Katy Beinart


Salted Earth

Stall in Market

Salted Earth: Mining diasporic memory, surfacing voice, and building new composites of narrative and regeneration in contested urban sites.

PhD Research by Architectural Design at the Bartlett, University College London

Through the Origination project and residency, I became interested in the idea of 'salted earth', a term used to refer to District 6, an area of Cape Town, South Africa demolished by the Apartheid Government. Subsequent protests made it impossible to sell the land. 'Salted earth' is a reference to emotion carried in the land, places that become loaded with memory, often contested by different communities with different versions of history. Salt as a material overlaps cultures and histories, and has strong links to migration and ritual in different cultures.

In my Masters dissertation (see Links page), I explored the idea of 'healing' place, where through social encounter in the process of place-making, new relationships had been built, thereby constructing new identities of place. Using my experience in community development, and my artistic practice, and looking at others with similar approaches, my current proposal develops this idea at the intersection between art and architecture, exploring modes of 'public' art, and in the process offering critiques of practices of memorialisation.

Abstract (edited)

Salt is a metaphor for diaspora, and for the preservation of culture in the face of migration and change: it is a memory agent. In areas with a strong migrant presence, cultural signifiers and oral practices have a powerful but transient impact on place identity. These can in some cases create vibrant, cosmopolitan places which attract capital and become a focus for regeneration.

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However, with this comes a twofold problem: diverse voices are not often represented effectively in the regeneration process; and the presence of these attendant cultural signs and oral narratives are not established in the fabric of place. In some cases, contestation over space is a consequence whilst in others these voices are silenced and the signs erased. I want to bring these different types of narrative to the surface, through a 'writing' or 'making' of a collective biography of place, bringing together individual geo-biographies, using the metaphorical and material qualities of salt as a register or index.

How do these diverse voices get heard, represented and listened to? Where are the voices of diaspora in re-imagining the city? Is there a poetics of urban regeneration that references the complexities of multiple heritages in place?

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I suggest that these voices bring a complex web of 'spectral geographies' into place; that these have diasporic roots of memory, which provide a continual renewal and that if these diasporic roots disappear, the heterogeneous qualities of place will die away. Therefore, preserving physical space is not enough – there needs to be a way to preserve and continue the social presence/diversity of place.

I want to bring together these diasporic imaginaries with current regeneration practices through public art, to create a narrative-based approach to future planning and understanding of place, which draws on the possibilities of memory (Casey). I'm using Brixton Market as a case study, and my research will also contribute to contestations and debates over current changes.

To follow the research process, go to the Salted Earth blog

Katy is part of the Mapping Spectral Traces network, a trans-disciplinary, international group of scholars, practitioners, community leaders and artists who work with and in traumatized communities, contested lands and diverse environments.