As Above, So Below
animation from gelatin prints, fossils from east yorkshire coast, 2018
… because photographs trigger a memory reflex, the scene they depict takes on a personal significance that is like a shadow and cannot be fixed precisely. This is an unconscious mechanism, silently nagging the viewer (Where does this fit in my life? Was I there?) . The places are also, of course, points on the earth, coordinates in what we call our environment, that which envelops us. In this sense they are part of a different history, but one that is much harder to comprehend, the story of a planet that has existed for more than 4 billion years before humans. This too is part of our collective unconscious. - Saylor/Morris, ‘A History of the Future’.
One of the main threads of my practice is the idea that the only resource we have is the past, and the question of how this informs the production of visual work in relation to new technologies is something that lies at the roots for me. I am interested in the idea of the ‘time-stamp’ - fixing and unfixing a moment, and chasing the absence of a memory. This roughly began a few years ago when I decided to delve into some boxes of photographs my Nanna left behind. One in particular stood out to me, and has fixated me ever since, and this is the one you can see above. There is a shadow of a man visible in the shed, but I can’t quite see who it is. I realise that the threads of curiosity that are bound up in this can be traced back through my practice, more widely through an exploration of natural history as a field of accumulating agendas and constructs in parallel to the ‘true’ natural history of the earth, and back through my life and experiences of being a witness to various neurological diseases in my grandparents as a young person. These are perhaps both small chronicles of mystery, accumulation and loss. For these reasons the aesthetics of the archive appeal to me and sometimes I make use of this in the way I mine for historical visuals and found objects to form projections of the present, and is intrinsic to the properties of print in general. Joseph Beuys has been an influence on me in this area.
Prior to uncovering those photograph, I either actively or unconsciously avoided any personal material. The last thing I want to do is make work that is sentimental and I think this is maybe partly the reason why. More and more however I’ve realised that there is an emotive core to my practice which maybe bears potent relationships to geological process, and those threads of exploration into natural history and the archive make sense in terms of my interest in what is happening on the surface - on and between land, and below the surface - those shifting and mysterious stratifications of hidden matter which are largely absent from our active thought. Gradual change over time. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and investigating the rapidly eroding cliffs which are eating into an agricultural area known as Holderness, on which my family lived and worked for decades and is pictured in those tiny polaroids fixating me. Thomas Sheppard’s ‘Geological Rambles in East Yorkshire’ (1903) served as a way of understanding some of the muddied and isolated locations, and became a starting point for a consideration of how this area of landmass which features the fastest eroding coastline in Europe, with bolder clay rich in fossilized life forms from ice age glacial deposits, is fragmenting and reforming like a society itself – the wear and tear of the people on the surface, the wear and tear of the crumbling clay and the shifting forces beneath our feet. I have begun to collect those fossils and make contact prints from them as an immediate visual starting point.
I am interested in the metaphysical, and the potential of the term ‘the fossil record’ as being a description of the recorded human memory of experiences of a landscape and relationships as much as it stands for a scientific collection of measurable and agreed historical evidence. The fossil record is, of course, notably incomplete. What does generation loss look like in the earth? Are there ways in which we gravitate towards anxiety in our psychological landscapes that might be reflected in the visualization of the gaps in the fossil record – in data and collections? Are there parallels to be drawn and associations to be unearthed between neurological disease, memory loss, and geological processes such as erosion and overprinting, at a point in time at which the geologic, biologic and technologic are becoming so much more tightly bound and blurred? These are all broad questions, which I seek to investigate, to distil, and push the boundaries of.