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Durham University

Faculty Handbook 2022-2023

Module Description

Please ensure you check the module availability box for each module outline, as not all modules will run each academic year.

Department: Modern Languages and Cultures (Visual)

VISU3062: Special Subject: Art, Nature, Ecology (40 credits)

Type Open Level 3 Credits 40 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap 15 Location Durham


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • VISU3xxx: Special Subject: Art, Nature, Ecology (20 credits)


  • To introduce and critically engage with artworks, art-making processes, and theories of art, nature, landscape, and ecology across cultures.
  • To explore the specific material, communicative, and representational qualities of art-making processes and media as modes of grappling with the relations between culture and nature from early modernity through the present epoch of the Anthropocene.
  • To develop students' interdisciplinary research skills in researching visual art.


  • The module will be structured around a set of framing questions/topics that will be consistent (and developed over time) each year in which the module is taught, and a set of specific case studies that will vary from year to year according to staff availability and interests.
  • Framing questions/topics include:
  • How what in English is referred to as “nature” has been conceptualised in diverse cultural and historical contexts.
  • How art and art media have been conceptualised in opposition to nature in Western art history and theory; how artworks have been conceptualised in relation to concepts of organisms, or bodies of work as constituting ecosystems (e.g. by Kant, Paul Klee, Merleau-Ponty, or Henri Focillon); how art-making processes have been understood to be part of larger ecological processes (e.g. how ideas of nature as process (ziran) and breath (qi) inform Chinese landscape painting).
  • Culturally-specific ideas of landscape and their circulation, and the idea of landscape as a medium.
  • How thinking about landscape ecologies has been informed by ideas of form in art-making
  • Case studies might include:
  • Questions of form and depiction in specific landscape formations (e.g. island and river and mountain geographies; borderlands and “no-man’s lands”).
  • Land art; installation art as “environments”; ecologically-focused landscape architecture (e.g. the SCAPE group).
  • Abstraction and form as ways of thinking ecosystems (e.g. Paul Klee’s notebooks; ecologist Richard Forman’s influential analysis of landscapes as mosaics of Bauhaus concepts of points, lines, and planes).
  • The mediation and negotiation of the disparate timescales of cultural, geological, and planetary histories through the making of artworks and films.
  • Photography as an assemblage of animal, vegetable, and mineral materials, and conceptualisations and practices of photography an interaction human and natural agencies (such as energy in the form of light).
  • Mexican muralism (Frida Kahlo and other muralists’ engagement with the question of "nature" during a process of rapid industrialisation, often mobilising indigenous forms of conceptualising that relation).
  • Latin American documentary films that engage with the themes of monoculture and extractivism.
  • • Spaces of display such as Naoshima Art Islands in Japan.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of this module, students are expected to possess:
  • An understanding of the practices of and theoretical reflection on the relations between art, nature, and ecology in the light of wider historical, philosophical, technological, scientific, and artistic developments.
  • Knowledge of interdisciplinary methodologies appropriate to the critical analysis of individual artworks and groups of artworks in a variety of media.
  • Enhanced knowledge of the specialised language required to talk and write about eco-art and visual culture.
  • Undertake independent interdisciplinary research projects
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of this module, students are expected to possess:
  • The ability to interpret art works in terms of their formal, material, and aesthetic properties.
  • The ability to critically evaluate and apply a range of methodologies in order to perform the above analyses.
  • The ability to critically analyse the theoretical discourses of the interrelationships of art, nature, and ecology.
Key Skills:
  • By the end of this module, students should / will / are expected to:
  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • Enhanced range and fluency of expression.
  • The ability to formulate arguments coherently and to present them in written and oral form.
  • The ability to identify an appropriate set of research questions and to pursue a guided programme or self-directed study, leading to the production of an extended piece of written work.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • This module will be taught weekly throughout the academic year.
  • Weekly seminars (2 hours) will facilitate sustained discussion of the key topics, developing students’ grasp of theoretical material as well as practising visual and performance analysis on a weekly basis. Seminar will be interactive; students will develop their communication skills and skills in critical reasoning. In the second term, students will take responsibility for presenting topics and leading the discussion.
  • Small-group tutorials (2 x 1 hour) will allow students to explore and develop their research questions and plans, responding to questions from the group and giving and receiving peer feedback.
  • The assessment (dossier in T1 and research essay in T2) will allow students to develop their skills in academic writing, as well as demonstrating other skills and knowledge that the module seeks to develop.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminar 20 weekly 2 hours 40
Research essay preparation tutorial 2 In each of the first two terms 1 hour 2
Student preparation and reading time 358
Total SLAT hours (20 credits 200, 40 credits 400) 400

Summative Assessment

Component: Dossier Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Dossier (response papers on reading materials) 2,000 words 100% No
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Research project 5,000 words 100% No

Formative Assessment:

Seminar presentations and tutorial will involve both peer- and lecturer feedback.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University

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