• 6 March 2018

In the most recent issue of PMC Notes Director of Studies Mark Hallett reported on the Landscape Now conference which took in November and December 2017 at the Paul Mellon Centre. You can now read this report below.

The Centre recently hosted the two-day conference Landscape Now, the third in a series of international conferences organised in collaboration with the Yale Center for British Art and the Huntington. In devising these events, the organisers have sought to choose topics that are not only capacious and significant, but that feel timely—topics that address an issue, a genre or a medium that seems to be attracting new or renewed scholarly interest of an ambitious and imaginative sort. This year’s event followed on from two exceptionally stimulating precedents: Portraiture as Interaction, the Spaces and Interfaces of the British Portrait, which was held in Pasadena in December 2016, and Photography and Britishness, which was held in New Haven in November 2016. Our own conference, which featured a raft of top-quality papers, and a brilliant keynote lecture by Tim Barringer, provoked similarly lively discussion and created a thrilling communal buzz.

Well-established and junior scholars from a variety of disciplines shared their freshly minted research on a diverse range of topics that were extraordinarily international in scope, that ranged freely across different media, and that dealt with both historic and contemporary materials and issues. We enjoyed fresh perspectives on the highly charged topic of the Anthropocene; on the landscape imagery of colonial Australia and New Zealand, and of the early American republic; on the work of artists such as Paul Nash, Jem Southam, John Constable, David Hartley, Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Benjamin Latrobe and Thomas Girtin; and on the ways in which landscape imagery has been curated and exhibited. Artists, too, offered rich papers: Val Williams and Corinne Silva discussed their recently established and ongoing photographic project, which engages with the work of the great local historian W. G. Hoskins and the photographer F. L. Attenborough; Anna Falcini skilfully wove examples of her own photographic practice into a presentation on the ways in which the Hoo Peninsula in Kent has been presented by filmmakers such as David Lean and Stanley Kubrick; and the textile artist David Alesworth explored those of his works in which he maps different kinds of architectural grids onto, and into, the surfaces of well-worn Paradise Carpets.

What was most striking about the conference, at least to my eyes, was the sense of intellectual fluidity and generosity that it generated. Landscape itself emerged as an art-historical category that is being freshly opened up, in which new paradigms are still in the process of being defined. Similarly, participants from very different disciplines—art historians, geographers, literary critics, artists, and historians—seemed especially open to each other’s ideas and approaches, as did scholars and practitioners of different generations. Landscape, on the evidence of this conference at least, is a dynamic and rapidly evolving area of study in the humanities. All of the participating institutions look forward to maintaining this intellectual momentum in the years to come.

All of the presentations made at Landscape Now were filmed and can be viewed in the “Recordings” section of the Centre’s website at: http://www.paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk/whats-on/recordings.