Gallery of Wonder
I have installed Dust and Shadows in the Gallery of Wonder at the Great North Museum:Hancock in Newcastle. Conceived and curated by Irene Brown, Head of Fine Art at Newcastle University, it is a display case set aside to show contemporary work which relates to the notions of collecting and archiving. The other half of the exhibition, One Minute by Shirley Chubb is shown in the lancet windows on the steps leading up to the entrance of the Hatton Gallery.
Dust and shadows was originally made for Wing and a Prayer at the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough to mark Darwin’s bicentenary. The sixty-four tins containing images of extinct moth species painted using ashes and smoke were displayed in a rusted steel cabinet. At the Hancock it is interesting to see them in a brightly lit wall cabinet. I am also showing the large digital print Light Trap, an image based on photographs of my moth trap taken in the garden on dark summers night.
On my worktop at the moment are the series of 56 postcard-sized ink and collage drawings called Arctic Circles which I have been working on since December. They are about the birds who regularly migrate from Scandinavia and the Arctic regions to or via the holy island of Lindisfarne off the Northumbrian coast. They are variations on the motif at the centre of the St. Luke Cross Carpet Page in the Lindisfarne Gospels, an arrangement of circles within a square I have used in a number of works, including Moths and Moons. The plan is to mount them as a concertina book which will stretch for about 4 metres when extended!
The RSPB reserve at Saltholme near Middlesbrough is an unusual environment demonstrating that wild birds don’t necessarily seek out beauty spots. Set in an industrial wasteland surrounded by Teeside chemical plants gulls, terns, waders and wildfowl are drawn by the ponds, reed beds and rough grazing.
The visitors centre is an award-winning building by Jane Darbyshire and David Kendal Architects (www.jddk.co.uk) which floats on this flatland and features exciting curves and rich combinations of materials. Of particular interest to me are the internal rammed earth walls, raw earth battered into solid slabs, layered sediment in bars and bands of red-grey soil. The Rivergreen building in Durham designed by the same practice, also contains a large rammed earth wall.
One of the aims of the ROBUST project is to investigate the viability of rammed earth architecture using reclaimed and cleaned soils from contaminated sites. The idea of using what was once poisoned waste material as a replacement for equally wasteful concrete is interesting. It is certainly more aesthetically pleasing than concrete although its use as an external building material may be limited in our wet climate.
I have been working on a series of exploratory drawings with this in mind. They are called Earth’s Core and are made using powdered graphite mixed with gum arabic eroded with lots of spattered water. I have also been experimenting with wild plants, Groundsel, Ragwort, Sowthistle, Willowherb, the tough, indestructible weeds which grow in the most unpromising of environments, starved of nutrition in damaged soils.
Finally a picture of my worktop to celebrate the completion of the 800th drawing for the 1000 Ghost Trees installation at the Oriental Museum in 2012. Each drawing measures 12x12cm and they will be assembled on a wall 1.2m high and 12m long.