Towards the Essence of Matter: Russell A. Beard MFA Art, Space & Nature

July 2018

With a background in ecological science, speculative realism and documentary storytelling Russell Beard, (MFA Art Space &Nature) presents a body of art work that is the result of an on-going exploration at the intersection of Heideggerian philosophy, dark ecology, and quantum mechanics.

Using video installation, printmaking and sculpture (incorporating both found objects and recycled materials as well as and digital fabrication and computer modelling), Beard attempts to communicate truthfully what is not immediately perceptible at our human spatio–temporal scale.

By combining what we know to be true about the structure of space and time – the essence of matter at the finest scale, with an interest in how language and stories are central to our identity and shared sense of place, the artist unites our current theories about the fundamental nature of things, with our lived experience of the world.

From the Arctic-Circle to the Amazon, the high Andes to the Himalayas, Beard has spent the last ten years at the frontlines of climate change as producer and presenter of ‘Earthrise’ -Al Jazeera’s multi award winning environmental TV series created by Neil Cairns. By highlighting the positive work of progressive governments, grassroots community groups, innovators & activists who are rising the the environmental challenges that we are facing, Russell’s reports cover the most significant ecological and socio-economic threats to our civilisation such as rapid deforestation, air pollution, food security and ecosystem collapse.

In troubled times such as these such a shift in focus from reporting on the way things are – to re-imagining who and what we are may be understood as a natural response to fully apprehending the scale and severity of the environmental catastrophe which is currently unfolding. Perhaps during the sixth mass extinction, it is natural to turn to thoughts of the sacred and examine the invisible power of story – the intangible frameworks of perception which constitute our shared consensus reality. Like the agar jelly in a lab-experiment, ‘story’ is our growth media, the translucent stuff that feeds our slime-mould civilisation, firing our imagination, motivations, purposes and passions. Stories are the scaffolding of our homes and the mortar and the flagpoles onto which we tie our identities.

But our old story is broken, no longer “fit for purpose” … Things are changing so rapidly that we are in desperate need of a new set of concepts to bridge the nature-culture gap and address the mass cognitive dissonance brought about by trying to live as ‘business as usual’ despite the apparent consequences of overpopulation and unfettered capitalism.

Inspired by a close reading of Soil and Soul, (McIntosh 2004) 2017 saw the successful amalgamation of Russell’s environmental journalism and desire to make ecological art.

The book uses a case study of a proposal to establish a massive super-quarry in the pristine landscapes of southern Harris in the Scottish Hebrides and details the islanders’ resistance and eventual success in halting the project after a thirteen year public enquiry, known as The Battle for Roineabhal).

In response Russell produced a series of sculptures that recognised the mountain as a geo-socio catalyst in a body of work entitled “Solte Teine: Seeds of fire and the Mythopoesis of a Mountain”.

 

With the help of ASCUS art and science lab, he began working with the vibrant materiality of mineral crystallisation as a visual metaphor for the constellatory power of making and telling stories to form resilient global networks of grassroots resistance.

The recurring theme of identifying new frameworks of thinking about our selves and our relationships to each other and the planet was evident in another show at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI)

Using salvaged steel and found objects “CONATUS”, “CONSILIENCE” and “AFTER THE STORM” – (All 2016) are each concerned with material truths about the nature of growth, change and impact of human species on the earth’s natural systems.

“HYPEROBJECTS: REPRESENTED IN 21 CUBES” relates to the writings of Timothy Morton and a group of philosophers known as “Speculative Realists”. These thinkers work at the intersection of object-orientated thought and ecological studies to advance Heidegger’s anthropocentric subject / object “Correlationism”. They draw on scientific advances and new technology to pioneer new ways of perceiving the world outside of the human perspective.

A series of cubes were arranged outside and left to decompose for several weeks leaving smaller cubes peppered around the grounds referencing the “non local”, “viscous”, “inter-objective” nature of Morton’s “Hyper Objects” those entities such as Climate and radioactive waste that profoundly impact our lives and the more-than-human world in which we live and yet are so massively distributed in space and time as to be imperceptible directly by humans. (Morton 2013)

connatus

With “CONNATUS” or “THE NEXUS OF HUMAN AMBITION AND THE EARTHS CAPACITY TO SUSTAIN IT”: a sequence of “Necker Cubes” act as an optical illusion appearing to change orientation every 3 seconds. They create a sense of the uncanny that references instability in the “Anthropocene” in which climate change could be seen as a symptom of capitalism and human population growth, the resulting environmental impacts of which now threaten to undermine the earth’s natural systems on which we rely.

The series of Interconnected cubes increase in size, expanding with the “golden” ratio of 1.618 – precariously resting on the corner of what appears to be a massive submerged cube – referencing tipping points, melting ice-caps, rising sea levels and titanic hazards that are not fully understood. This the spatio / temporal gap between event Vs perceived impact also picks up on the Merkwelt / Wirkwelt concept of Barbara Adam’s ‘Timescapes of Modernity’ which talks of a “horizon of events” that is indirect, non-proportional, nonlinear and non local (B Adam 1998)

Untitled1

In his third piece “CONSILIENCE” : A series of steel bars twisted by hand to form a mutually supporting interdependent framework could be seen as representing a unity or “jumping together” of knowledge, a “federation of actants” (Bennett 2010) or one of Debhora Bird-Rose’s “multi species knots of ethical time” (Rose 2012)- i.e the interactions and textures in a self willed landscape that make you feel “part of the feast” (Plumwood, n.d.) Alternatively it could be read as a heuristic model of model of matter at the subatomic scale in which the actual structure is a covariant ‘field’ of discretely quantised particles.

after the storm

With “AFTER THE STORM” or “THE GREAT ACCELERATION AS SYMBOLISED IN A FOUND OBJECT” Russell presents a meter-long iron fencepost found entangled in the roots of a Scots Pine tree blown down in a recent storm.

The piece mirrors the “hockey-stick” graphs of 24 global indicators (i.e atmospheric CO2 concentration, deforestation, ocean acidification as well as storm frequency) that chart the “Great Acceleration” which began around the 1950s when our human socio-economic impact on the planet began to grow at exponential rates.

Physical chemical and biological processes are decomposing the artefact and returning the iron to the soil connecting us to geological time and inviting us to contemplate its simple, imperfect beauty and the perpetually transient nature of existence.

The desire to make some ‘thing’ that somehow truthfully represents reality which is in constant flux was evident in a solo show in 2016 entitled “KAINOS FE2O3 Explorations in Entropy” in which Beard, drawing on Barbara Adam’s notions of Natura Naturata /Natura Naturens (i.e concepts of nature manifest as physical stuff Vs nature as a force of perpetual becoming) (Barbara Adam 2004; Barbara Adam 1998) And referencing William Cronon’s insights into the “illusion of wilderness” (Cronon 1995) By engaging the dynamic chemical process of oxidisation and decomposition of iron, Beard uses rust to remind us that even something so seemingly fixed and permanent is in the process of change thereby highlighting the tension between the universal entropic tendency towards dispersal and life’s capacity to create order and beauty from chaos In a ‘negentropic’ “localised reversal of the arrow of time” (B. Adam 2006)

With Mark I A series of hand prints created in rust in reference Mans territorial urge to mark his environment . “Mark III: That Which Remains” is a print, of the artists naked body held in the ‘survival’ or ‘recovery position’ – (in which one is placed when sick or unconscious and at risk of asphyxiation). Created by repeated laying down on steel coated in a reagent to speed up the rusting process leaving the impression of a figure laying prostrate and fossil-like In a darkened space.

MarkIII

Part mausoleum, part archaeological dig the steel, is illuminated by a single angle-poise lamp lamp – easily anthropomorphised and appearing perhaps as a member of some future civilisation examining the traces of what remains of this thing called man. Blood red with the same compounds used to create the oldest known cave paintings and redolent of an iron-pan layer of ferrous leachate in waterlogged soil or the toxic lasagne of black-carbon, plastics and radioactive particulates that signify the new geological epoch known as the “Anthropocene”, this haunting work is a reminder that whether we like it or not we are all collectively leaving a mark which will remain identifiable for millennia to come.

In time of the Anthropocene, amid sea-level rise and mass extinction, making art – perhaps creativity of any kind – is a hopeful act. With Beard’s recent shift in focus from bio-chemical to quantum scale engagement with materiality he has embarked on a Jules Vernian quest for solid truth in the time of uncertainty. Tunnelling through the political and down beneath the biological and the chemical to the underlying physical level of reality in order to explore that strange world of electrons and quarks is perhaps a natural response to apprehending the scale of the ecological devastation which is underway. One can imagine how a shift in perspective to a worldview in which every-thing is essentially made up of the same stuff could make the current mass extinction somehow less horrifying.

In the final one of the series of MFA solo exhibitions in ASN’s Tent Gallery, Russell presented “Fieldworks”, a selection of intaglio prints and sculptures, in a minimal and poetic use of the space. Based on a close reading of the current theories of loop quantum gravity (Rovelli 2016; Rovelli 2004)(Baas Von Fraasen, Michel Bitbol)

fieldworks tent

By attempting to reveal or represent what we know to be true at the very most fundamental scale of reality Russell Beard’s recent work explores the intuitively familiar principals of Quantum Field Theory with its granularity, rationality and indeterminism and contributes to what Jane Bennet calls a “contemporary cultural landscape that is capable of inspiring wonder, even an energetic love of the world.” (Bennett 2001)

Produced by applying pigment to paper at high pressure with chemically etched metal plates – each print appears as continuous colour field but on closer inspection they separate into discretely quantized lattices creating a heuristic representation of the quantum gravitational field.

Emerging from the mesh of spectral lines and particles, one can detect highly complex patterns generated by a four-way symmetry that speaks to the perennial human urge to produce some kind of order from chaos. This geometry conveys a sense of the sacred, similar to a mandala or other form of religio-spiritual symbolism, that hints at the similarities between Buddhist and the quantum-mechanical world-view (the equations of which predict the contents of the periodic table of elements and provide compelling scientific proof that the nature of reality is indeed a constant flux of interacting fields of energy, suggesting a profoundly relational underlying unity of all things.)

 

alethia bright

The use of Ultra violet and far-red colours at the opposite limits of visible frequency relates to that which is beyond our ability to perceive directly – referencing Heidiggerian ontological philosophical ideas on truth or ‘Alethia’ (the paradoxical light that also conceals) (Heidegger 1996) While the act of applying pigment and then removing it prior to printing leaves layers of information and also produces patterns created by the absence of pigment that points to the “Negative Dialectics” of Theodor Adorno who, attempts to draw attention to that which is unknowable with his theories of ‘non-identity’… “objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder” (Adorno 1975; Bennett 2010)

fieldworks 2

 

these prints seem to reveal a clear progression from Beard’s earlier video work that resulted from a journey to the Hebridean island of Harris and Lewis which utilised the same four-way symmetry. Played along with an excerpt from Dolmen Music by Merredith Monk, “ORIGINS” (2016) is 4 minutes 44 seconds and consists simply of a mirrored moving image of the cascading interference patterns created in water, sand and sunlight at the shoreline where a river meets the sea.

Origins

Alternatively it could be read as a time-piece, concerning the origins of our own vital materiality and how certain properties emerge from complex chaotic systems amid the on-going oscillations between the creative generative forces of life’s perpetual becoming and the dissipative cosmic processes of entropy and decay.

Origins streetview

Beards final project for the ECA Degree Show 2018 ‘Towards the Essence of Matter’ is the latest in a series of artistic investigations into various aspects our vibrant materiality – and an attempt at not simply representing the nature of reality at the finest granular scale but (as with the so called “redox reaction” central to the etching process (which sees an exchange of electrons from copper sulphate and zinc) it is an engagement with materiality at the quantum level.

The first of three works is a re-presentation of the so called ‘Standard model’ – a kind of pictographic periodic table of each of the seventeen fundamental quantum particles that (as far as we know) make up everything of substance in our universe (aside from gravity and dark matter).

 

EVERYTHING OF SUBSTANCE: RE-PRESENTING SEVENTEEN ‘ENERGY ELEMENTS’ OF THE STANDARD MODEL (2018)
17 boxes, screen printed glass, laser cut birch plywood, LED and battery pack. (17X) 10.5 x 10.5 x 10.5cm

 

Inspired by old scientific ‘magic lantern’ slides, the boxes display a series of Pictographs (pictures which resemble what they signify) ‘painted’ in photons. By speaking the names of the particles into a custom-made oscilloscope, energy from sound vibrations oscillate a laser beam via a mirrored membrane resulting in a signature unique to each particle name. These so called lisajous curves were then photographed with a long exposure and screen-printed onto seventeen glass plates.

The set of lacquered light-boxes reference Max plank’s “black box” thought experiment (which gave rise to the first quantum theory and lead Albert Einsteine to devise the first quantum-mechanical equations that proved the strange wave-particle duality of light) and in a sense creates a new logographical system of writing for that which is inaccessible though our five senses “It is in language alone that like knows like” (Adorno 1975) One is reminded of the wonderful ‘Landmarks’ by Robert Mcfarlane – the lyrical and eloquent love letter to language In which he explains how when we loose the words to describe something we often loose the ability to perceive it… “words act as compasses; place-speech serves literally to en-chant the land – to sing it back into being and to sing ones being back into it” (Macfarlane 2015).

By literally inspiring or breathing life into these particle names Russell succeeds in somehow  reanimating or  transmuting the words from nouns that are little more than arbitrary, albeit useful short-hand for a set of physical properties into living verbs that manifest as vibrant evocative images with the power to illuminate the imagination by pointing to the perpetual happening which is the very essence of matter –  and if “physical appearance, activities and meanings are the raw materials of the identity of places…” (Relph 1976) perhaps each of these images represent not just a quantum particle-field existing in abstract space but a discrete fundamental unit or quanta of place?

 

The second piece is based on a Victorian animation device known as a Praxinoscope or “action viewer”. It was a invented in France around the time that Max Plank and Albert Einstein first theorised that light was made up of fundamental particles or ‘Photons’ that “fall on us like a gentle hail shower” (Rovelli 2016) ushering in a new paradigm of particle physics known as Quantum Field Theory

 

SPIN: WAVE-PARTICLE PICTOGRAPH GENERATOR
 (2018)
Various Victorian furniture components, glass mirror, copper tape, lead solder, steel bearing 60cm x 60cm x 80cm

 

The Praxinoscope was the successor to the zoetrope but instead of a strip of images held inside a vertical drum the pictures sit on a horizontal plane . Beard has built this device using wood from various pieces of Victorian furniture and created three interchangeable image plates.

time pieces

TIME PIECES: QUANTUM-FIELD PHONOGRAM PLATES (STRANGE QUARK, HIGGS BOSON, AND W BOSON)
 (2018)
 Copper Sulphate etched Zinc plates , (3X) 60cm dia

The images etched into zinc plates are representations of fundamental particles. Each plate corresponds to a different particle and starts with an atomic (‘Indivisible’) point that splits into orbital-like – lisajous curves before returning to the single point. Divided into twelve segments each plate references clock time – but instead of numbers positioned around the periphery the characters emerge from the center in a spiral – pointing to the scientific truth that Time is an emergent property -useful to measure movement or change between two or more variables but no longer useful to think of as some kind of Newtonian “cosmic cloak” under which we all sit (Rovelli 2016)

 

Using the same oscilloscope to give a physical form to the particle names each image can be read as a  phonetic unit of the word. Unlike logograms (used by quarter of the worlds population) – these don’t have word meanings but represent sounds – (as in phonetic or orthographical writing like Korean Hangul) – when phonograms are combined they create multi syllabic meaning and phrases.

When the praxinoscope is spun the phonograms appear in the mirrors to meld into one animated pictograph which resembles, signifies and represents a quantum field.

This project continues In the tradition of the pioneering photographers such as Eadweard Muybridge who saw himself as an explorer using art and photography “in the spirit of scientific enquiry”.(brittanica.com) using his ‘Zoopraxiscope’ and animated sequence of a galloping horse he was credited with creating the first moving images to allow viewers to access a keener understanding of aspects of physical reality beyond the threshold of human perception.

 

By manifesting works of art, that illustrates, represents or even transcends  scientific or mathematical worldview is an iterative process. Much like our understanding of ecology that evolved from ideas of linear succession to a more dynamical moving tapestry “a patchwork quilt of living things, changing continually through time and space… the stitches in that quilt never hold for long” (Worster 1989)” We are in a state of perpetual becoming, of creating and recreating our understanding of the world and it is the task of poets, artists & philosophers to “cease being the handmaidens of science” (Rovelli 2018) but to trust in the power of poetics, creativity and intuition and strive for epistemological and inspirational symbiosis. In the words of Mauro Durato “radical change in our physical worldview is not just due to the invention of a mathematical formalism or to new empirical information coming from novel experiments, but it also implies a thorough modification of the fundamental concepts with which we interpret the world of our experience”. (Dorato 2016)

 

The third and final piece is a visual timeline of the discoveries of subatomic particles presented as an abstract film projected at the end of a blacked out tunnel in to which the viewer is invited to peer.

quantum cave

QUANTUM CAVE: A VISUAL TIMELINE OF FUNDAMENTAL QUANTUM PARTICLE DISCOVERIES
 (2018)
 Video, glass, birch plywood, 5.1 surround-sound speakers

Beginning with a single point of light of the ancient Greek atomistic world view – Beard “en-chants” the particles (Abram 2012) – using the words to split the atomic point of light into different orbits “Strange Quarks” and “Higgs Bosons”… the sound-waves oscillate a beam of photons via a mirrored membrane resulting in abstract patterns resembling particle-field orbitals which are recorded in ultra slow motion and played back at speeds corresponding to the year of their discovery.

New orbitals appear layering of one on top of the other, building in complexity creating a swarm of particles that appear to act and interact like a field and display a strange symmetrical quality. The unsettling low-frequency echoes are infact ultra high-speed recordings of the seventeen fundamental particles being spoken in the order in which they were identified. The howling cavernous noises are coupled with the surround-sound of a crackling fire coming from behind the viewer in a clear reference to ‘Plato’s Cave’ – a reminder that our understanding of the nature of matter and the fundamental constituents of “reality” is always partial and in a state of constant flux . While we may be calling back into the cave to Lucretius and the natural philosophers of ancient Greece telling them of quarks and electrons – in a sense we are still in the cave – straining to hear the echoes of our future-selves calling back to us perhaps sharing their secrets of ‘dark matter’ and maybe even the quantum-granular nature of spacetime.

The oscilloscope membrane itself could be seen as a metaphor for the scientific endeavour – like the permeable membrane that exists between the ideal platonic noumena – and the phenomenal “real world” of things. Perhaps it is the responsibility of the artists, scientists and shamans the “boundary crawlers” (Bennett 2001) to straddle this liminal terrain in order to reach into in the world of visions, intuitions and imaginations – and to return bearing gifts.

But why try to make art that explores this field which most of us have practically zero chance of actually understanding – either in the pure-mathematical sense or apprehending directly?

It’s about wonder. By drawing on the power of enchantment as an active agent Russell A. Beard is attempting to excite the ecological imagination with “ambitious naiveté” (Bennett 2010) In the hope of stimulating a higher level of consciousness grounded in scientific truth in an attempt to foster a sense of generosity, openness and reverence for the earth and all the other human and non human expressions of life with which we are intimately connected. In the words of Martha Rosler : to “rupture the false boundaries between ways of thinking about art and ways of actively changing the world.”

“nature-art creates machines that change attitudes, paradoxical devices that upgrade human consciousness changing peoples relations with one another and with non humans… we need art that does not make people think (we have quite enough environmental art that does that) but rather that walks them though an inner space that is hard to traverse” (Morton 2013)

 

Bibliography:

Abram, David. 2012. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. https://books.google.com/books?id=-aVDf4-42tAC&pgis=1.

Adam, B. 1998. “Timescapes of Modernity: The Environment and Invisible Hazards.” In , 3–19.

Adam, B. 2006. “Time.” Theory, Culture & Society 23 (2-3): 119–26. doi:10.1177/0263276406063779.

Adam, Barbara. 1998. Timescapes of Modernity the Environment and Invisible Hazards. Global Environmental Change Series. London ; New York: Routledge.

———. 2004. Time. Key Concepts (Polity Press). Cambridge, UK ; Malden, Mass.: Polity.

Adorno, Theodor W. 1975. Negative Dialects. Negative Dialects. Vol. 72. doi:10.2307/2024861.

Bennett, Jane. 2001. The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics. Princeton University Press. https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Enchantment_of_Modern_Life.html?id=WXtxenlNMXcC&pgis=1.

———. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, [N.C.]: Duke University Press.

Cronon, William. 1995. “The Trouble with Wilderness; Or, Getting back to the Wrong Nature.” Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. https://www.learn.ed.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/library/eReserves Edinburgh University/Topics in Environmental Humanities ARCH11246/Cronon69_ARCH11246.pdf.

Dorato, Mauro. 2016. “Rovelli’s Relational Quantum Mechanics, Anti-Monism, and Quantum Becoming.” The Metaphysics of Relations, 1–27. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198735878.001.0001.

Heidegger, Martin. 1996. Being and Time: A Translation of Sein Und Zeit. SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy.

Macfarlane, R. 2015. Landmarks. Penguin Books Limited. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Af8aBQAAQBAJ.

McIntosh, A. 2004. Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power. Aurum Press. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=KKz0AgAAQBAJ.

Morton, Timothy. 2013. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Posthumanities ; 27.

Plumwood, Val. n.d. “Part of the Feast”: The Life and Work of Val Plumwood. National Museum of Australia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbuLDAStSGk.

Relph, Edward. 1976. Place and Placelessness. Research in Planning and Design ; 1. London: Pion.

Rose, Deborah Bird. 2012. “Multispecies Knots of Ethical Time.” Environmental Philosophy 9 (1): 127–40.

Rovelli, Carlo. 2004. Quantum Gravity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511755804.

———. 2016. Reality Is Not What It Seems. Penguin UK. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HBtxCwAAQBAJ.

Worster, Donald. 1989. “The Ecology of Order and Chaos.” Environmental History Review, Vol. 14, (No. 1/2).

 

 

 

ARTICULATING TIME – Andrew Ioannou

 

 

W and M lines

 

 

 

Time is both constantly present and yet elusive to us. We can try to visualise time and on a basic level think of imagery such as the ticking clock or the ever present digits that face us every time we open our phones but these images fail to acknowledge time’s inherent relationship to space. They function as abstract time-keepers that help us organize our lives, orchestrating where we have to be and when. “Time” socially exists as a practical necessity, allowing us to function as a global society. It is peculiar however that “the clock” has become synonymous with the word “time” and yet when looking at time in astronomical and physical terms it is better understood as a process instead of a noun. Rather than asking ‘what’s the time?’ or ‘what time is it?’ and reducing time to a utility, i.e the clock, Andrew engages with the concept of time as a necessary and inseparable component of space, light and matter in order to make a broader commentary on our relationship with our surroundings.

His work as a result focuses on placing time in this context by way of studying light theory, astronomy and the human experience. He navigates the tension between human subjectivity and broader astronomical processes. Using methods that demand rigorous and constant observation, he visually represent a process that we often only have intermittent insight into. Andrew invites the viewer to observe change over time in one instance, as articulated by specific physical phenomena, with an emphasis on the parameters of the human condition.

For example in Winter Solstice Andrew took photos of the same patch of sky every 15 minutes for 24 hours on December 21st 2017, the shortest day of the year. He then presented this series of 96 photos in a line to denote the linear way in which we “keep” time and to highlight the tension between the rigid analogue clock and the astronomical process that it measures. The result was a visually impacting line across the wall that at a distance seemed like a gradient shifting from black to grey and then back to black yet up close looked like screenshots or rather a film real of the sky.

 

 

 

Winter Solstice.jpg

 

 

 

On March 20th2018 Andrew repeated this process in order to produce a second line that documents the march equinox from the same place. This exhibited along with the winter solstice at this year’s Degree Show and is shown at the top of this blog entry.  The work is titled Solstice Lines: Edinburgh 2017-18 (55.9441° N, 3.1618° W) and is an on going piece. 2 out of a total 5 lines were shown in the degree show. Andrew has already photographed the summer solstice (21st June 2018) and will continue by photographing  the autumn equinox and the next winter solstice in the same manner from the same place. He’ll exhibit the final piece consisting of all 5 lines in the Tent Gallery in 2019.

Additionally he’ll continue comparing solar events at numerous other locations as part of the broader series Solstice Lines.

Individually these lines capture solar events. Highlighting the regimented nature of the analogue clock through composition whilst simultaneously illustrating a process that describes time through constant change. Collectively however, they document the earths orbit and axes by comparing the changing length of daylight and the varying climate at different points of the year from place to place.

Underlining every note of the work are the parameters of the artist’s subjective observation.

In Scattered Blue (below) Andrew adopted a similar approach. It is a development of one of the works, Sky Colour Swatches, shown in his’s solo show CYNAOMETER where he recorded the changing colour of the sky over the course of an evening.

Scattered Blue is a proposed installation in which stretched fabric sheets, or even glass (budget permitting), are placed in panels across a space.

 

 

 

Blue Sky Installation Edit

 

 

 

Each panel is a direct colour match with the sky at a specific time in the evening taken every 15 minutes. The work, through its composition, alludes to how light travels through the atmosphere by referencing the way blue light scatters through the earths atmosphere. The work simultaneously engages with a temporal dialogue as it demonstrates the changing blue of the sky in one instance yet if observed from the front, the viewer is looking at the average blue over the course of the evening.

The work therefor references the regimented analogue clock by documenting the colour of the sky every 15 minutes but it also speaks of the passage of time in terms of the physicality of light and the human perspective.

On another note, The Purkinje Effect has informed other aspects of Andrew’s work as it draws the focus towards our subjectivity in the context of the passage of time. The Purkinje effect is taken into account when estimating variable stars from earth; it is effectively the observation that in low levels of luminosity the human eye has a tendency to see things as more blue. Take moonlight for example, due to the fact its technically reflected sunlight, its luminosity is much lower than that of direct sunlight, however its Kelvin temperature is also lower making it more orange in colour. The silvery blue that we associate with moonlight is a product of the Purkinje Effect and moonlights low luminosity.

Andrew has explored the Purkinje effect in Long-Exposure Photography of Moonlight (shown below) and has also designed an installation proposal to illustrate it.

 

Moonlight Series.jpg

 

The installation consists of a dark room that is carefully lit at the specific light levels of a full moon. Using bulbs that collectively match moonlight in its levels of luminosity and kelvin temperature, three boxes will be placed in the space. These boxes will be painted in the primary colours (we’ll use the popular red, blue and yellow in this example) and equivalent colour swatches will be painted on a wall before entering. Theoretically once you enter the room and you allow your eyes to adjust the boxes will appear bluish and unsaturated.

Below are proposal images showing the boxes in the space followed by how they’d likely appear in the low level lighting.

The purpose of this work is to highlight the subjectivity of human observation in the context of time. The night sky from earth is representative of light traveling over great distances. When referring to light years we refer to time and space cohesively and although stars burn at different temperatures and produce different colorations they all appear sliver to the naked eye due to the Purkinje effect and light years of travel.

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

Finally in the work Sundial (shown below) Andrew illustrates how we project the notion of time on to our surroundings by photographing, every 10 minutes, the shadow of a tree passing over a rock.

During a walk through the Black Wood of Rannoch on the 25th April 2018 he passed a rock just as the shadow of a tree was edging closely towards it. He realised in that moment that his presence in the forest and his observation of this process willed the rock into a unit of measurement and as the shadow passed over it he was both observing and interpreting a sundial. The placement of the rock and the moving shadow of the tree were a chance moment of causality but by being there, Andrew demonstrates the relationship between the individual and the information that we interpret around us. Through his systematic use of photography he accents specifically how we project the notion of time onto what we observe.

 

 

Black Wood Final.jpg

 

 

 

Sundial was exhibited along side Long-Exposure Photography of Moonlight and the still in progress Solstice Lines: Edinburgh 2017-18 (55.9441° N, 3.1618° W) as part of this years degree show.

 

 

https://asnse.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/cyanometer-by-andrew-ioannou-solo-exhibition-in-tent-gallery/

TRACES OF LANDSCAPE, reconfigurations of nature II. Asma Almubarak

Color, light, objects and materials can create and develop bonds between humans and places through physical features and symbolized interpretations of that place. The idea of creating a sense of a place within a space in relation between human and natural environment was always challenging for me; How to shift the viewer’s perception about the interior space and interior design elements?

 

As an interior designer I have experienced working with clients and design companies where their main focus is the extensive use of high-end furniture, wallpaper, and flooring materials where their aim is designing for aesthetic appearances losing sight of what we actually want to have or want to communicate in an interior space.

And for me interior design is much more than that, it is not about filling the space with decorative or impressive pieces to make a space look “beautiful”. It is about communication, psychological interaction and relation to nature, experiences and memories

Designers from different countries interact differently to this issue; some countries, which have experienced rapid development, tend to focus more on the materiality and appearances of a place rather than the feelings and perceptions of people. For example, in my country the UAE, new cities and new places are being built in a very different way from the past. Building materials used to be simple, but well-adapted to local living and climatic circumstances. Each area featured different building characteristics that made it outstanding. Inland houses were made of stone Guss, which is a mixture of mud that was made into bricks, and their roofs were made of palm tree leaves, also from the local environment.

In the coastal areas different materials were used to build. You can see fossilized corals and lime mixtures extracted from seashells, which have the ability to balance summer heat and create a well-ventilated interior space.1 As the economic growth started to increase in the region, the city landscape has shifted to a very modernized architecture and the materials used have no relation to the local environment. You can rarely find an old building except at historical sights.

This is in contrast with the design practices I have observed while studying in Edinburgh. Successful artists and designers tend to spend more time relating their work to the context and specific environment as well as getting exposed to and being inspired by nature.

Nature is not limited to landscapes and natural scenery, which we can perceive through going out of the interior space. It also invites other senses including sounds, smells and textures; we can perceive nature through forces like light, colors, movements and materials.

tracesScan 1Scan 4

 

The relationship between humans and nature went through many different phases in the history of life. There has been always a distance between humans and nature because it was approached as a separated component. The shift to city life and economic growth as mentioned before in the UAE also participated in distancing humans from nature where we tend to dominate nature and profit from it rather than being a part of it and engage with all its living and non-living components.

From my point of view, this relationship should be reconsidered in many different ways through creative practice. For instance, in a way that seeks to incorporate nature within architectural and interior design; and ways that engage people with natural environment and vital life without distancing them from their modern way of living and civilized world.

I believe that it is our responsibility to use our design related capabilities to integrate human and nature and create a suitable and urbanized living environment, bringing back nature in our daily life. This can be approached by creating physical spaces that have specific features derived from nature that contribute to maintaining healthy and productive environments in schools, hospitals and workspaces.

In fact, nature has the power to enhance well-being and the quality of social life. The direct connection between humans and natural light, vegetation and other environmental features has the ability to improve performance and to lower stress. It will also connect the people to their own environment by engaging with local building materials and natural land resources. Hassan Fathy is one of the architects in the Arabian region who has tried to accommodate traditional modes of living in conjunction with being affordable and using building materials from the local environment. He was very successful in creating a strong relationship between architecture and cultural traditions, which was achieved in many of his projects.

“He combined elements from the vernacular urban architecture of Cairo, incorporating into his designs elements such as the malqaf, a wind catcher, the mashrabiya, a wooden lattice screen, the qa’a a cool central room on the upper-storey of traditional houses with high ceilings and natural ventilation, and the salsabil a fountain or basin of water positioned to increase the humidity of the dry desert air.”2

His approach emphasized cultural significance and social responsibility. He also believed that international architecture would demolish their cultural identity.

Going back to nature and interior spaces, Ulrich believes that having natural surroundings promotes well-being and being exposed to natural views or environmental elements improves mental and intellectual functions. It also contributes in healing process from surgery and illness. People who live in spaces that have access to natural elements are more physically active.

“In fact, older, urban residents who have places to walk and access to parks and tree-lined streets live longer. Trees and natural areas may bolster a sense of community by drawing people together and enhancing social connections.”3 ( wells, 2014).

Creating a place has a very complex physical concept. And that lead me to define and explore more about this concept through visiting different landscapes, photography and creating abstraction from natural scenes. Many methods included different mediums and materials such as video projection on different surfaces as well as the use of text.

My first exploration with text was a conceptual representation that involves words and definitions. I was interested in investigating meanings and complexity of natural connections between different cultures, geological and historical contexts, in conjunction with the special characteristics of that place.

The artwork was a typographic illustration of the word “north sea” in three different ways: the ancient definition, the modern definition and the word in all the languages of the countries that are connected to the North Sea. It was presented on a circular concrete sculpture, which encouraged people to move around it(Image 1&2). The work was commissioned for the coastal suburb of Portobello.

The piece explored the relationship between words and their referent, comparing what is already there now and what was there in the past. It emphasizes the importance of ‘Edgelands’ and the historical context. It also explores the wider connections between different cultures and countries that are connected by a natural element, which is the ocean.

 

Working with text related to historical contexts and cultures led to further explorations in different landscapes and places. I believe that humans as part of nature should be engaged with natural and environmental elements in a more creative way and in a daily basis. That way natural environments have a stronger impact in our daily lives. I seek to create spaces that have special and abstract characteristics that relates to nature in a different way, provoking the viewer to see things differently.

My main focus was on the spatial aspect of the relationship between humans and nature, and how to shift the viewer’s perception of interior space to emphasize a positive psychological impact through an abstracted representation of landscape.

My research in this field had two manifestations. The first, in Tent Gallery was a painted wall piece incorporating texts; the second also used text combined with moving imagery, in a related, projected work in our Cinema Space.

blog

tent3

tent1 copy

Based on existing research, both works examine the creation of therapeutic spaces, which produce substantial and rapid psychological and physiological restoration from daily life stress. The work in Tent allowed viewers to create their own image through the use of color and poetic texts, exploring and embedded in architectural space. The work is one of a series of projects looking at imbuing architectural space with a sense of the natural.

tent4

The other work used gentle, projected imagery mapped onto a suspended fabric, again with a poetic text written on it, in response to direct observation of the landscape. This created a dynamic, immersive space, which further explored the psychological impact of the work on its environment.

DSC_0218DSC_0244

 

Through my practice, I try to formulate what I have seen and experienced in landscape into something that can affect an interior space, creating something visible yet ambiguous. To further expand my explorations in this field, I developed a series of work that reflects textures and patterns through drawing, blind embossing and paint. I tried to extract a representational installation from landscape photography and the text that was created from natural scenery; focusing on some outstanding poetic and descriptive words of the landscape.

Using moving imagery and projection was a successful way in communicating my concept to the viewer, which needed to be developed to a more immersive piece. Enhancing the scale created a more dynamic and interactive experience. The work represents the experience of walking the landscape by using a long ,suspended fabric (9 meters) with a poetic text. The work transformed the space, creating a sense of calm.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

DSC_1094.JPG

dsc_1092.jpg

degreeshow1.jpg

References

  1. https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/14-block-of-coral-from-an-abu-dhabi-house-1.464077
  2. http://www.spatialagency.net/database/hassan.fathy
  3. Wells, Nancy, Dr. “Natural Environments and Human Health.” Outreach and Extension (2014): Human.cornell.edu. Cornell University College of Human Ecology, http://www.human.cornell.edu/outreach/upload/CHE_DEA_NaturalEnvironments.pdf

 

 

 

ASN Graduates at the City Art Centre Exhibition

CAC image

The City Art Centre in Edinburgh is currently hosting the exhibition, Robert Callender: Plastic Beach, which runs until 8th July – https://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/robert-callender-plastic-beach

Scottish artist Robert Callender ( 1932 – 2011 ) was driven by his interest in the craft of making and in the coastal environment.

Current ASN Programme Director, Donald Urquhart has fond memories of Callender:

“I knew Bob, first as a tutor when I was a student in Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art. I had enormous respect for him as a man and teacher.

He dispended advice with succinct honesty and filled the studio with a sense of wisdom, he was always supportive. I treasure the memories of meeting up with him and Liz Ogilvie in Kyoto, Japan and spending time with him.

It’s an astonishing tribute to Bob’s environmental practice to see how prescient these works are in terms of current environmental news.”

Robert Callender was a force of encouragement for a new generation of environmental artists, so it is fitting he is remembered by the Robert Callender International Residency for Young Artists (RCIRYA).

A component of Robert Callender: Plastic Beach is a room showing works by twelve artist who have undertaken the residency, which is organised by Lateral Lab.

We are delighted that three of these artists are past graduates of ASN:

Yulia Kovanova presents her sculptural piece Life Span and a video installation and screening of her BAFTA Scotland nominated film Plastic Man.
www.kovanova.com

Patrick Lydon presents the documentary film, made with Suhee Kang, Final Straw
http://sociecity.org/post/2015/final-straw-doc/

Joseph Calleja continues his sculptural practice, to great effect in Imcaqlaq Series where found frames are reconfigured into complex wall works. 
www.josephcalleja.co.uk

 

 

 

The other Blue

During an ASN field trip to Caithness in the north of Scotland, in March, 2017, Mungki Dewi experienced a unfamiliar meteorological phenomenon with which she was unfamiliar –  with the weather changing rapidly, there was an abundance of rainbows. In response, Dewi made ‘Echoes’, a projected work to replicate the experience. In the studio a series of photographs captured water droplets splitting the light into the spectrum, these were overlaid on landscape photographs which were sequentially projected.

Rainbow

Rainbow in From the Bog

still2

Still images from Rainbow

In her following works, Dewi explored how to slow and calm people down in the urban environment. More and more people pay homage to speed and wish for everything to be done as soon as possible. One thing often forgotten is when we speed things up, we were missing our sense of mindfulness. Slowness is more than just slowing down the pace but it is a state of being. Being slow also means being more conscious of the surroundings and one’s inner self.

 

…“Have you pleasure from looking at the sky?

Have you pleasure from poems?

Do you enjoy yourself in the city?”…

To Think Of Time by Walt Whitman

 

Dewi started conducting research into how the natural environment had been proven to provide a calming sense to the viewers. Townsend and Weerasuriya (2010) mentioned that the sense of calmness, reinvigoration and rejuvenation of mind, body, and spirit during an experience in the outdoors relates to the rudimentary features of nature. Natural landscapes  elicit the feelings of safety, opportunity, connection and pleasure in the environment.

Stephen Kaplan (1995) with his research on Attention Restoration Theory argued that scenes of nature can make people concentrate better and release mental fatigue. Kaplan claimed that people need effort to achieve focus and concentrate while performing actual task. These actions required direct attention which would weary people after a period of time. To restore one’s ability to focus their attention, Kaplan proposed the exposure of involuntarily attention associated with natural environment. Nature has abundant fascinating things which draw people effortlessly and act as a restorative environment. Kaplan suggested four characteristics that specify restorative environment which are fascinations, being away, extension and compatibility. These characteristics would be explored further through Dewi’s works.

She began exploring and recording steady movement in videos filmed in the landscape. In the cinema space, ‘Split Screen Slowness’ showed two split screens; showing the same film reversed across both screens. The films were slowed down the edge of the spectators’ perception of movement, engendering a new and calm reading of the imagery.

split-screen-slowness.jpg

Split Screen Slowness in the cinema space

still

Still image of Split Screen Slowness

These ideas were tested further by developing works to be integrated into the urban fabric of the city, with buildings located in busy streets being specifically chosen. In  ‘Blue’, mesmeric footage of waves was back projected on a monumental scale. In ‘In Time’ the movement of the leaves blown by the wind with sun rays glistening on the background was selected. In both these works, the exposure of natural imagery in the urban environment could be an conceptual alternative of ‘being away’. The presence of a ‘blue’ and ‘green’ in a ‘grey’ environment also act as an unexpected visual experience in the bustling street,  generating awe for the pedestrians.

blue above

Blue projected from Evolution House

in time

In Time projected from John Knox House

For her solo show in Tent Gallery, Dewi  focussed on water as a principal theme. “We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us”, Nichols writes in Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do (2014).

In this exhibition, six analogue monitors were displayed within the gallery space to be viewed from outside. Reflections on Surface Water’ explored the ideas of using watery moving images; reflections captured on a water surface, to stop and slow people down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reflections on Surface Water

still4

Still image of Reflections on Surface Water

The framework of ‘Reflections on Surface Water’ was developed as a gallery based work for the Degree show by heavily pixelating the film to an abstract grid.  Displayed on an old CRT monitor, ‘The Other Blue’ acts as an abstract representation and an extension of oceanic landscape at the same time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Other Blue

 

 

The second work was made in collaboration with Asma Al Mubarak. Having a similarity of research interests and  approaches in their previous works, they transformed an interior space, creating an immersive experiential work. ‘Flow’ is a sculptural installation, combining film projection on a suspended fabric and poetic text. Using natural landscape imageries, they create a calming ambience while delivering an interactive experience. By being in the space and walking through the installation, visitors would experience the journey of walking through the landscape. The works are without sound to allow the viewer to engage with what was presented visually; a phenomenon captured in the natural landscape, an unravelling moment in time. The works’ gentle pace and movement set a visual counterpoint to the frantic pace of life, both calming the spectator and raising conscience of the natural world.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

References

  1. To Think of Time by Walt Whitman
  2. Townsend M and Weerasuriya R. (2010). Beyond Blue to Green: The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being. Beyond Blue Limited: Melbourne, Australia.
  3. Kaplan, S. (1995). The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Towards an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology.  Academic Press Limited.
  4. Nichols, Wallace J. (2014). Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. Little, Brown and Company. New York.

Black Wood Exhibition by ASN1

Whilst the main ASN studio is cleared for the final year’s Masters Degree Show, ASN1 mounted their final Semester 2 project. Following the field trip to the Black Wood of Rannoch, the students held a group exhibition at Edinburgh’s Patriothall Gallery. The exhibition featured individual responses to this environment – a Highland remnant of the ancient Caledonian forest which once covered most of the landscape below 1,500 feet.

Natalia Bezerra

Networks by Natalia Bezerra

The complexity and interconnectivity of the ecosystem was explored by Natalia Bezerra in, Networks, a linear wall drawing and by Cody Lukas Anderson in Pine.

Cody Lukas Anderson

The Extended Body by Cody Lukas Anderson

The Extended Body, a complex installation in which two pine trees were visually connected across space by a series of mirrors.

The order underlying complexity was developed through a series of screen prints, suspended in front of a geometric, monochromatic wall painting, in Equilibrium, by Audrey Yeo, which took the bark of the Scot’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris) as its subject.

Audrey Yeo

Equilibrium by Audrey Yeo

Similarly, Luis Guzman used a transparent cube to represent modernity as a separate context to the natural, which is presented as a fragment within the cube in Capture. The work draws attention to the complex architectural structures in the living lichen and mosses on a decaying tree branch.

Luis Guzman

Capture by Luis Guzman

Becky Sutton used the field trip to continue her studies in perception, through photography and film. Here she made a film of the detail in the waterline. A still image from the film was presented in the exhibition as part of a mirrored installation at floor level, entitled The Waterline.

Becky Sutton

Waterline by Becky Sutton

Relating the landscape to both time and traditional Chinese ink painting, Jiao Di presents a two-piece work in Shanshui. In the first a series of wooden rods were stained in peat and arranged to infer a landscape painted in subtle ink washes. The second highlighted a series of ‘mountains’ in a four-section linear photograph of wave forms on the surface of Loch Rannoch.

Jiao Di

Shanshui by Jiao Di

A Letter to Donna Haraway: Alix Villanueva

To Donna Haraway,

Perhaps if you could just hear me out, and extend a tentacle?

Allow me to impart you with this image: a hospital gown draped across a wooden chair, taken off – not discarded – and strewn as though it had floated down to rest upon the chair, as though the body beneath it had vanished and left behind this garment, stained and frayed… Peer into the long triangular pockets and the curled, finger-like leaves of verbena beckon. The mallow bled, the fabric tinged with spots of mauve, remnants of an immersive state.

DSC_0164

‘…hair strewn and tangled feet…’ Tent Gallery, Edinburgh, 2018.

These are the leftovers of a ritual… and an attempt of mine at storytelling an entanglement.

Trying to understand the lasting aches of chronic pain led me to an enquiry into holisticity and ancient sources of knowledge. Modern medicine rarely offers solutions for chronic pain and most sufferers are left to deal with their affliction and conduct their own enquiries. These mysterious, seemingly causeless and incurable ailments make apparent other ways of living. Because nothing shows up on our x-rays and our CAT scans, we quickly learn that positivist-image-making-technology will not cure us this time; it unsettles what we are taught about the world. Without a doubt, science is elemental to understanding and explaining a large part of the world, but to me it feels increasingly insufficient, unsatisfactory, incomplete as a tool to story-tell the world.

In the ritual described at the start of my letter to you, the wearer of the robe enters the cold sea, toes curled in frozen sand. The experience is not a pleasant one – the waters of Cramond are cold and polluted despite the attractive morning light. The ceremonial robe, crafted by her own hands, drapes around her body, brushing the sandy floor with each step and getting heavier as the pockets fill with water. From afar, she looks like a folkloric figure, some cursed goddess of the sea, a witch caught out in waves…

My legs ache, my hips, my pelvic muscles… this is my ritual. The woman in the waves is I.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 11.26.21

Still from filmed ritual. ‘A Healing at Cramond’, Cramond, 2017.

In Scottish and Irish literature, the Cailleach Bhéara, the witch figure, the hag, the healer, does not offer direct remedies to ailments – no direct fix. Rather, she points out the disharmonies between this world and the Otherworld, the sacred natural. Such disharmonies are suggested to be the root cause of ill health. With that in mind, the chronic pain suffered by one becomes ‘cosmoecological.’ Rather than existing as one individual person’s suffering, it engages “multiple beings, gods, animals, humans, living, and dead, each bearing the consequences of the other’s ways of living and dying” (Despret and Meuret 26). Taking part in this ritual was a way of storytelling this very elemental shift in my thinking, where positivism loosens its grip to give space to entanglement, uncertainty, and asynchronicity, where ecological witch figures from Celtic traditions, ancient rites and healing, mix with bodily experiences of pain, mix with social, economic and thus environmental histories of a post-industrial Cramond.

As you know, the contemporary moment is saturated with uncertainty – the outcomes of this crisis are very difficult to predict. As I’ve explained, for me, positivism loses its prime position as a ‘way of knowing’ – I rally behind the move from enlightenment to entanglement… Embracing the queerness of life, the strange, the haunted, becomes more attractive as a way of navigating the world. In my work, ghosts come to rest on calico or paper – they allude to blasted landscapes, obscene wastefulness, extinction events … They are the ghosts of “bad death, death out of time,” casualties of the “great projects of destruction” that enable human Progress (Gan et al., G7). The palette is dark. Drawing on degrees of black, the strange organic shapes seem to curl, gesture and engulf.

closeup

A Shoreline Haunting. Ink on calico. ‘Ropes of Sand’ An Lanntair, Stornaway, 2017.

 

DSC_0124

Three Ghosts of the Anthropocene. Charcoal, coffee grounds, recycled fat, carrageenan, paper, graphite. “…hair strewn and tangled feet…” Tent Gallery, Edinburgh, 2018.

They are the ghosts who are unable to move along. On paper, they are large and exhausted, greasy from having been conceived in buckets of fat. They emerge from excess and waste; the buckets were encountered by the bins outside a ‘chippy’ and the ochre is produced by the grounds of my own coffee- drinking habit (which in itself funds ecological devastation and poorly remunerated labour). They do not want to be forgotten; they rub onto the clothes and hands of the careless handler. They resist capture, cannot be framed, and will eventually rot. They also elicit wonder, however. Attentiveness enables one to see they are not invented shapes; in some more than others, the acute observer might recognise the uncanny shape of seaweed specimens, momentarily peering across the chasm of translation.

As artist and art critic Suzi Gablik notes, “our [Western] culture has failed to generate a living cosmology that would enable us to hold the sacredness and interconnectivity of life in mind” (82). Lore, enchantment and storytelling emerge as increasingly necessary in order to maintain wonder in other beings and our entanglement with them. Here I quote YOU and insist that this is necessary for “practic[ing] better care of kind-as assemblages (not species one at a time)” (Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chtulucene” 161). In an attempt to engage with these notions, I have been exploring the term “cosmoecology,” which I mentioned earlier. For me, it is a yet-to-be-defined term very much embedded in assemblage theory. Coined by Despret and Meuret in their paper “Cosmoecological Sheep and the Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet,” the word alludes to “multispecies world-making” in which beings “make living arrangements simultaneously for themselves and for others” (Tsing, 22)(a fundamental principle of symbiosis and reciprocity), in which each being’s way of living and dying has an impact on another’s. Charting such cascades of causality requires us to cycle through the different scales at play within assemblages. I use this a framework within my art in order to allow my own personal singular experience of the world to co-exist with larger landscapes, and even larger notions of the cosmos (mythology, gods, folklore, ghosts, death, after- death…). The work is fraught with my personal relationship with different people, plant species, ghosts and other beings that create these earthly assemblages.

In How Do You Do Bobby Blue, for example, I narrate my encounters with poor mental health and physical health of the beings I care for and about. The intimate storytelling of my relationships with friends, past lovers and facets of myself act as pollination for the plants around which the poem is structured; “storytelling as pollination” (How Do You Do Bobby Blue). Each chapter is centered on four plants with healing properties (comfrey, lavender, wild garlic and nettles) around which I find myself gravitating towards time and again within my life. Of course, my knowledge and use of the medicinal plants are not just my own – they emerge out of long-lasting inter-generational relationships between humans and the plants, knowledge procured from “the legacy” of “women who had overcome the logic of domination” (How Do You Do Bobby Blue). The whole poem is enveloped between a Prologue and an Epilogue in which the very real and recurring presence (or… absence?) of a suicidal “ghost” (How Do You Do Bobby Blue) reminds us of the precarious position in which we find ourselves, and our fundamental need for care.

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 01.37.58

Extract from, How Do You Do Bobby Blue. Handmade paper, lavender, comfrey, ink. As part of a commission by the POD, Coventry, 2017.

The varying sense of scale in which I work is also felt in “Meet Me at the Little Bridges of Sleep,” which thematically explores the concept of sleeping in the context of the peat bog. Due to the unsheltered nature of the peatlands, it is hard to conceive of a place where one might want to lie down. There is hardly any shelter available for large mammals such as humans. My installation celebrates the hidden eroticisms of the bog, its carnivorous plant life, its out-of- the-way-ness, its discrete lichens (which themselves are symbiotic associations!) and the beauty that arises from the act of looking closer. The mise-en-scene is domestic— a worktop onto which moss dust and gold thread have been swept in a pile, and handmade paper stacked below. On the floor, a wool blanket lays crumpled: someone has been here. Yet every object calls to the bog: the wool egg recalling the strands of wool you find torn off by the heather tops, the lichen embroidery detail on the blanket, the moor grasses in the paper…

My latest installation, ‘Gleaning Ghosts,’ also constitutes a part of my cosmoecological research. It examines and speaks to the ghosts in my life, mourns them, but also attempts to connect with them and understand their importance. Death is integral to the recycling of nutrients and a healthy ecosystem. Deaths can be fruitful zones of flourishing, such as ‘whale falls’… but as mentioned above, there can also be ‘bad deaths’. These produce ghosts that don’t sit easy and give us a heavy sensation on the chest, “like the weight of a big rock” (from “Gleaning Ghosts”).

I don’t believe death to be an isolated event; it can happen to one being, but ultimately it has myriad consequences, from the emotional repercussions, to the extinction of a species, to the degradation of whole ecosystems, to the loss of future generations, all the way down to the strange, disconnected situation of the gleaner, who has to sort through the possessions of the dead and decide the fate of these now-ownerless objects. I have been that gleaner.

DSC_0355

What attracts the eye when you enter the gallery is perhaps the weight of the bed-wide, black velvet pillow. Its density is both sinister and inviting. Directly above it hangs a sort of circular map, a shape not unlike the mappa mundi. It is circular, stained in browns and reds, considerably dirtier near the outside and accentuated with a hole at its centre. In fact, it is a skirt, hung upside down: another ceremonial garment… In the corner of the gallery, twenty strips of fabric hang above stones.

This time, the ritual also took place in Cramond, but consisted of a long walk along the river Almond and onto Cramond Island, against the rising tide. Along the way, I picked up stones and tied them to my skirt, getting heavier and heavier with the weight of interconnectivity. The act carries dark undertones, as I find myself walking towards the water, pulled down by the rocks.

holdherup

ritual photos by Bejoy Sanjeev, Cramond, 2018.

It is not a coincidence. Many of the ghosts that appear within the exhibition are tragic and have taken their own lives.

The skirt, too long for my legs, becomes the perfect canvas for mapping the act, allowing the dynamic relationship between land, ghosts, ritual and self to materialise visually. For Weller, “rituals rise from the land” and “reflect the entire context of the people’s lives— the terrain, the animals and plants, the communal wounds, the patterns of weather, the stories and myth, the collective suffering, the beliefs” (77). Perhaps, for this reason rituals are particularly suited to cosmoecological studies.

 

On the other side of the gallery sits a large concertina book. Its cream pages are filled with images from the ritual, personal writing, but also gleaned objects, academic writing and pages from my favourite work of fiction. It feels like a scrapbook: an intimate curation of objects that don’t immediately belong.

 

Against the white wall, on a low table lined with black velvet, strange brushes are displayed. They are not typical brushes and are devoid of practicality: too fragile for holding paint, and too soft for scrubbing. They are power-tools nonetheless. They were crafted from beach-combed objects and locks of my own hair, cut off in an attempt at regaining control.

There’s an undeniable domesticity to the installation, with its cream wall, soft lighting, extensive use of fabric, pillow, brushes, book… But the skirt, with its earthly stains brings with it an act of being ‘in-process-with’ the outside world, the landscape, and possibly even also tipping into the realm of the sacred.

 

Perhaps, the point of this letter is to thank you for the term “tentacular” (Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chtulucene” 160). The tentacle is what enables me to story-tell these assemblages I find myself being part of. My narrative tentacles slip in and out of the first-person, intimate and detailed to examine the dynamic landscapes that my existence is part of, and even beyond that to meddle with relevant cosmologies. Perhaps, I am indeed “entangl[ing] myriad inter-active entities-in-assemblages including the more- than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus,” as you so experimentally put it (Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chtulucene” 160). By enlisting ghosts, healers, witches and ancient knowledge, I hope to begin mapping a useful cosmoecology that might not necessarily make the world clearer but instead foster wonder and care.

Donna, in truth, I believe I navigate this world too shyly… it is hard to turn theory into praxis and apply it to all our modes of existence. I start with my art, but must soon undertake a “pilgrimage of sorts” (from “On Cosmoecology and Resisting the Ability to be Consumed”) to live life through my art and art through my life.

Thank you for welcoming me into the Chthulucene. Yours truly,
Alix

 

www.alixvillanueva.com

 

Despret, V. and Meuret, M. “Cosmoecological Sheep and the Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet.” Journal of Environmental Humanities, vol. 8, no.1, 2016, pp. 24-36.

Gablik, S. The Reenchantment of Art. Thames & Hudson, 1991.
Gan, E, Tsing, A, Swanson, H, and Bubandt, N. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghostsand Monsters of the Anthropocene. Minnesota University Press, 2017.
Haraway, D. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin.”Journal of Environmental Humanities, vol. 6, 2015, pp. 159-165.

Haraway, D. Staying with the Trouble. Duke University Press, 2016.

Ó Crualaoich, G. The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise Woman Healer. Cork University Press, 2006.

Tsing, A. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Weller, Francis. The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief. North Atlantic Books, 2015.