What makes Landscape valuable?

Ecology, Art and Science – valuation and adding value

The IALE conference, 2010.

Kerry Morrison, UK

In the introductory presentation about ecosystem services within the context of the theme of the conference, Felix Muller posed a number of questions including:

Can we really compare (and add) the different monetary service values if they have been quantified on the base of different methodologies?

The ecosystem service provider groups; Supporting, Provisioning, Regulating and Cultural are all intrinsically interconnected, however, to measure the services within each category different methodologies are required – regardless of whether or not the monetary values can be compared. This is specifically the case for the category of Culture, where qualitative (Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences) as opposed to quantitative (Science) analysis is needed. So it does not come as a surprise that many scientists researching ecosystem services consider Culture the most difficult to measure. (Muller 2010)[1]

The conference introduced the theme of art within the context of What makes landscape valuable?: The relationship of art and landscape – from object of beauty to critical discourse.

What role does, or can, art have within landscape ecology? The answer to this question depends much upon the type of art, how artists work (methodology) and what they produce (artefact or experience). There are as many different types of art practice as there are of scientific research. Art can no longer be defined into two simple categories: 2D (painting, drawing, photography etc.) and 3D (sculpture, installation, etc). Time (performance, film, sound, etc.) and process (the action of doing) are now within the melange. And this is before we even begin to discuss subject matter, inspiration, or venue (inside or outside).

If we assume that art has capacity within Ecosystem Services research, the next logical questions include:

How can art and science interface?

How can Art add ‘value’ to landscape (knowledge and appreciation)?

These questions began to be explored on the last day of the conference – but of course, as with many conferences, there was insufficient time to really begin to un-tap the myriad of art and science possibilities.

During the wine tasting evening some of us began to discuss the possibility of a follow-on event, a residential symposium to explore notions of art and science collaboration and interdisciplinary work.

As we sipped and tasted the delights offered to us by a local wine grower/maker/producer, we quickly began to notice the effects of the alcohol – too quickly. We didn’t consume that much, there was a slops bucket on the table and after a few sips of the each wine, the remnants in our glasses were sloshed into the bucket. So how come we felt so tipsy? I have an unfounded and un-researched theory  – based on observation alone… This group of tasters were not passive recipients of wine and wine information – this group were relentlessly inquisitive and questioners…

What soil type? – Discussion ensued.

What’s the geology? – Discussion ensued.

Corks or screw-tops? – Discussion ensued.

How are the barrels made and what from? – Discussion ensued.

The age of vines – Discussion ensued

Complexity of grape aroma particles – Discussion ensued.

I too was getting tipsy – so can’t recall all the repartee.

My theory is this – If you use your brain whilst consuming alcohol you get drunk quicker.

What I also gained from this brief encounter was that artists and scientists are similar creatures… engaged and engaging.

Artists and scientists are creative. They need to be in order to push the boundaries within their field and to contribute to ‘new knowledge’, although more often than not, the ‘new’ remains within the confines of their discipline. What makes art research and science research different is method: method of inquiry: method of ‘production’.

To concentrate on similarities is a good place to begin to explore the possibilities of art and science cohesion within Ecosystem Services Research, Landscape Ecology and Landscape Art.

There appears to be a need to develop a framework for multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary [art and science interface] research. The distinctions between and difference from traditional single disciplinary approaches requires consideration. Multidisciplinary is whereby individuals or groups working in different disciplines address the same issue, interdisciplinary is where an individual or a group work at the boundaries of traditional disciplines and often in gaps that emerge between disciplines, and transdisciplinary is whereby an individual or group uses knowledge from a number of disciplines to gain new insights[2]. Collaboration (a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals – for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature – by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.[3]) can be multi, inter, or transdiciplinary.

Intellectualizing method is one thing, but putting methods into practice is entirely another thing. Where do you begin? How can artists and scientists come together to discover that there are mutual goals that benefit their own personal research?

And before any practical collaboration begins, both the artist and the scientist might want to question what’s in it for them? Kerry Morrison (artist) and Alicia Prowse (ecologist) have been collaborating for 8 years, and Prowse’s first response to Morrison’s request to work with her was, Well, I can see what you might gain from this, but what’s in it for me? She was referring to the fact that she had spent the past 6 years researching the impact of Himalayan balsam on native British flora and then along comes an artist wanting to ‘hijack’ her research for inspiration for a creative endeavor. This point of view can be flipped with the artist posing a similar question; having spent years developing an original practice why would I want to illustrate someone else’s research?

An artist, or a scientist, employing the services of the other is not the same as collaboration. Art using science or science using art is not disputed, but the interesting consideration is the possible impact and contribution to knowledge and research that collaborative inquiry may reveal.

To begin to explore notions of art and science collaborations, the idea of a follow on event was discussed between Lars Fisher, Kenneth Anders, Roman Lenz, Helmut Lemke, Kerry Morrison, Felix Muller, Benjamin Burkhard, Hubert Wiggering, Uta Steinhardtand Katharina Diehl. What could this be?  Where and when could it be? How could it be funded?

Landscape Ecology and Landscape Art – A Practical Residential Symposium

The word symposium has two meanings:

1.  A conference or other meeting for discussing a particular subject[4].

2. A drinking party held by ancient Greeks for convivial conversation, particularly philosophical and intellectual discussion[5].

Combining these two definitions and expanding upon them, what has been discussed is a residential situation whereby artists and ecologists explore the actual and real outdoor landscape. Artists and ecologists will put on their walking boots, go outside and investigate the landscape surrounding the symposium residence. What they look for and how they investigate will be at their own discretion, but one assumes that each individual will begin to focus on elements within that landscape that are relevant to their research in some way.

The purpose of the symposium is to bring together inquiring minds in a convivial situation and to facilitate initial dialogues and exchanges between artist and scientists. In order to create a situation conducive to conversation on an equal and jargon free basis (profession idioms could potentially inhibit clarity), simple tasks could be set to enable an initial period of elementary investigation, for example:

To Begin

  • The surrounding landscape could be divided into a number of sections defined by biota or topography.
  • Participants would choose an area to investigate.
  • Participants could be asked to collect and bring back a set number of things that caught their attention. (This could range from an actual object or organism to notes, sketches, montages or photographs.)
  • At the end of the first day, participants could ‘display’ their finds for all to see.

Following On

  • Discussion – time spent listening to each investigator talk about the area they explored, what interested them and why, and explaining their collection of things.

What this basic approach should enable is an equitable starting point: the outdoor landscape, and a basis for shared interests.

The hope would be that two or more people from different disciplines find themselves drawn to similar lines of inquiry. The aim will be that artist(s) and ecologist(s) begin to engage in dialogue and discover synergies.

The days could be filled with practical enquiry.

The evenings filled with discourse (alcohol optional).

It may be necessary to facilitate a practical symposium like this. This is a role that Kenneth and Lars would be well placed to deliver, consultants whose work and interests span landscape art and landscape ecology.

In addition, time could be set-aside for participants to present research, interests, or research dilemmas – early evening for example.

The symposium should be viewed as an incubator for new ideas and possibilities.

When and where?

Spring / summer 2011 for seven to ten days

The Albe region Biosphere Reservation could make and interesting and suitable location. Accommodation could be secured at the old army barracks.

The other possibility is to go to the Oderbruch, where Kenneth & Lars could give an interesting framework with their Project Oderbruchpavillon.


Would this be an event that people would be willing to self-fund? If people are willing to pay their way, cost of travel, food and accommodation, then organizing a symposium could be quite simple and straightforward.

There seemed to be a genuine interest in extending the conference theme into another more discursive event.

The above has been written to outline some ideas and to begin a discourse…

[1] Muller 2010, Landschaftsbewertung auf der Basis von Ecosystem Services –

Möglichkeiten und Grenzen. IALE-D 2010 Was macht Landschaft wertvoll? Nürtingen, Germany.

[2] James. P. et al (2009) Towards an integrated understanding of green space in the European built environment. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 8 pp. 65-75

[3] Wikipedia definition, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collaboration

[4] 2003. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Volume 2. N-Z.  Fifth edition. Oxford University Press.

[5] Ibid.


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