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.

0G6A7700

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.

Untitled-13

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.

0G6A9894

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.

 

IMG_71075

DISILLUSION, 2019.

Disillusion1

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.

0G6A117123

REMNANTS, 2019. 

0G6A7559

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.

 

0G6A7626.jpg

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s