Ghost Acres

  • Dalwood, Alison (PI)

Project: Research

Project Details



The project draws attention to our dependency on outsourced resources and environmental degradation.

This research explores new parameters in painting to address specific environmental ecologies and the potential of the traditional media of painting to capture the materiality of ghost acres. The project addresses the material environment and the historical issue of the displaced consumption of resources in colonial times. This research is focused on exploring how the specific approach to the media adopted has the potential to act as a space of encounter for the viewer and catalyst for awareness and understanding of the environmental impacts of imperial trade. Ghost Acres investigates the potential of bringing environmental issues in into direct discourse with the two-dimensional media of painting through a re-imagining of romantic and colour-field painting. It explores associative readings of colour and our relationship to landscape and attempts to re-contextualize and transform romantic perception of landscape places and spaces to engender understanding about the relationship between the finite resources of the world, the colonial history of our exploitation of them and present issues which impact on the world’s environment.

The project is based on the concept quoted by Garrett Hardin in Living Within Limits pub 1993: “Since most of the acreage the average citizen “occupies” is out of sight and out of mind, the agricultural geographer Georg Borgstrom suggested in 1961 that we call it “ghost acreage.” The essential life of an educated urban dweller, from birth to death, is lived out on ghost acreage.”

Ghost Acres aims to make ghost acreage tangible and visible and lead to appreciation of the full scale of the city dweller’s dependency on acres of land in the world beyond the city: “Since he is deficient in meaningful experiences with the sources of his being”. P123 Garrett Hardin, Living Within Limits.

Four locations are represented in Ghost Acres charting the statistical acreage in relation to each category. Each of the series of four paintings essentially assimilates all the visual aspects of one of the environments listed. These works are optical, perceptual representations of visual attributes of these habitats.

Collaboration between Alison Dalwood and Dr Keith G Davies FLS FRSB, Associate Professor and Applied Nematologist, School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire

The four locations represented charting the statistical acreage in relation to each category and with the urban Manhattan dweller represented by the light bulb.
Cropland 1.9 acres
Pastureland 2.4 acres
Woodland 2.6 acres
Other land 2.2 acres
Dweller of Urban Manhattan: 435 square feet

Around 1950 the proportion of the global population living an urban existence was around 30 percent, 70 percent being rural. This rose to around 50: 50 by 2011, and by 2050 it is estimated the proportions will have reversed. The concept of ghost acres refers to the fact that the urban population relies on agricultural production systems that originate far from their urban dwelling place and from which they are disconnected. Keith Davies who regularly visited New Delhi and other large conurbations to discuss food security through crop protection, became increasingly conscious of the rural/urban divide. In a conversation with Alison Dalwood about the interactions between art and science the term ghost acres came up as part of the conversation and it became apparent that the word ghost was very different between the scientific and artistic imaginations. This collaboration grew out of that discussion.

Key findings

Short titleGhost Acres
Effective start/end date1/10/211/09/22


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.