This is a blog by Katy Beinart. I am an artist and PhD student on the research by architectural design programme at the Bartlett, University College London. This blog will chart my progress as I develop my practice-based research project, Salted Earth.
My interest in ‘Salted Earth’ emerged through its possibilities as both a metaphor and material, and as a filter through which to explore traces and identities in contested sites with links to migrant history.
Salt is used in ritual and as a symbol by many different cultures; in Alchemy, salt is the ‘stable’ third element, representing form, knowledge and crystallization of that knowledge. In pagan religions, salt circles are devices of safety, and in Jewish customs salt is used as a blessing. In Santeria, salts are used in cleansing and exorcism, (for example this Jinx Removing salt which I bought in Brixton market.) Salt has been used as a currency from early civilization; the word ‘salary’ derives from the Latin word salārium, referring to the payment of Roman soldiers in salt. Salt cakes were used as currency in China, Tibet and parts of the mediterranean, and many global trade routes were developed to transport salt.
Salting the earth is a term which refers to mainly historical examples of using salt to render land unusable as punishment, now usually referred to as a ‘scorched earth’ policy. I came across the term “Salted earth” in South Africa, referring to an area of Cape Town demolished by the apartheid government, which subsequently became impossible to build on due to protests; the emotion buried in land had made its contested nature a metaphorically ‘salted’ site.
Through my recent practice investigating my genealogy and family migrations, I discovered my great-grandfather had harvested and traded salt in South Africa, which became the basis for a series of works. From this personal interest in migrant history I expanded my research field to draw in other narratives and memories of migration which connect to sites of ‘salted earth’.
Places of salted earth are sites with a contested, often obscured history. They are often ‘spaces of absence’, edge spaces with an unclear identity where migrants, who are often excluded from society, can exist. This suggests a need for a careful engagement, offering up possible alternative practices of memorialisation, which are between art and architecture. The research process will involve the drawing out of emotion from these sites, exploring the idea of healing and attempting to understand causes and legacies of these spatial conflicts.