By Eddy van Mourik
Together with the organisation of the ELASA mini meeting in Scotland I devised a one day workshop for European students in landscape architecture. The goal was to investigate the memorized landscape as a site using simple techniques to stimulate spatial memory.
Questions I was hoping to answer were:
What is the value of working in this relatively random, subjective way for a practical discipline like landscape architecture? Can it provide new insights into the site?
The theme of the ELASA mini meeting was “Back to Basics” and the workshop was to have a strong emphasis on using a variety of materials and hands on techniques that may or may not be unfamiliar in this age of computer aided design solutions. Sculptor Lara Greene provided support for the students by introducing different and unexpected materials throughout the workshop. Furthermore, the students were encouraged to take a playful approach and adopt a non critical attitude.
After a brief introduction to my practice I asked the students to have a drawing pad and a pen ready, to sit with their eyes closed and not open them throughout the exercise. I then proceeded to read a text to help them recall yesterdays walk:
Where are you? Are you in a room? Are you alone? Are you with people? What can you hear? What can you smell? Are you tired? Was it hard to get out of bed? Did you get drunk last night? Did you have fun? Which food did you like best? Did you talk a lot? What did you talk about? Were you tired from our walk? Were you hungry when we got back? When did you first feel hungry? Did you get cold? Did you go into the dark forest? What was in the dark forest? What was in the lake? Did you think the road was steep? Did you pick up a rock? Who did you talk to? Did you remember their name? Did you think the farmer should get more money? Did you pet his dog? Were you out of breath? What did you draw? How small was it? Was it really smaller than the mountain on the horizon? Was the hill steep? Did you walk on the road? Did you fall asleep when the lady told you about the forest in the sun? Did you walk on the road? Did you see a dead lamb in the field? Did you see Harry Potter? Did you see a rabbit that was chopped in half? What did you hear? Was it wind? Was it water? Was it someone singing? Did you walk on the road? Down the snaky path? Did you draw the hill or talk the hill? Did you wear a blindfold? Were you afraid? Did you walk down the snaky path? Where were you?
Keep your eyes closed and draw a line describing the route you walked.
Do you think it is beautiful here? Yesterday, did you take pictures? Which picture did you like best? Try and remember it. Draw it or write it on the paper in front of you. What did you photograph? What was to the left of that? What was to the right? Try to remember as much as possible about that place. Was it windy? Was it warm? Cold? Where did the cold come from? Try to remember
Write a word or a sentence that describes being in the place where you took the picture. Where were you before you were there? Write a word. Before that, where were you? Write a word. Continue taking steps back until you are here
After this exercise I took the students to a different room and asked them to build a large three-dimensional map that showed their experiences while walking around Aberfeldy the day prior. They were free to use whatever material present. I urged them to think big so there would be space for everyone to include their own input. The end result filled the whole room from floor to ceiling; a landscape consisting of piled up furniture, bedding used as a cover playfully recreated the typical patchwork of fields, forests and heath that makes up the landscape around Aberfeldy. This landscape was then the canvas on which everyone could place the scenes they recalled.