University of Nottingham

Living in a material world: A cross-disciplinary location-based enquiry into the performativity of emptiness (network)

Project outline

This network organised a series of experimental, location-based workshops to engage with a range of disciplines, arts and community organisations in order to provide an arena in which approaches to landscape and environment could be compared, combined and placed in critically reflective relationships. Understanding place and space as performative highlights the active, multiple, and ever-changing nature of landscapes. The series of location-based workshops focused on 'emptiness', on locations that were seen to be abandoned, degraded, excavated, disappeared, transitory or unmarked, engaging with the ways in which landscape and environment are often valued or devalued, remembered and forgotten.

Myndd Epynt, Powys, Wales, part of Sennybridge Training Area. Myndd Epynt, Powys, Wales, part of Sennybridge Training Area.


Network activities helped to refine and extend the concept of 'emptiness', exploring its efficacy as a way of understanding the active constitution of landscape and environment. Participants in network events came to see 'emptiness' as a particularly useful way of to think about and work with landscape, identifying its performative potential.

Workshops combined research methods from across disciplines, from philosophical enquiry to empirical investigation and from creative cultural interventions to traditional fieldwork. Each workshop was followed by a reflective symposium. The project has produced a range of academic papers, artefacts and visual media outputs which are available to download from the project website.

Through working with both academics and artists and within living and working communities, network activities have contributed to understandings of the myriad cultural views of landscape and environment. Productive working relationships have been created with owners/managers of the workshop sites: British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, First Great Western, Ministry of Defence, Pilning and Severn Beach Parish Council. 

Network members Mike Pearson and Heike Roms organised the 2009 Landscape and Environment programme conference 'Living Landscapes: An international conference on performance, landscape and environment' at Aberystwyth University.

Ongoing influence

Project findings continue to be disseminated widely. The formation of links with both Stanford and Minnesota Universities, has extended the reach of the network. PI Angela Piccini has already extended some of the network’s concerns, methods and findings to Vancouver, Canada, in exploring alternative archaeologies of Vancouver’s civic space in the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, a process that involved the demolition and excavation of a wide area of the city.

A member of the network became PI of a £1.1 million interdisciplinary research programme titled 'Grey and Pleasant Land? An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Connectivity of Older People in Rural Civic Society' which aims to find out what life is like in rural communities for Britain’s ageing population. This project will draw directly on understandings developed within the network to explore and evoke attitudes to the countryside as a social, cultural and environmental space.

Plans for future work at Mynydd Epynt with the Ministry of Defence are underway. Preliminary interviews with representatives from the Epynt Farming communities to explore their experiences of living and working at Epynt having already taken place. These activities have great potential to improve relationships between the Ministry of Defence and the local Sennybridge communities. There is also potential for further work with the diverse communities of Severn Beach and Avonmouth, specifically looking at historic labour and leisure networks.

Network members have extended the impact of the project through accepting invitations to join other academic networks (Art and Archaeology, and LAND2).

Location-based workshops

  1. Bristol Temple Meads Station
  2. Sennybridge training camp
  3. Avonmouth/Severn Beach
Workshop 3: Avonmouth Severn Bridge littoral


Award details

Duration: September 2006 - August 2008 (24 months)

Principal Investigator:
Dr Angela Piccini

Higher Education Institution:
School of Arts, University of Bristol

Project team:
  • Jo Carruthers, University of Bristol 
  • Professor Martin White, University of Bristol
  • Professor Mike Pearson, University of Wales Aberystwyth
  • Roger Owen, University of Wales Aberystwyth
  • Heike Roms, University of Wales Aberystwyth
  • Carol Stevens, University of West of England
  • Jim Dixon, University of West of England
  • Paul Gough, University of West of England
  • Iain Biggs, University of West of England

Selected publications

Biggs, I. (ed). (2009). Debateable Lands Volume 2: These Debateable Lands. Bristol: Wild Conversations Press.

Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

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

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071