“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir. Sometimes I marvel how the things you need appear at the right time. I was really interested in Ansel Adams (image above), John Muir and other American environmental artists and writers when I was studying zoology. I visited Yosemite too. Now Muir’s words can guide me whilst researching for a film using material from Derriford. The out is Dartmoor, the in Derriford.
That is meant to be Clay to the power of 10, but I can’t find the superscript key. Anyway, it is the title for the Newton Abbot project. A nod to an old favourite of mine, the film Powers of Ten by Ray and Charles Eames. I can’t remember how long ago I first came across this, but is must be a good 20 years ago. I looked at it again the other day, and it still looked good. The idea is so clear, that the dating in the imagery seems of little importance. Great stuff!
Last week I was at the Neuro-Art conference hosted by Plymouth University. A fascinating crossover of science, biology, art and technology: using live brain cells to make music, control a robotic drawing machine, and many other incarnations. I was surprised to find just how strong the wish to reduce everything to machinery is in us still, in this case to pull the brain apart in order to reveal the mechanics of the mind. It was a fascinating two days. I am still trying to work out where I stand on all this but one fact I found comforting: the machinery responsible for passing messages from one brain neurone to another, the synapse, is surprisingly unreliable, failing to work half the time (yes, half the time). In amongst all the hard science, predictions that we will become a fusing of biology and technology, that when we have understood how the mind works we will know ourselves, in amongst all this heady stuff this simple fact seemed like a breathing space: a place where something else can come in…which led me to a new word, for me at least, syncretic. The picture is from 1899 and is by Santiago Ramón y Cajal.
This morning I spent observing in the x-ray department, looking at intestines after the patients has swallow barium to highlight the lining of the gut. That barium tastes disgusting, like milk of magnesia, I tried it. Filming is quite a physical process, as the radiographer needs to follow the barium after it is swallowed, negotiating the ins and outs of the gut by moving the machine around but also getting the patient to move around too, their movements pushing the barium into different areas. I think everyone in the room – radiographer, patient, student, artist – saw something different in the images produced. Someone saw the face of a veiled women in this one.
Now completing the molecular models for the Clay10 project. What has surprised me working with such a supposedly rigid modelling system is just how flexible it becomes as it grows, how its own internal tensions produce twists and bends. Then, once suspended and slowly rotating, this wafer-shaped structure (of illite, above) can sometimes take on the appearance of a sphere. Visually the models are quite camelion-like, shifting as your mind tries to make sense of what it is looking at. I need to explore this more through filming them. I think they could take on another form through the lens.
A quote from David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous and a picture of birdsong from my project Birds of the Antarctic: “Caught in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves… Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds and shapes of an animate earth…our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices…is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence.”
It is such a challenging time within the hospital. The current round of budget cuts combined with the new framework for the NHS that is in pipeline makes Derriford Hospital a forbidding place in which to work. But then this came up: Derriford Hospital is working on its sustainability policy. How does a hospital of this size even start to become sustainable. Surely the priorities are medical not environmental? But then if you go back to the foundations of modern medicine, to Hippocrates (whose name persists in, amongst other things, the doctors’ Hippocratic Oath) and his text entitled Airs, Waters and Places you are met with this opening sentance: “Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly should proceed thus: in the first place consider the seasons of the year…then the winds…then…the qualities of the waters…” Jump forward to now and you have the NHS, that is the Natural Health Service, part of the NHS’s website dedicated to sustainability. And so the circle turns. Maybe I am looking in the wrong direction at the moment; maybe it is outwards that I should be looking, focussing on the hospital in its environment.