Thoughts on Nature

Communication, Speculative Data, and Beach Picnics

Running With The Wind by Clarice Beckett (source)

Rushing across the flowing waters, the wind picks up the river and drags waves across the beach, throwing spray into the sun-warmed air. The sand is stiff from the recently receded tide and the rustling leaves whisper a chorus into the air. A comment is made about communication, of complete and utter honesty, of presence and awareness, of an openness that is both revealing and certain. Another river wave dashes inward. As our light footprints trail behind, an unsilent silence passes between us. Our eyes drift outward to the sailed vessels harnessing the howling movements. An aroma of the sea floats through the air, as though carried from the cold depths by this very breeze. With snacks in tow, we opt for a more protected space to settle and turn our backs from the raging hydrographic feature. Late-night flights, missing packages, cheese knives, words of affirmation, wet jeans.

The word communication stems from Latin communicare (to share, unite, make common) and is related to communis (shared by all). Beaches are common… until they aren’t. Walking down the sand something is felt, an interpretation of the moment, an encounter between objects, little pieces of speculative data. A sense of communication between foot, sand, wave, bodies, and heart minds. Actors performing a show unbeknownst to each other. In this data are small possibilities of situated knowledge. Of knowing and relating in ways that can so easily hide behind manipulation or dishonesty or a lack of trust. Or is it faith? Good communication works that way. It’s either realized, seen, situated or its like a Kantian view of landscapes, in the eyes of the beholder.

The idea of speculative data is a weird one, in a strange stranger sense. In traditional geographic information fields, the data produced tends to be independent entities that have well-articulated properties, are organized based on their defined spatiotemporal presence, and can be known objectively and without context. In the case of geography, this allows for information to be communicated in a simple, neat, clean, and easily coded way. It is sunny on the beach this day. A tiny geo-atom of information tucked away and recorded without any sense of relationality, “represent[ing] while escaping representation”, as Donna Haraway might say. Like telling someone you feel ‘good’ or stating that your day has been ‘fine’, these brief data points are all out of sorts.

Alternatively, if we dig deeper, or rather open up more fully, we can communicate moments and their related spaces as vibrant and situated, geo-objects with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own. With the boundaries between beach, river, human, bush, and bench all phasing into each other, geo-encounters that situate events between any number of objects. Sensual qualities amongst objects all bathing in each other as fundamentally aesthetic responses. Metaphorical interpretations of space. Speculative data, taking a new materialist approach, challenges geographic data to contextualize the relationships between objects (two people sitting at a table), defining and valuing properties contained in that context (their feelings for each other after such a short time), and situates the data based on the connections beyond and between interlocutors (timing is everything).

Interpreting Clarice Beckett’s 1932 Atheneum show, a reviewer expressed her particular style as “an adaptation of art to nature, which belongs neither to the realm of the orthodox normalist or the avowed modern, but is a purely individual expression of certain sensations in light, form and color…” Her misty paintings communicate situated encounters, of being a crepuscular artist, of restless outdoor painting sessions, of capturing mysterious coastalscapes in all their fragile vulnerabilities. My own encounter with the artwork produces a blip of data later communicated and interpreted and reflexively experienced back in written form. Strange ouroboros like loops where her paintings generate contexts and subcontexts and subsubcontexts that get talked about over wine and cheese at a different picnic table with its own situated aesthetic.

You ask me a question about my research and I try to piece together some cohesive story that captures the ideas of landscape values and catchment management and this particular methodological approach that only seems to make sense when I’m sitting in my office and encountering an article about phase spaces. A knife slices through some cheese. A small colony of seagulls passes overheard. An unprovoked smile crosses lips. The sun settles comfortably behind the Mountain. We register the geo-encounter between all of us, countless objects caught in each other’s gravitational pull. My heart mind quakes. A memory, indexed and tucked away, gets shared. Appreciation for open and honest communication gets recorded. Relational spaces, beach picnics, transportation tears, smallish beds, speculative landscape paintings.

Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Tasmania, studying climate change adaptation, risk perspectives, and coastalscape values.

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