Concept developed by Elizabeth Alexander, PhD Human Geography and carried out with the participation of PhD researcher Greta Ferloni (Durham University, U.K.) and support from Kelsey Aho (U.S. Forest Service GIS Specialist)
Mapping Layered Perceptions of the Landscape: A transdisciplinary encounter with an evocative place
“Reframing and the capability to create open practice dialogues are key elements of the transdisciplinary thinking we need to deal with today’s open, complex, dynamic, and networked problem situations. In leaving behind the stable structures of disciplines and organizations, one learns to truly value the practices they contain.” -Kees Dorst (2018)
How can we realize reframing and practice dialogues when we are immersed in the professional structures and identities we know best? ITOC, with its emphasis on arts and science collaboration, is an ideal laboratory for exactly this kind of reorientation. By literally grounding participants on an equal footing, we caused a slight, but informative, disruption in the flow of information and comprehension.
Knowledge of, and access to, scientific research sites tends to flow from science towards art. For this mapping exercise, we brought artists and scientists to a space that is both privately owned and scientific to work alongside one another as equals, converging at the former residence of the late renowned botanist Les Viereck. It is an emotive place. For some, Viereck’s work was formative in their scientific career while others had been welcomed into the community the Vierecks created on their homestead.
Working in teams of four, individuals ventured from a common geographical point to create maps using tracing paper, pencils, and markers. Everyone was encouraged to represent their experience of being ‘in place’ rather than produce a polished or accurate ‘map’. At a wrap-up potluck, they shared their experiences and maps.
These maps have since been assembled into palimpsests of four sheets – composite and lucent assemblages of layered perceptions of a place. Each set represents a diversity of focus, scale, and detail illuminating insights into how individuals approach the landscape as informed by their respective professions and whole selves.
“It was so interesting to compare our maps and see how differently each of us experienced the place,” said one scientist at the potluck which followed. No one referred to ‘practice dialogues’ or ‘reframing,’ yet the concepts are evident in the composite maps and how each participant chose to approach and represent aspects of place.
Elizabeth Alexander earned her PhD in Human Geography in 2018 in England following fifteen years in the software business working for Microsoft in business application software development. Geography is a natural subject for someone who is devoted to exploring the world, relentlessly curious about how we humans interact with our environment and one another, and indifferent to disciplinary boundaries. These same characteristics make it difficult to put us ‘in our place’, and so she is grateful to the organizers of the ITOC Boreal Stories project for finding their way to include this Alaska-born geographer in this fundamentally place-based project.