My interest in geometry is based on a search for fundamentals and the hope that through understanding the drawn basis of math it may change my understanding of the world. Working without measurement everything is drawn in relation to everything else and it is those relations / the paterns, that matter. Its a less atomic and positivist way of thinking I feel.
In this vein, working on the geometry inherent in nature, I have begun consider what a strange notion ‘0’ is. As nothing is every really gone in nature. If something goes in the bin or down the toilet, it is not gone…
Also, how ‘1’ could be considered as the largest number, the whole. Relational mathmatics seems to make more sense is a divisional sequence descending to infinity from ‘1’. With no ‘0’.
Perhaps, number systems influence society’s philosophy towards the environment / nature? Could the abstraction of the additive decimal system with its infinite growth and the existence of ‘0’ be a part of our removal from nature? Are there such things as historians and philosophers of maths?
The paintings are works in progress, with each layer being rubbed out with a thin veil of black paint. The effect is to build a look which is similar to an old school blackboard.
Firstly, I would like to say thank you to the Consilience team for arranging this opportunity and thereby allowing me to share my work with you all. I really like working in partnership and it is particularly exciting to have my painting paired with such great poetry. I love the way Adeene Denton’s poetry weaves together the geological and the personal.
The painting you see before you was made of soil as part of a commission for Reading University. It tries to encompass the range of work that was done as part of their Soil Security Programme. This was an umbrella research programme that commissioned large numbers of researchers working across the UK in different environments to address the diverse issues around the sustainability of UK soils in different landscapes.
This was an opportunity I sought out due to my interest in working with soil and I wanted to put this work into context by saying a little about the rest of my practice.
I first became interested in soil as a bit of a protest. It was debased, dirty and trodden on, perhaps the lowest and least aesthetic material. The most mundane and unattractive colour – Ugly even. Somewhere between forgettable grey and turd brown.
This most simple of materials was also abundant, accessible and available. Over time I realised that through treating the soil as an active and equal participant in the creative journey it could also teach and direct me. It was in essence a material I could have a conversation with and learn from.
Through this conversation with soil I have been introduced to a new world. For instance, the history of clays in both Industrial and Geological time or the semi-magical latent potential hidden in the seed bank. I have been introduced to a whole range of people working with soil in many other capacities. From farmers, to indigenous land-rights activists and many different types of scientists – even make-up manufacturers. Not to mention, soil-eaters and of course the archaeology and anthropology of human pigment use and ochres.
Perhaps the biggest driver of Anthropocene is the fallacy of linear progression and a focus on soil reminds us that life on Earth is in fact a cycling. “everything comes from earth and everything returns to earth.” Soil is the meeting point of the organic and inorganic, each cycling at their very different speeds and scales.
The pigment in this painting represents a frozen moment in that cycling. Suspended in Linseed oil there is a very specific mix of inorganic and organic particles, and organisms including tardigrades, bacteria and many other things. It is as specific to time and place as the landscape depicted. A frozen marker in time, waiting to reactivate and continue its own material cycles.
Currently, I am still working with soil and looking at giving voice to the constituents of soil through a chromatography and sonification project that is ongoing… as well as paintings of course. Check out the lionks to my website to learn more.
So… I have been leaving our front garden to go wild over the summer. This has been a source of amusement and frustration for the neighbours. But I wanted to experiment and find out for myelf what happens.
When we arrived I became particularily fond of the front garden. It was mossy, soft and springy and every year strange fungi would emerge and I loved the meadow like appearance of the Daisies, Dandelions, Violets and Speedwell. it was so rarely walked on it felt somehow sacred and untouched. I would carefully roam around looking for new Plants and Fungi I hadn’t seen there before. We even have a number of self seeded Oaks.
But, I always caved in and mowed around 4 times or so over the summer. Although, not usually before or during #nomowmay.
The situation is made worse by the fact that we are quite exposed, by a main road, on the corner and next to a bus stop. Our very old privet hedge also succumed to Honey Fungus. So, last year (or the year before – COVID memory) I dug that out and replaced it with a new hedge, which is gradually establishing itself. But a long way from obscuring my rewilding experiments from passers by.
Anyway, this year I went for it and I dont regret it. I loved the spring flowers. I was advised to mow to encourage them back and keep the grass down, but I felt that was against the spirit of things. So I watched as the grasses grew taller and rippled in the wind. I had never noticed the many tiny brightly coloured flowers on Grass heads that briefly flower in their miniture and momentary way. I was transfixed. I even allowed the Thistles and Ragwort to grow (I may regret that…).
However, as we move into Autumn I was faced with a dilema. Mow and reset my little meadown for next year or don’t mow and possibly sacrifice some of the smaller ground loving plants and fungi? I knew I had to do something, in truth it had started to look a little tatty and the taller grasses where begginning to thin the mosses and plants underneath, although I tried not to notice. I got the mower out and mowed tentatively around the perimeter, where actually it was at its worst.
And then it struck me, lets have some fun. I spoke to my middle daughter and we agreed a design and I mowed in a maze. The beauty of this is that we now still have half the lawn as a wilding experiment and half that will hopefully be reset and support the smaller meadow flowers. Not only that, it looks great! The possibilities are endless, I’m already thinking of designs I might use for this time next year and every other year.
Added to that, kids love it. It’s also quite fun for the adults too… Not quite the Nazca lines or a stately hedge maze, but I’m still pretty proud of it. At some point next year I should document some of the plants and animals I find in there on the blog.
I am in conversation with soil. I have been in conversation with the soil for around three years now and these conversations have taken me in all sorts of directions that I could never have reached without the ‘conversation’. I have met scientists, discovered people whose lives are dedicated to soil science or to soil pigments, even people who eat soil. I have been shown new techniques, new ways of seeing and possibilities, the limits of which might be infinite.
But surely, I can’t talk to soil and surely soil can’t talk to me? What do I mean?
Am I saying the soil is conscious? Am I a pan-psychic?
No. Those are the wrong questions.
We should not be asking what is it about soil or simple dirt that could be conscious. The question is instead, how can simple atoms and particles have a soul or intelligent thought or the ability to communicate. After all, if we except that we are a community of atoms and particles, energy or whatever, what is it about us that can make us appear more than the sum of our parts? How can thought, culture, empathy and communication ‘emerge’ from this communion of dust that creates us?
For me consciousness, creativity, communication (the three C’s perhaps) exist in the gaps. None of these behaviours can exist in an isolated unit. They exist between things. They emerge, like love, from a union. A good example is the sculptor working with clay. We traditionally assign the human in this relationship with the agency. The clay is inert, and the human possesses a creativity (or even genius) that is imposed on the clay. However, without the clay the human can’t produce anything at all. Beyond this, the possibilities of the clay even define the parameters that the sculptor is working with. The feel dictates the results. As the clay is picked up its thirst draws moisture from their hands. Leaving a fine dusty film behind. As the form is shaped, so in time the clay shapes the muscles of the hands, the muscle memory and the mind of the sculptor. However, you want to describe it. The creative act can not exist without both parties working together. The results emerge from this interaction and not either one alone.
Even today we view creativity as a human behaviour. In education and the job market you can often see people asking for evidence of someone’s creativity or find programmes designed to teach creativity. We are so sure that it is an individual attribute, perhaps even a genetic trait. Rarely do we think to look to find the circumstances that allow creativity. (Which are often largely dictated by socioeconmic factors that govern the values attributed to different people and their behaviours). We live the lie that some people are creative and others aren’t. For is it not abundantly clear that this world, devoid of humans, would still be creative. Animals and plants would still grow, dance, play, adapt, die and evolve through time into a myriad of divergent, beautiful and awesome forms. Creativity is not something that is human. It is something that emerges, like evolution, in interactions through time.
So, coming back to the conversation with the soil. By focusing on a material and starting a conversation where you allow the possibility of being influenced, as opposed to only influencing, you can allow creativity to emerge and direct you through the many connections – be they political, material, emotional, circumstantial or whatever, that ties you to the material. To be an artist is to live in wonder and allow yourself to be affected.