British Academy/Leverhulme Grant for Mutable Matter Workshop

Image: David Alfaro Siqueiros ‘Cosmos and Disaster’ (circa 1936)

Mutable Matter will be hosting its first workshop this year, generously supported by a BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant and Warwick Social Theory Centre. The workshop, entitled ‘Cosmos & Crisis: interdisciplinary conversations’ will be taking place in late Summer/early autumn. More details coming soon!


CFP Hearing Landscape Critically 2013

Image source: Hearing Landscape Critically

This looks really good, especially the focus on sound an politics.

Call for Papers

Hearing Landscape Critically: Music, Place, and the Spaces of Sound
Stellenbosch University (South Africa)
9-11 September 2013

‘We live in densely storiated landscapes [… there are] song lines,
if you will, joining place to place.’
(Robert Macfarlane)

Landscapes are divided and dissonant sites of private and collective being. They bear traces of present, past and future ambitions, injustices, and interventions. And yet, their grammars and sounds, whether intimate, commodified or instrumentalised, push at the limits of theory and representation and simultaneously construct systems of aesthetic, ideological, historical and political appropriation.

The second meeting of the ‘Hearing Landscape Critically’ network (Stellenbosch University, 9-11 September 2013) is concerned with finding ways to articulate and listen to landscape that challenge established patterns of cognition and intervention, and which probe the archival and everyday silences and ruptures exacerbated by social, political and intellectual intervention. Following the first meeting at Oxford University, May 2012, the Stellenbosch symposium marks the continuation of an inter-disciplinary and inter-continental project addressing the intersections and cross-articulations of landscape, music, and the spaces of sound. Whilst this symposium aims to bring together a wide-ranging set of subjects and disciplinary approaches, contributions concerned with the unique dynamics of music and sound in (South) African landscapes are especially welcome.

The following themes are envisaged as central concerns:

– Spaces and sounds of power and politics: interpreting reservation, academy, capital, legitimation;

– Spaces and sounds of contestation: how landscapes suture and structure struggles of class, nationality, education, and race;

– Philosophical approaches to the spaces of sound: transcendental metaphors, the nature/culture debate, ontologies and epistemologies, non-representational theories of musical and social space;

– Spaces and sounds of transformation/devastation: ‘junk space’, inter-state freeways, sprawling suburbs, shopping malls, non-places;

– Landscape as utopia, dystopia or heterotopia;

– Urban landscapes, or landscapes that confound simple urban/rural divides.

Keynote speakers:

Prof. Richard Taruskin (Department of Music, University of California, Berkeley)
Prof. Cherryl Walker (Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University)


All proposals should be emailed to (size limit = 5MB) by 18 January 2013. Please include name, affiliation (if applicable), postal address, E-mail address and AV requirements on a separate cover sheet.

Individual papers (20 minutes) – abstract of no more than 300 words.

Panel sessions – describe individual papers and overarching theme in no more than 500 words.

Alternative formats – describe your proposal (i.e. performance, round table, film discussion, or whatever it may be) in no more than 500 words.


Unfortunately, funding for travel will NOT be generally available for delegates. However, there may be some funds for student travel bursaries. If you would be interested in this, please indicate so on your cover sheet.

More info can be found here.

Geography and Art – Notes on the RGS/IBG conference 2011

Just spent three days at the RGS/IBG Annual Conference. This year, the programme featured a mind-boggling amount of art-related sessions and papers – Mobile Geographies of Art, Art and Science, Art and Geopolitics etc – so I couldn’t help but check out what all the art-craze was about. So far, I have determined two directions: the first one could be described as ‘disciplinary soul-searching’ and the second could be described as ‘art and politics’.
The first one seemed very concerned with methods: what do art and geography have in common, what is being done differently, and what can collaborations, trans/inter/cross-disciplinarity sensitise us to? (A useful overview on this subject recently came out in Geography Compass, written by Harriet Hawkins). Such discussions also seem to follow very much in the same vein of much recent art and science discussions, which often look at art as either producing form/beauty/harmony/emotive responses/the sublime or critique/alternative imaginaries.

The second mode was mainly present in the ‘Art and Geopolitics’ session, which touched more intensely on the question what kind of impact art has on the shaping of political imaginaries. Amongst other things, it looked at the ways some political art travels across times, spaces and audiences and at potential artistic tactics for intervention. One of the questions that came up in the last session – the panel discussion – was about appropriation and counter appropriation. What can artists do if their tactics keep being appropriated by the very systems they are critiquing? Would counter-appropriation be an appropriate tactic?
According to the person next to me ‘The Conquest of Cool’ by Thomas Franck is a must-read on this topic. Not having come across it before, I had to draw on another book, namely Régis Debray‘s ‘Du bon usage des catastrophes’ (On the good use of catastrophes). The latter book comprises a sarcastic manual on ‘how to become a prophet’ in times of crisis, ultimately attempting to raise consciousness regarding the instrumentalisation of endemic problems by those wishing to gain power. The ‘Art and Geopolitics’ afternoon discussion at the conference made me wonder whether someone should take up Debray’s manual to attempt an art project of epic proportions: to become a kind of ‘counter-prophet’ as an anti-dote to those who are in it ‘for real’. Of course such a thing can go horribly wrong, considering what kind of artists harboured delusions of grandeur in the past, but I find it an interesting thought nevertheless. Imagine some president turned round and told you it was all an art project. Personally, I’d hope that his/her rule would be a little more inspiring…

What I found a little perplexing was how little the amount and form of the art-related papers presented were at the centre of debate. Similarly perplexing was the apparent lack of attention in debates to wider links from current funding politics (art being in the situation where it is having its funding withdrawn, but, at the same time, is supported as part of interdisciplinary projects) to their reflection of the current intellectual climate.
It seems to me that the popularity of art is tied to the desire to generate counter-strategies in the current political situation, whether these aim at securing financial security against all odds through seeking links with better funded disciplines/ combination of lesser funded disciplines or building resistance or impact ‘in the world’ through new kinds of ‘methods’. The danger seems to be that if the wider picture is not constantly kept in mind, a preoccupation with art can end up as a distraction from the issues it is hoped to help with. To bring back the ‘fear art’ image from a few blog posts ago (see above), the current level of interest in art makes me ask myself: if art is feared by those in power for its potential as an agent of change, are we aware enough of this power?