Talking about Topophilia with UK and Australian artists./

The Wirksworth Festival is hosting an Australian Pavillion this year.  A bunch of artists from rural New South Wales  have turned up in town and will be displaying work at the Derbyshire Eco Centre.  I had the pleasure of leading the group , along with a group of local artists on the rather hilly Wandering and Wondering walk  yesterday.

Today we sat down to ‘Talk about Topophilia’. In a couple of hours we only just began to frame our own questions about sense of place. I guess the high point of the morning was when people explored the places that mean most to them. Tracking what everyone had to say became rapidly impossible, but references to previous inhabitants were more common than talk about current inhabitants of places but many of the special places mentioned have associations with special events in people’s lives.

Usher waxed very lyrically about her allotment and even told us about the fire she has which brings warmth in the winter.  Merril Findlay (writer and brocoleur) suggested that as attachment to place is about feelings there may be gendered differences to responses as she suggested that males (well, she said Australian males  actually) are less likely to articulate their feelings and emotions so I guess she was suggesting that men’s descriptions of their relationships with place would be more factual and less in that ‘affective’ domain. I certainly agree with what she says generally about traditional male reluctance to acknowledge  feelings – but I guess this did not apply to Wordsworth.  I wonder whether this actually goes a bit further and that men and women actually have different emotional responses to certain places? I am cautious about this and would like to explore more – However, I am not sure that I buy that Freudian view of masculine and feminine landscapes for example!

She also suggested that the stories associated with place are key to our perception. Hmmm – like to unpick this further Merrill I think. Stories range from actual accounts to myths – often created and skewed specifically to import a sense of place.

One of the other participants told how she has very strong feelings when returning to ‘her land’ in Australia but also experienced a real sense of deja vu when visiting a town in northern England for the first time. The town turned out to have been home to her ancestors!

We talked briefly about the project in Eberswalde in Germany to enhance the sense of place in Eisenbahstrasse and we did come to a sort of consensus   that some places  have more powerful senses than others.

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What actually sets that meter heading for the red zone differed from the calm of Usher’s allotment to the world wide religious significance of a place like Jerusalem.

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