WHEN CONTEXT LASTS: Lilien Li

ASN MA DEGREE SHOWS

 

We see

We see different colours

We think

We think of the difference between what we perceived

We imagine

We imagine what we are not able to perceive

We doubt

We doubt our perception

We discuss

We discuss if we are all having the same doubt

We return

We return to where we were at the beginning and see

 

I return

I return to a place where I cannot see, think, imagine, doubt and discuss

 

Language & Visibility

Birds cannot see glass.

Cats and dogs cannot see all colours.

Human see limited spectrum, especially in the dark.

 

Flickering rainbows in Luskentyre Beach, west coast of Harris, and lively air travelled from the Atlantic Ocean surrounded us. We are climbing boundless rocks and mountains. A beautiful primary layer of colours is in presence.

When I was taking a minute breath on a minivan, an exotic road sign yells. Indeed, road sign speaks in native language and my eyes are the only exotic. The layer perceived is flipping.

In the book ‘Reading the Gaelic Landscape: Leughadh Aghaidh Na Tire’ [i], John Murray uncovers another layer through the lens of language, which embedded multiple implicit layers entangled with lives and minds.

It is the process to embrace the horizon with sensibility and notice the visible clue from intertwined context, which involves play and debate between surrounding environment and ‘the flesh of perception’ [ii]. Finally, the layers overlapped and united in aesthetic.

Witnessing my first language of Cantonese has been weakening dramatically in my hometown Hong Kong during the last decade, I recognised the importance to preserve traditional languages in front of dominant powers. What Gaelic has encountered resonates with the situation of Cantonese.

There is no way to recover an extinct language and its connections with culture, mentality and value of ethnicity over time. As a multilingual, I identify flaws in translation and represent them through visuals. Not all Gaelic words could be translated into English, and not all colours could be translated into language.

The work title GLAS is a colour name in Gaelic. In one of the Gaelic-English dictionary, it is translated as ‘Become grey, pale or green. Make grey, make pale. Dawn.’, which has become the statement of the work.

 

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GLAS, 2019

 

Visibility & Vision

May our vision be cured, while context of contemporary world is obscure.

 

In response to climate change, I wonder how human being sees that foreseeable but unseeable layer of emergency and how our difference in vision and perception creates distance and conflict.

Where I inhabit, social movements prevails, observed distinctive and divergent points of view reflects the significance of vision, as well as how difference could people access to context and ponder the issue. Hence, my practice is a reflection of relevant observation.

 

between cognition and consciousness

between you and where you are

between today and too late

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BETWEEN, 2018

 

Visible & Invisible

Some distances extend beyond physical.

Some existences stay beyond material.

 

My memory has sealed the last rotten glimpse of your shadow in an envelope. Perhaps when the chandelier falls, you may still find me alive, yet shattered in its aftermath, a remnant of a former existence remains with the archived phantom.

It is my sentiment of an intimate relationship in the past, and a narration of a post-colony.

Dreaded by the book-burning history of China and concerning the absence of archival law in Hong Kong [iii], archive is a universal concept along with my practice. As an archival material, paper is a strand linking up my works.

Instead of mark-making, I cut poems out of paper to echo grief entailed with ‘absence’, ‘missing’ and ‘disappear’. It represents material interruption, which metaphorically embodies radical but quiet vanishment of culture.

‘absence’, ‘missing’ and ‘disappear’ is a family of ‘books’. Each of them consists of 10 pages, and each page is a line of poems, which would never be integrated as a typical book form but alternately with a hope to travel in different directions and dimensions beyond time and space.

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ABSENCE (page 3), 2019

 

Space & Being

‘The perception of the world is formed in the world, the test for truth takes place in Being.’ ― (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1968) [iv]

 

With consciousness on context, space is no longer perceived as space itself. When an artist as a container of memory collides with context of space, works of art emerge and evident in that intersection. As long as our consciousness and perception connected with space, the world is subjectively vivid in our eyes.

Journeys to Scottish landscapes Lewis and Harris, the Flow Country and the Blackwood of Rannoch, are emphasising the time immersed in nature and in time itself, and are depicted in forms of art and symbolised life and practice as a process until a day we would be in situ under the soil.

 

In the forest

In tranquility

I observe subtlety

In situ

 

In the gallery

In tranquility

I observe subtlety

In situ

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TRANQUILITY, 2019

 

Within & Beyond

color (n.)

from Latin color “color of the skin; color in general, hue; appearance,” from Old Latin colos, originally “a covering” (akin to celare “to hide, conceal”), from PIE root *kel- (1) “to cover, conceal, save.” [v]

If colour is a physically attractive skin of the world, what does it conceal? ‘Colour is the worldly correlate of visibility.[vi] When human being situates ourselves at the centre of the world, how well we understand our capability of seeing?

While Hong Kong protests symbolized in black and yellow, there are some people against the protests wearing blue and white. When society is divided into colours, how much context do we see under the colours? Difference colours not only refer to different opinions and generations but also reflect how desperate the citizens feel. As of July 2019, four people have given up their lives for the issue. [vii]

space (n.)

1300, “extent or area; room” (to do something), a shortening of Old French espace “period of time, distance, interval” (12c.), from Latin spatium “room, area, distance, stretch of time,” a word of unknown origin (also source of Spanish espacio, Italian spazio). [viii]

 

Raised in complex cultures and context, I am inescapably attentive to context in every landscape. Context reflects the process of how entangled layers of the space evolved. Context takes over context over time. Behind colour, both context and time are inexplicable concepts existing in abstract and intangible form. Language, as a standard tool of archive, alone seems incapable.

To understand the long and complex history is to grasp the essence of the space. To admit our inadequate sight is the beginning to free our imagination on text recording the context and on numbers carrying the meaning of time.

While modern science tends to pursue rational investigation by standing outside of the story, staying within context and time allow you to crystallise its substance. ‘People are immersed in a world of places which the geographical imagination aims to understand and recover – places as contexts for human experience, constructed in movement, memory, encounter and association.’ ― (Christopher Tilley, 1994) [ix] This experiential element could never be replaced.

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SKETCH OF GREY, 2019

Space is simultaneously existential and nothingness. Dwell in the ambience of greyness and stillness, the shadow of the material change I archived is visible. When you are moving apart and seeing at some distance, you might discover yourself was once a part of that grey space in the certain pause of time. You are actually part of the work while you think you are looking at the work. I am creating an architectural space or space is always there without my interference.

The figure-ground and the subject-object relationship depends on the way of seeing. Some physical spaces, like natural landscape, widen space for thinking. Experiencing space is a process. After all, every process is organic. The process when what visible turns to invisible or when a place transforms.

The more the process is concerned, neither material nor non-material would stay permanent, the more I could realise myself as a tiny part of the process. When taking protests as a process of the city dying, my generation is born to witness and experience this process. Under this natural life cycle, what should I sorrow for?

 

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GREY, 2019

Of a colour having little or no positive colour;

Of a colour of dark hair turning to white,

As seen at some distance.

 

Become grey, wither.

 

Perhaps, it is not about seeing through colour in the colourful material world. It is about seeing through the universal process by objectifying life. ‘Being-in-the-world resides in a process of objectification in which people objectify the world by setting themselves apart from it. This results in the creation of a gap, a distance in space. To be human is both to create this distance between the self and that which is beyond’ ― (Christopher Tilley, 1994) [x]

 

I dress in black and face grey.

There is tear gas.

There is uncertainty.

There seems no light ahead.

Guns are pointing to our heads.

 

I return.

I return to my city, except my physical body.

The city is heading to an enduring winter.

I am just one of the fallen leaves,

Following the flow of freezing water.

 

When I am within a piece of greyness,

I imagine myself stepping out and looking back in a distance,

I realise myself being within a stage,

A stage of a process.

A process is towards where I cannot see, think, imagine, doubt and discuss.

 

 

References

[i] Murray, J. (2014). Reading the Gaelic Landscape: Leughadh Aghaidh Na Tire. Whittles Publishing.

[ii] [iv]Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible: followed by working notes / edited by Claude Lefort ; translated by Alphonso Lingis. Evanston, Northwestern University Press.

[iii] South China Morning Post. (2019). Time to press ahead with archive law. [online] Available at: https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/3008341/time-press-ahead-archive-law [Accessed 7 July 2019]

[v] Etymonline. color (n.). [online] Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/color [Accessed 7 July 2019]

[vi] Fóti, V.M. (2000). Merleau-Ponty: Difference, Materiality, Painting. Amherst, N.Y., Humanity Books. pp. 170.

[vii] Hollingsworth, J. Shelly, J. (2019). How four deaths turned Hong Kong’s protest movement dark. [online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/21/asia/hong-kong-deaths-suicide-dark-intl-hnk/index.html [Accessed 24 July 2019]

[viii] Etymonline. Space (n.). [online] Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/space#etymonline_v_23940 [Accessed 7 July 2019]

[ix] [x] Tilley, C. (1994). A phenomenology of landscape: places, paths and monuments. Oxford, Berg. pp.7-34

[xi] Brady, E. (2003). Aesthetics of the natural environment. Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press.

[xii] Saito, Y. (2007). Everyday aesthetics. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

REMNANTS: Claire Burnett

 

ASN MA DEGREE SHOWS

 

My mind was being drawn down two separate paths of thought, which I was hoping would re-join and lead to the same destination. Overwhelmed by researching depleting carbon storage and damage to the atmosphere, I felt the weight of responsibility growing heavier on my shoulders and found it hard to understand why it is overlooked. The information was out there, growing ever more accessible and shocking, but the reaction never balanced. As I lived with these feelings, they started to make themselves comfortable in my chest. Slowly developing from guilt into frustration into anger. Reflecting on my own emotions and how they relate to the wider world. I used to believe that some of us simply care more than others due to varying degrees of comprehension, many simply blissfully unaware. I no longer find excuses to be acceptable. For those who are aware, the turning of blind eyes makes this burden heavier. My work processes hard truths in order to make them loud and visible, then goes on to try and understand how it all feels. Also looking into the developing, worsening phenomenon of ecological grief, I felt the need to try and digest this as a genuine concern for my generations’ ever-darkening relationship with mental health. On this issue, Ashlee Cunsolo’s essay describes this feeling as “homesickness while still at home[1].” I think that in a situation where words aren’t enough, these come the closest, and my work visualises them.

 

 

trees

EVERY 30 HOURS, 2018. 

 

EVERY 30 HOURS

Forests are carriers of energy, their depths supporting a diverse, endless number of life forms. They protect the land, anchor the soil, and calm the winds. As well as a home, they are also our collective lungs. Uniting all species in our reliance. The rapid removal of the planet’s trees strikes me as violent, the most blunt and physical form of destruction contributing to the current climate emergency. Nearly half of all trees on the planet have been lost since human civilisation began[2]. Active deforestation is instant and the brutality is obvious. What may be considered as more abstract is their important role as carbon stores, guarding the dangerous supply that we have hoarded, and the consequential release of this upon destruction. For the series EVERY 30 HOURS, it is asked whether we would continue to be so careless in our tree massacre if the sequestration of their carbon was visible? The title of this work refers to the alarming regularity in which each person living in Scotland would be required to plant a tree in order to compensate for their own carbon footprint in real time[3]. Highlighting personal responsibility to, again, address the seemingly abstruse concept, which is that we must all play our part in this game that we are currently losing. The print displayed for Shift at Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation shows a lone tree. Appreciating it as an individual. The bar protruding from its trunk embodies the volume of carbon it is protecting, equal to half of its dry mass. A thin layer of carbon coats the protruding shape, giving a shiny surface and allowing it to appear even more striking. The bluntness of the image reflects the subject matter. Viewers are guided into imagining the store of a whole forest.

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EVERY 30 HOURS, detail

 

LISTEN TO THE WATER, DON’T INTERRUPT THE TIDE

Luskentyre Beach is known to be Scotland’s most beautiful stretch of coastline, situated on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Even when in a place of such calming beauty it is impossible to ignore the disruption by the human hand, which has left nowhere untouched. Walking along the shores of this location, an initial feeling of relaxation did wash over me with the soft sound of the tide. However, this was soon interrupted by the unmissable marks left behind by people. The pair of images shown at Testimony from the Rocks at An Lanntair sit side by side, connected but not quite touching. Intricate detail of sand patterns are sculpted by the tide, which reflects the glow from above. But something is in the way. On the surface, these images visually represent the overall sense of denial and lack of reaction that comes from the general population, when faced with many devastating environmental issues. The blocks in the images are noisy, distracting, and express the buzz of modern society that stops us from facing the truth. However, the abstract colours and patterns within these blocks, as well as the shape of them, are altered natural forms: as everything is at its root. On a more personal level, LISTEN TO THE WATER, DON’T INTERRUPT THE TIDE embodies my emotions when submerged in a landscape. As someone with environmental awareness, it has become impossible to enjoy ‘untouched’ space, I know it doesn’t exist. I feel the guilt for what we’ve done. The harsh bars embody the emotional block that most people manage to duck under.

Listen to the Water, Don’t Interrupt the Tide_

LISTEN TO THE WATER, DON’T INTERRUPT THE TIDE, 2019

 

CONTROL

The themes within my practice connect strongly to my emotions, even when I’m not working. CONTROL came to exist after a supposed afternoon off, visiting a glasshouse. Even in a biodiverse space of positivity, where plants are conserved and studied, I am reminded of our domination. Visually speaking, within a glasshouse there is an interesting juxtaposition between the fluidic, sweeping greenery in contrast with rigid lines of construction, which I found impossible to ignore. Giving me a physical metaphor for some of the issues I deal with in my practice. CONTROL is a book that tries to encapsulate these comparisons. Printed photography of the space sits on delicate transparent pages, allowing the images beneath to be seen. This layering adds an illusion of depth to the photographs while showing an intricate web of fading lines, both harsh and gentle.

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CONTROL, 2019

 

MANMADE LANDSCAPE

I reflect on my process while creating, which often involves de-constructing parts of imagery and playing with composition within a frame. Inspired by these experimental notions and my interest in Pieter Laurens Mol’s “photo sculptures”[4] I began to consider other forms that these actions may more relevantly manifest in. An underlying theme, which relates to all environmental issues explored so far, is the human ego. The reason we have climbed to these heights of disaster in the first place. Our generally ignorant attitude and confidence as a species that our wants and needs come before those of all other life. Even fellow sentient beings. It was this that drove me to give my work physical movement, to explore this feeling of power that we are accustomed and numbed to. Lifting the landscape off of the paper and interacting with it. These two pieces were made in line with one another, the first consisting of moveable pieces in a landscape puzzle, and the second a kaleidoscope using my own nature photography. Allowing new landscape compositions to be formed and destroyed in an instant. Both of these hold a playful edge, like children’s toys, reflecting our carefree attitude towards the dwindling environment. They represent our god-like mentality, where every piece of earth is ours to manipulate for personal gain. The shifting scenes within the kaleidoscope embody, in the words of Anna Tsing, “our society’s ecological amnesia”[5], as soon as the next pattern forms, the previous is instantly forgotten, just like our lack of interest in how landscapes looked before we were introduced. The kaleidoscope was invented in 1816 by a Scottish scientist by the name of Sir David Brewster[6]. Now most commonly treated as a toy, it was originally intended to be used by artists and designers, as a means of providing endless combinations of colours and patterns in order to inspire. For this reason, I like to think that Brewster would approve of my alternative use for his invention. Tsing discusses how the Anthropocene carries ghosts, forgotten pieces of haunted ecological history. To represent this, the puzzle holds a piece which is completely blank, showing no texture or biodiversity whatsoever.

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MANMADE LANDSCAPE, 2019

 

DISILLUSION

 Scotland has a reputation globally for its beautiful landscapes, however, less than 5% of our ancient forest remains[7]. Bare mountain sides and rolling fields are classed as a natural landscape, when in fact they are often scars of what should be. Ecologist and founder of Scottish conservation charity Trees For Life, Alan Watson-Featherstone has described our country’s landscape as “shattered fragments of old forest”[8]. I felt the need to express this damaging disconnection between reputation and reality, which hides the issue from the public eye. ‘Kaleidoscope’ roughly translates as ‘beautiful form watcher’, I wanted to expand the use of this tool in a new way, while still retaining the original purpose of observing something beautiful. An alternative view of a landscape through an illusion, representing the reality that we cannot see with our own eyes. Using the Caledonian Forest as a case study to explore this further, the set of work entitled DISILLUSION began with in-landscape photography, taking inspiration from the roots of how the kaleidoscope was invented. Using mirrors to see an alternative view within nature. Also inspired by Robert Smithson’s early use of mirrors in a natural setting, a pair of images sit side by side. Each using the careful placement of the reflective surfaces to focus on a small area of land, while simultaneously making the space appear large; as if standing in a room with mirrored walls. In front of the prints sits what appears to be a kaleidoscope, but when looked through reveals a surrounding world that is literally shattered. On an adjacent plinth is a Scott’s Pine, a descendant of the original Pines to arrive in Scotland around 7000BC following the ice age, and still a keystone species in the ancient wilderness[9]. A backbone to the forest on which many other species depend. The placement of the young tree encourages it to be viewed through the kaleidoscope as it speaks for its ancestors, showing a lens of reality and visual representation of the current state of the land.

 

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DISILLUSION, 2019.

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DISILLUSION, detail.

 

 

REMNANTS

The missing piece to my continued practice was the immersive sense of isolation that is felt when standing in the Caledonian Forest. I visited, absorbed, and documented both the Blackwood of Rannoch and Rothiemurchus remnants of the ancient land, while also having many insightful conversations about my work and the themes of acceptance. I came to a conclusion around one of the central reasons for difficulty in considering Scotland as a ruined landscape; what’s left is still genuinely captivating. When surrounded by the remaining pieces of forest it is easy to be absorbed by this and overlook the problems it faces. It is also normal within society to see stretches of pasture as areas of beauty, however, after learning about the impact that animal agriculture has had on the loss of wild forest, I can only see them as wounds. Inspired by the large-scale, kaleidoscope-style installation Your Spiral View[10] by Olafur Eliasson, I built my own immersive space. Replicating the feeling of being engrossed within nature, the space replicates movement through the wilderness. However, using mirror fragments, the image is again shattered to represent the reality of the situation of the last remaining genuine wilderness in Scotland. The decision to create an immersive space is supported by Yuriko Saito in the essay The Aesthetics of Unscenic Nature where it is said that “experiencing nature as a static, two-dimensional scene unduly limits our appreciation, it also misleads it”[11]. This made me think once more about the way nature is seen as idyllic and an ‘escape’, especially from the viewpoint of city residents, when really we should have a much deeper level of respect and understanding. I wanted to build a space that overcomes the flat and pictorial level of gratitude, breaking through into understanding.

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REMNANTS, 2019. 

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Projection experimentation

 

 

EDIT AND CENSOR, 2019

Four wall prints sit side by side, succeeding LISTEN TO THE WATER, DON’T INTERRUPT THE TIDE they are also connected. EDIT AND CENSOR encompasses the discussion so far. The core images in these prints were all taken in the Rothiemurchus shred of Caledonian Forest, highlighting the diverse beauty that does in fact dwell in these small areas. Cementing the idea that there may be beauty here, from the light reflecting through the tree branches and bouncing along the surface of the loch, to the vast range of flora to be admired, but it is not a constant and it is not as common as generally assumed. Mental blocks are represented, bright, garish and unavoidable. I had the most beautiful trip in this part of the world, the weather was unusually warm and the surroundings blissful. Many would describe this as escapism. I worried about the reasons behind this exceptionally hot summer, I yearned for the parts of Scotland that should be equally as dense with life but have had it taken away. The blocks mirror shapes found within nature and within the images themselves, but are stiff and severe, mimicking the way modern society has become in the developed world. We came from nature but have evolved our way of thinking into widely believing that we are superior. They obnoxiously interrupt the main images in the way humanity interrupts nature. Lost in the loud patterns and colours within these blocks is edited destruction. They represent the damaged land that replaces the beauty they are disrupting. Images of devastated land, rings of trees that once were, fur from the wolves that should still roam, all hidden within the shapes. Mainly focussing on the damaging results of animal agriculture, deforestation extending from the industrial revolution, and the impact on new sapling growth as a consequence of overhunting predators of deer and sheep to local extinction[12]. These issues are represented yet buried within the images, the only quiet thing about them. Akin to the way they are concealed to the public eye. When first viewed, this set could be seen as bright and overpowering, with clashes of colour and pattern. However, I feel that this aesthetic suits them. These issues do overwhelm me, they do pile on top of each other and it is difficult to contemplate one environmental issue without a flood of connected others

pouring into mind. As a species we edit nature. Information against the egotistical battle of progress for humanity is censored. Often blocked is the part of our minds that admits the full extent of the environmental crisis, and allows us to accept that we must become ecologically responsible.

 

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EDIT AND CENSOR, 2019

 

Claire Burnett is a Scottish artist with a Bachelor’s Degree(Honours) in Contemporary Art Practice and is graduating from a Master’s in Art, Space and Nature. Working largely with photography and installation, her work stems from an interest in humanity’s relationship with the environment, believing that art can be a strong tool for communication, bridging the gap between research and the wider audience. With a background in public and interactive art, she has fulfilled commissions for festivals such as SPECTRA Festival of Light and Look Again Festival. She has exhibited her personal practice all over the UK, as well as internationally, including in Finland, the US, Denmark, and Mexico.

 

www.claireburnett.co.uk

 

 

References

 

[1] Cunsolo, Ashlee, and Karen Landman, editors. Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.

 

[2] Howell, Elizabeth. Earth Lost Half Its Trees to Humans. https://www.livescience.com/52070-global-tree-census-human-impacts.html, 2015.

 

[3] Based on figures from 2014, 6.5 metric tonnes of carbon per capita, per year, 6500kg of C per year. Average tree, 22kg per year of C absorbed, 295 trees per year, 1 year 8760 hours, 1 tree per 31 hours.

 

[4] Laurens Mol, Pieter. Website. Available: https://pieterlaurensmol.com/, 2019.

 

[5] Tsing, A.L. et al., Arts of living on a damaged planet : Ghosts of the Anthropocene, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

 

[6] Brewster, D., The kaleidoscope : its history, theory, and construction; with its application to the fine and useful arts, London: J. Murray, 1858.

 

[7] Trees for Life. The Caledonian Forest. Available: https://treesforlife.org.uk/into-the-forest/the-caledonian-forest/, 2019.

 

[8] Watson-Featherstone, Alan. Restoring the ancient Caledonian Forest. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDtsExXe93Q, 2016.

 

[9] Trees for Life. Scots Pine. Available: https://treesforlife.org.uk/into-the-forest/trees-plants-animals/trees/scots-pine/, 2019.

 

[10] Tate. Olafur Eliasson In Real Life. Available: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/olafur-eliasson, 2019.

 

[11] Saito, Yuriko. “The Aesthetics of Unscenic Nature.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 56, no. 2, 1998, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/432249.

 

[12] Smout, T.C. & University of St. Andrews. Institute for Environmental History, 1997. Scottish woodland history, Edinburgh: Scottish Cultural Press.

AGGREGATE: Kaitlin Ferguson

ASN MA DEGREE SHOWS

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Granton Harbour

On an overcast afternoon, I walked along the coastline of Granton, an industrial district on the outskirts of Edinburgh, on the banks of the Firth of Forth on Eastern edge of Scotland. Getting down to the beach involved stepping through overgrown bushes, thick with layers of discarded litter, likely from the road nearby. Eventually the coastline came into view, a partially sandy expanse interrupted by geologic formations which are only revealed when the tide recedes. Adjacent to the beach was a wall of stacked boulders forming a coastal defence, covered with the discarded remnants of the area’s industrial past. Stepping over broken piles of rubble and bricks smoothed by countless waves, I spotted a tangled mass of discarded waste. A strange hybrid, a dark amorphous entangled cluster of melted plastic, discarded tar, broken glass and rusted wires mixed together with sand and rocks. It was a piece of nature which had been formed by the glue of melted plastic: a ‘plastiglomerate’. They are categorised as:

an indurated, multi-composite material made hard by agglutination of rock and molten plastic. This material is subdivided into an in-situ type, in which plastic is adhered to rock outcrops, and a clastic type, in which combinations of basalt, coral, shells, and local woody debris are cemented with grains of sand in a plastic matrix’’ (1) 

These simultaneously disturbing and enchanting rocks are becoming common around the world, revealing how vast our increasing species footprint is becoming in relation to the planet’s geological strata. They are a startling manifestation of the earth finally hitting its limit.

The planet has gone through billions of years-worth of cycles of renewal and reformation, yet our species is the first in history to become the overarching dominant force in environment, climate, and the geological makeup of the planet – the era of the Anthropocene. Plastiglomerates represent an ominous new marker of the arrival of this epoch, bringing forth the consequences of the human species to be recorded in the strata of the planet forever. 

They signify a turning point in our relationship to the earth. As Kirsty Robertson describes:

‘‘In the past, it might have been assumed that “nature” was the one thing that could never be made from plastic. Plastiglomerate suggests that this is no longer the case. It is an ecological paradox such that the mind struggles to separate its plasticity from its telluric oily past. ‘’ (2)

These stones are both global and local, operating on universal and microscopic scales simultaneously. Plastiglomerates are complex assemblages which connect time, space, violence, empathy, and the worlds of humans and more-than-humans. 

It is within this framework my practice sits; exploring the ontological inseparability of all matter, between life and the planet, during a time where our existence resides on the precarious verge of environmental collapse.

 

Bedrock 

My practice is an aggregate, a combination of several process-based ontological investigations and individual elements which sit densely packed together to form a whole. These fragments represent intertwined research-based lines of enquiry through deep time, planetary shaping processes and exploring where the Anthropocene sits within this discourse. My approach is formed through interdisciplinary methodologies, all united in working in a site-responsive way.

It is through these applications that I seek to disrupt human centric perspectives of the Anthropocene, by taking its anthropocentric constructs and dismantling them via their limitations. To reveal new readings of the planet, ones that seek to deconstruct the deeply embedded nature/culture divides. 

My processes are governed by key phases of research and analysis of theoretical and cultural complexities across boundaries of science, culture, and the humanities, an exploration in order to lead to the genesis of interdisciplinary results. It is what Robert Smithson defined as ‘abstract geology’ tracing connections between the geological, the body and mental processes. (3)

Whether investigating the planet as a whole, a specific geomorphological process, a locality or a single physical fragment, I examine through enquires across temporal and spatial scales – these create the foundation of my process. 

 

Stratum of Time 

The methodologies which I adopt in my work are cited in the writings of James Hutton (1726-1797), the Scottish geologist; his understanding of time was not as a unidirectional linear course, but instead as a continuous process of cyclical deep time, which sees the planet in constant dynamic flux. Through this conceptual aperture the earth can be viewed in terms of dynamic geomorphological cycles: phases of sedimentary ocean deposits accumulating and being compressed over vast time scales, eventually resurfacing only to be eroded again. When discussing Hutton’s pivotal work, ‘Theory of the Earth,’ Tom Furniss states:

‘‘the Earth begins to sound more and more like a complex living organism and nature emerges as a sentient agent with its own creative powers….the materials of the Earth are not inert but in continuous vital motion’’ (4)

 

Through the application of deep time as a framing device, the geology of the planet transforms from inactive to alive. All environments are coated in time; a mountain is not motionless, but instead seen in constant dynamism, simultaneously building and eroding, in motion constantly, even on a molecular level, as atoms move in constant in flux. The strata around us provides a window into the history of the earth and its limits. 

When working directly with geological matter and its localities, I present this material in frameworks which symbolize the deep history of the planet and bring into question what the deep future may be. 

‘‘Deep time as a radical perspective, provoking us to action not apathy’’ (5)

Human agency is so often the central voice in the planetary narrative but listening to an alternative voice is now more importance than ever. Approaching the timescales of our species from the perspective of planetary time emphasises our insignificance but also reframes the scale and impact of our destruction to the earth. It is a call to action to tackle the overwhelming tide of the Anthropocene.

This approach to time has formed linking trajectories across a series of works.

Isolation

ISOLATION (2018)
The Lewisian Complex – Collaboration with Cody Lukas
Exhibited at ‘Umwelt’, Group Show, Tent Gallery, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

ISOLATION (2018) is a response to the vigorous shaping of geological processes, specifically those which have shaped the Isles of Lewis and Harris (Leòdhas agus na Hearadh), Outer Hebrides, on the most westerly edge of Scotland. Lewisian Gneiss is one of the most striking core components of this landscape, a metamorphic rock dated as the second oldest on earth, nearly three billion years old. It appears visibly crushed, contorted, and twisted, in arresting configurations reformed over the history of the planet.

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Butt of Lewis – Lewisian Gneiss which has been twisted and contorted from billions of years of renewal.

ISOLATION (2018) was produced from the analysis of a geologic specimen which was extracted from this landscape. The work exists within virtual reality, in tandem with the physical void in the gallery. Scanning the marker with a smart device reveals the spinning form in space. Through technological constructs, geological boundaries of form and materiality are called into question. The compositional footprint of the rock is reimagined, its cycles of transformation across deep time are paused, now existing within an anthropocentric construct. References of scale and time are removed, abstracted and placed within a technological and environmental entanglement. What does this give to the rock?  Perhaps nothing. The process calls into question futility of technology itself.

One Day � One Billion

ONE DAY | ONE BILLION (2019)
The Lewisian Complex – Collaboration with Cody Lukas
              Exhibited at ‘Testimony from the Rocks’, Group Show, An Lanntair Gallery, Stornaway, Scotland

A re-composition of geological matter from Mangersta Cliffs, (Mangurstadh) Uig on the southwest side Lewis. ONE DAY | ONE BILLION (2019) brings into question, through materiality, what constitutes the essence of a rock.

When a rock is sliced open a world is revealed for the first time – a fragment of the universe sees the light of day. The work consists of two separate structures: one a piece of pegmatite (a composition of feldspar, granite and quartz) and the specimens subsequent half replicated in cast glass. The forms are united by their silica compositional components and also both experiencing processes of renewal by fire, one from the depths of the earth the other through anthropocentric processes. Here time is paused, and the life cycles of a new “rock” begin. 

The complex exchange between these two forms represent tensions on a planetary scale, they call into question the convoluted relationship of our species with the earth. Mineral Evolution theory states we have been entangled in the geology of the planet since the beginning of life. Life and minerals have co-evolved simultaneously, indexically linking us to the planet. (6) This represents the visualisation of the turning point in this complex relationship.

 

Stratum of Scale

In my ongoing environmental research, I use the application of scale as a conceptual and analytical tool. In order to comprehend the vast complexities of the planet, scale is used to conceptually travel across boundaries, from the infinite through to the intimate, temporal and spatial. The paradoxical nature of scale is that the largest become accessible through the smallest (7) Scale when in relation to geological applications, is traditionally centred around size and level, Richard Howitt argued a third aspect for consideration: relation. As scale, relation addresses the connections between selected elements in their totality. (8) I use scale to disorient the viewer, to encourage them to rethink the physical threads which connect our planet and the cosmos. This approach can be seen in the following explorations. 

a mountain - glass

A MOUNTAIN IN A GRAIN OF SAND (2019) 
GLASS 
Exhibited at Bookmarks – Artist Book Fair, Edinburgh College of Art

A MOUNTAIN IN A GRAIN OF SAND (2019) is an on-going line of enquiry which takes a poetic approach to disseminating the vast complexities of the rock cycle and the dynamic processes which shape the earth. The history of the planet is stored within a minuscule geological fragment.  

In the form of an artist book, A MOUNTAIN IN A GRAIN OF SAND (2019) GLASS expresses this theoretical standpoint directly through the choice of materiality. Glass represents an anthropocentric intervention – the product of sand being treated by industrial processes. Here the entire stored history of a mountain rests in the hands of the viewer. This conceptual framework draws into question the vast temporal and spatial processes of the planet. It invites reconfiguration into different combinations, drawing parallels with the cyclical nature of geologic processes.

A mountain in a grain of sand

A MOUNTAIN IN A GRAIN OF SAND (2019)
Artist Book – Zine Edition

The zine edition of this work focuses on geological material in direct conversation with the poetic sentiment. It provides a framework which subverts the scale of the geological form, leading the viewer to question whether it is a fragment, an island, or even perhaps an entire continent. The format of a zine disseminates the concept in an accessible and democratic way. These works continue the ongoing trajectory of dematerialising the physical component of the landscape in the work. 

THE ATTRACTION OF A MOUNTAIN 2

THE ATTRACTION OF A MOUNTAIN (2019)
Exhibited at Remnants, Patriothall Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland 

THE ATTRACTION OF A MOUNTAIN (2019) is a response to the mountain Schielhallion (Sìdh Chailleann) in Highland Perthshire, Scotland. This is the site of an experiment in 1774 which measured the gravitational pull on pendulums as part of research to determine the mass of the earth itself. In the piece the mountain is represented by a fragment of its composition material: ground quartzite taken from the summit. It forms a highly concentrated version of the locality within the gallery. Magnetism is used as a tool to visualize the tensions between nature and the search for scientific knowledge – human advancements which unlocked new readings not only of the mountain but of the universe itself. 

 

Crystallisation 

The refinement of my approach to materiality has led to the creation of frameworks which expose the power of the object in its purest form. The agglomeration of these temporal and spatial strategies has been distilled in a pair of recent pieces: 

A restless earth - installaiton shot

A RESTLESS EARTH (2019)
Exhibited at MA Degree Show, Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh Art Festival, Scotland

‘‘Grammar and syntax exert powerful influence on the proceedings of language and its users. They shape the ways we relate to each other and to the living world. Words are world makers – and language is one of the great geological forces of the Anthropocene’’ (9)

A RESTLESS EARTH (2019) features poetic texts which sit as counterparts to rock and mineral samples that span the deep history of the planet through to the present day. Curatorial ontologies are applied then consequently unravelled, the anticipated relationship between text and object is subverted through poetry. 

A RESTLESS EARTH (2019)

Gneiss specimen – A RESTLESS EARTH (2019)

The framework of the museum aesthetic represents a visual language of ordering and control over the natural world, that of an anthropocentric hieratical construction. Instead these pieces of text pose more questions then they answer; they act as windows into deep time, portals into understanding the complex geomorphological processes which have formed them.

Plastiglomerate

Plastiglomerate specimen – A RESTLESS EARTH (2019)

Thirteen samples sit in the cases, twelve rocks and minerals. The thirteenth is a new type of stone, one formed through human actions – the plastiglomerate. This ominous and disturbing plastic rock represents the deep future of the planet, a hint of what the trajectory of the planet could look like. Plastiglomerates are hybrids that have been conceptualised as ‘technofossils,’ or waste materials made by humans, which are likely to provide materials for geological dating in the future (10). A RESTLESS EARTH (2019) forces the viewer to reflect and to visualise what the planet will look like through the actions of one species – our own. How will we be represented in the strata in millennia to come?

DISINTEGRATION � ACCUMULATION (2019)

DISINTEGRATION | ACCUMULATION (2019)
Exhibited at MA Degree Show, Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh Art Festival, Scotland

Through research of microscopic imagery gleaned from the thin slice sections of rocks and minerals DISINTEGRATION | ACCUMULATION (2019) has been created as a series of three large scale unique screen prints which re-compose the visual language of microscopy to offer new perspectives on geology. References to scale are removed, the barely-visible-to-the-human-eye is brought into sharp focus, allowing new relationships between components to form. Here time loses its significance – the microscopic represents the boundless cosmos.

Disintergration � Accumulation (detail)

Detail from DISINTEGRATION | ACCUMULATION (2019) Three

DISINTEGRATION | ACCUMULATION (2019) sees the geological phenomena the ‘Law of Superposition’ expressed through materiality and process. The theory states that in an undisturbed sequence of layers of rocks, the youngest layers lie on top of the older layers (11) The process of screen printing reflects geologic parallels; it’s a practice which involves slowing down, the accumulation of layers and building depth. The viewer is rewarded for investing time in looking at the work as subtle translucent layers slowly come into view. The curatorial composition reflects the format of scientific slide, whilst the visual language presents science entangled with the artists hand. 

The microscopic language of DISINTEGRATION | ACCUMULATION 2019) opens a thematic portal to the geological material of A RESTLESS EARTH (2019). Both pieces take the constructs of time and scale and twist and distort them. They disorient and realign narratives. They are the culmination of the thematic aggerate of my practice – an approach to the entanglement of the Anthropocene. 

 


Born in California, USA, Kaitlin lives and works in Norwich, UK. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art from Norwich University of the Arts, graduating with a First Class Degree and later received her Masters from the University of Edinburgh after being awarded the Andrew Grant Scholarship. Career Highlights include: co-directing the short environmental film ‘Living in the Ruins’ which screened at the Edinburgh International Science Festival (Scotland, UK), exhibiting at the Edinburgh Arts Festival (Scotland, UK), An Lanntair Gallery (Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK), Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation and being commissioned to create the public sculpture ‘Wave Maker’ (Norfolk, UK).

www.kaitlinferguson.com 

 


Bibliography

 

  • The classification of plastiglomerates as a type of stone was proposed in 2014 by an interdisciplinary team, after surveying Kamilo Beach in Hawaii (Artist Kelly Jazvac and Geologist Patricia L. Corcoran and Oceanographer Charles J. Moore)

 

 

Corcoran, P. M. C. &. J. K., 2014. An anthropogenic marker horizon in the future rock record. GSA Today, Volume 24(6), pp. 4-8. 

  1. Robertson, K., 2016. Plastiglomerate. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/78/82878/plastiglomerate/ [Accessed 23 January 2019]. 
  2. Smithson, R. & Flam, J.D., 1996. Robert Smithson, the collected writings, Berkeley; London: University of California Press.
  3. Furniss, T., 2010. A Romantic Geology: James Hutton’s 1788 ‘Theory of the Earth.’ Romanticism, 16(3),
  4. Macfarlane, R., 2019  Underland : a deep time journey, UK: Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books.
  5. Gillen, P., 2016. Notes on Mineral Evolution: Life, Sentience, and the Anthropocene. Environmental Humanities, 8(2), 
  6. Howitt, R. (1998) Scale as relation: musical metaphors of geographical scale Area Royal Geographical Society 30.1
  7. Howitt, R. (2002) Scale and the other: Levinas and geography Geoforum 33 
  8. Macfarlane, R., 2019 . 
  9. Zalasiewicz, J. M. W. C. N. W. A. D. B. a. P. H., 2014. The technofossil record of humans. The Anthropocene Review , 1(1)
  10. Rieppel, O., 2011. The “Law of Superposition.” In Evolutionary Theory and the Creation Controversy. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg

 

Artist-in-Residence Alix Villanueva’s display at the Scottish Poetry Library

ASN’s artist-in-residence Alix Villanueva has one of her handmade books displayed at the Scottish Poetry Library on Crichton’s Close.

« How do you do Bobby Blue? » is a poem printed on handmade lavender, nettle and comfrey paper, exploring the themes of health, connection, love, loss… Structured around 4 plants, the narrative takes the reader around the different themes like a pollinator around flowering plants. « Storytelling as pollination…. »
The book is displayed alongside hand-stitched ritual gloves made to the exact size of the artist’s hands.

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The work will be on display until the 9th of September.

 

 

 

ASN student exhibits in COAST exhibition at An Talla Solais Gallery

Pin-Erh Chen was one of twenty artists selected from an international call-out to exhibit in An Talla Solais Gallery, Ullapool. The exhibition looks at issues of climate change that affect coastal communities. The exhibition runs until 8 th September, 2019.

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Pi-Erh’s work, VIOLENCE OF SLOW TIDES, is a collage of quotations from climate change
deniers – details here..

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ASN Student commissioned to create work for Brandon Country Park

ASN student, Kaitlin Ferguson, has been commissioned, from an open competition, to create a new work for Brandon Country Park in Suffolk, England.

This adds to Kaitlin’s success, with fellow student Natalia Bezerra, in being commissioned to create a work for Poldra in Portugal – 

https://asnse.wordpress.com/2019/07/03/two-asn-students-win-commission-for-collaborative-sited-work-for-poldra-viseu-in-portugal/

CONNECT will consist of a series of geometric rope and copper wire ‘branches’ which will form a network which stretches across trees in Brandon Country Park. They will be dotted through-out the forest, encouraging visitors to the festival to travel through the woodland on a trail to experience the entire installation.

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The work draws on ecological research of the forest, specifically how trees communicate with one another. Trees send messages to each other and across species in complex underground networks made from mycelium the root systems of mushrooms. These pathways connect the roots of plants and trees by distributing nutrients and information to support the health of the whole ecosystem

ASN Programme Director exhibits in Saõ Paulo

Art, Space + Nature Programme Director, Donald Urquhart is currently exhibiting six drawings in the MEMORIAL DO DESENHO exhibition at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea of the University of Saõ Paulo, Brazil.

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Urquhart was one of five contemporary artists asked to exhibit work alongside a selection of the museum’s extensive collection of modernist drawings. The exhibition continues until 28th June, 2020.

 

https://jornal.usp.br/cultura/quando-os-modernistas-encontram-os-contemporaneos/