The Dwelling Perspective

Jacques Abelman, Amsterdam Academy of Architecture

jacques.abelman [at]

A response to The Temporality of Landscape by Tim Ingold (World Archaeology, 25(2), 1993)


The Dwelling Perspective

Tim Ingold’s concept of the ‘dwelling perspective’ attempts to reconcile the separation between man and landscape by imagining the landscape as a continually unfolding story. The landscape bears witness to the passing of time; it contains a living memory of all who have lived in it. To perceive the landscape is to carry out an act of remembrance – one is immersed in this unfolding, gathering details and impressions that can be related again.

This idea triggered some of my earliest memories. When I was three we lived on the edge of the Salt Lake in Utah. The Rocky Mountains towered over the horizon at the edge of our land, their snow capped peaks catching the red light at sunset. Dust devils swirled over the dry plains, clouds of mosquitoes devoured us in the summer. Later we lived in the gentle rolling hills of Kentucky. I spent hours in the woods by myself, catching crawfish in the river, learning the animals and plants by heart. I remember the strange and fragrant fruits of the Osage orange that covered my hands in fluorescent green sticky juice, and the secret places in the woods where the deer slept and where I found arrowheads. These experiences were wordless stories, memories of places that have stayed alive inside me my entire life.

Another element in these early explorations was a feeling of presence. I never felt alone in the woods or fields. Perhaps it was because I was so busy with my childhood activities and fantasy making, but I always felt as if nature were animated and alive, not speaking in words, but radiating presence. I traveled my paths of childhood adventure in constant dialogue with nature, digging and picking, climbing and looking, always following a kind of storyline through the landscape, talking to my invisible partners. I believe that this is what Ingold calls a “taskscape,” a story of activity and relationships unfolding in space.

These are not stories that I tell, but when I try to answer the question of who I am, it is always these specific memories of places that spring to mind. Their presence in my life from an early age clearly compelled me to become involved with landscape. Ingold also feels that the environment is pregnant with stories that create meanings. This unfolding meaning is the world itself, and we are within that story.

Brian Goodwin, a scientist who advocated holistic theory, in which emotion and intuition rank equally with rational analysis of natural phenomena, frames this scientifically. For Goodwin the relationship between landscape and body is “a processual unfolding of a total field of relations that cuts across the emergent interface between organism and environment.”[1] This is also supported by a startling scientific fact: every atom in our bodies is replaced over time. This is believed to take about seven to ten years. Our skin sloughs off and becomes dust; the carbon in our breaths becomes the bodies of plants. In this light our dialogue with landscape becomes material. We become the landscape, and the landscape becomes us, creating our bodies anew over the course of our lives.

In this story of being unfolding through the process of storytelling, there can no longer be a separation between man and nature, between observer and landscape, between “here” and “out there.” Landscape is no longer a culturally rich image; it encompasses the world in one complex gestalt, or whole. In this paradigm, then, what is important? It is surely our ability to listen to the landscape’s story, and thoughtfully tell our own.

[1] Goodwin, B. 1988. Orgnisms and minds:the dialectics of the animal-human interface in biology.