the estate. ‘Amateur Archaeology’ explores other aspects of Terry Ball’s life and work, narrating as a work in progress a form of ‘amateur personal archaeology’. Through processes of excavation and reconstruction, making connections using available material (published, unpublished, archival, personal, and memorial), I reflect upon Terry Ball’s professional relationship with archaeological practices, and their personal resonance in my own life and creative practice.

Starting back on St. Helier Estate, as the site of some of my own earliest experiences of the specificity of place, I trace Terry Ball’s professional career as an artist making reconstruction drawings of ancient monuments for what was to become English Heritage, from the 1969 until the late 1990s. His processes, methodology, influences, and predecessors, are outlined with extracts from writings about his work, reproductions of his reconstruction drawings and paintings, how these are situated in relation to the work of archaeology, as well as how elements from his personal life occasionally find their way into his otherwise ‘scientific’ approach.

I then move briefly back to the St. Helier Estate to examine a hitherto unnoticed formal similarity between a digital ‘panoramic’ image of St. Helier Hospital that I made around 2000, and one of Terry’s paintings of the same subject.

I then look further back in historical time, to examine Terry’s life and work as a drawing assistant to renowned archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in the Holy Land, starting in Jericho in 1957 and ending in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1967. This centres on a collection of his black and white photographs, now donated to the Palestine Exploration Fund archive in Greenwich, photographs taken during his time in the region. I examine his photographic representation of the landscape and archaeological dig sites, which often take the form of panoramic photographic montage, reminiscent of the later painting of St. Helier Hospital mentioned earlier above. I describe what I have unearthed about his time in the region, his relationship to the place and his work, how the 1967 Israeli incursion that precipitated the Six Day War, was to hasten his exit from Jerusalem, as well as speculate around how he might have arrived in the position of working with Kenyon.

I end by relating how I was given a poetry notebook of his after his death, how some of the contents of the notebook seems to, repeatedly and through many reiterative variations, refer to his experience working as a stonemason in Jerusalem, and how I transcribed these passages to form a lyric that I have recorded as a song as part of my song writing and recording practice.

Louise Fowler
Once upon a time in the city...

The ‘once upon a time’ of fairytale exists outside conventional, historical time. It sits above, upon, any time, and at the same time it exists alongside all time. It is a time of possibility, where the usual rules do not apply, and imagination might take flight. 

The chaos of once upon a time appears to be the opposite of the rational, ordered time of archaeology. 

But varied perceptions of time, including time in its more imaginative forms, run through the practice of archaeological excavation. Gavin Lucas outlines several, including those which are central to the methods of archaeological fieldwork, namely abstract and quantified time, and time that is constituted by events (Lucas 2005). Kitty Hauser discusses how the concept of a multi-temporal present, which she describes as an ‘archaeological’ imagination inspired work by British neo-Romantic writers and artists of the mid 20th-century (Hauser 2007). Shannon Lee Dawdy writes of how imagined pasts are entangled with the material present in New Orleans, drawing on Walter Benjamin’s concept of aura (Dawdy 2016). Inspired by these writers and others, here I revisit some of the photography and records created in the space-time of an archaeological excavation that took place on a construction site in the City of London several years ago. 

The excavation employed the methods most commonly used by archaeologists in Britain, which prioritise time that is made of events through a concern with what archaeologists call stratigraphic context. A stratigraphic context is a physical trace, which can be seen and felt in the present, of an action carried out in the past. To properly excavate and record a context, the archaeologist must not only be able to define and record its physical limits in space, but also to imagine or deduce the action in the past that produced such a trace in the present. Contexts are excavated in chronological order, in order to understand and record their relationships as an interrelated sequence of events, and a drawn and written record is created. But this way of thinking about time is not the only way that it is experienced during the process of excavation, which also incorporates the rhythm and demands of structured working days with associated deadlines, and which also requires the archaeologist to make  imaginative leaps to bridge gaps between past and present. These include moments when the archaeologist physically reproduces a past action in the present (the digging of a pit, or the cleaning of a hearth for example), actions which can seem to ‘collapse’ together past and present, creating the experience of a kind of timelessness that is accessible through a historical and linear understanding of time, but which sits outside it. This collapse is also visible in the archive, which contains records of the actions of both archaeologists and events that took place in the deeper past. 

Dawdy, S. L. 2016. Patina: A Profane Archaeology

Hauser, K.  2007. Shadow Sites: Photography, Archaeology, and the British Landscape 1927-1955
Lucas, G. 2005. The Archaeology of Time  

Louise Fowler is an archaeologist with MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology).

Information about the full series:

Landscape Research Group: Landscape Symposium 2019 Staying with the Trouble

sensingsite will be presenting Landfill an audio report, a collaborative research work in progress by the group, at the Landscape Research Group Symposium on Friday 6 December 2019. More information here

Composting Estate seminar: John Hartley and Susan Trangmar 29 November 2019

A series of seminars examining processes and materials of composition and decomposition of site and place.

Room A002 Central Saint Martins 
10.30am  – 1.00pm
29 November 2019

John Hartley
Wave as Tool

 This performance lecture, incorporating film and read text, explores how a material, social and entangled ‘art apparatus’ demonstrates shapes of change, and starts to consider what constitutes that apparatus. It proceeds from a swimming/filming practice that looks at conditions within the sea. This practice expands to trace sea-like movement in the tools used to make work about the sea, and further, to reference the discourse around the work, which in its turn, also performs wave-like change (emergence and collapse). 

The talk accompanying the film consists of re-ordered text, which builds in the form a wave. It starts with single words and small phrases which slowly grow in length. Lines are followed by longer sentences explaining the practice and its context, then paragraphs of the most developed comments. This process then reverses and recedes with the text blocks collapsing into smaller length. 

The film extract I show was made on an obsolete mobile phone attached to a swimmers arm. This is a method of filming that disrupts the normal spatial and temporal way of showing the sea, or dependency on expert mediation. The resultant films present a re-structured marine perception, neither a landscape of space extending before a viewer, nor a seascape where that viewer faces from land towards a horizon over the sea. Instead we see a churn of underwater views, turbulent surf and bubbles, rocking colours and light. The normal spatial immediacy is reconfigured as the tools engaging with this domain (discarded camera phones) are also in a state of breakdown. 

Tuning in to these varied speeds, rhythms and disjunctions, you become aware of changes in the equipment used to make the film. Screens crack, memory gliches. And no longer cutting edge, the social and economic currency of the consumer device is ebbing too. Equally the accompanying text has its own periodicity, approaching and retreating from multiple stacked and nested ideas. Ripples of recognition sit on top of waves of material process, within the swell of discourse... on top of tides of wider cultural context. The work feels for the movement of the arts practice, consisting of material and social dynamics. The tug and ebb of creative and academic conditions… and the buoyancy afforded by changing markets and economies also make themselves evident through this entangled arts apparatus.

As the artist/researcher is rolled and crashed by the sea (the estate-as-medium), the movements and changes of object of enquiry become inseparable from those of the enquirer. The investigator is part of the world under investigation, and changed by their investigation. 

The presentation aims to address questions of creative practice and the dynamic processes within which it is embedded. How does immersion within a location (for instance the sea) demand we (re)arrange our perceptions? How is practice and research changed as a result? 

Susan Trangmar
From Topography to Topology: a Line of Enquiry

A Twist of Thought

‘It is a question not of imposing preconceived forms on inert matter, but of intervening in the fields of force and currents of material wherein forms are generated.’ (Ingold 1993)
How can a processual art practice based in lens imaging help us to question landscape as a pictorial category fixed in space and time? This presentation proposes that we practice landscape as an ongoing process of movement and change.  Starting with reference to a specific geographic, geological and environmental site, that of Dungeness, Romney Marsh, Kent the essay tracks a process of situated making using the smartphone camera as the fulcrum of a performative activity. The automatic programmes of digital cameras borrow photographic conventions, a particular ‘way of seeing’ which constructs landscape as static, grounded and always maintained at a fixed distance, thus setting up subject/object distinctions.  In the practice outlined here however, such conventions are disrupted through a series of technological/ kinaesthetic engagements which reconfigure relations of figure and ground, surface and depth. Through tactile engagement with the paper print  to form a cone, the paper as support for image becomes  both a three dimensional object  and a topological (continuous) surface. Out of each cone when re-photographed, is drawn a new image which in turn becomes a new object open to being re-imaged. This continual process of re-turning and drawing out through which the work takes shape, performs a ‘a recursive futurity’ (Massumi 2002: xxvii). 

The practice has no one definitive state of completion; it consists of an assemblage of parts at different stages of existence, paper prints, printed objects,  mobile screen based moving image, which in clustering together act as ‘relational objects for thinking- in -action’ (Manning 2009). It is through this process that I explore the work’s ‘expression’ (Massumi 2011: 57), how something comes to be what it is. The presentation concludes by engaging the audience with the work by re-turning to the smartphone as fulcrum of a performative activity through shared replay of a moving image, an activity which is temporally situated and a simultaneously a dispersal.

Keywords: Digital Photography; Landscape: Processual practice; Topography; Topology; relational philosophy


Massumi, Brian (2002), A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze and Guattari . New York and London: Routledge.
Massumi, Brian (2011), Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurent Arts. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.
Manning, Erin (2009), “Propositions for Thought in Motion” in Relationscapes:Movement, Art, Philosophy . Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press. 

Previous iterations of this project can be sourced here: Trangmar, Susan From Topography to Topology in “Fragmentation of the Photographic Image in the Digital Age”. New York and London 2019: Routledge; Trangmar, Susan Landscape as a Twist of Thought, Journal of Philosophy of Photography, Intellect. Vol. 10, 2. forthcoming Autumn 2020.

Rehearsals for Uncertain Futures

Rehearsals for Uncertain Futures: Screening + Panel Q & A
Followed by the feature film Earth, Dir. Nikolaus Geryhalter
Part of the UK Green Film Festival
Thurs 7 Nov at 19:00
The Lyric Hammersmith 
Tickets £6-8

Join us for a special screening of Rehearsals for Uncertain Futures followed by a panel discussion with artists Matterlurgy (Helena Hunter & Mark Peter Wright) + special guests. The discussion will be followed by a screening from the latest edition of the UK Green Film Festival – Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s award winning documentary Earth.

A short film by Matterlurgy (Helena Hunter & Mark Peter Wright) about a Sea Ice Simulator (SIS) used in climate science to predict and model the impact of black carbon on ice reflectivity. Shot on location within SIS, a series of shipping containers situated in woodland, the work shifts between local ecologies of wildlife and fauna, to the technological manufacture of ice and the energy required to sustain such relations. The film focuses on the interconnections between the lab and field amplifying physical and material production practices behind climate simulation and predictive data modelling. How does data become data, where exactly is the field, what practices of maintenance and care does simulation require?

Commissioned by the Centre for the GeoHumanities at Royal Holloway, University of London as part of Creating Earth Futures. The work premiered in May 2019 at Raven Row Gallery, London.

Several billion tons of earth are moved annually by humans – with shovels, excavators or dynamite. Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s (Our Daily Bread + Homo Sapiens) latest documentary Earth observes people in mines, quarries and large construction sites in a constant struggle to transform the planet. Earth won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Berlinale Forum (2019) and the International Award, Sheffield International Documentary Festival (2019).

Matterlurgy Studio
Helena Hunter & Mark Peter Wright

Dark Fibre Network Drift

Under the streets of East London runs a network of dark fibre.

John Wild will lead a Dark Fibre Network Drift, walking the route of underground fibre-optic cables linking seven of the core data centres that form the London Internet Exchange.

The walk will include spoken word by Dr Robin Bale and experiments using software-defined radio to hack the sonic world of machine to machine communications carried out by CODED GEOMETRY.

The walk will conclude with drinks at The George pub, Isle of Dogs.

14:00, Sunday 27 October
Chrisp Street Market,
E14 6AQ

Poetics of Cosmic Spaces

Poetics of Cosmic Spaces
a talk by Reza Tavakol

In this upcoming talk, part of Through the Looking Glass, Humanity’s Changing Vision of the Universe Reza Tavakol gives some examples of how cosmic space can provide an extremely fertile arena for poetic imagination.

Considerations of the poetics of terrestrial spaces are often informed by our lived experiences and memories. Given that cosmic space is mostly un-lived, at least by us, and hence devoid of direct lived experiences and memories, he asks in which sense can we speak of Poetics of Cosmic Space?

Reza Tavakol is a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Astronomy, and a member of the Philosophy and Poetry groups, at Queen Mary University of London. His active research/practice include Cosmology, Philosophy and Art. In science, he has authored more than 150 articles in international journals, and has been an invited speaker to numerous international conferences. His art related publications include a book of poems 'Memories of Light' (2001 with M Shultz), as well as number of essays and articles on photography and 'Aesthetics of the Cosmic Space'.

Sunday 20 October 1.00pm - 2.00pm 
Ugly Duck
47-49 Tanner Street 
London SE1 3PL

more information about Through the Looking Glass, Humanity’s Changing Vision of the Universe here


methodologies for practices of site and place

Approaching Estate is a four-day encounter with the specificities of site, place and  landscape as contexts for artistic and other creative enquiry. 

The event will consist of interlinking presentations, field performances, films and discussions gathering together a range of artistic, interdisciplinary and collaborative practices. These include experimental cartographies, situated practices, interfaith cultural exchange and creative critiques of land ownership and management.

0930 - 1900
Wednesday 10 - Friday 12 April 2019
Furtherfield Commons
Finsbury Gate, Finsbury Park, London N4 2DE