University of Nottingham

The future of landscape and the moving image

Project outline

A collaboration between a geographer, a cultural historian and a film-maker, this project set out to locate economic, social and political aspects of the current global predicament in the UK's landscape. It investigated ideas about belonging by exploring part of a familiar though not always sympathetically viewed landscape – the southern English 'countryside' – equipped with a 35mm ciné camera. It was prompted by what appeared to be a discrepancy between, on the one hand, the cultural and critical attention devoted to experience of mobility and displacement and, on the other, a tacit but seemingly widespread tendency to hold on to formulations of dwelling that derive from a more settled, agricultural past. While the former was extensive, it often seemed to involve regret for the loss or impossibility of the latter, and hence to reinforce, rather than rethink, some easily questionable ideas.

Poster for Robinson in Ruins, a film by Patrick Keiller. Robinson in Ruins poster


The project team discussed the temporalities and reconciliatory aspects of landscape and images of landscape, how these figure in cinema, and various alternative ways in which landscape can be conceptualised. These discussions have been developed in meetings and other conversations, and by exchanging images and texts. Key outcomes of the project include Patrick Keiller's critically acclaimed film Robinson in Ruins, Doreen Massey's accompanying essay, a PhD thesis by Matthew Flintham, and Patrick Wright's forthcoming monograph.

Patrick Keiller undertook 35mm cinematography for a feature-length film. Robinson in Ruins is an account of a journey made by a wandering, erratic scholar, through landscapes in the south of England. It begins with a series of captions: 'A few years ago, while dismantling a derelict caravan in the corner of a field, a recycling worker found a box containing 19 film cans and a notebook. Researchers have arranged some of this material as a film, narrated by their institution's co-founder, with the title Robinson in Ruins.' Its fictional narration, written after the picture had been edited, begins: 'When a man called Robinson was released from Edgcott open prison, he made his way to the nearest city, and looked for somewhere to haunt.' Robinson 'was equipped with an ancient cine camera, with which he made images of his everyday surroundings'. The film consists of these views.

The cinematography began on 22 January 2008, the day after the first of many global stock market crashes during that year, and continued until the middle of November; its period includes most of the principal events of the 2008 banking crisis and ends just after the US elections. The 'wandering' encountered several locations that demonstrate the past and continuing presence of the United States military in the UK and the hiving off of strategic public-sector assets to private sector, often US/UK-owned, consortia, until it reached what seemed an appropriate destination: a deserted village, the site of an agrarian rebellion against land enclosure in the 16th century and, nearby, a present day commercial satellite communications station, the scene of the gruesome execution of some of the 16th-century rebels. The film is narrated by Vanessa Redgrave and is the third in the 'Robinson' series directed by Patrick Keiller. Vanessa Redgrave's narration includes references to the deepening economic crisis, climate change and mass-extinction, but manages to reach an optimistic conclusion. The film had its debut in September 2010 at the Venice Film Festival, and its first UK screenings were at the London Film Festival on 19th and 21st October 2010.

Patrick Wright's monograph, provisionally entitled England's Itch, is a critique of past and present ideas of deep settlement and their engagement with landscape.

Doreen Massey's contribution is an essay to accompany the film, examining its method and form, and outlining the project's challenges to commonly-held assumptions about the current economic and ecological crises.

Matthew Flintham's doctoral research Parallel Landscapes: A spatial and critical study of militarised sites in the United Kingdom, involved fieldwork at various military sites around the country including the Ministry of Defence's Shoeburyness weapons testing and disposal complex, Salisbury Plain training ground and the naval port of Portsmouth. Links were also made with the 'Militarized Landscapes' large project. 


Ongoing influence

The film is now available for theatrical and other exhibition, distributed by the British Film Institute. The project team and 'Robinson in Ruins' toured the UK in 2011, and stopped in Nottingham in June for a workshop organised by the Impact Fellowship. The DVD was released on 20th June 2011. The project website will continue to be maintained.

Matthew Flintham completed his PhD in 2011 and is now Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University.

Patrick Keiller was chosen to fill the central space of Tate Britain during the Olympic year (2012). Tate Britain director, Penelope Curtis, said: 'Patrick Keiller's sustained interest in understanding the British landscape and how it is represented strikes a perfect chord with the Tate Collection.' The installation 'The Robinson Institute' opened on 27th March 2012.

In May 2012 a screening and discussion of 'Robinson in Ruins' took place in association with Keiller's post as Humanities Research Centre Visiting Fellow at the University of Warwick, 2011-12.

In 2012/13 Patrick Wright organised a series of 4 public research seminars on the theme of 'Ruination' and concerned with the aesthetic and environmental values of post-industrial landscapes. These were held at King's College London (where details can still be found via the KCL website.

In the wake of the Landscape and Environment project, Patrick Wright initiated an ongoing research project entitled 'Uwe Johnson in Sheerness: the Care of Damaged Places'. Launched in 2012 and funded by the Patsy Wood Trust, this has its primary focus on the Isle of Sheppey and will produce both an edited and introduced book of Uwe Johnson's Sheerness writings (translated from the German), and a conference designed to create interaction between aesthetic and ecological interests in post-industrial places such as Sheppey.

Award Details

Duration: 2007-2010 (42 months)

Principal Investigator:
Patrick Keiller

Higher Education Institution:
Department of Communication, Art and Design, Royal College of Art

Project team:
  • Professor Doreen Massey, Open University
  • Professor Patrick Wright, Nottingham Trent University
  • Matthew Flintham, Royal College of Art

Selected publications

The project team published widely between 2009 and 2014.

Flintham, M. (2014) 'The Military Spatial Complex: Interpreting the Emerging Spaces of British Militarism', in Deriu, D., Kamvasinou, K. and Shinkle, E. Emerging Landscapes: Between Production and Representation, London: Ashgate.

Keiller, P., (2014) 'D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's On Growth and Form', in Tate Etc. 30, pp.88-95.

Keiller, P., (2013) The View from the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes, London: Verso.

Flintham, M. (2012) 'The Military Pastoral Complex: Contemporary Representations of Militarism in the Landscape', Tate Papers 17.

Daniels, S., Massey, D., Keiller, P., and Wright, P. (2012). To dispel a great malady: Robinson in Ruins, the future of landscape and the moving image. Tate Papers 17. Available online.

Keiller, P., (2012) The Possibility of Life's Survival on the Planet, London: Tate Publishing.

Massey, D. (2011). Landscape/Space/Politics: An Essay. Distributed with the BFI DVD release of 'Robinson in Ruins.'

Flintham, M. (2010) 'The Shoeburyness Complex: Military Space and the Problem of the Civilian Body', in Cole, T., Coates, P. and Pearson, C. Militarized Landscapes: From Gettysburg to Salisbury Plain, London: Continuum.

Keiller, P. (2010). Imaging. In: Beaumont, M. and Dart, G. (eds). (2010). Restless Cities. (Verso).

Keiller, P. (2009). Landscape and Cinematography. Cultural Geographies. 16(3):409-414. 


Film reviews and discussions

'A requiem for neoliberal England'. Fisher, M. (2010). Sight and Sound, November 2010.

'Before Keiller's (or Robinson's) prophetic gaze, the English countryside is a monument to itself, and ripe for revolutionary appropriation'. Dillon, B. (2010). The Guardian, Saturday 20th November 2010.

'Robinson in Ruins and discussion', BFI Live, 20th November 2010.

Related links



Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071