SEDIMENT: THE FUTURE OF LANDSCAPE’S PAST
My practice takes three directions: walking coastal landscapes; climate; and the expression of time and memory through sedimentary layers. Sediment is rich with associations of historical time, of material being weathered, dispersed by water and wind, and then settling into new layers elsewhere. Beneath my experiments with sedimentary time lies the bleak, abandoned coastal village of Tyneham in Dorset. In 1943, all residents were ordered to leave by the Ministry of Defence who requisitioned the land for military training. Ironically, the MoD’s autocracy has preserved Tyneham as one of the most unspoiled stretches of coastline in the UK, an ethical dilemma I examine in my practice.
Sedimentary layering has led me to the fresco where an image is painted or printed onto wet plaster. The plaster draws the image in, so which forms the top layer? Is it the plaster or the ink? I’ve created plaster-prints of sediment, trees and of stones beneath the feet, in which plaster and ink become one and the same.
In a reverse experiment, I have built layers back in by creating photo-lithographs of footpaths on overlapping sheets of translucent Japanese paper. These five-layer maps, summoned from memory, ask the eye to travel through them in order to see all that’s there. Like sediment, there are layers in the work which embed a sense of time passed and passing.
Folded into the layers of Mind Map are visualisations of an MRI scan I had of my brain, making the finished piece both physical and psychic geography.
To develop the richness of time’s role in my practice, I have frozen natural objects in ice to deliberately halt the process of decay. My photo-etchings and photographs are images of frozen time, whilst simultaneously referencing the fragility of the planet’s glaciers.
Frozen Time, giclée on etching paper
My next experiment with ice will be to see how my original five-layered photo-litho map could be transformed by itself being frozen and re-photographed.
In addition to asking ethical questions about how we might preserve the wild, my project focuses on the secular pilgrimage. The idea of making a pilgrimage is, in itself, a form of printmaking, but it is the imprint of the foot. I have extended that thought by making photo-etchings of the land over which I have walked.
Having registered my footsteps, I pushed the idea further towards the Medieval pilgrim badge. Pilgrims paid for badges to prove they had completed their journeys; they are early prototypes of the souvenir or bought memory. My own version of the pilgrim badge emerged when I found my great-aunt’s ticket machine from her days as a bus conductor. She literally validated travellers’ journeys as a pilgrim-badge seller might. Using one of her ticket rolls for paper, I typed the account of a conceptual journey. I walked the city of Edinburgh using my childhood tartan scarf as a map, only taking the roads that the coloured lines dictated. The story of my walk, written on my mother’s old typewriter, spills out from the ticket machine in a spiral of past and present.
The old-fashioned postcard, inscribed with memories and just another form of pilgrim badge, is a powerful summoner of journeys undertaken in the past. My great-aunt saved all the postcards she was sent by her brothers and sisters over her life.
Haunted by the fragmentary messages they hold, in which so much is left unsaid, I am exploring the idea of postcards as a form of sedimentary history. I made hand-rolled porcelain postcards and blind-embossed them with lines from the Victorian children’s homework I discovered padding out the roof-space in the former schoolhouse where I live.
The children’s homework includes authoritarian lines such as ‘Nominate the Just’ and ‘Venerate Sacred Institutions’. Having embossed these aphorisms onto porcelain, I arranged the cards in a spiral on the beach at Tyneham to take the form of a virtual pilgrimage. Virtual pilgrimages were often the terrain of women who were disbarred from exploring the world freely. But my ceramic pilgrimage deliberately has a blank postcard at its centre: freed from the constraints of the Victorian homework, it is the liberating card yet to be written.
I have tested my thoughts about landscape, memory and time by re-reading theorists such as Richard Crownshaw, Gaston Bachelard, Sigmund Freud, and Yi-Fu Tuan. Crownshaw distinguishes between memorialisation and commemoration, warning that commemoration is merely sentimental nostalgia. Freud’s definition of trauerarbeit or mourning has been useful too. Trauerarbeit, the process of ‘translating, troping, and figuring loss’ is a protection against what Eric Santner describes as ‘narrative fetishism’: the need for ‘mourning by simulating a condition of intactness, typically by situating the site and origin of loss elsewhere.’ Yi-Fu Tuan, meanwhile, is synonymous with the idea of topophilia, or love of place.
In seeking inspiration from other artists, I am drawn to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Seascapes. They’re sublime, in the sense intended by Edmund Burke in his 1757 treatise: ‘The passion caused by the great and the sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment’.
Unconsciously, I seek out tonal shades of black and white. The South Korean artist Park Seo-Bo, whose art movement Dansaekhwa translates as ‘monochrome’, uses the meditative Myõbop technique in his work. It literally means to empty the mind and focus simply on the tip of the brush. He works on Hanji paper which has been manipulated to rise in waves above the surface of the canvas.
Susan Hiller’s work with postcards has been influential. Dedicated to the Work of Unknown Artists features over 300 postcards of the sea. Hiller is acting as a re-orderer of art, in which the work of uncelebrated artists is reframed as an artistic movement.
Looking ahead, I have frozen strands of seaweed for new, larger photo-etchings, and my walks along the shoreline continue. I am working on an installation made of layered, moveable glass shelves lit from beneath, and I want to test a camera tracking-mount to capture images of the earth’s rotation. By taking multiple images over several hours, my camera aligned to Polaris, I plan to make etchings and arrange them in a circle. By tracking the earth, I would like to extend my central idea: the land itself makes its own imprint.