Landscapes of Mutability

The theme explores cultural representations of landscape, and the effects of transformation, dislocation and mutability.

A landscape may evolve slowly or transform drastically. Or, our experience of landscape may be altered because we have changed or relocated. We are asking, for example, how do we respond emotionally to calamities or to the sublime; how do we negotiate a sense of loss and/or discovery? 

These aspects have interest for a broad spectrum of disciplines across the University of Glasgow as the topic can and should be approached from a great variety of angles. We envision that the theme will cover, for example, the following sub-themes: Landscapes of Disaster, Resilient Landscape, Toxic Landscapes, Intercultural Landscape, Entangled Landscapes, Appropriated Landscape, Landscape as Souvenir and Landscape of Exile. The aim of the theme is to create a network connecting people whose research touches aspects of landscape outlined above in different disciplines across the University of Glasgow. This mapping of research streams and ideas will then, in the long term, lead to development of research projects and clusters.

To see a recent project, visit our online mail art exhibition.

Information on our forthcoming activities for 2021 is available below.

Summer 2021: Online Mail Art Exhibition

Link to online exhibition

Though movement from place to place seems to characterise the modern world – the world of travel and migration – the aim of this online exhibition and the related exercise has been more inward looking and based on ecological considerations: staying voluntarily in one place or in a limited sphere of movement. Limitations could, for example, be such as “as far as your feet can carry you.” We have wanted to emphasise the relevance of this whether we are faced with the current pandemic or not, and the regulations it has imposed on us. Nevertheless, it is essential in the face of the impending ecological catastrophe that we begin researching and reflecting in earnest on alternative ways to quench our desire to experience and share old and new landscapes without contributing to the progress of this catastrophe.

Approaching spring 2021, we realised we would be looking at life one year on from the start of the first lockdown and felt it was time to reflect on lessons learnt. In that year, what have we discovered during about adapting to new circumstances? Are there lessons that can be fruitfully taken forward? In what ways can immobility bring new insight? What media and technologies do we already have at our disposal for meeting and enjoying landscapes together without moving from one place to another? We decided to draw from the ‘mail art’ movement that began in the 1960s but repurposed it for current conditions to expand our network within Scotland and to maintain a sense of community. We sent blank postcards to colleagues in academia, in organisations and among artists around Scotland, in addition to those outwith Scotland engaging with Scottish landscape. Participants were asked to use each postcard as a canvas on which to express – in images, words, or other forms – the changing nature of the landscape in their lived perception.

This online exhibition collects these postcards together in a map with a timeline. Together they provide us a glimpse of landscape experiences across Scotland (and beyond) and highlight a variety of interactions with landscapes under circumstances of limited mobility.

July 2021: Imagining the future of travel (with reference to the past)

 rocks in water

Thursday 22 July over three sessions

Travel has not always been as easy and comfortable as we know it and international travel is one of the problems facing us in this ecological crisis. The series of online discussions “Imagining the future of travel” will consider travel critically, aesthetically and creatively. The discussions examine how people historically and geographically have satisfied their thirst to visit distant landscapes old and new. In addition, taking its cue from David Lowenthal’s The Past is a Foreign Country, some of the presentations take us on a tour to our local histories showing what we can find when looking deeper into our past.

Presented as part of The Dear Green Bothy, a collaborative cultural programme from the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts showcasing creative and critical responses to climate emergency.


10.30-12.00 Session 1: Alternative ways of travelling

13:00-14:30 Session 2: Staying local

18:00-19:30 Session 3: Artists staying at home



Session 1: Alternative Ways of Travelling

Dr Minna Törmä, University of Glasgow: “Travelling in a Chinese painting”

Guo Xi, an eleventh-century Chinese court painter maintained that painters could create works which can transport the viewers to wander in a landscape. So that even if a scholar-official, for example, who is bound to his desk in the office, could take out a landscape handscroll, scroll through it at this desk and return to reading and writing documents refreshed having travelled among streams and mountains – maybe stopped for a picnic at a pavilion with his friends – all this in his mind aided by a painted image. He even maintained that painters could capture the cries of the monkeys or singing of the birds. This idea of travelling through a painting was persistent in Chinese art through centuries, in fact the term woyou (“travelling while lying down”) is encountered already in a fourth-century text. The presentation will discuss examples to show this worked in practice.

Dr Nathan Woolley, University of Glasgow: “Travel by the book: Following a journey along the Yangtze in the late 12th century”

In 1170, the scholar-official Lu You travelled by boat up the Yangtze to take up a government post in Sichuan. His celebrated diary of this journey contains details of his daily experiences and reflections over a five-month period and represented at the time a new departure in Chinese literature. In this work, Lu You inscribed the landscape with rich historical associations as he engaged in conversation with existing genres of the written tradition, including poetry, inscription, and gazetteer. His visits to sites of interest are tied to figures and events of the past, reproducing elite understandings of the Yangtze region drawing on the language of its domestication within the Sinitic world centuries earlier. Yet he also recorded aspects of quotidian life along the river, including local practices that fell outside official sanction. The resulting tensions are ultimately subsumed in a reaffirmation of the region’s distinctiveness inside the Chinese written world, obliging later readers to experience the river from inside the same tradition.

Dr Saeko Yazaki, University of Glasgow: “Urbanising pilgrimage: Incomparable Mt Fuji and its mini replicas, Fujizuka”

Mt Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, is one of the most well-known and featured cultural icons of the country. The mountain, also known as Mt Incomparable (fuji), has been a centre of religion and spirituality. This talk discusses the making of Fujizuka, miniature Fujis, in Edo (present-day Tokyo) from the mid-eighteenth century. Until 1872 women were forbidden from climbing most sacred mountains in Japan, and this custom was rarely challenged. However, Mt Fuji, one of the most popular pilgrimage sites, was exceptional, as the ban was lifted periodically and the Fujiko (the Fuji confraternities) fought for the inclusion of female pilgrims. Fujiko, which sponsored Hokusai’s famous series of 36 views of Mt Fuji, constructed around 200 Fujizuka which could be climbed by anyone including women, children and the old, scenes featured in Hiroshige’s wood-block prints. This talk discusses an alternative or the only way of travel to Mt Fuji in Edo for those who could not climb the real mountain. It goes on to argue how religious experience from a ‘pilgrimage’ to both Mt Fuji and Fujizuka became integrated with recreation, bringing journey to the sacred mountain into an urban context.


Session 2: Staying local

Dr Steven Timoney, University of Highlands and Islands: “Staying local – Experiencing local landscapes and the potential of hidden stories”

Continued Covid-19 restrictions since spring 2020 in Scotland (and across the globe) have encouraged people to focus their activities on staying local, particularly in relation to outdoor activities. This has often resulted in an increase in the number of people undertaking outdoor recreational activities in their local areas. Taking a woodland park on the outskirts of the Scottish city of Perth as its focus, this presentation considers some of the challenges and opportunities this increased visitation presents in terms of engaging residents and visitors with local heritage. Hidden within the landscape are countless ‘small stories’ related to cultural heritage sites and artefacts as part of palimpsest landscapes. These sites and artefacts present opportunities for alternative narratives of place to be negotiated, creating links to the past in the present, and between the exotic and the familiar. Heritage is often something that we travel to experience, and previously what was local may have been undesired or unknown. The changing approach to landscape practices because of Covid restrictions presents opportunities to engage people with these small stories, linking places near with far-off lands. This presentation will highlight the potential they have for creating new links within the wider context of landscape and place-making.

Ruth Leach, Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery: "Taking visitors with us: how Old Ways New Roads became an online journey through Scotland"

In August 2020, the Hunterian Art Gallery was due to host an exhibition which brought together the experience and insight of 18th century travellers in Scotland. Combining output from soldiers, surveyors, scholars, artists, writers and leisure tourists, visitors to the exhibition would have been able to explore the connection between Scotland’s military occupation in the 18th century and the beginning of modern tourism.The exhibition was first postponed by lockdown, and then ultimately reimagined as an online project. This talk will consider how the central idea of journeys was translated from a physical visitor experience to one experience entirely online. At a time when travel was highly restricted across both Scotland and the UK, how could the Hunterian use the outputs originally conceived of for a gallery space in a different way, and how did the project develop in new ways that wouldn’t have been possible in a physical output?

David Knott, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh: "A World of Plants"

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) was founded in 1670 and celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2020. Today the Living, or plant, Collection is cultivated across four gardens in Scotland each with very different climatic conditions. In the Living Collection across these four gardens, we currently cultivate some 13,750 species from over 160 countries, with 60% cultivated from plant material collected in their natural habitat. The Gardens are home to over 130 000 plants which are cultivated and displayed in more naturalistic and ecological designs than the more formal style prevalent many years ago. These planting schemes reflect geographical areas of the world where RBGE has active research programmes or where there is or has been a long historical association and cultivation of species from that area of the world. These plant displays give visitors a glimpse of plant communities from around the world. Since lockdown in March 2020, there has been a considerable increase in the appreciation and understanding the importance of green spaces including parks and gardens to human kind. When RBGE reopened all four of its gardens in July 2020, travel restrictions has resulted in each of the gardens being even more popular with visitors enjoying the wider health and well-being benefits of garden visiting and also enjoying the plant collections and displays. In an era when the impacts of climate change and significant biodiversity loss continue to increase, this interest in the role of plants for a healthy future is increasingly important.


Session 3: Artists staying at home

Marie-Claire Cameron: Travelling to the past: Excavating the empty croft

In their artistic practice, artists Marnie Keltie, Anne Campbell, Ishbel Murray, Moira MacLean and Mary Morrison travel into the past and excavate fragments of history. These fragments then become the departure point for their work. The fragments are site specific to their various locales in the Outer Hebrides, at times taken directly from empty crofts around the Gàidhealtachd. The artists' work takes a nostalgic wandering back in time to explore the lives of those connected to the fragments but we will be particularly concerned with the artists' politically charged re-telling of their stories.

In Conversation

Marie-Claire Cameron in discussion with Marnie Keltie and Ishbel Murray on how artistic practise can explore and make visible our past

Online exhibition launch

We will introduce our spring/summer 2021 mail art project "Landscape experiences under the pandemic and its lockdown". Its results are gathered together in an online display.

Brick walls and grass

June 2020: Landscapes of Dislocation


Series of online [Zoom] discussions in June 2020

Organised by Arts Lab Theme “Landscapes of Mutability”

In the recent months our usual state of affairs has been disturbed and this dislocation has presented new challenges for a broad range of activities in our lives. Demands for self-isolation and social distancing may have required us to adjust our sense of landscape and to respond to it in novel and creative ways. We may have directed our gaze to the past or to different cultural contexts in our search for inspiration and models on how to nourish our desire for landscape wanderings, to encounter familiar sites and discover new views.

We are looking forward to engaging with interested parties in a weekly discussion series taking place on: 

3 June, 2-3 pm

10 June, 2-3 pm

17 June, 2-4 pm

24 June, 2-4 pm

Please send us a proposal for a 5-minute presentation on a dislocated landscape by emailing Minna: We have rolling deadline, so accepting proposals through May and June until the last date of June 24th.

Associated Staff