Experiences of Travel and Northern Rural Landscapes in Contemporary Art

  • John Barlow

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This practice based study investigates engagement with interconnecting themes of travel and rural landscape in contemporary art practice. It argues that cross-disciplinary reading and interaction between a grouping of select art practice and history of art scholarship and a grouping of select cultural geography, tourism, sociology and social anthropology scholarship, generates a richer understanding and communication of these themes in contemporary art. A review of existing scholarship reveals that there are a number of existing contemporary works of art which demonstrate engagement with interconnecting themes of travel and / or northern rural landscape. Despite this, they are yet to be presented as an identifiable, coherent, body of work of significance to the research community. Existing art historical interpretation and analysis of this work additionally fails to reference recent, relevant discourses of embodied experiences of travel and landscape which characterise much of the associated scholarship in cultural geography, tourism, sociology, and social anthropology. A combination of history of art and art practice methodology is utilised in this study to address this gap in scholarship. In the thesis, I identify and set out relevant existing scholarship in the disciplines of art practice and history of art, and those of cultural geography, tourism, sociology and social anthropology. Select examples of contemporary art are analysed and evaluated in relation to ‘wayfaring’, a theory sequentially formulated by social anthropologist Tim Ingold. Two key concepts articulated by Ingold, those of 'linear journeying' and ‘within-ness’, form the conceptual framework for this exercise. Drawing on the findings of this engagement with works by other artists, I propose an original method of ‘bridging’ as a hybrid art practice / history of art strategy for further addressing the gap in scholarship and delivering a further original contribution to knowledge. The artists’ book is identified as an effective, appropriate contemporary art medium for undertaking this bridging. I review examples of contemporary artists' book practice and explore this medium’s potential for communicating embodied experiences of linear journeying and within-ness in the context of a travel and rural landscape subject. I produced an original artists' book, 'Travelling the Line'. This work details my experiences as a hiker and artist of travelling to two particular northern rural landscapes for this study, the Scottish Highlands and Finnish Lapland. Part travel guide, part art object, 'Travelling the Line' takes the form of a hardback print book and a stand-alone, online digital platform, the latter of which includes additional video and sound content. It successfully communicates my own personal, linear, embodied act of travelling; and demonstrates the value of bringing together two bodies of scholarship, Ingold's theories and contemporary art practice. Included with this thesis is a print version of 'Travelling the Line' and an online version, accessible at https:// travellingtheline.wordpress.com.
Date of AwardJun 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorSue Gollifer (Supervisor) & Catherine Palmer (Supervisor)

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