Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Art to integrate communities and their landscape?

Lately, I have been collecting qualitative data from rural communities in Ethiopia. I have discovered that participatory mapping is an interesting way to bring the communities, scientists and local government together to discuss issues and strengthen to the relationship between the different stakeholder to their landscape (http://catherinepfeifer.blogspot.com/2012/06/giving-rural-communities-voice-adapting.html). During my holidays in Switzerland I came across a not such a new concept, the landscape illumination projects by the Swiss artist Ueli Studer (http://www.studermelar.ch/)  and realized that art can catalyze in the developed world the same way the participatory mapping does in the developing world.
Ueli Studer is a Swiss artist who illuminates interesting human made or natural landscape structures during one night, mostly with candle light. 
Viniterra, illumination project on the Biel Lake Switzerland (picture taken from http://www.viniterra.ch/index.php?id=354)
His newest project is planned in Davos, Switzerland and I had a chance to follow him in his preliminary steps : identifying the landscape structures that are worth pointing out and that through illumination give a new perspective on the landscape of the spectator. 
Tot Alp in Davos : a  landscape shaped by tourism
A whole team, constituted of Ueli himself, my father, a geologist and a film maker who documents the “making of“ took off to the “Tot Alp”in Davos to study the geological structure of an Alp on which nothing grows due to the mineral concentration in the soil. 

The area is heavily used for tourism : it is reachable by cabins and half of the area has been flattened for the skiing routes and an artificial lake has been created as a water reservoir to create artificial snow. 
The artificial lake as water reservoir for artificial snow
Also different geological layer come together bringing white, black, red and green stones together, giving the feeling that one has just landed on Mars. The whole day was about understanding how the geological structures have emerged and which are worth illuminating. If the project takes place, it will involve the local government, the transport company that runs the different cabins in the area, the alpine club and the trekking guides of the area (locals) that would fix and light the candle, the tourism office that can promote an event and show the film of it to tourists. Finally, if possible the local population should be able to see the illumination from the valley bottom.
The geologist and the artist sitting in front of a clear geological cut
After this day, it is very unclear if the project will take place at the Tot Alp, mainly because no landscape structures that would show new insight could be identified, but also because it would be difficult to see the illumination from the valley. But with or without illumination, or with illumination on another location, a process to bring communities, stakeholders and scientists together around their landscape has started. 
Discussing the landscape
All previous illumination projects from Ueli such as Viniterra 1 and 2 (http://www.viniterra.ch/index.php?id=442) have brought stakeholders, communities, farmers, scientists, tourism office and government together. Indeed, setting the candle often requires the authorization of the land owner, which is usually a farmer and the government. Also many volunteers, usually the local population meets up to light the candles. Also, a broader public can see from far away or even walk through the illuminated landscape, admire the landscape in a new perspective and learn about its structures. The discussions linked to the illumination of the landscape brings people together that otherwise would have not met and therefore shape the network and resilience within these landscapes.

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