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Title:Embodied knowledge of landscape: accommodating ongoing subjective experience in the presentation of heritage landscape
Author(s):Modi, Sonal Mithal Sumeshkumar
Director of Research:Hays, David L.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hays, David L.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ruggles, Dede F; Monson, Jennifer; Bhattacharya Mehta, Rini
Department / Program:Landscape Architecture
Discipline:Landscape Architecture
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):heritage landscape
subjective experience
landscape design
Abstract:This dissertation frames a new approach to the presentation of heritage landscape, taking into account the emergent priority of ongoing subjective experience in heritage discourse. The dissertation advocates for a shift in heritage theory and practice based on an understanding of “embodied knowledge” of landscape—meaning, recognition of individual, corporeal experience as a defining aspect of landscape. The research question that this dissertation explores is: How can a progressive understanding of landscape, based on new thinking about embodied knowledge, contribute to the theory and practice of heritage landscape? The research question and argument are explored through close study of a specific site: Śāntiniketan, India. As India’s 2010 nomination to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Śāntiniketan is currently under consideration for designation, and the role of subjective experience in shaping its character makes this an ideal moment to reassess the process through which it and other sites are nominated and evaluated. The corporeal body is the locus for this study, which builds upon the prevailing phenomenological stances towards the body. Those stances critique the way Cartesian intellectualism has prioritized the mind over the body, and they reposition the body as an essential site of knowledge production. In keeping with that line of thinking, this study argues that landscape is known to exist only because of the presence and proximity of an experiencing corporeal body. Drawing upon philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s notion that the lived body is the vehicle for being-in-the-world, the research concentrates on the corporeality of the body, which is a perpetual condition of sensorial experience of the world by being in it. The primary source of information for this dissertation is embodied knowledge, which is information gathered over time by the bodily senses immediately from the landscape. The process of embodiment acknowledges co-existing corporeal bodies and engages them with each other and with other objects. The sensual conversation between milieu and body creates an embodied knowledge, which removes the Cartesian separation between body and mind. Through active engagement, the researcher here empathizes with the site, with people on the site, and with their perspectives. In the act of empathizing, the researcher emulates those experiences and eventually presents the site through an artistic expression. This dissertation work is a performance of present-ing landscape. For that, a performative research methodology was developed. The intention was to develop a method that would help a researcher—in this case, myself—to gather corporeal knowledge, through corporeal or active experience, and to share, by active archiving, a heritage landscape such as Śantiniketan. The performative research method developed in this work combines practice-based research with traditional research methods such as empirical mapping, archival study, and ethnographic interviews. As part of the practice-based research method, my dissertation uses two strategies to represent and interpret embodied knowledge of landscape. The first involves rhythmanalysis, a method developed by sociologist Henri Lefebvre in his 2004 book, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday life. In undertaking research, the rhythmanalyst uses his or her own bodily rhythms as a reference through which to experience and evaluate landscape as a system of rhythms. Part of my research has involved engaging dancers with the landscape of Śāntiniketan, generating non-stylized movements as they respond to available sounds, textures, wind, and humidity, which I register using a video camera. The second strategy theorizes the video camera as an independent body with embodied vision. For that work, I conducted two movement workshops at Śantiniketan with dancers from Viśva-Bharati University. A video camera followed the dancers’ movements in a semi-choreographed work, with the dancers emulating landscape elements in stylized gestures. From the resulting footage, I created a short film to demonstrate embodied knowledge. The film captures the process of a body gaining knowledge of the landscape, by being-in-landscape, by moving through landscape, and using bodily senses. This method further acknowledges the corporeal body as a site upon which personal experience becomes deposited as embodied knowledge. Practice-based research is an immersive and improvisational method. It makes explicit an understanding of landscape as temporal by itself being a temporal process. By not just describing but also actively creating an embodied knowledge, the dissertation redefines four aspects of heritage: archivability, authenticity, history, and insider-outsider duality—all of them newly understood as constructs of the present moment and dependent on the individual experiencing body.
Issue Date:2015-03-23
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Sonal Mithal Modi
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-07-22
Date Deposited:May 2015

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