Hidden Landscapes Project is an Arts Council funded research and development project by the visual artist Christina Bryant.
Over the duration of a year that began in September 2012, Christina explored four sites located along the urban fringes of the town Letchworth Garden City, based in North Hertfordshire, UK. Christina’s interest is in the peripheral spaces that straddle the urban and the country, the ‘terrain vague’ that lies just beyond the codes and surveillance of the town. Her focus for this project was on areas showing evidence of current or recent human occupation.
The study involved meticulously recording, mapping and surveying the rubbish and debris from areas within these selected locations in an attempt to read and interpret the hidden narratives, relationships and activities that take place within this complex landscape. A key influence in this research was a dialogue between artist and archaeologist. Through an artistic appropriation of archaeological methodologies, with guidance from North Herts District Council Archaeology Officer, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and North Herts Museum Curator Sian Woodward, Christina rigorously scrutinised these marginal places and the inhabitants that are drawn to them. Through this process she was attempting to question our contemporary social and environmental relationships.
The projects aim was to create dialogues and discourses between the contemporary and the past; the scientific and the poetic and the human and the ‘natural’, by adopting painstaking surveying methods of the archaeologist as a creative tool to help explore what links us with our everyday landscape.
The ideas for this project originated from Christina’s Postgraduate research, completed at Wimbledon College of Art in 2011. This initial research resulted in her piece ‘The Island’, a presentation of drawings, maps and a partially fictional narrative, that examined a hidden, small area of land, on the edge of Letchworth. ‘Hidden Landscapes’ significantly expanded on the initial study, developing and building relationships between archaeology and art, through collaboration with the local archaeological society. It also encouraged further engagement between the inhabitants of Letchworth and their edge spaces, encouraging new perspectives of their environment.
Christina’s interest in Letchworth Garden City as a significant location for the study stemmed from a combination of personal, social and historical factors; firstly as an opportunity to question and reexamine the town she grew up in, secondly from an interest in the town as a Garden City. Christina’s concerns with the Garden City Movement grew from a curiosity with suburbia and its influence on our environment and those living within it. It is this meeting point between town and country, at the edges of the suburban environment, that Christina finds the potential for a contemporary analysis of our relationship with the English landscape.
The year’s research culminated in a free public exhibition held at Letchworth Arts Centre throughout August 2013, and included an artist talk, a live, public excavation at Norton Common and the publication of the Hidden Landscapes Report.