Land/Water and the Visual Arts

Jem Southam: 'Birds, Rocks, River and Islands', The Levinsky Gallery, University of Plymouth, Jan–Mar 2019




Land/Water consists of artists, writers and curators who embrace a diversity of creative and critical practices. It operates as a forum for the interrogation of nature and culture, aesthetics and representation and questioning imagery and practices relating to land, landscape and place is central to our ethos.

As artists, writers, curators we work individually exploring space and place as a point of departure for experimenting in new modes of communication through picturing. We generate work that addresses a range of issues. These include environmental change, sustainability, journey, site and regional specificity. In addition, a forum for theoretical and methodological debate is constructed through research events, exchange exhibitions (with other HE Institutions), conferences, symposia and publications.

Discover more about the history of Land/Water and The Visual Arts

Still image from the film 'Prosperous Mountain', Heidi Morstang


Events 2020–21

Current exhibition: Seedscapes: Future-Proofing Nature

Impressions Gallery, Bradford, 2 September–12 December 2020
Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, 6 February–2 May 2021
The Dick Institute, Kilmarnock, 11 September–11 December 2021

Featuring Dornith Doherty, Sant Khalsa, Chrystel Lebas, Heidi Morstang and Liz Orton.

In a world shaped by Covid-19, it seems more important than ever to consider nature, biodiversity, and the environment. Seedscapes brings together five contemporary artists exploring global efforts to safeguard vital plant species from extinction. Plant diversity is rapidly declining and faces threats from global warming, pollution and war. Yet without seeds and their potential for food and medicine, we cannot sustain ourselves. Featuring photography, moving images and sculpture, Seedscapes reveals how international artists, biologists and ecologists are responding to these challenges.

The exhibition is curated by Liz Wells, professor in photographic culture, University of Plymouth.

Featured event: International Environmental Arts Research Network Symposium I 

Virtual event – 25 November 2020 – Book a place 

Artistic research practice has a unique capacity to offer crucial insights informing our understanding of environmental issues in the Anthropocene. This symposium brings our researchers and postgraduate students together to share common research interests. 

Speakers: Laura Hopes (University of Plymouth), Johanna Mechen (Massey University, Wellington, NZ), Kevin Miles (Massey University, Wellington, NZ)

Kevin Miles, Genoa #2 (2020), unique silver gelatin photogram, 45 x 60cm


Seedscapes Symposium

Virtual event – 21 November 2020

Why do seeds matter? How can artists and scientists work together? How might photographs catalyse change?

Join artists Dornith Doherty, Sant Khalsa, Chrystel Lebas, Heidi Morstang, and Liz Orton, as well as guest speakers, at this online event of presentations and discussions, chaired by Seedscapes curator Professor Liz Wells and Head of Programme Dr Pippa Oldfield.

Research seminars

    Dr Kayla Parker & Dr Simon Standing

    Virtual event – 24 February 2021, 14:00–15:30

    Jessica Lennan & Robert Darch, Dartmoor

    Virtual event – 26 May 2021, 14:00–15:30


    Liz Wells speaker at 2020  Annual Conference for Society for Photographic Education, Houston, USA

    'Environmental photography: Seeds and Sustainability'
    Environmental concerns, including threats inherent in extreme climate change, frame a number of contemporary photographic explorations, whether activist, or more elliptical investigations of ecological shifts. What can art do? Evaluating photographic methods and aesthetic strategies, reference will be made to work by environmental artists and, in particular, to the forthcoming exhibition, 'Seedscapes: Future-proofing Nature' (Impressions Gallery, Bradford, Yorks., April 2020, then touring in UK).

    Yan Wang Preston, Ten By Ten: New Discoveries Exhibition at FotoFest Houston, USA

    <p>Colin Robins, Anti-Authoritarians</p>
    Anti-Authoritarians – Berlin 1968 / 2018, Colin Robins

    Past Events



    • Research Seminar: Anti-Authoritarians – Berlin 1968 / 2018
      Colin Robins
      4th March 2020
      2–3.30 pm
      SCB 102
      This work centres around individuals who had been involved in the Berlin student revolts of 1968. Produced in conjunction with the Free University in Berlin as well as the German Historical Institute in London, the aim was to acknowledge the range of differing perspectives - political, social and cultural - that had surfaced at this time. The photographs record those who had been members of the SDS, the German student union, which had been led by Rudi Dutschke. However secondary school protestors, dissidents from the DDR, ex-members of radical Maoist and anarchist groups, anti-Vietnam protestors and cultural as well as counter-cultural figures were traced and photographed. The work was shown in 2018/2019 in political conferences and exhibitions at Cambridge University, Bristol University as well as in London, Helsinki and Berlin. The work is archived at the Free University, Berlin.

      Colin Robins’ practice has frequently centred on relationships between places and the communities that occupy them.

      White Mining looked at, largely rural, communities and their environments across Europe and Ukraine as well as sites in the United States, Brazil and China in which kaolin and marble are mined, quarried or processed.

      The Anthology of Rural Life is an on-going, and collaborative project with photographer Oliver Udy. The work generates a comparative visual study of the continuities and differences in patterns of life within contemporary rural areas. These in turn reflect shifting economic, social and cultural forces occurring in diverse European contexts.

      In 2018-2019 Robins’ project Anti-authoritarians about the 1968 generation in Berlin was exhibited in London, Helsinki and Berlin. This work was presented alongside archive materials, artefacts and photographs (including hitherto unseen photographs made by the West and East German police during demonstrations in the late 1960s).

      In 2019 Robins photographed of the idiosyncratic Irish rural sport of road bowling in the country lanes near the Irish border. The work will be exhibited in Armagh in April 2020 in conjunction with photographer and lecturer at Middlesex University Michael Bradley who has been making a study of the road bowling scene in Cork.

      Colin Robins is a Lecturer in Photography, University of Plymouth

    • Research Seminar: Fedra Dekeyser (PhD)
      18th March 2020



    • Premiere Screening of Pseudotachylyte by Heidi Morstang at Bergen International Film Festival, Norway
      Film in two competition programmes: Norweigan Documentaries/Golden Owl competitions,
      Hedi Morstang
      25 September–3 October

    • Research Seminar: Deposited Ecologies and Archive Histories
      Wayne Barrar 
      25 September 2019

    • Symposium at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter: Collecting regions - Photography and a sense of place symposium 
      Speakers: Liz Wells, Garry Fabian Miller, Bronwen Colquhoun, Jo Bradford, Emma Down, Catherine Troiano, Brendan Barry, Mark Haworth-Booth
      18 September 2019

    • International Conference: Environmental Arts Practice Research
      Speakers: Professor Camille Parmesan, Professor Tyrone Martinsson, Anne Noble. Book signing: Yan Wang Preston
      25–26 April 2019

      The aim of this conference was to expand on and question how art can contribute to understanding contemporary environmental issues and challenges.

      Artistic research practice has a unique capacity to offer crucial insights informing our understanding of environmental issues in the era of the Anthropocene. The reflexivity inherent in arts research along with an emphasis on expressive communication as outcome offers significant scope for bringing crucial yet complex relationships between vulnerable species, human action and climate change to wider appreciation amongst general audiences and key stakeholders.

      Placing artistic interpretive methods alongside scientific interpretive methods carries some risks and challenges, particularly as artistic approaches may invite an open-ended, contemplative engagement with the scientific, sensorial and political layering of the environment, that is not typical of mainstream science communication. Ways in which arts practice complements and extends scientific insight will be centrally addressed. This conference was the first of a series of research events planned by the international research network linking University of Plymouth, Massey University, New Zealand and Valand Academy, Gothenburg University, Sweden.


      • Chris Cook awarded first prize at the Sunny Art Prize
        The prize is a solo show in London, a month-long residency in China, a group exhibition in Sunny's Shanghai space and a £3000 stipend.

      • Liz Wells presents work to the Visual Arts and Research programme at Valand Academy, Gothenburg University, Sweden, and to develop the International Research Network 'Environmental Arts Research'.

      • Pseudotachylyte
        Heidi Morstang presented new research work 'Pseudotachylyte' to the Visual Arts and Research programme at Valand Academy, Gothenburg University, Sweden, and to develop the International Research Network 'Environmental Arts Research'. The visit was funded by Erasmus+

      • Sensing Nature: Photography and Environmental Arts
        Liz Wells spoke at The Rooms Museum and Art Gallery in St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, to coincide with the opening of a major survey of work by Canadian environmental artist, Marlene Creates. October 16th 2019

        The talk was the final stop in a trip that also included public talks at Ryerson University, Toronto, and Concordia University, Montreal, along with visits to Ryerson Image Archive and to the National Collection of Photography at the National Gallery of Art, Ottawa.

      • Altered Ocean
        Professor Liz Wells recently wrote the essay ‘Picturing Plastic Oceans’ featured in Mandy Barker’s Altered Ocean (2019). Altered Ocean is a comprehensive catalogue of Mandy Barker’s photographic works exposing the crisis of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. The publication also includes an introduction by Professor Richard Thompson, Director of the Marine Institute.




      • 'Field Studies' winner of the Kraszna Krausz Best Photography Book 2018
        We are delighted to announce that artist Chrystel Lebas' publication Field Studies: Walking through Landscapes and Archives, designed by Hans Gremmen and published by Fw: books has won the Kraszna Krausz Best Photography Book 2018 on the 17 May. Chrystel is an associate artist of the University's Land/Water and the Visual Arts research group.
      • Exhibition explores beneath the surface of culture in Cyprus
        Artists from the University of Plymouth are taking part in an international exhibition which aims to offer a different perspective on life in Cyprus.

      • Professor Jem Southam returns from a stay in New Zealand, initiated by our long-standing relationship with the College of Creative Arts, Massey University, Wellington. 
        During the visit, he gave the annual Peter Turner Memorial Lecture at Te Papa, Wellington; participated in the second New Zealand PhotoBook festival; taught on a photography publishing workshop; led a session on planning for a national photography archive with museums from around the country; met with post-graduate students from Massey University; and began a photographic project in New Zealand; a start of a residency with the Photography department at Massey.

        His was the third artist-in-residency by staff from 'Land/Water and the Visual Arts Research Group' to visit Massey University, after Liz Wells in 2010 and Heidi Morstang in 2012. Anne Noble, Wayne Barrar and Caroline McQuarrie from Massey University, have each made work as a result of artist-in-residencies at University of Plymouth.

        Discussions also took place about extending the links between the two art schools through collaborative research, events and exchanges, which has been given potentially greater emphasis since Professor Chris Bennewith became Head of the School of Art, Design and Architecture at University of Plymouth. Chris was previously Associate Pro Vice Chancellor Enterprise for the College of Creative Arts.



      • ‘Father-land’ Work-in-progress from NiMAC / Land/Water Cyprus residency
        Kayla Parker / Stuart Moore
        22 November 2017

      • Say Cheerio for Now 
        Sally Waterman Exhibition and Seminar,
        11-16 December 2017

      • Research seminar
        Esther Johnsen
        1 November 2017

      • On Location
        Kayla Parker Open exhibition at Sheffield Institute of Art Gallery
        6–28 September 2017.

      • Critical Issues in Photography Today
        Photographies is co-edited by Liz Wells
        University of Westminster, London UK.
        18–19 May 2017, 

      • Annual Summer Symposium – 'Territories'
        Speaker: Emeric Lhuisset
        22–23 June 2017 

      • Research seminar
        Speaker: Esther Johnson
        10 May 2017  

      • Research seminar 
        Speakers Fedra Dekeyser and Claudia Pilsl
        15 March 2017

      • Safekeeping bees – 'An interdisciplinary exploration of the future for bees in Britain’ symposium
        Speakers: Nick Bentham-Green, Mark Edwards, Dr William Kirk, Professor Andrea Liggins, Amy Shelton
        18 January 2017


      • Professor Liz Wells awarded an honorary Doctorate
        Professor Liz Wells has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, for her contributions within the fields of photography history, theory, curation and criticism internationally. This is especially significant as there is a particular interest in photography and environment at Valand Academy (Department for Film, Photography, Fine Art and Literary Composition) and also an established working relationship between photography and the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg.

        The honorary doctoral conferment took place at their annual University doctoral degree ceremony on October 20 2017.

        Liz Wells returned to Gothenburg to participate in a Valand Academy research day on 4 December 2017.

      • Design lecturer invited to judge prestigious national craft initiative
        Polly Macpherson, Associate Professor in 3D Design at the University of Plymouth, has been selected as one of the expert judges for the Woman's Hour Craft Prize 2017.


      • Kayla Parker/Stuart Moore ‘Father-land’ Work-in-progress from NiMAC and Land/Water Cyprus residency – 22 November 2017

      • Research seminar – Esther Johnsen, 1 November 2017

      • Kayla Parker’s ‘On Location’ screened in the In the Open exhibition at Sheffield Institute of Art Gallery – 6–28 September 2017

      • 'Critical Issues in Photography Today' 18–19 May 2017, University of Westminster, London UK. 'Photographies' is co-edited by Liz Wells

      • Annual Summer Symposium – 'Territories' 22–23 June 2017 – Speaker Emeric Lhuisset

      • Research seminar – 15 March 2017 – Speakers Fedra Dekeyser and Claudia Pilsl

      • Research seminar – 10 May 2017 – Speaker Esther Johnson

      • Safekeeping bees – 'An interdisciplinary exploration of the future for bees in Britain’ symposium
        Speakers: Nick Bentham-Green, Mark Edwards, Dr William Kirk, Professor Andrea Liggins, Amy Shelton – 18 January 2017
      • Annual Summer Symposium: Journeys and Transmission – 16–17 June 2016

      • Symposium: Traffic: movement / place / flow / mobility – 14–16 April 2016

      • Annual Summer Symposium: Wilderness / Wildness – Speakers: Liz Wells, Eva Cooney, Daro Montag, Jay Griffiths, Stephen Huggett, Temujin Doran and Angus Carlisle – 25–26 June 2015

      • Exhibition: Flow – 30 November–26 December 2014
      • Annual Summer Symposium 2014 ‘Nocturnal’ – Speakers: Nick Alfrey, Angela Kingston, Susan Derges, Jem Southam, William Arnold, Milo Newman, Liz Nicol, Louisa Fairclough, Tabatha Andrews, Fergus Heron and Chrystel Lebas

      • Annual Summer Symposium 2013 ‘Mapping’
        Speakers: David Chandler, Jean Delseaux, Caitlin Desilvey, Justin Partyka, Yan Preston, Susan Trangmar, Oliver Udy, Martin Warren, Pascale Weber and David Wyatt

      • 2012 ‘Water: Image’ International Conference. Keynote speakers: Deborah Bright (US), Per Bak Jensen (DK) and international speakers
      • 2011 Annual Summer Symposium ‘No Man’s Land’
        Speakers: Alev Adil, Anthony Haughey, Anne Noble, Emma Stibbon, Liz Wells and Anthony Caleshu

      • 2010 Annual Summer Symposium ‘Land and the Metaphysical’
        Speakers: David Williams, Jo Love and Mike Evans, David Rayson, Jane Grant and Peter Cusack

      • 2009 Annual Summer Symposium ‘Land and Expedition’
        Speakers: Anne Burke, Melanie Challenger, Neville Gabie, Vicky Long, Jorma Puranen and Stephen Vaughan




      Associated members

      • Susan Derges
      • Liz Nicol
      • Stephen Vaughan
      • Chrystel Lebas - Independent artist

      Artist in residence

      • Wayne Barrar - Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
      • Deborah Bright 
      • Caroline Mcquarrie - Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
      • Hantu (Pascale Weber - Sorbonne University, Paris and Jean Delseux - University of Clemont-Ferrand)


      • Rachael Allain - PhD
      • Lu La Buzz - PhD 
      • Jennifer Crowther - PhD
      • Fedra Dekeyser - PhD 
      • Jose Emanuel Bras - MPhil/PhD 
      • Laura Hopes - PhD
      • Karol Kwiatek - MPhil/PhD 
      • Mary Pearson - PhD
      • Claudia Pilsl - PhD 
      • Yan Preston - PhD 
      • David Wyatt - PhD

      • Nicola Curtis - MRes Photography, completed 2010
      • Jason Hirons - MRes Landscape, completed 2010
      • Kate Isherwood - MRes Photography, completed 2010
      • Jess Maslen - MRes Photography, completed 2010
      • Laurie Reynolds - MRes Photography, completed 2010
      • Martin Shaw - PhD, completed 2010
      • Sally Waterman - PhD, completed 2010