Re-imagining Rural Mythologies

Between the 15th and 19th June, I attended the Nordic Geographers conference in Estonia, along with two students from the UCLan Fine Art Masters Site & Archive Interventions pathwayTracy Hill and Abi Townsend, as well as my colleagues Joanne Lee and Rosemary Shirley from Sheffield Hallam and Manchester Metropolitan University respectively. Over the course of the week, we recorded our thoughts and observations about the conference (as well as about food, drink and the weather – particularly as I was shocked to discover that Tallinn was wetter than Wigan whilst we were away!), and I will be adding some of these to this blog over the next month.

The theme of the conference was ‘Geographical Imagination: Interpretations of Nature, Art and Politics’, and on the final day, I co-chaired a day-long session entitled ‘Re-imagining Rural Mythologies’, which explored how rural environments are perceived and represented within different cultures. The session was convened with Rosemary Shirley, Joanne Lee and Rebecca Chesney as a development of conversations, which began with this Practising Place event in 2013, and subsequently informed this short essay by Rosemary, and the ‘Re-thinking the Rural’ seminar which we ran in April 2015. The conference also preceded our contribution to the current show at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston, ‘A Green and Pleasant Land? Rural Life in Art‘, which is open until the end of September and includes new artworks by Rebecca Chesney and Joanne Lee, as well as Abi Townsend’s video installation, ‘Ruskin’s View’.

The conversations and ideas initiated at the conference will help to inform plans that Professor Charles Quick and I are currently developing for the next few years of In Certain Places. For the last decade we have been working with artists to interrogate and intervene within the physical and social fabric of Preston City Centre, and have brought people together from different disciplines and professions to creatively explore urban issues (you can read about the last 10 years of the project in the illustrated book ‘Subplots to a City‘, which was launched in February 2015, and view videos of our talks here). However, while we feel that there is still much work to be done within the asphalt heart of the city (not least in terms of examining the relationship between the University of Central Lancashire’s campus and the wider civic environment – something which we will explore with the People’s Canopy project next month), we also feel that it’s time to expand our horizons and intrepidly head out to Preston’s rural fringes (which, given its diminutive size and market town heritage are remarkably close to the centre).

As I’m currently reading notes which I made during the plane journey back from Tallinn, it seems fitting to sign off with an aerial view. I’ll post again over the next few weeks with some rural reflections from the conference, and upload some of the contributor’s papers. In the meantime, however, I’m going to revisit Andrzej Zieleniec‘s contribution to our panel, ‘Tartan, shortbread, whiskey and the stag: continuing myths of the Scottish Highlands’ with something peaty and strong that evokes the Scottish Highlands.

Elaine Speight

Photo by Tonis Lepp