Hannah Imlach in her 2017 exhibition From the Dark Ocean Comes Light, Summerhall, Edinburgh
Image Credit: Alex Ingle

Visual Artist Hannah Imlach is currently undertaking PhD research and fieldwork at RSPB Scotland’s Loch Lomond reserve. In this blog she introduces herself and her work.

Close Encounters at Loch Lomond: Part 1

My name is Hannah Imlach, I’m a visual artist and research student working on the first RSPB-supported arts-humanities PhD. I began my 3½ year project in October last year, partnering with Human Geography at the University of Glasgow (UoG) and the RSPB Scotland’s Loch Lomond Reserve. My project explores how people interact with nature reserves and the potential for site-specific artwork to encourage new audiences and novel forms of human-nature interaction. The PhD is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council through Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities.

This first introductory blog post will be followed by subsequent updates as I progress with my research and create artworks inspired by the ecology and conservation of Loch Lomond. Within this first post I’ll introduce my aspirations for the PhD research. However, first, I’ll explain why I was particularly drawn to this unusually structured, cross-disciplinary PhD.

Why this PhD?

The Close Encounters project is uniquely structured, with contributors across academia, in environmental and cultural geography, poetics and ecocriticism; expertise in conservation and public engagement through the partnership with RSPB Scotland; and a focus on experimental contemporary art practice. This was a particularly exciting prospect for me, as an artist working with environmental research material, the PhD allows me to develop my artwork within the rigorous environmental research context of the School of Earth and Geosciences and access on-the-ground conservation and ecological expertise within RSPB Scotland. The PhD also provides a sustained period to create an ambitious body of work relating to a specific site; Loch Lomond is a relatively young reserve of amazingly diverse habitats, still forming its conservation and public engagement strategies.

Close Encounters continues the trajectory of my recent work, which has explored how artworks can contribute to sites of environmental restoration, conservation and renewable energy transition. Since graduating in 2011 in Fine Art from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee, I have worked professionally as a visual artist undertaking artist residencies, commissions and exhibition projects within Scotland and internationally. In recent years I have focussed on opportunities to work within communities of specialist environmental knowledge, often in environments undergoing significant change. These have included artist residencies with scientific research groups, such as the Changing Oceans Group at the University of Edinburgh, with community organisations such as Aberdeen Community Energy, and with conservation charities, such as the Peatland Partnership.

My 18-month residency with the Peatland Partnership was particularly transformative and has greatly influenced my current PhD research. As artist-in-residence with the Flows to the Future project I researched and created my most ambitious work to date informed by current peatland ecology and conservation. The project outcomes included: a series of sculptures inspired by scientific instrumentation and peatland flora (one shown below), a film documenting their temporary installation in the Flow Country, exhibitions in Thurso and at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and a number of screenings and conference presentations.

hazel anemometer in flow country
Artwork from Hannah’s 2017-19 project with the RSPB in the Flow Country:

Hazel Anemometer, Tulipwood, brass and 3D printed components, 2018
Image Credit: Hannah Imlach

Research Aspirations

The PhD has two central research questions, the first: What role can site-specific artwork, in the context of a nature reserve, play in strengthening multispecies connection during diverse kinds of visitor experience? The second: In what ways can artwork embody and communicate knowledge relating to current environmental/scientific research and conservation practices?

Guided by these questions I will use the Loch Lomond as a test-site to create interactive sculptures informed by the ecology and conservation activities on the reserve. I am interested to explore elements such as: scales of activity from microbial life to geological features; networked sites connected by migratory species such as white-fronted geese; the balance between native and invasive species in habitats such as the fenland, and the perception-enhancing survey techniques and tools used by conservation practitioners.

Developing my creative research in dialogue with RSPB Scotland staff and my fellow researchers at the UoG, my aim is to create a body of artworks which reflect some of the significant and lesser-known environmental narratives and conflicts of the site and encourage engagement with its more-than-human inhabitants.

mountains seen across loch

close up of swan mussel
Photography from Hannah’s initial fieldwork on the Loch Lomond reserve: view across the loch and an otter-discarded swan mussel from Ring Pont peninsula

Image credit: Hannah Imlach

Read Part 2 here

Email: h.imlach.1@research.gla.ac.uk

Website: www.hannahimlach.com

Twitter: @hannahimlach

Instagram: hannahimlach