With the North Devon Biosphere project much in mind, I have just been up to London for the Data Landscapes symposium at Arts Catalyst. The most intriguing work on show was Most Blue Skies by Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, a sisyphean project to try and capture the most blue sky in the world from satellite data and then to bring that into the gallery. Joshua, the programmer in the duo, talked about how when working this closely with such large amounts of data the data itself takes on its own character and quality, quite separate from what it is meant to be depicting. It seems to me that the hardest thing to do in this technological world it to walk the line between abstraction/data and reality/senses. Most Blue Skies does this brilliantly for me; but I am still not sure exactly what the blue actually depicts, perhaps the colour of the data itself?
It was William Herschel who first discovered infrared radiation, by splitting light using a prism and then measuring the temperature of the area just beyond the visible red light. Here is the man himself, in his house at Kew, with his massive 40ft telescope visible through the window filling most of his garden. I guess he wasn’t such a keen gardener. I am about to start working with infrared photography, as a way of making visible an invisible aspect of the environment. I want to use this process as part of the Biosphere project that I am about to start on in Devon: infrared images acting as an visual analogy to the mass of invisible environmental data that is the focus of that project. All clear? Well, hopefully it will become so over the next months as the project progresses. I will keep you posted. (A fantastic book on Herschel and his contemporaries is The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. The book leaves you breathless with what Herschel and his sister Caroline discovered from their back garden.)
Today I have just been re-reading the essay by John Berger called ‘Field’. It is something I have never forgotten from the time I first read it. What really impressed me then, and still does now, is the way in which he pins down a fleeting experience with such patience and exactitude: analytical, but also really moving. It ends with the sentence: “The field that you are standing before appears to have the same proportions as your own life.” I know that feeling. Also in this new Penguin collection is ‘The White Bird’, another memorable essay that seemed to capture something of the primal power of art. I wonder what he is up to now?
Another post from the Lake District, this time from Langdale. I visited the site of Kurt Schwitters’ last Merzbau which is going to be restored through the Merzbarn project. Thinking about Grizedale (see previous post) and how they are working to integrate into the local landscape, I am struggling to understand the relevance of Schwitters to the Lakes. Fleeing Nazi persecution he ended up in Ambleside for a couple of years after the war, dying there in 1948. His Merzbarn work is as if parachuted in from another time and place. But the portraits and landscapes that he painted locally in order to make a meagre living, they are something else, a place where Schwitters and the Lakes have something in common.
Visited Grizedale Arts today, at their Lawson Park HQ, situated in Ruskin’s back garden. They were busy feeding the ‘slug eating’ ducks. What an inspirational place, and they are truly embedded within the valley, unlike some other rural arts projects. But what a valley: Coniston is a pretty exceptional place, a heady mix of nature, history, art, tourism, philosophy and Swallows and Amazons, and that is without the additional input of Grizedale.
For our Mezz event in May we have the artist Ilana Halperin coming to talk. “One evening, someone approached me and said; I came across something I think you might be interested in – a collection of body stones. Body stones? Body stones: gall stones, kidney stones, they are made of geology. From this conversation grew the idea that we as humans are also geological agents – we form geology. We are like volcanoes, producing new landmass on a micro scale.” Recently returned from Iceland and on her way to the Turner Contemporary for a performative lecture, Mezz is pleased to present Ilana Halperin, who utilises text, delicate graphite drawings, sculpture, video and performance to explore our intimate relationship to the seemingly distant and abstract world of plate tectonics, in her quest to develop art objects formed within a geological, or deep time context. For Mezz #13 Ilana will first be showing some work from herPhysical Geology series, followed by a talk entitled Autobiographical Trace Fossils: “a field dispatch on the nature of new landmass of a cultural, biological and geological nature – from petrifying caves in France, to geothermal pools in Iceland and a collection of body stones more animal than mineral.” Fascinating stuff. Hope to meet you there on Thu 5th May. See the website for details.
Working in Derriford hospital today, and I felt really humbled by the patients and what they are having to face. I have checked with others in the hospital, and it seems quite common to imagine yourself at the age of the patient you are treating at that moment. At one point I was imagining myself at the age of 88. I hope I will be as lively and thankful as he was!