D’Arcy Thompson’s ground-breaking book On Growth and Form (1917) is discussed as the starting point for the theme of the 2014 triennial conference Riddles of Form. This essay describes the far-reaching influence that the book has had in fields such as biology, systems theory, geography, architecture, and art. It discusses the origin of the book in the context of Thompson’s work at University College, Dundee, and the development of his museum of zoology. The essay concludes by describing the current version of the museum at the University of Dundee as a focal point for interdisciplinary interests in Thompson’s work.
Gardens are sites of meaning. Like a book or a painting, they may be considered as texts to be decoded. From iconographic treatments of providing the intended message to the actual “texting” of the terrain, the evolution of how gardens function as “architextual” sites is our focus. This inquiry begins by framing traditional methods, used in Renaissance and seventeenth-century Italian and French gardens, of assigning meaning to landscapes through the use of iconography. Louis xiv’s Versailles typifies this procedure which shifts radically when we consider the eighteenth-century folly gardens such as Ermenonville. Turning to a pair of textually-charged, post-modern experiments in Scotland—Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta and Charles Jencks’s Garden of Cosmic Speculation—inscribing words onto the landscape charts new terrain in how we view the gardens of our time.
In his account of his journeys in Northern Scotland from 1801–23, and in his proposed engineering works, Thomas Telford worked to efface any sense of unfamiliarity about travel on his roads and canals, remediating the landscape through a rational transport infrastructure. As a “literary engineer” Telford created a narrative for the Highland landscape that was interdisciplinary and intertextual, in parallel with literary and artistic expressions, and expanding the genre of travel writing. Telford’s apparently inexpressive “technical” accounts can inform and complicate our understanding of the conceptual, social, and practical mechanisms involved in the construction and consumption of the Romantic landscapes of Scotland.
My interest in Burns is longstanding and the series of multi-referential artworks discussed below are concerned with the very process of looking, perceiving, and interpreting. Utilizing the unique fixed-point perspective of the camera, I record manipulated and constructed images in order to create elaborate narratives which meditate on numerous aspects of Scottish culture, identity and the human condition in the early 21st century. As Burns reflected through his art the world he inhabited, these works and words strive to reflect on a myriad of contemporary concerns.
This essay discusses the intermedial relation between works by the Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão and historical and artistic texts embedded in Brazilian cultural memory. Evoking a repertoire of images and writings associated with the country’s colonial and imperial history, especially in dialogue with the traveler/painter Jean-Baptiste Debret, Varejão proposes a counter-discourse, which challenges clichés about cannibalism, slavery, the role of evangelization, and of cultural and racial miscegenation. To illustrate these points, the paper discusses some of Varejão’s paintings as well and strategies recurrent in her iconography, especially the use of trompe-l’oeil tiles, transfigured cartographies, incisions and sutures in her canvases.
In his major work A Humument, Tom Phillips performs an impressive variety of plastic interventions onto the pages of a Victorian novel (W.H. Mallock’s A Human Document). Without writing a single word, but selecting ones from the original text and concealing the rest under layers of gouache and watercolor, he succeeds in revealing an astonishing number of coherent infratexts. This essay carries out a detailed semiotic exploration of such practices, taking account of how signifier and signified interact.
J.L. Carr’s highly ekphrastic novella, about a professional art restorer and veteran of the trenches who uncovers a wall painting in 1920, is a remarkable representation of recovery from trauma. A Month in the Country probes into the possibility of reconciliation for an entire nation as it captures the delicate tension between hiding and revealing the past in the aftermath of the Great War. Taking account of illustrations by Christopher Fiddes and Ian Stephens, as well as Pat O’Connor’s eponymous film adaptation, this essay explores the status of art restoration as literary topos and psycho-therapy in this unjustly neglected piece of trauma fiction.
This essay examines the work of visual poet Thomas A. Clark (1944–) in relation to innovative landscape poetry and its representational strategies. In particular it examines the extent to which Clark circumvents or reframes the idea of landscape poetry as being “locodescriptive.” Through close reading and the application of Mandy Bloomfield’s theory of “landscaping the page,” this essay attempts to trace a “grammar of representation” throughout Clark’s work, whereby large-scale, site-specific representation is bypassed in favour of close observation of minute natural phenomena, allowing for a new kind of mimesis.
Later poems by Trevor Joyce and Geoffrey Squires are discussed in this essay which examines how their experimentations challenge the perception of how poetry should be written, what it should look like, and how it should be read. It shows how the two avant-garde Irish artists offer what can be described as “riddles of forms” which test the reader’s receptivity. It discusses the importance of the visual aspect of their works via the disposition of words on the page, the use of repetition, the function of intersubjectivity, and of indeterminacy. This essay shows how these poems transform the act of reading, the way the world can be perceived or explored, and try to express the inscrutable or the unsayable through innovative poetic devices.
This essay and self-reflective case study focuses on the impact of the typeface in which written texts are set. It argues for the potentials that can be realized from foregrounding typeface in the creative process through typographic-poetic collaborations. By selecting poems to suit typefaces or creating poems for typefaces, poetry can benefit creatively from a typeface’s materiality