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Monsoon Assemblages drawings to show at the Royal Academy

We are pleased to announce that two drawings by Monsoon Assemblages Research Associate, John Cook, have been accepted for the Royal Academy Summer/Winter Exhibition and will be on show from 9th October 2020 to 3rd January 2021.

They are drawings of the summer and winter South Asian monsoons in 2016 and the instruments that recorded the data from which the drawings were, and meteorological knowledge is, produced – argo floats, data buoys, seismometers, weather stations, doppler weather stations, observing ships and meteorological satellites.

They show that meteorological drawings and maps are not drawings of weather, but drawings of data.

Publication: An excess of thought

MONASS is pleased to announce another great publication, this time by PhD researcher, Anthony Powis. His paper titled ‘An excess of thought, or the thinking materials of research,’ has just been published in Hyphen Journal, an open-access journal led by PhD researchers from the University of Westminster.

The abstract of the paper reads as follows:

Researching an elusive material like groundwater means working through intermediaries, patchy data, partial perspectives, and material traces. Each of these leaves its own residue on the product of research, and different modes of access offer different outcomes. In this essay, I consider these residues as moments of excess which sit outside the correlational bond between object and concept. I then apply the methodological concept of “research-assemblage” (Fox and Alldred 2015) to consider how particular episodes from my PhD fieldwork in Chennai belong neither to researcher nor subject but constitute other forms of thinking that affect research.

For access to the paper go here: http://hy-phen.space/journal/issue-2/powis-an-excess-of-thought/.

Publication: Following-the-brick

MONASS is pleased to announce that the following publication arising from the grant research has just been released on line:

Cullen, B. (2020). ‘Constellations of weathering: following the meteorological mobilities of Bangla bricks.’ Mobilities. Online Open Access here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17450101.2020.1759929 

This publication is open access and available to download from the link provided.

Monsoon Assemblages invited to contribute to the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale 2020

The Monsoon Assemblages team is pleased to announce that we have been invited to contribute to the Venice Architecture Biennale 2020, ‘How will we Live Together? curated by Hashim Sarkis. Our proposal, ‘Between the Barometer and the Dragonfly’  is being developed in collaboration with Office of Experiments, a London based Arts Practice.

Photograph: Beth Cullen.

The full list of Biennale participants is available here.

The opening of the Biennale has been postponed until May 2021 due to the corona-virus. We wish all Biennale colleagues good health during these unprecedented times.

Monsoon [+ other] Grounds published

The Monsoon Assemblages team is pleased to announce that the third and final edition of its symposium proceedings, Monsoon [+ other] Grounds, edited by Lindsay Bremner and John Cook, is now available as a PDF here:  http://monass.org/writing/ or as hard copy from online stores.

It includes contributions from Alexander Arenes, Matt Barlow, Raymonde Beiler, Harshavardhan Bhat, Lindsay Bremner, Hari Byles, Beth Cullen, Corinna Dean, Tumpa Fellows, Christina Geros, Fiona Grieve, Eric Guibert, Labib Hossain, Tim Ingold, Raphael Monnier, Anthony Powis, Saif Ul Haque and Avi Varma.

MONASS News, December 2019

Since March 2019 when we held our final symposium, Monsoon [+ other] Grounds, the MONASS team has been busy. The following is a summary of what we have been doing:

1 Design Studio 18

The final MArch level design studio aligned with Monsoon Assemblages ended in June 2019. The studio worked on the Ayeyarwaddy River in Myanmar. Each student selected a non-human being around which to develop their research and design work. One of our students, Rachel Wakelin was entered as one of two of the University of Westminster’s School of Architecture and Cities entries to the RIBA Silver Medal competition and won the Serjeant Award for Excellence in Drawing for her project ‘Avian Air – A Tropospheric Bird Sanctuary.’ The studio was taught by Lindsay Bremner, John Cook and Ben Pollock. Moving forward, DS18 will be taught by by John Cook, Ben Pollock and Laura Nica, all former students.

Rachel Wakelin: Avian Air – A Tropospheric Bird Sanctuary.

DS18 Myanmar OPEN Exhibition, June 2019.

2 Field Work

During September and October, Lindsay Bremner and Beth Cullen spent three weeks in Myanmar and one week in Bangladesh conducting field work. In Myanmar they spent time in Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay. They interviewed officials from planning and meteorology departments and met with a number of NGO’s and professional groups. They visited the New Yangon City Development site, a proposed development to extend the city to the west and journeyed south to Letkokkon on the Gulf of Martaban to visit a mangrove resuscitation project. Within the city, Beth conducted research into the back alleys and plastic and Lindsay was interested in the plant life on ruined colonial buildings. While in Yangon, high end shopping malls and upmarket condominiums, and their relationship to the jade economy began to assume importance for the project.

The Gyobyu pipeline, supplying water to Yangon.

While in Bagan, they took day trips to see the mud volcanoes at Minbu and climbed Mount Popa, one of Myanmar’s extinct volcanoes. In Mandalay they extended their research into jade and its exchange, spending a fascinating day at the jade market and visiting a newly constructed jade pagoda on the outskirts of the city.

Minbu mud volcano.

They then flew to Dhaka in a small aeroplane at a low altitude, which gave incredible views of the delta.

View of the Rhakine Delta.

In Dhaka they renewed contacts with the Bangaldesh Institute of Architecture, Landscapes and Settlements and the Bangladesh Research Initiative and spent time on Madani Avenue, visiting brickfields and interviewing a number of officials. It was a highly productive time and Lindsay and Beth would like to thank all who made themselves available to speak to them and facilitate the work. Harshavardhan Bhat also conducted his last period of PhD field work in July 2019, spending time in Delhi and Bangalore.

Brickfield on the outskirts of Dhaka.

3 Publications

This past year, our first two peer reviewed papers and a number of other published works came out:

Bremner, L. (2020). ‘Sedimentary logics and the Rohingya Refugee camps in Bangladesh.’ Political Geography 77. Online

Open Access here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.102109

Bremner, L. (2019). ‘Planning the 2015 Chennai Floods.’  Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. Online Open

Access here: https://doi.org/10.1177/2514848619880130

Bremner, L., Geros, C. and Cook, J. (2019). ‘Emergent and Erratic: Monsoonal Transmogrification of Land, Air and Sea.’ In

Antonelli, P. and Tannir, A. (eds.).  Broken Nature, XXII Milan Triennale, 106-107. Milan: Electa.

Cullen, B. (2019). ‘Haunted Landscapes: Ghosts of Chennai Past, Present and Future Yet-to- Come.’’ In Bremner, L. (ed.).

Monsoon [+ other] Waters, 185-197. London: Monsoon Assemblages.

Bhat, H. (2019). ‘Malhar’ Theorising the Contemporary. Fieldsights, June 27 https://culanth.org/fieldsights/malhar

Bhat, H. (2019). ‘As I sit down to write a monsoon story without cloud bands – some mucus, confrontation and sadness.’

Hyphen Journal 1. http://www.hy-phen.space/journal/issue_1/

In addition, Lindsay Bremner has been invited to contribute an essay to Postcards from the Anthropocene: Unsettling the Geopolitics of Representation (eds.Tiago Torres Campos and Benek Cincik), Beth Cullen has contributed a chapter to Weather Mobilities (eds. Kaya Barry, Maria Borovnik and Tim Edensor) and Christina Geros a chapter to an edition of AD titled The Landscapists, Redefining Landscape Relations. (ed. Ed Wall).  These will be published in 2020. Lindsay Bremner is also collating a forum (special issue) of the peer reviewed journal, GeoHumanities. In addition to papers by MONASS, contributions from participants at our annual symposia have been invited to contribute to this. Most of these papers have now been submitted and are under review by the journal. We anticipate that the special issue will come out in 2021.

4 Exhibitions

MONASS was invited to contribute to the XXII Milan Triennale, Broken Nature, March – September 2019 with four drawings by Christina Geros and John Cook. Following this, we have been invited to contribute to the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2020 and have proposed a site specific installation for that show. It will be developed in collaboration with Office of Experiments, the art practice of Neal White of the Westminster School of Arts. It will run from May – December 2020 in the Giardini in Venice.

MONASS at the XXII Milan Trienale, Broken Nature, March – September 2019. Photograph: John Cook.

5 Additional Funding Applications

Lindsay Bremner put in a Proof of Concept Grant application to the ERC in early 2019 for impact activities in Chennai, Dhaka and Yangon, but this application was not successful. However, a similar application has successful advanced to the second round of the University of Westminster’s Quinton Hogg Trust Fund for 2020. A successful application to the University’s Community Research Fund resulted in £5,000 being awarded to support our Venice Architecture Biennale installation. An application has been made to the Graham Foundation for additional funding for the MONASS book and in 2020 additional funding for our final exhibition will be sought from Arts Council England.

6 Lectures and Presentations

Bremner, L.

‘On Monsoon as Method.’ Urban Studies Seminar Series, University of Glasgow, 05 December.

Invited Participant, Delta and River Cities Workshop, World Projects and Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes, Columbia University, New York, 22 – 23 November.

‘On Monsoon as Method.’ Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Temple University, Philadelphia, 20 November.

‘On Monsoon as Method.’ Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 29 October.

‘On Sediment as Method.’ At: Monsoon [+ other] Grounds Symposium, University of Westminster, 21 – 22 March.

Cullen, B.

‘Haunted hydrological landscapes: Ghosts of Chennai past, present and future yet-to-come.’ At: Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG) Annual International Conference, London, 27 – 30 August.

‘Introducing Monsoon Assemblages.’ At: Participatory Steering of Complex Adaptive Systems Workshop, Synthesis Center, Arizona State University, 23 – 26 April.

‘Bangla Bricks: Making and unmaking monsoon grounds.’ At: Monsoon [+ other] Grounds Symposium, University of Westminster, 21 – 22 March.

Geros, C.

‘Here be Dragons: Grounds and Groundings of our Atmospheric Belonging.’    At: Monsoon [+ other] Grounds Symposium, University of Westminster, 21 – 22 March.

Bhat, H.

‘Acknowledging the Monsoon.’ At: Imagining the Eco-social postgraduate workshop with Jane Bennett and William Connolly, Cardiff University, 10 – 11 December.

Bhat, H. and Zehner, B. ‘Cyclones and the Monsoon’ At: HAT Research Center, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, 15 November.

Bhat, H. in conversation with Tamlit, A’On Grow Heathrow’ At: Politics of Air – Air Matters Symposium, Watermans Art Centre, 9 November.

‘Methodologies within the Monsoon.’ At: Millennium Conference – Extraction, expropriation, erasure? Knowledge production in International Relations, London, 19-20 October.

‘Circulating stories of the air.’ At: Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG) Annual International Conference, London, 27 – 30 August.

‘Notes on a Monsoon Air Methodology.’ At: OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, 02 August.

‘Notes on a Monsoon Air Methodology.’ At: Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, 18 July.

‘The Monsoon as a Political Air.’ At: Resilience and Hope in a World in Relation – European Workshop on International Relations, Krakow, 26 – 29 June.

‘Entanglements of the kikar and the dust storm.’ At: Urban Climates: Power, Development and Environment in South Asia Symposium, University of Cambridge, 07 – 08 June.

‘Fieldwork/Stickiness.’ At: Hyphen Symposium, P3 Ambika, University of Westminster, London, 24 March.

‘About a Monsoon Forest.’ At: Monsoon [+ other] Grounds Symposium, University of Westminster, 21 – 22 March.

Powis, A.

‘The materiality of Groundwater in the Chennai rainwater harvesting programme II.’ At: Urban Climates: Power, Development and Environment in South Asia Symposium, University of Cambridge, 07 – 08 June.

‘The Materiality of Groundwater in the Chennai rainwater harvesting programme I.’ At American Association of Geographers Conference (AAG), Washington DC, 03 – 07 April.

‘The Materiality of Groundwater: leaking, Seeping, Swelling, Cracking.’  At: Monsoon [+ other] Grounds Symposium, University of Westminster, 21 – 22 March.

Cook, J.

‘Air, Architecture + Other Climates, Investigating and Drawing with Data.’ AHO The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, 15 November.

‘Monsoon Assemblages: Chennai.’ At: Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), 14 November.

Lindsay Bremner at the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Photograph: Steven Lenahan.

7 Looking ahead

2020 will be an extremely busy year for the MONASS team. We are now committed to an installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale, which opens on 21 May 2020, and to deliver our book manuscript to the publisher at the end of July. During the second half of the year, we will conduct stakeholder workshops in Chennai, Dhaka and Yangon, which will include exhibitions and and design charettes. These may involve interdisciplinary groups of students from the University of Westminster and each of these cities. The announcement and call for papers for our final conference, which will take place at the University of Westminster in March 2021 to coincide with an exhibition in P3 will go out in January 2020. Our two PhD students plan to submit their PhD’s by mid 2020 and will then be involved in assisting with planning our final conference.

We will not hold an advisory board in 2020, but will hold a concluding advisory board meeting as part of our wrap up events in March 2021. We wish you all a good break over the holiday period and a productive and fulfilling 2020.

All photographs by Lindsay Bremner unless otherwise indicated.

MONASS Publications

MONASS is pleased to announce that the following two publications arising from the grant research have just been released on line:

Bremner, L. (2020). ‘Sedimentary logics and the Rohingya Refugee camps in Bangladesh.’ Political Geography 77. Published online here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.102109

Bremner, L. (2019). ‘Planning the 2015 Chennai Floods.’  Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. Published online here: https://doi.org/10.1177/2514848619880130

Both open access and available to download from the links provided.

Available here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.102109

Available here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.102109

Sensing, synthesising, steering – a visit to Arizona

During the Easter break I travelled to Arizona to take part in a “Lifescale Prototyping and Participatory Steering of Complex Adaptive Systems” workshop. This opportunity emerged from an earlier CECAN workshop that took place in Surrey UK, organised by Alex Penn, which aimed to take initial steps towards building an international community interested in developing innovative, complexity-appropriate aids to help people understand and steer their own complex systems. Workshop participants were an eclectic group of academics and participatory practitioners from Mexico, Japan, Germany, UK and Australia. We were hosted by Sha Xin Wei and Brandon Mechtley at Arizona State University’s Synthesis Center, who are “building an ecology of practices for imagining and making the worlds we inhabit” through Atelier-based learning.

To familiarise ourselves with each other’s perspectives, experiences and approaches we presented previous and current work. Presentations included participatory mapping of industrial ecologies in the UK and microbial mapping in Tokyo; creation of transformational spaces to steer the eco-cultural system of Xochimilco, the last urban wetland in Mexico City; participatory agent-based modelling and visioning techniques for transboundary water management in the Mekong Basin; and META City approaches to explore the form of “possible cities” in Japan through artistic experimentation and prototyping. I presented previous work in Ethiopia with participatory video and three-dimensional modelling, and current “more-than-human” ethnographic research with Monsoon Assemblages.

The programme for the week included an introduction to Synthesis techniques. Engaging with somatic and deep listening exercises, dance, play and immersive simulations helped us as a group to develop our thinking process. This resulted in deep conversations about agency, steering, systems and participation and the role of doing, making, sensing and representing. These conversations were guided by certain questions: What techniques and tools can we use to enable the intuitive steering of complex adaptive systems? How can a group of people with incommensurate epistemic cultures come together to develop a shared, intuitive understanding of complex systems by creating, playing, and steering experiential simulations and representations? How might we use these techniques as part of participatory processes with stakeholders dealing with “wicked problems” in diverse contexts?

Mid-way through the workshop we visited Biosphere 2, an experimental earth systems research facility established in the 1980s. This remarkable building was once a closed ecological system, complete with “lungs” that breathe. Although no-longer maintained as a closed system, you can still feel air flows through its underground tunnels and watch its lungs expand and contract as it responds to changing pressure. The biomes house a rainforest, ocean and coral reef, mangrove wetland, savannah grassland and fog desert. It now serves as a centre for research, outreach and teaching about the Earth and its living systems. Experiencing the building with its vibrant qualities and lively capacities, was inspiring and contributed to subsequent discussions about how we might learn to guide, nudge, garden, play and dance with the systems we are entwined within.

During my time at Synthesis, I was conscious that the workshop was taking place within another monsoon climate – that of the Arizona desert. My conversations with local residents about the Saguaro cactus, a long-lived charismatic presence within the landscape, revealed stories of changing rainfall patterns and associated ecological entanglements. Last year Phoenix experienced its wettest October in recorded history with heavy autumn rains resulting in extraordinary wildflower blooms and rotting cacti. Such stories of seasonal slippage and extreme weather events resonate with those we have been collecting in Chennai, Dhaka and Yangon, distant geographic regions united by changing monsoon weather patterns.

Perhaps inspired by the weather and climate of the region, one of the Centre’s research strands is working to create experiential models of the atmosphere. This initiative emerged from a project called iMonsoon which explored ways of connecting everyday bodily experiences of weather with understandings of climate gained through scientific models and simulations. The work has resulted in an educational exhibit, “Who Has Been the Wind?”, and a portable system that can be used as a research and educational tool for learning about atmospheric processes and experimenting with conditions for creating weather phenomena (such as convection, orographic lift, monsoons, storm fronts, and cyclones). More information can be found on the Synthesis website.

My visit ended with a trip to Dobbins Lookout, a viewpoint located within South Mountain Park which offers breathtaking views over Phoenix and the surrounding landscape. Known as one of the world’s “least sustainable cities”, Phoenix is grappling with water issues, like many of the cities Monsoon Assemblages is concerned with. Despite scarce water resources, the use of above-ground sprinkler systems, flooding of lawns and large-scale irrigation was evident around the city. This led me to ponder whether Phoenix might also welcome techniques for thinking about the monsoon as something to co-design buildings, infrastructures and territories with.

My trip was supported by Monsoon Assemblages and funded by the University of Surrey and Arizona State University.

Reflections on Design Studio 18’s final review

The final design studio associated with Monsoon Assemblages is nearing its end. On the 11th April the students of Design Studio 18 had their last review for the year, with just portfolio submissions remaining. The end of the year will bring to a close the experiment of associating an architectural design studio with a grant funded research project. In 2016/17, the studio worked in Chennai framed by a transect walk across the Pallikaranai Marsh; in 2017/18 it worked in the delta zone of Bangladesh. In 2018/19, the studio in Myanmar was framed by the idea of non-human agency. These methodologies and their outcomes will be reflected on in a more formal manner in a research paper. However, for now, it is worth recording what arose in the concluding discussions of the morning and the afternoon sessions of this year’s final review.

We had a fantastic group of reviewers, which included practicing architects, academic architects and former students of DS18: Richard Portchmouth from Birds Portchmouth Russum, Nick de Klerk from Aukett Swanke and Alex Gordon from Jestico + Whiles;  Susannah Hagan (Professor Emeritus, UoW),  Jon Goodbun (RCA), Juan Pinol (UoW), Richard Doffird (UoW) and Tumpa Fellows (UoW); and Lauran Nica, Clavin Sin and Alice Thompson, former DS18 students.

Jon Goodbun, Tumpa Fellows, Juan Pinyol

Susannah Hagan, Richard Portchmouth, Tumpa Fellows, Alice Thompson, John Cook

Ben Pollock, Alex Gordon, Calvin Sin

Omar Manshi, John Cook, Laura Nica, Nick de Klerk, Richard Difford

Comments from reviewers fell into three broad areas:

Design as research: In this review, students had been asked to begin their presentations with a ‘How can architecture …’ kind of research question to frame their projects and the reviewers’ responses to them. This was useful for a number of reasons. The articulation of a question forced students to think about the main drivers of their projects and whether they had in fact addressed them. It also provided a conceptual link between design and research, helping students to understand that design is research. The questions were useful in facilitating links between first and second semester work. These often appear to be structured, in students’ minds anyway, around ideas that semester 1 = research and semester 2 = design. This is of course false, but difficult to find methods to enable students to see the interchangeability of research and design – that research is a design process and that design is research. The research question seems to be a useful device to do this. Reviewers all felt however that the manner in which students had phrased their questions was often limited and failed to grasp the wider questions at stake in their work – questions about architecture itself, about what it means to conduct design based research at a distance, questions of scale and agency.

Scale: The second set of issues the studio raised were questions of scale. DS18 has always worked across scales usually considered to be too large (the territory) and too small (the particle) to constitute valid questions for architecture. This is one of the experiments it has been conducting since the start of the studio in 2013, and been its hallmark. Reviewers were of the view that in many cases, this was lost when students got to the architectural scale. They encouraged students to make all scales apparent in their architecture – not to forget, when designing at a building scale, about what was at stake at territorial and particulate scales, and to make these apparent.

Rachel Wakelin’s tropospheric bird sanctuary

Context: The third set of questions raised related to what it meant to make a project at a distance for sites in Myanmar, and whether the work might not take on the opportunities, paradoxes and contradictions that this raised. For instance, how were students’ experiences on the field trip inflected in their work? How were these experiences conveyed? How had their projects responded to site, to culture, to socio-political conditions?  What connections were they making between the situated-ness of the work in Myanmar and the context of a school of architecture in London?  How might historic and contemporary connections between the two sites inform the work? How might disconnects be productive and for whom?

Thomas Blain, forest border post

Aimee Daniels, Buddhist pilgrimage at the Second Defile of the Irrewaddy

Reviewers who had been at former DS18 reviews were complementary that this studio had, more than other studios in the past, succeeded in not only raising, but also addressing these three sets of issues – those of continuity between research and design, across scales and between places.

At the final Monsoon Assemblages Exhibition, which will take place at the University of Westminster in March 2021, samples of work from all three MONASS studios will be exhibited. At that time we will convene a Panel Discussion on these and other questions that the studios have raised. We look forward to continuing the conversation then!

Thank you to the reviewers for their time and insights.

Lindsay Bremner, PI Monsoon Assemblages, Tutor of DS18 (with John cook and Ben Pollock)

Omar Manshi explaining his hilsa fish project to Jon Goodbun, Juan Pinyol and Ben Pollock

#aagDC in the trees

I was very fortunate to be able to take up an invitation from Aparna Parikh and Nida Rehman to participate in a session at the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Washington DC earlier this month, on ‘Urban Climates: Power, Development and Environment in South Asia’.

I presented some emerging work on framing the Chennai rainwater harvesting programme as a political and representational project of intervention into the hydrogeology of Chennai, looking at some ways in which groundwater is conceptualised. Other great contributions came from Nipesh Palat Narayanan (on Columbo, Delhi, and being ‘world class’), Shruti Syal (on settlement infrastructure in Mumbai), and Farhana Ahmad (on water provision for two cities in Bangladesh), with helpful responses from Dr Nausheen Anwar (IBA Karachi).

The session was followed by an informal panel discussion which helped to probe some points of interest from the earlier papers, as well as set up productive questions for the upcoming workshop in Cambridge in June, which continues the USF-funded seminar series.

Whilst my abiding visual memory of the AAG will be of the carpet of academics strewn across the (numerous and vast) lobby floors of the Marriot hotel—frantically finishing scripts, engaged in concentrated huddles, or just sleeping it all off—the conference offered a huge amount of other sessions on varied aspects of urbanism, (socio-)ecology, physical geography, multispecies studies, and more. The many sessions I missed out on included Fermented landscapes, Molecular Revolutions, and The ‘work’ of nature. Those I managed to attend emerged mostly by chance, either in conversation, by recommendation, by following my nose, or by following others—rather than by any systematic trawl of the several-hundred pages of schedule.

Following her paper on street dogs in Chennai, I attended the first Multispecies Stories session to hear Krithika Srinivasan’s articulating forms of more-than-human social change in Tamil Nadu, as a counterpoint to narratives of environmental action as bourgeois, middle-class, feminized, etc. The session started with a great paper from Stephanie Rutherford, on co-option of animal stories by the alt-right, and the ’symbolic pliability’ of the wolf (‘animals have always exceeded the representations that have sought to contain them’, ‘it’s the ambivalence of the wolf that matters’), and ended with Kiethen Sutherland contrasting local (Illilowuk) knowledges of beavers with institutionalised conservation schemes.

Laura Denning (who presented at Monsoon [+other] Waters last year) was speaking in the Hydrofeminism stream, and so I attended the first session, where Alysse Kushinski spoke on  ‘leaking’ in a way which chimed with my own work, despite coming from an entirely different place (media studies!).

The afternoon session on Critical engagements with creative geographies was full of fascinating reflections on research tools and creative methods, including a haptic auto-ethnography of using GIS (Philip Nicholson), a powerful report on participatory video/audio/mapping with young people in Milwaukee (Kela Caldwell and Kallista Bley), and an important reflection on the emergent and contingent nature of collaboration (Madhumita Dutta, referring to fieldwork in Sriperumbudur).

Thanks to persistence of jet-lag, up in the dark every morning, ready to go well before the 8am sessions I had thought would be off-limits. On Friday I joined London-based colleague Tim Waterman for the first panel session of Landscape Forensics 2.0, organised by Joern Langhorst and Joni Palmer. The panel developed a conversation started at AAG 2017. Distinct from the recent use of ‘forensic’ in architecture, here questions were raised on the insufficiency of measure, necessity of speculation, and ‘the hidden, the invisible, and the unseen’. Where evidence and interpretation are sometimes conflated in service of ‘truth-telling’, there is always ‘a hard to decipher mosaic’ of conflicts and tensions between different actors, agents and processes. Exploring this mosaic is itself productive, and landscape forensics is interested in a much broader approach of making sense of landscape space and place, thinking critically about understandings of landscape and knowledge production. Landscapes are not one thing but many things, and it is the relations between things that are important. Heidi Hausermann discussed ‘ontological multiplicity and liveliness in understanding landscape’, questioning whose practices or ways of being in the world are recognised—referring to and drawing on Zuni ways of knowing landscape (as documented by the A:shiwi Map Art project).

On Saturday, a casual drop into the early Vegetal Geography panel discussion led me on to attend their full stream, including two subsequent paper sessions—all organised by Megan Betz and Jared Margulies. The sessions explored vital questions of method, subjectivity, ethics, experience, narratives… moving away from bodies of knowledge that treat nature as utilitarian, and all in relation to working with and opening up research to the more-than-human. In an amazing set of papers that included almonds (Emily Reisman), and ayahuasca (Laura Dev), Anna Lawrence spoke of ‘vegetalising concepts’ like consciousness. What is it about ourselves that allows us to think that a brain is the only vessel of cognition? Later, I enjoyed Matthew Beach’s invocation of Natasha Myers and Joe Dummit, exploring ‘haptic creativity’ through his role as geographer-in-residence at Phytology in Bethnal Green. Value is constituted in relations. None of these things are entirely non-human: they are co-constitutive conditions of possibility.

Finally, I joined the Extended Urbanization panel sessions (led by Christian Schmid) in time for Metaxia Markaki’s narrative of urban-rural intra-connection in Arcadia, Greece (also drawing on Philippe Rekacewicz’s radical cartography). In a great surprise, AbdouMaliq Simone summed up the feeling at the end of the session: ‘A strange generativity that cannot be easily subsumed within the common vernacular of urban studies. Territories are shifting beneath our feet. Demanding new methods.’

Feeling exhilarated, I had been accompanied in and around the conference by Richard Powers’ wonderful book ‘The Overstory’, and now my sense of delight continued as left the conference and crossed the Duke Ellington bridge, above Rock Creek at the level of the tree canopy. Recounting my day later to Tim, he said, ‘you’re totally blissed out, aren’t you?’. I was.