Dr Katy Beinart


Détour and Retour: Practices and poetics of salt as narratives of relation and re-generation in Brixton

Second supervisor(s)
Professor Ben Campkin

Drawing on the work of Martiniquan poet Edouard Glissant and his ‘poetics of Relation’ (1990), this practice-based PhD explores how salt features in relationships of migration and change in urban places, in particular the context of Brixton, an area of London with a strong migrant identity.

Following Glissant’s notion of détour and retour, this thesis moves between geographical locations through a series of four narrative journeys from Brixton, outwards to South Africa, Eastern Europe, Portugal, and Haiti, returning each time to Brixton as a ‘homeplace’. Each chapter is arranged as a détour and retour, developing a practice and poetics of salt that offers a productive reading of Brixton’s current regeneration.

I explore salt’s use in offering forms of protection, preservation and reawakening through re-enacting rituals found in everyday and religious practices from across different diasporas. I engage with auto-ethnographic research into my family history and Jewish cultural customs around salt, as well as engage with others’ stories and salt products that link to specific places through migration. Using practices that perfomatively engage with the materiality of salt, I build on work by artists including Robert Smithson and Sigalit Landau. 

Overall, this thesis argues that practices and poetics of salt can be linked to processes of migration and regeneration. The thesis shows how salt practices can be used to understand the particular poetics of salt and how salt acts as an index in artworks that point to ideas of migration and diaspora. These material and poetic qualities of salt make it a rich vehicle for alternative approaches to regeneration, particularly in sites such as Brixton. I argue for a re-negotiation of the language of regeneration of these sites, instead proposing a ‘poetics of re-generation’ through a re-reading of Glissant’s terms of détour and retour as well as his poetics of Relation.


I propose an understanding of a place as formed through relational processes. I therefore discuss the journey, a physical détour, as an artistic method of understanding a place, by going outside the place itself. The journeys in this thesis enable an understanding of how material culture shifts through movement, and they are a means of finding and constructing languages of movement that can be brought back to place. […]

I decided that, through the process of the thesis, the making of salt artworks, and the reflective writing on these works, I would aim to understand salt as a practice. In order to research Brixton’s diasporas, I made a series of journeys which connected with salt products found in Brixton to their sites of production elsewhere. These journeys, or détours, became the central structuring device of the thesis. They allowed me to make connections between the local and the diasporic, using journeying and story-telling to make links between Brixton and related places elsewhere. These physical journeys enabled me to make détours from Brixton, to discover the poetics of Relation in the diasporic links through salt, and to bring these narratives back to Brixton through the practice of retour. 

The journeys I made are at the heart of my salt practice, and they are framed by my understanding of Glissant’s concept of the poetics of Relation and the interlinked journeying of détour and retour. […]

Through […] three types of journeys, I set out the […] four projects (chapters) which develop a salting practice in the détour and return to questions of regeneration in Brixton in the retour. These journeys are the basis on which I build my argument for a poetics of re-generation that uses salting practice as a poetic and material case study. […]



Abstract 5

List of images 11

List of abbreviations 14

Acknowledgements 15

Prologue 19

Introduction: In search of salted earth 23

Questions and aims of the thesis 32

The journey as structuring device: Détour and Retour 34

Structure of the thesis 37

Part I 41

Section 1: Salting practices: A ‘poetics of Relation’ 43

The Poetics of Salt 47

The poetics of salt in art practice 52

A poetics of the index 58

Towards a ‘poetics of Relation’ 65

Section 2: Journeys and narratives of Détour and Retour 75

Détour and retour 78

Migrations and diasporas 84

Travel, journey and pilgrimage 88

(Home) place and entanglement 91

Regeneration 96

Brixton 100

Section 3: Salting practices in Brixton 109

Practice-based research 112

Site- and place-specificity 116

Writing (and travelling) 123

Practising Brixton: Performance, ritual, re-making 126

Salting practices 129

Part II 135

Project 1: Journey to South Africa (and back): Don’t Look Back (2010)/ Memory Preservation Salts (2011) 137

Introduction 139

Section 1: Journey to South Africa (détour) 143

The Journey 157

Starter Culture and Khlebosolny (2009-) 159

Family Photograph (2009) 1638 

A Family Recipe (2009) 165

Khlebosolny at the docks 169

South Africa: Don’t Look Back (2010) 171

South Africa: Offere (2010) 177

South Africa: Sal Sapit Omnia (2010) 181

South Africa: Dinner Party (2010) 


Section 2: Brixton Market (retour) 184

Brixton: Memory Preservation Salts (2011) 186

Brixton: The Darling Salt Pans and Produce Co. Market Stall (2011) 188

Brixton: Aurophone and Confabulation (2011) 196

Project 2: Journey to Eastern Europe (and back): Khlebosolny/Bread and Salt (2012) 205

Introduction 207

Section 1: Journey to Eastern Europe (détour) 215

Hamburg: Finding Anne (2012-17) 215

Vilnius: Starter Culture and Khlebosolny (2012) 239

Rokiskis and Obeliai: Offere II (2012) 243

Section 2: The Arch (retour) 250

Brixton: Dominoes group sessions 256

Brixton: Market conversations 258

Heritage Products stall (2012) 260

Brixton: The Dinner Party (2012) 262

Brixton Exchange 264

Project 3: Journey to Portugal (and back): Salinas/Saltfish (2013) 271

Introduction 273

Section 1: Journey to Portugal (détour) 277

Portugal: Journeying to the salinas: technology, tradition and change 279

Lisbon: Salted Paper Prints (2013) 301

Lisbon: The Mercado de Ribeira 309

Lisbon: Saltworks (2013) 317

Section 2: Heritage conversations (retour) 324

Brixton: Learning from Neighbourhoods 324

London: Salinas maps (2013-14) 330

London: Salt casts (2013-14) 330

Drysalter 332

London: Saltworks (2014) at Cities Methodologies 3349 

Project 4: Journey to Haiti (and back): Goute Sel/A Taste of Salt (2013) 337

Introduction 339

Section 1: Journey to Haiti (détour) 343

Haiti and the poetics of salt and slavery 343

The Ghetto Biennale 351

The ethnography and politics of Vodou 361

Vodou space, tourism, and looking 367

Zombis and salt 371

Grande-Saline: Searching for salt in Haiti 377

Learning the veve 379

Port au Prince: Goute Sel (2013) 383

Section 2: The Brixton Museum (Retour) 396

Brixton Conversations (2015) 396

The Brixton Museum (2015–16) 398

Conclusion 405

Bibliography 417

Books, chapters in books, journals, newspapers 418

Interviews 448

Archive Sources 448

Artworks 449

Websites 451

Appendices 461

Appendix A: Invitation and list of ideas for ship voyage 462

Appendix B: The Anchor & Magnet Statement of Intent. 465

Appendix C: Market contract/Consent form 469

Appendix D: Quote cards for Brixton Dinner Party (selection) 470

Appendix E: Transcription of Anchor & Magnet Dinner Party 471

Appendix F: Programme of Brixton Exchange 1 and Walking Tour 475

Appendix G: Brixton exchange 1 plenary (transcription) 483

Appendix H: Anchor & Magnet pull-out in The Brixton Bugle, February 2013 490

Appendix I: Anchor & Magnet, Brixton Exchange 2 outline 496

Appendix I: Brixton Exchange 2 review 498

Appendix J: Anchor & Magnet, Extract from THI Social Heritage report 501

Appendix K: Grants, Exhibitions, Conference Papers and Publications of thesis research and artworks. 503

Appendix L: Summary of all artworks 506

Insert: Revised Methodology Diagram, 2018.


Related publications

Katy Beinart, ‘Don’t Look Back: The challenges of public art and meanings of authenticity in heritage contexts,’ in Public Art Dialogue, Vol. 10, Issue 2, (2020), pp.161–83

Katy Beinart, ‘Salted Earth: 4 Journeys,’ Feast Journal, Online at http://feastjournal.co.uk/issue/salt/ (2020)

Katy Beinart, ‘Khlebosolny/Bread and Salt: a time-travelling journey to Eastern Europe (and back),’ Mobile Culture Studies 4: Artistic representations of Migration and mobility

Katy Beinart, ‘Salted earth: salt-making as a poetics of mobility and place,’ in Rurality Reimagined (Applied Research + Design, 2018)

Katy Beinart, ‘Origination: Journeying In The Footsteps Of Our Ancestors,’ in Sacred Mobilities: Journeys of Belief and Belonging. ed. Avril Maddrell, Alan Terry & Tim Gale (Ashgate, 2015)

Katy Beinart and Sam Barton, ‘Saltfish: A Conversation,’ Alter Magazine, Issue 1, (2014).

Katy Beinart, ‘Reading between the lines: artistic approaches to the family archive,’ The Archive and Jewish Migration, Special Issue of Jewish Culture and History (May 2014).

Katy Beinart, Becoming and Disappearing: Between Art, Architecture and Research,’ Arts and Humanities in Higher Education (2013).


Katy Beinart is an interdisciplinary artist whose art works include installation, public art, film and performance. 

After studying architecture, Katy has practiced as an artist since 2004, combining art and architecture to make artworks in the public realm as well as exhibiting in galleries, festivals and biennales in the UK and internationally.

She uses processes of participatory research and social practice to respond to the context and history of places and people, and her work examines relationships between heritage, history and memory, culture and environment, performance and ritual, migration and home. She draws on past and present material cultures in her projects, often adapting old technologies, found objects and everyday activities and rituals. Her work aims to reveal and question pasts, and ask how these belong in the present circumstances of places, and might shape their futures. In this sense she is interested in memory as a practice that is active and alive.