I recently gave a presentation at the RGS-IBG annual conference where I creatively presented a series of 35mm slides from my dad’s 1972 mountaineering expedition to Cape Farewell, Greenland. I gave the presentation in a session entitled “Me, my self and the archive: reflections on encounters and enchantments”.
Entitled “Remotely Sensing Cape Farewell” in the work I explored how my dad’s explorer impulses (he also went to Everest and all over the Alps) shaped my ‘geographical Imagination’ (the overall theme of the conference).
My presentation was framed by the question: How do you attempt to value and disclose the legacy of life lived?
This question has both personal and academic significance for me, as in one sense it is an attempt to deal with the loss of my father and in another it is a strategy employed to open up space for consideration of non-representational responses to the use of archives.
Nigel Thrift posits that such a question ‘requires a consideration of the politics of what Phelan (1993) calls the ‘unmarked’, that, is, an attempt to find, value, and retain what is not marked as ‘here’, yet palpably still reverberates; invisible dust still singing, still dancing’. (Thrift 2000a: 214)
Derek McCormack argues a modified understanding of remote sensing can be employed as a means to sense and make sensible the persistence and circulation of these traces. Revisiting a specific episode in my father’s life – his 1972 Greenland (Cape Farewell) mountaineering expedition – provided a vehicle through which to investigate and expand upon McCormack’s claim.
The expedition could be revisited through those things my father kept and left behind relating to it, including: several boxes of photographic slides, correspondence letters, maps and a report of the expedition. In my hands these remains have become generative of an afterlife, what McCormack describes as: “a distributed field of affective materials that circulates through specific configurations of object, text, and image” (McCormack 2010: 37).
Working through this field can best be undertaken, according to McCormack, as a modified kind of remote sensing, “where remote sensing is understood not so much as a technology of distanced, elevated image capture but as a set of mobile and modest techniques for sensing the unsettling geographies of the spectral” (ibid).
Enacting this process of remote sensing, however, requires the cultivation of distinctive modes of narration according to McCormack. In my presentation at the Royal Geographical Society I therefore aimed to creatively engage with and re-present the affective remains of the expedition in order to both suggest non- representational responses to the use of archives and to explore our ability, or perhaps inability, to elaborate loss.
The presentation aptly took place in the Royal Geographical Society’s Foyle Reading Room which houses it maps and archives. The RGS is the institutional home of the expedition presentation, where so many of Britain’s celebrated ‘hero explores’ have returned to to regale the triumphs and hardships of their journeys by lantern slide. Rather than speak (something I felt unable to do and, more to the point, that words would simply fall short), and following in the tradition of the lantern slideshow – I decided to create two visual presentations:
One using the original 35mm slides from the expedition, which were projected using an old-school slide projector.
An another series of slides that I produced: here I projected quotes from key figures in the history of academic geography over the map showing the route of the expedition. These quotes were from key figures in the discipline of geography who write about and critique cultures of exploration.
My dad and his fellow party members went to Greenland to climb and name ‘virgin’ peaks in the Cape Farewell area. While I wanted to celebrate my dad’s influence on my geographical imagination, as an academic geographer my discipline has trained me to be critical of the imperialist impulses of the ‘hero explorer’. To explore this tension (daughterly love and academic training), instead of doing an expected academic written critique to be read aloud, I decided to make two visual projections (the slideshow and the quotes) to be played in tandem together.
While it impossible to recreate the experience I created in the RGS Foyle Reading Room, I have put together two mock-ups of the two projections that ran side-by-side in the RGS presentation:
The actual 35mm slideshow:
The series of quotes:
Their running time is not in sync but hopefully you’ll get the idea.
With the two visual presentations I played a sound composition – Energy Field – by the sound artist Jana Winderen that is made up of recordings of she made using a hydrophone while visiting Greenland. I made a short presentation for the RGS online Gallery that also included snippets of Jana’s sound recordings which gives you an idea of how visuals and sound worked together:
Click here to go directly to the RGS online Gallery
By way of introduction to the presentation I produced a postcard for which the geographer (and my ex-supervisor) Hayden Lorimer contributed the opening statement. These are presented at the top of this post.
The presentation was dedicated to my dad, Jim Patchett (1950-2010).