Switch to desktop Register Login

The research asks how the ‘image’ and the act of ‘making images’ combined with ‘where the image performs’ can offer ways to question, negotiate, communicate or describe moments of erasure or remembering in direct reference to the narratives of violence, faith and place.

Since 2005 Higgins has been developing an on-going body of work collectively titled unloud, using painting and its process to explore how to (re) integrate images through art into historically active conversations concerning both shared history and contemporary experience of violence.  It asked how the production of painting can communicate an understanding of violence, faith and place through a research process involving the production of: paintings, photographs, videos, texts, critical reflection and fieldwork.



Higgins states “Northern Russia has been described as being shrouded in a rare serene stillness and beauty undermined by the decaying presence of evil. As I stepped off the plane on the Solovki Islands in north Russia* in December 2004 I experienced a sudden and significant shift in understanding about my cultural place in the world. Solovki is for me a place of limits, a frontier or an extreme situation incorporating the extremes of climate, geography and nature, faith, brutality, beauty and fantasy. This experience continues to define the contexts and approaches for making unloud as I feel it touches not just my own but wider shared histories. In particular I am concerned with exploring ideas of testimony and to try and find the means to visualise through painting how the personal and the historical meet together. How do we construct social memory through images today? 

* The Solovetsky Islands, often referred to as Solovki, are just 165km from the Arctic Circle. The remote archipelago of islands is known for their scenic beauty and has long been used for both retreat and exile. Founded in the 15th Century, its monastery is one of Russia’s most famous and holy, and became a major pilgrimage destination.  a UNESCO world heritage site and the islands that Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” made Stalin’s “mother of all gulags” infamous. “It is hard to imagine such a compelling and concentrated series of physical and emotional histories unfolding in one place (Solovki).” (Wilk, M 2003).

The research takes Solovki and its narrative history along with particular related sites in Lithuania, northern Russia and northern Norway as the case for study ‘unloud’. To address themes of exile, displaced cultural heritage and the representation of social memory in relation to sites that provoke social imagination e.g. the Ghettos in Kaunas Lithuania, sites of exile and deportation from Lithuania in the Russian north and the contested historical sites of the north western Russian border.

Research Questions or Problems

The research asks how the ‘image’ and the act of ‘making images’ combined with ‘where the image performs’ can offer ways to question, negotiate, communicate or describe moments of erasure or remembering in direct reference to the narratives of violence, faith and place.

The fundamental issue is: when counter-memories are produced (of state violence, war, and genocide; of colonial inequalities and atrocities; of embodied experiences that contest official histories; of the heritage and existence of subjugated groups and threatened cultures), they offer positive transformation of social and political reality in the future - signifying a form of knowledge and it's associated intangible expressions that is contingent, subjective, and transformative.

The image is seen here as a significant agent or catalyst to aid our cultural understanding with emphasis on the exploration of cultural heritage and the dynamics of cultural translation. The representation of the past as an intervention that speaks into the needs of the present, in order for us to understand the selves we are already becoming.

To focus in particular on the impact of historical legacy “at the very fringe of our apprehension” (Daugelis,O. Director MK-C National Museum of Art, Kaunas, Lithuania 2013) in forming cultural heritage, whilst also acknowledging how this has implicit transnational implications for others and our collective related histories. The research has identified a specific problem in the lack of models or examples of cultural artefacts or resources engaging in the research question and the case for study today. The research acknowledges the urgency, implicit importance and significance to address and capture this. The distinctive contribution to this debate is to situate the research question in relation to the contested role of documentary film-making and the premise that still haunts us that ‘photographs are documents’, both through the process by which they are made, their form when presented and where they perform. The research will explore and challenge the premise of a difficulty faced when trying to communicate experiences of others distinct from information, records or evidence as defined through the document, in ways that render documentary legibility and historical accuracy in a new light. 




In a Place Like This

Collaborative research project Johan Sandborg (Norway) & Duncan Higgins (UK)

The books explore the echoes of places, people and a terrible history repeated. The questions central to this is the difficulty we face whenever we try to communicate our most intimate experiences to others. The discrepancy in question concerns the very structure of testimony itself: the language of images and representation and how to make ideas and emotions visible. The hope is that this developing exploration is neither an explanation nor mystification; it attempts to put forward visual discussion, critical positions and emotional signposts for others.

“In a place like this” is constructed as a montage, a complete interwoven idea, in an attempt to recount a narrative testimony within the landscapes in which it is inscribed.

 Three adaptations constructed through book formats. 


1. A printed book consisting of three parts. Part one is a visual dialogue between images constructed to function within the format of this book. Part two is a textual exploration of the questions, dialogues, and processes that have been encountered during this process. Part three is a repository presented as a catalogue of the raw data that was used in the visual dialog in part one. ISBN: 978-82-8013-094-5

2. A unique large format book (60x45 cm), consisting of over 150 pages of photographs and drawings. Each page printed and hand drawn to create a singular dialectic form conceived as an autonomous artefact.

3. A digital edition viewable and downloadable though the online web site; This web site also archives the whole ongoing enquiry.




Last modified on