The Alchemical Landscape

Alternate Tuesday, 17.00-19.00 during term time

Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building


Rise up! Rise up, Cormoran. Woden. Jack-of-Green. Jack-in-Irons. Thunderdell. Búri, Blunderbore, Gog and Magog, Galligantus, Vili and Vé, Yggdrasil, Brutus of Albion. Come, you drunken spirits. Come, you battalions. You fields of ghosts who walk these green plains still. Come, you giants!

                                                     ---Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, in Jez Butterworth, Jerusalem (2009)


At the end of Jerusalem, Johnny Byron invokes a wide range of cultural, national and mythic figures to aid his ‘curse’ against the local council. Although it’s unclear whether this act ‘succeeds’, a wide range of contemporary artists, writers and film-makers increasingly seem to pick-up where Byron leaves off. From the revival of interest in ‘Folk Horror’ to the cross-over between psychogeographic and artistic practice, from Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England (2013) to Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney (2015) this ‘occultural’ representation of the rural works as both a link to the past and an articulation of pressing contemporary concerns.

The link between art, landscape and the visionary tradition is, of course, ancient. However, the recent, post-millennial popularity of this type of work has helped to embed a register of supernaturalism into the creative culture concerned with the 21st century life of Britain’s rural, coastal and edge-land areas. In contrast to the metropolitan focus that dominated writing of the 1990s and early 2000s (by the likes of Iain Sinclair, Zadie Smith and Chris Petit) one finds in contemporary work by John Akomfrah, Alice Oswald, English Heretic and Emily Richardson non-urban spaces populated by literal and figurative ghosts.

This is the territory of The Alchemical Landscape.

Working as an interdisciplinary, multi-platform research project, The Alchemical Landscape brings into collaboration the Faculty of English and the Department of Land Economy. It has two intersecting points of focus: the artistic representation of the British landscape as an uncanny if not haunted space, and the use of comparable ‘spectral’ language to speak about matters of environment, property and value. From economic ghost towns to geomantic visitations, the interest of the Alchemical Landscape project lies with the way these tropes describe the ‘natural’ landscape of contemporary Britain and its geographic, architectural and symbolic histories.


Mailing list:

For more information visit  The Alchemical Landscape external website.
CRASSH is not reponsible for the content of external websites

Administrative assistance:




Yvonne Salmon (MA (Cantab), MRes FRSA FRGS FRAI, Dept. of Land Economy, Faculty of Law, Faculty of English, Dept. of Art History)
Dr James Riley (FRSA, Girton College, Faculty of English)

Yvonne Salmon directs the Alchemical Landscape Project. She lectures for the Department of Land Economy where she has directed courses on law and behavioural economics since 2009, she is also an affiliated lecturer with the Faculty of Law (since 2011), member of the Faculty of English, associate of the Department of Art History and an affiliate member of the Centre for Film and Screen, University of Cambridge. Her interdisciplinary research on law, literature, art, photography and film mirrors the principle of solve et coagula found throughout the Alchemical Landscape Project. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Royal Geographical Society and Royal Anthropological Institute and chairs the Cambridge University Counterculture Research Group. She was formerly a convener of the CRASSH Screen Media Group. She has been published by Getty, Cambridge University Press, Intersentia and the BFI, amongst others. She is currently writing on law, literature and the culture of the 1960s.

James Riley is Fellow and College Lecturer in English at Girton College where he is also Graduate Tutor. He works on modern and contemporary literature, film and counterculture. Recent publications involve a multi-volume collection on the film and literature of the 1960s. He’s currently at work on Playback Hex, a study of William Burroughs and the tape recorder. James is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He writes about his research and other matters at the blog Residual Noise. 

Faculty Advisors

Dr Robert Macfarlane (Lecturer in English, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge )
Dr Alastair Reid (Faculty of History, Life Fellow, Girton College, University of Cambridge)

Programme 2017-18

Alchemical Landscape
Artist’s Talk
03 October 2017, Seminar room S1, 1st Floor, Alison Richard Building. NB Different room only today*

Robin the Fog (Sound Artist / Howlround) - Alchemical Landscape

Derek Jarman, Alchemy and the Landscape of Dorset
31 October 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Judith Noble (Plymouth College of Art) - Alchemical Landscape

Merlin’s Isle: What if ‘the matter of Britain’ were the ‘matter’ of Britain?
14 November 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Malcolm Guite (Cambridge) - Alchemical Landscape

Afterwords: Language, Cinema and Wandering
28 November 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Brian Baker (Lancaster University) - Alchemical Landscape

Postponed: Polyphonic Cinema
30 January 2018, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Postponed: Sarah Turner (Kent) - Alchemical Landscape

Supernatural Cities: Urban Mindscapes and Academic Liminality
13 February 2018, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Karl Bell (Portsmouth) - Alchemical Landscape

Topographia and Topothesia: Memory and Testimony in a Croatian Landscape
27 February 2018, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Jessie Fyfe (Cambridge) - Alchemical Landscape

Artist's Talk - Working Site-Responsively in Crystallised Time
13 March 2018, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Rosanna Greaves (Cambridge School of Art, ARU) - Alchemical Landscape

Past events

Alchemical Landscape
The Other Cambridge: Ley Hunting, Local Identity, The Land of Cokaygne and ...
04 October 2016, Seminar room S2, 2nd Floor, Alison Richard Building (NB Different room today)

Nigel Pennick (author)-at The Alchemical Landscape

Jarman and Cocteau: A Shared Vision
18 October 2016, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building

James Mackay (Film producer) - at The Alchemical Landscape

Witch Hunt
01 November 2016, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Delaine Le Bas (Artist) - at The Alchemical Landscape

Breathing Spaces: The Smell of Britain's National Parks
15 November 2016, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Rosemary Shirley (Manchester) - at The Alchemical Landscape

Landscape, Dwelling and Site-Specific Practice
21 November 2016, Seminar room SG1, Alison Richard Building. NB Different day and seminar room today*

Stephen Bottoms (Manchester), Yvonne Salmon (Cambridge) - Joint session Alchemical Landscape and Performance Network (CIPN)

The Landscape as Oracle-Astrology and the Enchanted Cosmos.
17 January 2017, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building.

Prudence Jones (Author) -at Alchemical Landscape

Online Mediated Geographies of Public Art: The Case of Paul McCarthy's *Tree * installation
31 January 2017, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building.

Martin Zebracki (Leeds)-at Alchemical Landscape

Mutant Cinema, Alchemy and Dreams: The Visionary Films of D.Fawcett & C.Pais
28 February 2017, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building.

Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais (Filmmakers) -at Alchemical Landscape

André Breton, Paul Gauguin and Charles Filiger: Magic, Folklore and Rural Tales in Le Pouldu
14 March 2017, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building.

March Gavin Parkinson (Courtauld Institute of Art) -at Alchemical Landscape

Old Traditions and New?
09 May 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Sharron Kraus (Singer/Songwriter) at The Alchemical Landscape​

Property, Properties and Haunted Houses
23 May 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Panel Discussion at The Alchemical Landscape