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#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.

Monsoon [+ other] Grounds Symposium

The third MONASS symposium and exhibition, Monsoon [+other] Grounds took place at the University of Westminster on the 21 and 22 March, 2019. It following Monsoon [+other] Airs and Monsoon [+other] Waters, which had been held in 2017 and 2018. The symposium brought the monsoon down to earth so to speak, as a seasonal designer of soils and grounds. Each year monsoon waters scour river banks and fertilise flood plains as they carry vast quantities of sediment from mountains to the sea. In monsoonal regions, the pulse of life is linked to the annual cycle of its hot dry summers, inundating rains and retreating winds. Cropping patterns and management strategies respond to its variability, connecting farmers and agriculture with meteorology and atmospheric science. Human rituals celebrate these cycles –  the parched earth, the bursting rains, bountiful harvests and the monsoon’s retreat. Considerations of monsoon grounds draws attention to the microbial origins of bio-politics, territory and nationhood. Since the 1970’s, the chemistry of grounds has been altered by fertilisers and pesticides, triggering political and economic disputes and giving rise to fortunes and failures. Territory has been converted into real estate, undoing intricate relations between grounds and their waters and unravelling human relations with them, and the metallurgical alchemies of the construction industry have transformed clay, silt, sand and sediment into the building blocks of everyday life.

In response to this framing, a diverse group of scholars, students, artists and practitioners from a range of disciplines, backgrounds, practices and institutions assembled at the University for Westminster or a day and a half of deliberations.

Proceedings began with a walkabout of an exhibition of work submitted to the symposium organisers in response to the call for contributions, led by MONASS researcher/curator John Cook. Alexander Arenes offered a short explanation of  her drawing and video titled ‘Architectural Design at the time of the Anthropocene: A Gaia-graphic Approach to the Critical Zones.’ This was hung adjacent to the MONASS drawings by Christina Geros and John Cook currently also showing on the Milan Triennale, Broken Nature, which were accompanied by a model of the earth’s crust built for MONASS by Tom Benson and Thomas Blain. This planetary scaled work was matched by work engaging with monsoon [+ other] grounds at a more material and human scale – Matt Barlow’s photographs taken in field work in Cochi, Kerala;  Eric Guibert’s water colours of the garden he tends in France; Corinna Dean’s models, castings and drawings conducted during residency on the Isle of Sheppey; Tumpa Husna Yasmin Fellows drawings and animations of a participatory process to design and build a community building in Rajapur, Bangaldesh; the work of Blue Temple an architectural practice in Yangon to activate a linear water supply pipeline into a community spine; Ben Pollock and students of Design Studio 18 (Raymond Bieler, Fiona Grieve, James Purchon, Charlotte Grasselli, Aimee Daniels, Dagmara Dyner, Sara Kosanovic and Ionna Ungureanu) presented mappings and simulations of material processes at work in the Maldives and Myanmar; Hari Byles, a researcher and compostist discussed her work on alternative approaches to sanitation, represented by a composting toilet, a hanging mobile and a zine.

This exhibition provided a rich, diverse set of images  to reflect on during the symposium that followed.

Exhibition Walkabout

The symposium then opened with a panel titled [MULTI] GROUNDS chaired by Ed Wall that included two presentations, one by Lindsay Bremner ‘On Sediment as Method,’ and one by Ifor Duncan on ‘Sedimentary Witness.’ Both explored the elemental forcefulness of sediment in the construction of precarious fluvial landscapes. Bremner made use of three material concepts – weathering, saltating and alluviating to discuss sediment as method and Duncan’s discussed sediment as a material witness to the genocide of Aushwitz-Birkenau, exposed when the drought in central Europe in 2015 performed an unexpected archeology.

Lindsay Bremner

Tim Ingold followed with a keynote lecture titled ‘What on Earth is the Ground,’ drawing in live time as he spoke in an inimical way.

He structured his presentation around three analytical concepts – inscription, erosion and eruption, arguing that grounds are the consequence of atmospheric erosion, geological eruption and human inscriptions. Using the palimpsest as model, he provided a reading of the ground as an inscribed surface, in which the oldest layers lie on the top, the newest on the bottom, thereby challenging a stratigraphic reading.

“I’ll think of Tim Ingold drawing for years to come!” Jonathan Cane.

The second day of the symposium began with a panel titled [OVER] GROUND MATTERS, chaired by Godofredo Pereira. It included Alexander Arenes’ presentation on ‘Mapping the Critical Zone,’ Christina Geros’ on ‘Here be dragons’ and Avi Varma’s on ‘Unjust Intonations.’ Arenes and Geros tackled questions of the use of cartographic and other graphic conventions to re-conceptualise and re-map the earth at the scale of the globe. Arenes discussed her approach to mapping the critical zone, an idea she developed with Bruno Latour and Jerome Gaillardet (2018) by turning the earth inside out, while Geros unpacked her representation of the monsoon as a global system of dynamic atmospheric pressure zones. Avi Varma dealt with very different questions – the epistemicide wrought on Raga Mian Ki Malhar, the north Indian classical music system when the harmonium was introduced by British colonisers, and its relation to ecocide. The panel concluded with questions by Pereira about the politics of the cartographic representations in the light of Varma’s eco-political and epistemological critique.

Godofredo Pereira introducing Christina Geros

This was followed by a panel titled [INTER] GROUND MATTERS chaired by Kirsten Hastrup that brought together presentations by Owain Jones on ‘Monsoons and Tides,’ and Jonathan Cane on ‘Permeability, Ocean, Concrete.’ Jones made a number of observations on the relationships between the temporalities of monsoons and tides and their and convergences, while Cane introduced the audience to the ‘dolos,’ a concrete coastal protection unit invented by South African engineers in the 1960’s, and undertook a multi-species, queer analysis of its history and permeability.

Kirsten Hastrup, Owain Jones, Jonathan Cane

The symposium then adjourned for lunch. It was served as a feast of soils – long tables laden with lentils, vegetables, and dishes of humous accompanied by bread and potato wedges, which conference attendees dug into with trowels. The idea was one MONASS borrowed from the Multispecies Storytelling in Intermedial Practices Conference at Linnaeus University in January 2019, which Beth Cullen and Harshavardhan Bhat had attended. Thank you for the idea!

Convivial Soils enjoyed by Aisha Forde, Jonathan Cane, Ifor Duncan, Alexandra Arenes and David Chandler

After lunch, the symposium reconvened for a panel chaired by Tim Waterman titled [UNDER] GROUND MATTERS, when Anthony Powis spoke on ‘The Materiality of Ground Water: leaking, Seeping, Swelling, Cracking,’ and Matt Barlow on ‘Floating (under) Ground.’ These two presentations delved into two of the most politically charged ecologies in India today, ground water and waste. Powis’ paper was a reflection on the transcorporeality of ground water based on an incident of ground water eruption in the construction of the Chennai Metro, while Barlow spoke on cultures of waste, based on his field work in Cochi, Kerala.

Tim Waterman, Anthony Powis, Matt Barlow

This was followed by a panel titled [IN] GROUND MATTERS, chaired by Jose Alfredo Ramirez, which featured Eric Guibert’s ‘A Letter from the Soils I have worked with’ and Harshavardhan Bhat’s paper, ‘About a Monsoon Forest.’ Guibert’s epistolary form built empathy and respect for soils and challenged the human-centric idea of eco-system services. Bhat’s paper, based on his field work on the Aravalli Ridge in Delhi, re-thought the relationship between air and ground as one of violence – the violence performed by air in forcing moisture out of ground, by way of the invasive species, Prosopis Juliflora.

Eric Guibert, Harshavardhan Bhat

The final panel of the day, [WITH] GROUND MATTERS was chaired by Lindsay Bremner and featured a paper and video by Beth Cullen on ‘Brick: Cycles of Making and Unmaking Monsoon Grounds’ and Labib Hossain on ‘A critical reading of the Dry and Permanent Ground through the Practice of Muslin Weaving in Bengal.’ Both thought the rhythms of monsoon grounds through situated practices in Bangladesh, one of brick making and the other of textile weaving. This provided a fitting end to a day that had begin with the planetary, ending it with depictions of sensory engagement between grounds, plants and human bodies.

Beth Cullen

Labib Hossain

David Chandler provided concluding remarks. He questioned the absence of an [ON] GROUNDS panel at the sympsoium. For him this had resulted in the exclusion of the human and the silencing of politics. He made an appeal for figures and collective political systems to be brought back into the discussion.

The full symposium programme, including abstracts is available here: 190322 – Monsoon Grounds Programme

Videos of all presentations are posted on the Monsoon Assemblages YouTube channel.

Many thanks to Beth Cullen, Christina Geros, John Cook and Aisha Forde for taking responsibility for organizing Monsoon [+ other] Grounds. MONASS will be producing an edited publication of the symposium proceedings by the end of 2019.

Monsoon [+ other] Waters book published

We are pleased to announce that Monsoon [+ other] Waters, the publication resulting from our symposium by the same name held in 2018 is now available. It can be downloaded as a low res PDF, and will be available for purchase as a hard copy from online stores shortly.


Download  Monsoon [+ other] Waters and Monsoon [+ other] Airs, the publication from our first symposium, from our outputs page here.

Monsoon [+ other] Grounds Symposium Programme

We are pleased to announce the programme for Monsoon [+ other] Grounds, the third and final symposium that Monsoon Assemblages will convene before its final conference in 2021. Monsoon [+ other] Grounds will take place in M416, University of Westminster Marylebone Campus, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS on 21 and 22 March 2019.

The programme is as follows:

Thursday 21 March

15.30     Registration / tea
15.45     Welcome by Simon Joss, University of Glasgow
16.00 – 17.00 Exhibition walk-about led by John Cook
Exhibitors: Alexandra Arenes , Matt Barlow , Blue Temple, Hari Byles, Corinna Dean (presented by Duarte Santo), DS18 students, Tumpa Fellows, MONASS, Ben Pollock

17.00 – 18.00 [multi]grounds
Chair: Ed Wall, University of Greenwich
Lindsay Bremner, MONASS: On sediment as method
Ifor Duncan, Goldsmiths College: Sedimentary Witness
18.30 – 20.00  Keynote Lecture               
Chair: Lindsay Bremner
Tim Ingold, University of Aberdeen, introduced by Beth Cullen

Friday 22 March
09.45     Registration / coffee
10.00     Welcome + introduction by Lindsay Bremner

10.15 – 11.30 [over]ground matters
Chair: Godofredo Pereira, Royal College of Art
Alexandra Arenes, University of Manchester: Mapping the Critical Zones
Christina Geros, MONASS: Here be Dragons
Avi Varma, Goldsmiths College: Unjust Intonations

11.30 – 11.45 Tea

11.45 – 13.00 [inter]ground matters
Chair: Kirsten Hastrup, University of Copenhagen
Owain Jones, Bath Spa University: Monsoon + Tide
Jonathan Cane, University of the Witwatersrand: Permeability, Ocean, Concrete
13.00 – 14.00 Lunch
Convivial grounds

14.00 – 15.00 [under]ground matters
Chair: Tim Waterman, The Bartlett UCL
Anthony Powis, MONASS: Materiality of Groundwater: Leaking, Seeping, Swelling, Cracking
Matt Barlow, University of Adelaide: Floating (under) ground

15:00 – 16:00 [in]ground matters
Chair: Alfredo Ramirez Galindo, AA
Eric Guibert, University of Westminster: Architectural Soils
Harshavardhan Bhat, MONASS: About a Monsoon Forest

16.00 – 16.15 Tea

16.15 – 17.30 [with]ground matters:
Chair: Radha D’Souza, University of Westminster
Naiza Khan, Goldsmiths College: Sticky Rice and Other Stories
Beth Cullen, MONASS: Brick
Labib Hossain, Cornell University: Wetness and the City: A Critical Reading of the Dry and Permanent Ground Through the Practice of Muslin Weaving in Bengal
17.30 – 17.45 Closing Remarks by David Chandler, University of Westminster
17.45 -19.00 Drinks

The event is free, but please register on Eventbright here.

Celebrating Geoffrey Bawa

Monsoon Assemblages has teamed up with the Friends of Sri Lanka to celebrate the work of Geoffrey Bawa. The event will take place on  Wednesday 13th March 2019, 6pm – 9pm (Talk Starts at 6.30pm), University of Westminster, School of Architecture & Cities, Room 416, 4th Floor, Marylebone Campus, London NW1 5LS (near Baker Street Station).Booking is via eventbrite at 

Geoffrey Bawa, Steel Corporation Offices and Housing, 1966–1969.Bawa (1919 – 2003) is regarded as one of the most influential Asian architects of his generation and a pioneer of a style that has become known as “Tropical Modernism.” At the event, architect Wendy de Silva and writer David Robson will look back on the life and work of Sri Lankan master architect Geoffrey Bawa.  Both Wendy and David knew Geoffrey Bawa personally and will remember him with professional pride, personal anecdotes and joy.  The evening will also incorporate the launch of David’s latest book: Bawa Staircases.

2019 marks the centenary of the birth of Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa.  Bawa was born in Colombo in 1919 to parents of mixed Sri Lankan and European descent.  He studied English at Cambridge and Law in London during the Second World War and then worked briefly as a lawyer in Colombo. In 1948, he bought an abandoned rubber estate near Bentota and set out to transform it into a Sri Lankan evocation of a classical European garden.  It was this project that inspired him to become an architect.  Returning to London, he qualified as an architect at the Architectural Association and, in 1957, became a partner in the Colombo practice of Edwards, Reid & Begg.  He then embarked on a forty-year career in architecture, during which he created such masterpieces as the Bentota Beach Hotel, the Sri Lankan Parliament at Kotte, the Ruhunu University Campus and the Kandalama Hotel near Dambulla.  Bawa’s career ended in 1998 when he was felled by a stroke and he eventually died in 2003.  In 2001, he received the Aga Khan’s Award for a Lifetime’s Achievement in Architecture.

David Robson is a Professor of Architecture and must be the world’s leader in Bawa studies.  From 2002, with the publication of his Geoffrey Bawa: the complete works to 2018 and the publication of Bawa Staircases, David has written four major books on Bawa, with more on his associates.   He is the holder of the Geoffrey Bawa Trust Award for Lifetime Achievement and he has much to tell us.  Copies of Bawa Staircases and other David Robson books will be available to purchase on the night.

Wendy de Silva is an award-winning architect who practices in London at the IBI Group.  During the early 1980s, Wendy worked with Bawa on the design of the Ruhunu University Campus.  Wendy is also one half of the Chance de Silva practice in London, a practice set up to explore the possibilities of architecture in interaction with other participants: artists, designers, musicians (and who can forget Laki Senanayake’s divine copper balustrade winding its way round the central staircase of Bawa’s Lighthouse Hotel at Galle; the elegant inhabitants of Sri Lanka grappling with occidental invaders, a figure playing a pipe at the very top – oriental calm in the face of violence – nor, amongst many such instances, the same artist’s delicious trees drawn through several storeys of the Triton Hotel at Ahungalla).

Lindsay Bremner & Chamali Fernando

Monsoon Assemblages & The Friends of Sri Lanka Association


Beth Cullen presents paper at Multispecies Storytelling in Intermedial Practices Conference

MONASS Research Fellow, Beth Cullen presented a paper titled ‘The fish, the delta and the monsoon: storying Hilsa ecologies’ at the Multispecies Storytelling in Intermedial Practices Conference that took place 23 – 25 January 2019, Linnæus University, Sweden, in collaboration with the Laboratory of Aesthetics and Ecology, Copenhagen/Berlin.

Here is the abstract of her paper:

What can a fish tell us of changing monsoons and expanding cities? What can a fish tell us of rivers and oceans, of tides and the moon? What can a fish tell us of salt water and sweet water, of currents and flow, of sediment and pollution? This paper tells the story of the Hilsa, a light phobic, deep water fish which migrates annually from the Bay of Bengal to the Bengal Delta and whose life cycle is intertwined with the rhythms of the monsoon. This culturally iconic, transboundary fish supports numerous other species and provides food and livelihoods for millions of people. In recent times Hilsa behaviour has changed and numbers have declined, with devastating consequences for those who rely on it. The story of this fish illustrates the impacts of rapid urbanisation, industrialisation and large-scale infrastructural interventions on complex monsoon ecologies and landscapes. In seeking to understand the significance of the Hilsa to a fisher, cook, scientist and river activist, vast spatial relationships, multisensory knowledges and complex interconnections are brought to light. Ethnographic storytelling is used to reveal a spatio-temporal meshwork of relations between human and more-than-human beings.

Hilsa fish, Chandpur. Photograph by Beth Cullen.



Call for abstracts, Monsoon [+ other] Grounds Symposium, 21-22 March 2019

Abstracts for papers and creative, practice based contributions are invited for Monsoon [+ Other] Grounds, the third symposium to be convened by Monsoon Assemblages, following Monsoon [+ Other] Airs in 2017 and Monsoon [+ Other] Waters in 2018.

Deadline: 14 January 2019; Notification: 31 January 2019; Symposium Dates: 21-22 March 2019; Venue: University of Westminster, London, UK


The monsoon is a seasonal designer of the earth, its grounds, its terrestrial ecosystems and its politics. Each year it scours river banks and fertilises valleys as it carries vast quantities of sediment from the mountains to the sea. In monsoonal regions, the pulse of life is linked to the annual cycle of its hot dry summers, bursting rains and retreating winds. Cropping patterns and management strategies respond to its variability, connecting farmers and agriculture with meteorology and atmospheric science. Human rituals celebrate these cycles –  the parched earth, the bursting rains, bountiful harvests and the monsoon’s retreat. Monsoon grounds draw attention to the microbial origins of biopolitics, territory and nationhood. Since the 1970’s, its chemistries have been altered by fertilisers and pesticides, triggering political and economic disputes and giving rise to fortunes and failures. Territory has been converted into real estate, undoing intricate relations between grounds and their waters and unravelling human relations with them, while the metallurgical alchemies of the construction industry have transformed clay, silt, sand and sediment into the building blocks of everyday life. We are interested in contributions that investigate the following themes that arise from these consideration of monsoon grounds:

Geologic Grounds: The monsoon is closely tied up with geology. It was formed from the movement of tectonic plates; its patterns are closely tied to orography and the heating of the terrestrial globe and it drives tectonic cycles through the vast amount of sediment it washes from the mountains to the oceans each year. We are interested in contributions that explore these geological processes and their intersections with social and political life.

Monsoon Soils: As part of this theme, we are interested in contributions that explore monsoonal ecosystems, connections between the monsoon, soils, plants, animals and insects, forests, agriculture and husbandry and how these are changing as the climate heats up and monsoonal patterns change.

On the Grounds of the Monsoon: On the grounds of the monsoon, empires have been built, wars waged, bets wagered and economies thrived or collapse. We are interested in contributions that explore the intricate connections between the monsoon, empire, economy and politics.

Monsoon Grounds as Culture: We are interested in contributions that explore what it means to means to live life on monsoon grounds and the cultural practices associated with its variability, fertility, cycles, bounties and threats.

Constructing Monsoon Grounds: We are interested in contributions that explore how practices of planning, design and construction and the socio-economic systems that shape them intersect with the monsoon’s agency in shaping topography and matter into grounds for habitation.

Contributions are invited in response to these provocations. Monsoon [+ other] Grounds will comprise inter-disciplinary panels, key-note addresses and an exhibition and aims to bring together established and young scholars and practitioners from a range of disciplines, literatures, knowledge systems and practices (theoretical, empirical, political, aesthetic, everyday) to engage in conversations about the ontologies, epistemologies, histories, politics and practices of monsoonal and other grounds. Proposals should take the form of 150 – 250 word abstracts for either papers or creative, practice based contributions such as drawings, photographs, videos, performances, musical compositions etc. Enquiries or abstracts should be sent to Lindsay Bremner at by 14 January 2018.  Abstracts will be reviewed by the Monsoon Assemblages team and authors will be notified by 31 January 2018 whether their contributions have been accepted or not. There is no registration fee for the symposium, but participants are required to secure their own funding to attend it. Participants will be requested to submit their contributions for publication in the symposium proceedings.

Confirmed key note speakers at the symposium are:

Albena Yaneva is Professor of Architectural Theory at the University of Manchester. After earning a PhD in Sociology and Anthropology from Ecole Nationale Supérieure des mines de Paris (2001) with Professor Bruno Latour, she worked at Harvard University, the Max-Planck Institite for the History of Science in Berlin and the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna. Her research is intrinsically trans-disciplinary and spans the boundaries of science studies, cognitive anthropology, architectural theory and political philosophy. She is the author of a number of books, including most recently, Five Ways to Make Architecture Political. An Introduction to the Politics of Design Practice (Bloomsbury, 2017).

Timothy Ingold is Professor and Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. He received his BA in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge in 1970, and his PhD in 1976, which involved ethnographic research amongst the Skolt Saami of northeast Finland. This led to a more general concern with human-animal relations. At the same time, Ingold began exploring connections between language and technology, leading to his current view on the centrality of skilled practice. Most recently, has has been working on connections between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture, conceived as ways of exploring the relations between human beings and the environments they inhabit, bringing them together on the level of practice. Ingold is author of numerous books, anthologies and essays, including, most recently, The Life of Lines (Routledge, 2015) and Anthropology: Why it Matters (Polity Press, 2018).

Monsoon Assemblages is a research project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement No. 679873).


MONASS News , October 2018

Over the summer, there has quite a lot going on for the MONASS research team. This short blog will summarise some of these activities.

Field Work

During June and July this year, Beth Cullen and Christina Geros undertook field work in Bangladesh, assisted by Research institute Bangladesh and the Bengal Institute of Architecture, Landscapes and Settlements. As well as visiting a number of sites in Dhaka, they spent time in Savar and Louhajong with the Bede community, in Sylhet attending a wedding, and in Khulna and Mongla visiting prawn and shrimp farms. They held meetings, with ICCCAD, the Bangladesh Meteorological Office, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, the Grambangla Unnayan Committee, World Fish Dhaka, Winrock International, the Institute of Water and Flood Management, the Bangladesh Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge, met with scholars at the University of Dhaka Faculty of Fine Arts, and many others. Through this work, they came away with a rich set of impressions and understandings of Bangladesh’s relationship with the changing monsoon from many perspectives. At the end of her stay in Dhaka, Christina flew to Ladakh in the Himalayas to see and experience the monsoon from where it turns.

Construction on wetlands, Madani Avenue, Dhaka. Photo: Beth Cullen

Bede snake charmer, Porabari, Bangladesh. Photo: Beth Cullen.

PhD researchers Harshavardhan Bhat and Anthony Powis also carried out field work over the summer. Harsh’s field work was in Delhi, focused on the Delhi Ridge and Ladakh and Anthony’s was in Chennai, where he focused on ground water. Both have submitted their second annual progress reports and will sit upgrade viva’s this autumn.

The Delhi Ridge from Tughlaqabad Fort. Photo: Harshavardhan Bhat


Beth Cullen and Christina Geros’s paper ‘Between the Dragonfly and the Barometer: Knowing Weather, Constructing Climate’ has been accepted for a special issue of the British Journal for the History of Science. Lindsay Bremner completed two papers over the summer: ‘Planning the 2015 Chennai Floods,’ and ‘Sediments of the Rohingya in Bangladesh,’ which are under review by Environment and Planning E: Space and Nature and Political Geography. She is currently editing the submissions for Monsoon [+ other] Waters, which will be published in January 2019.

Conferences and Symposia

Beth Cullen and Christina Geros presented ‘Between the Dragonfly and the Barometer: Knowing Weather, Constructing Climate,’ at the Asian Extremes Conference: Climate, Meteorology and Disaster in History, University of Singapore, 17-18 May; Anthony Powis presented ‘The materiality of groundwater in the construction of the Chennai Metro’ at Going Underground: Design, Reputation, and Disorder in the Subterranean Infrastructure of the Global City, Birkbeck, University of London, 18 May; Harshavardhan Bhat presented ‘Monsoonal Methodologies’ at Politics of the Machines, Aalborg University, Copenhagen, 15-17 May, ‘Over skies of extraction’ at London Critical, University of Westminster, 29-30 June, ​took part in the Earth and Water streams at the Anthropocene Campus in Melbourne, Australia, 3-6 September and presented ‘IN an air of material complicity’ at the 12th Pan-European Conference on International Relations in Prague (13-15 September). Lindsay Bremner presented ‘Planning the 2015 Chennai Floods,’ at the Royal Geography Society Conference in Cardiff, 28-31 August. In January 2019, Beth Cullen will present ‘The fish, the delta and the monsoon: storying hilsa ecologies,’ and Harshavardhan Bhat will present ‘Prosopis Air’ at the Multispecies Storytelling in Intermedial Practices conference at Linneaus University in Sweden and Lindsay Bremner has been invited to present ‘Sediments of the Rohingya’ at Testimony as Environment: Violence, Aesthetics, Agency, a symposium at the London School of Economics in January 2019.

Kanniyakumari Project

During field work in Chennai in 2017, Lindsay Bremner and Christina Geros interviewed retired IAS officer M G Devasahayam in Nagercoil, Kanniyakumari. As result of this, MONASS has been to work on a monsoon-tuned, ecologically driven master plan for the Kanniyakumari District. As a first step in this direction, we plan to undertake a series of participatory 3D modelling workshops in Kanniyakumari next year, bringing in two members of the Expanded Territories Research Group at the University of Westminster, Corinna Dean and Duarte Santo to assist us. This initiative will be led by Beth Cullen. We are currently working on a Wellcome Trust funding application to support this work as it lies outside the scope of the ERC Grant.

Kanniyakumari, where three oceans meet. Photo: Lindsay Bremner

Milan Triennale 2019

MONASS has been invited to contribute to the Milan Triennale, Broken Nature, 01 March – 01 September 2019. Christina Geros developed a concept for this, titled ‘Emergent and Erratic: Monsoonal Transmogrification of Land, Sea and Air,’ which will comprise a series of new cartographic and video works on Leh and Kanniyakumari. Work on this is currently in progress.

Monsoon clouds, Leh. Photo: Christina Geros

New Staff

We have been joined this year by John Cook, an architect and former student of DS18 to work on cartographic and design work for MONASS in 2018/19. Former and current DS18 students, Tom Benson and Thomas Blain also did short stints with us over the summer. Our administrator, Zahra Saleh, left us at the end of July for another position at the University and we have been joined by Aisha Forde.

Digital render, monsoon sky. Drawing: Tom Benson


The exhibition of DS18 work in Bangladesh during 2017/18 took place as part of the University of Westminster’s OPEN show in June and July 2018. 20 students are now registered for the Final Monsoon Assemblages studio. This is set in Myanmar and titled ‘Cosmopolitical Design in a Monsoonal River Basin.’ Students will map, simulate and design with the Ayeyarwaddy River from a non-human perspective after a field trip to Myanmar in November.

DS18 Exhibition, Bangladesh, University of Westminster, June 2018. Photo: Lindsay Bremner

Further Funding

Lindsay Bremner put in an application to the Urban Studies Foundation for funding to conduct multi-stakeholder mapping workshops in Chennai and Dhaka as part of our feedback in the cities we are working in, in 2020. She is currently preparing an ERC Proof of Concept Grant to expand this to exhibitions in Chennai, Dhaka and Yangon.

Next Advisory Board Meeting and Monsoon [+ other] Grounds Symposium

The next and last formal MONASS Advisory Board meeting will take place at the University of Westminster on 21 March 2019, followed by Monsoon [+ other] Grounds on 22 March. Keynote speakers at the symposium will be Tim Ingold (anthropologist) and Albena Yavena (architectural theorist).

Road Construction, Sreenagar, Bangladesh. Photo: Beth Cullen.


We are now half way through the MONASS grant period (2016-2021), with the midway scientific report due to the European Research Council in November. There is currently no clarity on the future of EU funding for UK based research post Brexit. We are hoping we will be able to see MONASS to conclusion, but, in the case of a no deal scenario, all EU research funding for UK based research will end next March. This is the notification about this on the ERC web site:

Please note that until the UK leaves the EU, EU law continues to apply to and within the UK, when it comes to rights and obligations; this includes the eligibility of UK legal entities to fully participate and receive funding in Horizon 2020 actions. Please be aware however that the eligibility criteria must be complied with for the entire duration of the grant. If the United Kingdom withdraws from the EU during the grant period without concluding an agreement with the EU ensuring in particular that British applicants continue to be eligible, you will cease to be eligible to receive EU funding (while continuing, where possible to participate) or be required to leave the project on the basis of Article 50 of the grant agreement. (





Design Agency within Earth Systems

Monsoon Assemblages has co-organised ‘Design Agency within Earth Systems,’ a symposium to take place at the AA, 36 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3ES on 26 October, 09.30 – 18.00.

This comprises a number of conversations and projects that look through planetary lenses to reflect on the complicity of design in the destruction of the planet, to question two dimensional, land based political technologies, to explore the material dimensions of air, ground and ocean as entanglements of socio-political and earth systems and to re-imagine these  differently through design.

The event is free and open to the public.

The Earth’s Crust

Image: Lindsay Bremner

In front of a laser cut topographic model of Bangladesh on the DS18 exhibition that opened last week at the University of Westminster is a rather strange object. It is made up of two profiled CNC foam layers, approximately 150 mm thick, one painted pink and one blue, suspended one over the other on thin fishing wire with a gap ranging from approximately 150 – 500 mm between them. The top one is triangulated, more or less flat, but with a linear ridge along one edge, the underneath one dips markedly towards the same side.

Image: Lindsay Bremner

The layers are held in place by four small bottles filled with metal filings suspended at the bottom of the fishing wire just above the floor. On the floor a circular mirror reflects the undersides of their surfaces. A sign, also on the floor, informs us that this is a model of two layers of the earth’s crust under the Bay of Bengal. A drawing on a nearby table gives more details, clarifying that these are two layers of the eight of the earth’s crust that make up the Indian Tectonic Plate.

Drawing: Thomas Blain

This is a highly evocative object assemblage. It is neither accurate nor true, correlating in no way with what it claims to represent, yet giving a partial glimpse into what the inside of the earth’s crust might look like should we be able to see into it. As an object, it is rhetorical, inviting contemplation on the instability and fluidity of the stratified layers of the earth as we know it and reminding us of the precariousness of existence on it. This makes it a far more appropriate image of the earth at the time of the anthropocene than the unified view of the planet from outer space portrayed by NASA’s Blue Marble images.

Blue Marble Eastern Hemisphere
August 21, 2014. Source:


The model was made from CRUST 1.0 ( data, developed by earth scientists Gabi Laske, Zhitu Ma, Guy Masters and Michael Pasyanos, which assigns an eight-layer crustal profile (water, ice, upper sediments, middle sediments, lower sediments, upper crust, middle crust, lower crust) to each 1o x 1o cell of the earth’s surface.

To make the model, the data was downloaded from the website, which is already a reinterpretation of the original Crust 1.0 data applied onto the world globe via google earth. The data was exported as a kmz file into excel. They needed cleaning up as the only data we were interested in was the depth of the crust layers. We put together a formula to discard all the other data associated with each point (e.g. p wave velocity, density of material etc.), and were then able, through the use of grasshopper, to model each layer as a 3d surface and juxtaposed one on top of the other. We scaled longitude and latitude 1:1 and depth 100:1, following NASA conventions.

To create the hanging 3D model, data encompassing the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates (between 40W and 150E longitude and 10S and 90N latitude) was isolated from other data in the excel spread sheet. A polyline representing the boundary of the Indian tectonic plate was created and extruded to cut through all the layers of the earth modelled. This boundary was slightly edited to incorporate the Himalayas, as it is one of the drivers of the monsoon and therefore central to the studio’s study. Some adjustment to fit the size of the modelling material (blue foam sheets of dimensions 1.2m x 1.2m x 50mm) was then required. The model was scaled up by a ratio of 24:1, and then down in the z-axis by 50% to avoid having a model of 2.4 m high. The two layers selected to be modelled (upper sediments and middle crust) were then split by surfaces at 50mm offset in the z-axis to conform to the maximum depth of blue foam that ‘Norman,’ the CNC machine in our fabrication laboratory is able to cut. All these manipulations were done in Rhino. After splitting each layer into 50mm deep sections, the pieces were arranged on a 1.2m x 1.2m template for cutting and Rhinocam was used to create the CNC machining paths. Each sheet had to be cut top and bottom to create the surface topologies. Once cut, the 50mm layers were glued, polyfilled, sanded and painted to create the finished layers, which were then hung on fishing line in the exhibition space.

Data sourcing, downloading and cleaning: Thomas Blain

Model preparation: Thomas Blain and Anett Bako

Model by Thomas Blain, Anett Bako and Lidia Gherghe in the Fabrication Lab London at the University of Westminster

The model is part of DS18’s contribution to the University of Westminster’s OPEN exhibition, on until 09 July  2018, 10.00 – 21.00 at 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS. For other images of the exhibition go here. The model is one of a series of prototypes that will be built over the coming months by the MONASS team to understand and visualise the Bay of Bengal as a geo-atmospheric region.