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