Members of the collective

Mapping the layers of landscape

A Workshop on Contamination

Speculative Landscapes is a collective research project that explores the potential for being otherwise in landscapes. It is sited in the unique coastal landslides of The Warren in Folkestone (UK) which we speculatively occupy as a place for collectively imagining a regenerative institution.  

Working speculatively in this landscape opens up cracks in our macro political, cultural and ecological imaginaries. Through a speculative practice we ask systemic questions about what else institutions can be, shaped not from histories of violence and extraction, but from a landscape, on a landslide that is always shifting, changing and performing its own obsolescence. Taking The Warren as its guiding structure, this research project emerges from a micro institution: Custom Food Lab, a collective of artists, activists, researchers, architects and chefs who are drawn to working in relation to this site. The early stages of the collective has been funded by Arts Council England.


In bringing the complexities of this landscape into the sphere of art, we aim to put art and its institutions at risk. We ask what instituting might be as a process of creative speculation, of collectively working together in a polyphonous institutional assemblage that considers the human, more than human and geological ontologies of this place. To speculate collectively in a landscape is a method that traces the layers of economic, political, and cultural imaginaries that shape our interactions. It allows us to acknowledge the western epistemologies that are inherent in relationships to space in order to open up the potential for being otherwise.  In The Warren there are many layers of time that are united in a kind of wild organicity and we believe it is possible through this speculative method to find small cracks, clues and contradictions here that escape the macro-political logic. We claim this close reading as a regenerative method, a way of shifting our attention to thinking with and through the world, generating collective systems of knowledge and unlearning the imperial strategies that are employed across the institutions of both art and landscapes.

Landscape is a concept that comes from art and creates an entangled picture of the way human histories have shaped our relationship to place. The notion of a ‘landscape’ upholds logics of representation, separation and a negation of connection to the worlds we inhabit and often also operates as a signifier of national identities. In reclaiming the landscape as a regenerative place for speculation we are also acknowledging the complex ways in which we impact and change the landscapes we inhabit. Landscape is used here to enable a close reading of the ecologies of human, non human and more than human interactions but also to understand the human histories and western and scientific epistemologies that structure such a reading.

“Landscapes are mental states, just as mental states are cartographies, both crystallized in each other, geometrized, mineralized” Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2


In the UK, which is bordered by ocean and seas, the entire coastline is a protection and surveillance field. Inserting a frame into this territory, is ‘The Warren’ a nature reserve between the towns of Folkestone and Dover, which sits facing the channel separating England from France. The Warren is formed on a landslide, it occupies a littoral zone, encompassing cliff faces, forest, trainline and tunnels, dense ferny scrub, brambles, concrete defences, iron groynes, rockpools, tidal zones, foreshore and offshore.  The train line, which operates every 20 minutes traverses one of the most active landslides in Britain, necessitating an almost constant monitoring for shifts in climate, erosion and geology. This is one of the closest points to the European continent, which, despite its smallness (316.3 hectares), lends it a particular strategic importance in the larger zone of alertness. A walk in the area causes the mobile phone to oscillate between no signal, English signal or French signal. If at first we see a beautiful beach with interesting biodiversity encircled by stark white cliffs, quickly the concrete platforms and the residue of military infrastructure creates strangeness and curiosity.

The weather in The Warren is often extreme, thick fogs roll in off the coast and storms and strong winds are increasing in severity with changing climates. The Warren however, has a ‘microclimate’, its crevices, hollows and crags make the landscape a host to rare plants, birds and invertebrates, it is a landing spot for migrant species that cling to this place of refuge. It is a place where the particular stratification of soils, sands, clay and chalk reveal a story of the earth’s history. A hundred million years is exposed in the cliff faces, with relics of coccoliths in the chalk, while fossils, bones and sharks teeth almost ooze out of the Gault Clay and Green Sand of the tip of Copt Point.

In The Warren, human presence plays different roles; the construction of the Eurotunnel deposited tons of earth taken from the seabed; in the 1950’s concrete reinforcement was poured onto millions of tonnes of chalk to keep the landslide in place. Over the years the site has been the home for smuggling and drug trafficking, with small holes and tunnels created in the cliffs for contraband goods. In the channel there is a flow of intense maritime and commercial sea traffic that connects the United Kingdom to the continent; and the flow of illegal immigrants trying to reach the English coast by boat, or even by swimming. When we decide to think together and perform research about this place, we are at the same time proposing to drive closely and critically toward the mechanisms of an institutional systemic tangle that represents many codes and interests of the state.  The institution here is not to be found in ruined monuments and buildings but in the diffuse forms of power that are exerted even across remote landscapes and practices.

As a collective of artists, curators, designers, theorists we are fascinated by this place; its human relations and the interruption and dangers of being located on active landslides. We are drawn to the shifting layers of chalk and clay, the tiny piece of forest at the edge of the sea, the border, its plants, its crevices, its wildness. We feel we know this place, and from a distance we visit it in our minds, it occupies us. It’s from this place of fascination that we want to start to ‘dream’ together about the potential for regenerative institutional forms.

“At the last Venice Biennale of Architecture, the UK project exalted the concept of ‘Island’ At a time when the outcome of Brexit was widely discussed – the United Kingdom presented it’s interpretation of the theme ‘Freespace’, in which it reaffirmed its geographical condition as an ‘Island’ as a stratagem that would enable expanded vision. This approach was, in my opinion, as immigrant-black-Brazilian-woman-artist-mother, who lives in UK, shameful. Why explore the idea of spaces of freedom by proposing a movement of ascension and distancing in order to enjoy some privileges? If we think critically about how architecture represents a strong operating arm in the set-up of prototypes and institutional models of life, capable of resonating in our body and subjectivities, the innocence of these choices could never be forgiven. What I saw was a colonialist and self-centred perspective that goes against the many urgencies of a world.” Rubiane Maia


To speculate has layers of meaning. It describes the first spark of any creative process; speculation takes place before action where imagination and thinking collide.  Speculation also speaks of trading on the internal logics of financialisation, and hints at the confrontation of risk, natural resources and fictitious capital. Speculation is also an architectural practice of utopian visualisation, evidenced in the work of futurists such as Buckminster Fuller and later neo-futurists Archigram. Astrobiologists use speculative forms in a practical sense, finding analogue environments on earth to model for future explorations in space, leading to the troubling idea of “astro-speculation” of the kind we will see as this planet’s life systems begin to fail. 

To speculate comes from the Latin verb speculari meaning to observe, which in turn comes from specula, or watchtower embedding in the word implications of being watched over or guarding. While this meaning of the speculative might suggest operations in a purely visual register, its interpretations are further complicated by recent scholarship on the term. Speculative fiction offers a mode of rewriting and reimagining, speculation is a tool for survival in the practice of creating speculative histories of black artists, writers and scholars. Marina Vishmidt’s recent writing about speculation as a mode of production in the fields of art and finance, seeks to understand the operations of the speculative value relations across these fields. Eduardo Viveiro de Castro seeks to redefine anthropology as a field of “speculative ontography.” And Maria Puig della Belasca uses the speculative to define a field of feminist non-human ethics. “The speculative then connects to a feminist tradition for which this mode of thought about the possible is about provoking political and ethical imagination in the present.” (Matters of Care, Maria Puig della Belasca). These multiple definitions all inform our approach and call us to draw on the methodological potential of speculation to re-define our social and environmental relations.