This last weekend I attended at workshop on how water moves by Simon Charter. Fascinating stuff, and so much of it counter intuitive, such as that water isn’t a homogenous mass but can divide into separate flows that move along beside one another without mixing. The water in each flow is identical, but somehow they stay separated. This really came home when Simon created a vortex and dropped some ink into the top, open end. Rather than colouring the whole body of water, thin veils of ink appeared, completely separated, extending downwards and then pulsing back up to the surface, which reminded me of Tatlin’s tower (upside down, of course) in the way that they wrapped around each other. But where is all this leading? I am looking into the structure of water at the moment for a potential project at the Cotswold Water Park.
Josepth Amato in his book Dust makes the point that in the West our obsession with the very small over the past century – germs, cells, genes and then on into atoms and the subatomic – has as much to do with our development of electrical light to ‘see into the corners’ of things as it had to do with the technologies we developed for viewing, such as microscopes and scanners. We are obsessed with lighting things, and along with this, cleanliness. Junicharō Tanizaki in his book In Praise of Shadows notes this too: “…Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize… this ‘sheen of antiquity’… which is in fact the glow of grime.” Tanizaki is fascinating about the role and effect of shadows, especially within traditional Japanese culture. He talks about what would it be like if it had been Orientals who developed all the modern technologies, rather than Europeans. I was thinking about this: would Japanese CT scanner technology include shadows? What is a scanned shadow like? Because if you look at a scan, such as the one of a pair of lungs I included a few post back, its startling beauty, precision and lightness is also its weakness, its lack of a shadow. In our world, it is shadows that prove our presence. We fear as much those without shadows as being trapped within something else’s. And somewhere in my mind the lack of shadows in medical scans (here at Derriford Hospital) is linked to something I am searching for in the environmental data that is key to the Biosphere project up in North Devon. Data shadows?
“For the moment let’s venture simply this: the shadow, this elegant enigma, is always with us… [it] is an inescapable consequence of our physicality. …Our clearest thoughts are those that know this – those that remember their real parentage in both light and shadow, fire and sleep.” From Becoming Animal by David Abram. I am thinking about shadows a lot at the moment, not as the flat outlines of cartoons, but as a physical presence in the world that we inhabit. I am thinking about whether Data World (the virtual landscape of environmental data that I am investigating for the biosphere project) has shadows in it. What is the meaning of a shadow in this context? Perhaps shadows are the link I am looking for between this, the sensual world that we can perceive with our own senses, and that, the mass of data that is being promoted as some sort of future panacea. I am getting more and more intrigued by shadows. Might it be possible, like Lucky Luke, to move faster than your shadow?
There are a number of images that simply transfix me, I have no defence against them. This one by Juan Sánchez Cotán is one of them. I have never been able to work out what it is about the picture that so resonates within me, but one aspect in particular stands out at the moment which is the juxtaposition between the everyday, slightly worn nature of the fruit and vegetables and the mathematical geometry of the composition, a parabola within a rectangle. There is something quite startling and contemporary about this. Cotán is in my mind at the moment as I am searching for a way of working with the abstract mathematical data that is part of the Confluence project. [The project will be launched in the autumn with its own website, but until then there isn’t much to see.]
This must have been one of the most bipolar introductions to a project I think I have encountered yet: the first day steeped in the lush ecology and the steep lanes of north Devon as we were shown around the UNESCO North Devon Biosphere Reserve, and in particular the catchment area of the Torridge River flowing down towards Bideford. A sensual delight. The next day spent in Plymouth University’s i-DAT department learning about intelligent interactive computer-web-based systems designed to visualise our impact upon the environment and to adapt our behaviour accordingly. Our (that is myself and the three other artists on the project) job is to bring these two worlds together in a meaningful way. i-DAT on their website identify a public fear of this data world – a sort of Dorian Gray data store in the attic. Intriguing. My initial reaction is to start with our senses and old ways of gleaning information about the world around us, such as through shamanistic practices which looked to animals to accompany us into aspects of the world that we could not experience directly ourselvses. i-Dat is working on small environmental sensors which can collect environmental data (light, wind, temperature etc.). My first thought is to link these to animals, to other forms of intelligence in the Biosphere. We will see…
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.)