Jill Howitt, January 2023
Carbon Borders Voices (CBV) was launched in January 2022. The 84 submissions to the open call were presented on our website and two submissions were published each day on Instagram – from the 24th January onwards. CBV grew out of interdisciplinary conversations between Rob Marchant, Kevin Parker, and Matt Fratson who had each responded to ‘The Critical Fish’ prompt ‘Above, Below, at the Edge of the Water’. ‘Carbon’, ‘Borders’, and ‘Voices’ emerged as common threads and when we decided to move forward with an online exhibition, we invited participants to respond to these themes through their own practice. As the project developed, we were keen to maintain the focus on conversation – in the relationships between the different submissions as much as the individual works themselves. The idea of a daily focus on two works (paired randomly) was to highlight connections between pieces brought together by chance. I decided to make my own written journey through these daily reveals looking for common ground and more simply giving each piece its own space and attention. I quickly became interested in the places represented, visited, and central to the work. Thus, I have highlighted or designated a place for each contribution – with a view to a mapping project further down the line. I began my journey through the artwork and writing with the single words ‘counteract’ and ‘scaffold’ and the phrases ‘meaningful coincidences’ and ‘examine assumptions’ on board. These ideas had emerged from our launch event the night before and were in my mind as I began.
The exhibition kicks off with Xinlong Lin’s photos of Quzhou, China – with images of natural beauty alongside dumped objects and pollution. Xinlong’s place is also the border between humans and nature where ‘we can listen to the voice from each other’. The importance of listening to the natural environment is highlighted in several CBV projects. These photos are paired with Elodie Merland’s film of waves breaking on and covering a beach - then retreating and revealing the phrase ‘Waves never stop crossing borders’ written in the sand. It is filmed looking down so that the beach appears vertical on the screen with the waver entering from the top and right of the rectangle - and sometimes covering the whole screen. Because the horizontal is made vertical the coming and going of the waves appears like a waterfall obeying then defying gravity. Filmed on Folkestone beach.
Day 2 and collaborations. Firstly, between David Bickley and Hina Khan and through video and sound art making connections between a salt marsh in West Cork and the border between Pakistan and India. The artists link the environment between land and sea and the places where migrants live. The second collaboration between Tracey Hill, Donna Franklin and Sarah Robinson explores clouds, which both warm and cool the earth, skin, and carbon blackness. I discovered a cloud archive and work made in the Creery Wetlands (Mandurah, Western Australia) and Little Woolden Moss, Greater Manchester.
The next day (3) begins with Nick Lumb’s fairy story and the 3 little pigs who couldn’t find anywhere safe to live and Nevill Wilson’s ‘Lone and Level Sands’ which could be words carved in stone or created on the beach itself. Nick’s ‘place’ is a hill near the sea and particular points at the bottom, halfway up and at the top. Nevill’s images of things left and accumulated by the edge of the water were made on the Northumberland coast and the Firth of Forth.
Day 4 begins with images of rocks on the south-west coast of the UK and and from the mountain ranges of the Altiplano in South America. Victoria Ahren’s rocks contrast with the bits and bobs of the shoreline from Nevill’s images yesterday. They could be high up on the tops of mountains or in caves at water level. I like the book sculptures with folded pages like rock strata and the cave of forgetfulness where night and day meet. Laurene Bois-Mariage makes intriguing connections between the cloud as a global network that stores and manages data and clouds which collect water, produce rain, and conceal the sun. This made me think of Sarah Robinson’s cloud archive. Like Nick Lumb’s appropriation of a fairy tale Laurene uses familiar graphic symbols – like those used on the weather forecast – to question power and knowledge in relation to environmental issues. Laurene’s place is visible and invisible clouds that surround us – everywhere.
John Rea‘s place is more specific, Nangwyllt Church, in Cwm Elan, now lying beneath the Caban Coch reservoir. His sound work combines sounds from the original and rescued church bell and underwater recordings from, for example, Aberdyfi Harbour. John’s immersive piece references the place of the sound of the bell in our lives; as warning, ‘celebration and mourning’. Ken Clarry uses photographic composite images to tell the story of the Pacific Island Warriors who protest against Australia’s continued use and export of fossil fuels and their devastating environmental impact – especially on island inhabitants – ‘We are not drowning – we ‘re fighting’.
Jacqui Jones uses the symbolism of burnt maps in powerful installations. For CBV she includes a hammock made from partially burnt paper maps which evokes both sunny restful holiday days and the idea of being out of balance and ‘tipping over’. She also presents a graph representing the rise of global temperature through an ascending line of burnt maps which winds its way around the corner of a room and represents a journey from pole to pole. Jacqui’s place is the graph’s space – as generated by the x and y axes. Katherine Renton makes graphite drawings of the sandcastles she finds on Alnmouth beach at the end of the day. She contrasts these temporary playful forms, that are washed away each day, with the stone castles and fortifications nearby on the Northeast coast. This reminds me of Nick Lumb’s fairy tale that nothing, no matter what it’s made of, is safe. Heroic but fragile forms.
Next day, and in a similar vein, Lisa Stumbke presents carefully composed and balanced stone/pebble arrangements that come and go within the 6 hours it takes to make them and for the tide to wash them away again. Lisa’s works are photographed in Torbay. Leah Sandler from Orlando, Florida imagines a ‘post-capitalist’ future that will look back in the archives, at the details of our current, precarious, crisis ridden times. Leah’s place is the archive.
Carlos Barradas makes photographs based on ‘the ferry boat’; leaving, journeying, and arriving, and all this might suggest in terms of passage and transition. His place is ‘between places’. Sue Bull has photographed old fishing boats, repurposed as huts and shelters in Lindisfarne harbour. She pays close attention to the effects of wind and rain on surfaces and textures and in her writing evokes the processes of decay, erosion, wearing and weathering over time. These worn shelters warn us of the processes and destruction that we are experiencing and accelerating in our own places and across the planet. Sue writes: ‘Embracing the inevitability of manmade climate crisis is almost a relief’.
Judith Alder has made a film of the continuous clearing and shifting of sand and shingle on Eastbourne beach because of coastal defence processes. The screen is split in half vertically and the left-hand film is the mirror reflection of the right so that the diggers and trucks advance and retreat, attract and repel in some kind of strange dance/joust, forming symmetrical patterns on the beach. This piece is teamed up with a film made by Kayla Parker, David Sergeant and Stuart Moore which also has a split – the artists describe this as a break between now and the future. They ask how we can connect an imagined future to the current now. Their film shows us urban places with the suggestion of nature reclaiming disused spaces. This has no particular location so I’m going to position it between now and then.
Next day and Daksha Patel presents images of Morecambe Bay superimposed with animated lines which recall contours, horizons and mathematical models. Moving south to the Sussex coast, Burling Gap and Helen Goodwin’s work which explores coastal erosion and the displacement of people as homes and places topple into the sea. Helen links places on the south coast with Skipsea, near me on the East Holderness coast in Yorkshire, where she used to live and where her former home is now a casualty of coastal erosion. She retrieved some household possessions which find their way into her current photographs – like the chair – which might as well have fallen from the cliff, with the rest of her house, and floated down the east coast and into the channel to be reunited with Helen in her new home on the south coast.
Today opened with an alarming insight into the environmental impacts of bitcoin mining – something I shamefully know little about. The collaboration between Paul Dolan, James Davoll + Dr Pete Howson specifically explores the impact on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula – through moving and still images - which conflict with the country’s reputation as a champion of green renewable energy. This piece provides an insight into ‘concealed sites of digital labour’, and the energy output of data centres. I’m not sure but there may be something apt or ironic about revealing the impact of digital data systems through digital images – but in a similar vein Pik Cheng’s fluid watercolour, where colours wash into each other, reveal the impact of floods on cities, where roads look like rivers, and on fish who are the washed up casualties of the uncertain borders between land and water.
Day 12 begins with Kevin Parker’s photograph of a sand rubbing. I’m not quite sure what this involves – but rubbings are normally made from solid fixed surfaces. Maybe he stuck sand to a base (to make something like sand paper?) – before covering with paper and rubbing with graphite? - across the back of the paper to create an imprint of the raised surface beneath. Kevin collects sand from places that are significant to him, from the sea’s edge where water meets land. This place of exchange also represents Kevin’s interest in the interaction of ideas. His images could be anything – skin, sky, macro or microscopic. In contrast Gwenba transports us to a… forest or garden, surrounded by bird song, layers of sound, abundance of nature and human and plant life appearing and disappearing and blending in to one another. This is about the world of mushrooms and fungi – I need to find out more!
Next day begins with Matt Fratson’s film ‘Flood Story’, a mesmerising assemblage of landscapes, seascapes, vast swathes of geological time and personal intimate family moments. He excavates rock strata and layers of memory and weaves between the geological, neurological, and biological. The scratches, marks, textures, patches, washes, and lines of colour and tone float between images. He combines old photos with internet searches, childhood toys with a font made from a child’s handwriting. There are 2 captions/phrases that really stand out – ‘This story no longer exists’ and ‘I’ll need to be someone else’. Matt’s place is the Holderness coast and the coastal village of Mappleton. Noelle Genevier’s collages that combine screen printing with digital design sit well next to Matt’s film. Noelle’s images where patches and marks float, shift and interchange, and her passages through time – from ancient wisdom to modern technology – have an affinity with both the aesthetics and the themes of Matt’s work. Noelle’s work doesn’t have a place but she is interested in paying attention to what normally doesn’t get seen – on the periphery, inbetween and up close. So those are her places.
Day 14 and Lauren Saunders' proposal has come up. She proposes incising lines in rocks along the shore that are used for coastal defence purposes – drawing into these surfaces will create interesting images, patterns and marks and provide a protective home for tiny creatures and plants that live along the coast. Art that boosts biodiversity – a genius idea. Lauren’s place is Withernsea on the East Holderness coast. Partnering Lauren today is Luke Harby – whose Iceberg project invites participants to view a photograph of a model of an Iceberg on a website. Each view causes the photograph to degrade so that viewing the iceberg contributes to its destruction. Luke’s place is the internet – and maybe the north and south pole – where icebergs are found.
Day 15 begins with Martha Cattell’s contact print of an eel basket. Martha researches and responds to the environmental predicament of the Fens. Eels are now an endangered species in this area and the basket appears like a fossil or ghost. Julie F. Hill’s film represents debris from planets far away – arrived on earth via asteroids. Her work draws connections between life on this planet and out into the cosmos. Julie’s place is the universe.
Aradhita Parasrampuria merges craft with biochemistry to produce textile products and designs that are beautiful and sustainable, biodegradable and a replacement for petroleum-based products – whose use and disposal cause so many environmental problems. Aradhita uses Kelp, amongst other natural materials and dyes, she talks about how the natural qualities of the kelp can be advantageous in textile production. This drew my attention to the number of artists and designers who have used materials found on the sea-shore and made me think that whilst this is the place where climate crisis might be most visible and impactful it might also be where the solutions lie! Aradhita’s place is by the water’s edge. By chance Aradhita’s work is twinned with Cally Nurse’s today. Cally also investigates seaweed in her work. I am particularly drawn to her shoreline pieces where she places ink on paper at the edge of the water and allows the action of the waves to shift the ink around – creating marks and textures. I love the idea of stepping back to allow natural forces to take the stage. Cally’s place is the water’s edge on the Aberdeenshire coast where she has interviewed fishermen.
Next day and Jan Turner’s work which uses salvaged wood and recycled paint. The pieces of wood are assembled in a vaguely grid like structure with horizontal fragments and vertical sections attached in front, behind – or threaded through, a bit like weaving. There are painted marks and patterns alongside the wood grain and textures with large spaces in between which Jan describes as gates or barricades. Jan doesn’t specify a place, but she gets her wood from skips – I’ll designate her place as skips and rubbish tips anywhere. In contrast to these irregular horizontals and verticals Sara Dudman’s work comprises of organic forms, marks, textures, and layers. She says that she is unlearning painting and talks about the ‘ecotone’ of the coast. Her pigments are made from things found on the shoreline; ‘fine silty mud’; for example, is both subject and material – the mud paints itself. The layers in her paintings have equivalents in the rock strata and the changing nature of place at the water’s edge finds expression on the painted surface of shapes and marks which are fluid and not quite fixed. Sara’s places are the Somerset and Cornish coasts.
Orsina Pasargiklian’s presents small paintings of maps of highly populated cities – the ones most vulnerable to climate crisis – alongside their negatives – as if to represent their future absence. The appropriation and disruption of maps recalls Jacqui Jones’ hammock made from burnt maps and Orsina’s white on white textured, snowscape relief ‘graph’ with its descending line, representing the decline of ice in the artic, connects with Jaqui’s ascending graph of burnt maps denoting rising global temperatures. Rising and falling graphs – temperatures going up, ice coming down, water levels going up, cliffs coming down… I also love her broken, cracked landscapes as if someone carelessly dropped the world. Orsina’s places are busy overpopulated cities, the artic and cracks in the earth everywhere. Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon read some of her poetry for us at the opening of CBV, and I admire her use of language which, to me, is material and textured. Her poem ‘Beached’ reminds me of walking on pebbles on the beach – uneven, slippy, a bit difficult in places, stumbling. She talks about a ’thin place’ – which in Celtic mythology denotes a place between the material and the spiritual – but to me it conjures up the narrowness of Spurn Point, separating the muddy estuary from the North Sea. Ceinwen’s place is the beaches between Druridge Bay and Dunstanburgh Castle.
Jenna deBoisblanc challenges virtual natural worlds?! and the kind of idyllic and escapist images of beaches and mountains that appear on our desk top wallpapers. She also highlights the mining of cryptocurrencies on digital platforms and their connection to the petrochemical industry. Jenna’s ‘Netscapes’ subvert ‘digital escape’ by introducing climate crisis reality, in the form of ‘anthropogenic detritus’, into online spaces. Jenna's place is desktops and screens everywhere. In contrast Angela Sandwith and Amanda Ogden’s collaboration look closely at the history, geography and ecology of Seaham, which is on the Northeast coast. Their writing focuses on the industrial past and its impact – the nearby coal mine, ironworks, and the bottle and chemical works in the town itself. The area has been cleaned up and the beaches regenerated, but there are many signs of this history, in place names – ‘Chemical’ and ‘Blast’ beaches, in the left-over railway, the colours on the beaches and the debris washed in and out to sea. It is interesting to see this history represented in different ways in Angela and Amanda’s textiles – and the associations with care and repair.
Henna Asikainen’s response ‘Between Two Shores’ is also sited on the Northeast coast – further north at Lindisfarne– where the part time island is cut off and reunited with the mainland by the tides, and the causeway is threatened by rising water levels. Henna’s work aligns vulnerable coastlines and border places with the plight of refugees, migrants and homeless and displaced people, and highlights climate induced migration. This project includes a ‘Climigration Testimonies Archive’, which includes testimonies written by people displaced by climate crisis and a participatory walk through the mud along the Pilgrim’s Way which connects the Northumberland coast to Lindisfarne. Lydia Halcrow also works with the particularities of a place, this time in the Southwest and its changing profile over time. Lydia produces ‘matter maps’, which map the landscape in the context of climate crisis. Her piece for CBV involves her walking the Taw estuary in North Devon with metal sheets attached to her feet that once scratched and marked become the metal plates for dry point etching using pigments made from materials found along the way. This is a collaboration with natural processes and materials in the same way that Cally Nurse steps back in order that the action of tides and waves create marks and textures. There is also a kind of ironic self-circularity here – Lydia is drawing attention to the human footprint and impact, our ‘human abrasive relationship with this and other places’. I am interested in walking as art, and this process adds a new dimension as walking creates its own representation in an indexical causal relationship.
In huge contrast Graham Bloodworth presents a fantasy science fiction involving, amongst other things, a unicorn, a talking tiger, Stonehenge and a future women only earth. He writes from the perspective of superior beings, gods and goddesses, looking back on the destruction human beings brought to planet earth. Nicola Rae’s artwork involves scientific processes and digital technologies, creating installations which capture and visualise sound. For example, she records the sound frequencies of ice melting at the artic and projects this, in its visualised form, onto Birdham on the Manham peninsular – an area that is very vulnerable to rising sea levels. This juxtaposition of places highlights relationships of cause and effect, how we are connected across the globe by the processes of climate crisis. Nicola also has an online underwater gallery in line with predicted rising water levels, she explores sunlight and photosynthesis and a ‘process of becoming’, and has created a wooden raft, part planter, part nesting and resting place, for wild fowl. This was launched into Deptford Creek and has had to be rebuilt twice after the effects of rain and floods.
Next day and Helen Grundy’s collages using found, discarded and donated materials. These are witty, playful combinations which tell serious stories about climate crisis through their strange juxtapositions. I am particularly drawn to her installations inside window envelopes. There is a pig’s snout poking out of the window, reminding me of pigs being transported to the abattoir, packed into a lorry, maybe just able to peek through the bars. Imagine this landing on your door mat, like a free prize or a stark warning. Helen’s submission doesn’t have a particular place so I will assign her door mats and post boxes everywhere. Helen’s work sits alongside Andrew Cheetham’s dark monochromatic studies using graphite and oil. These are atmospheric and suggestive. Two studies, one of tall vertical trees in a denseish forest and the second with horizontal lines of waves on the water edge. Both have areas of light ‘picked out’ of dark backgrounds – the distant light through the trees, and the white ragged line as a wave breaks. Andrew’s place is North Yorkshire – coast and forests.
Nick Tobier designs and makes transport for emergency situations and scenarios. He expresses his hope that we come out of the pandemic, different, transformed – remembering what gave us comfort and what we learnt from shared emotions and experiences. Nick is pulled between vehicles that enable everyday transportation and ‘constructions’ that facilitate protest and ‘rupture’. Nick’s locations are places of emergency. Susie Wright also explores transport across water in ‘Channel Crossing’, - two prints of interiors, with window views. One could be a bedroom with a blue sky beyond the patterned curtain, and the other is a circular opening like a porthole looking out onto a semicircle of brown sea topped by another semicircle of reddish sky. The second print also appears on the bedroom wall of the first. Susie reflects on conversations she has heard about Brexit and the experiences of migrants and refugees smuggled across the channel during covid. There are several CBV submissions that explore journeys made between places on rivers and seas, in boats, ferries, rafts and hybrid constructions, and Susie’s work draws attention to the different experiences of crossing the channel. Her place is the English Channel.
We stay afloat for Karen Beattie’s submission, ‘The Cruel Sea’. The original book is set in war time when a British Naval ship, serving convoy duty, battles both German U Boats and the challenges of the ‘cruel’ Atlantic Ocean. Karen takes a copy of this book and alters it to reflect the ‘invasion’ of the sea by man made plastics, that break down, but never disappear. She adds plastic to the book, ties pages together with dental floss, superimposes diagrams and chemical symbols, adds beads to represent molecules, and dots which decrease in size, to represent the tinier and tinier specs of plastic that live in the sea. The book becomes degraded and unreadable as the sea becomes polluted and increasingly toxic. I was particularly drawn to this submission because of a conversation with David Haley about language and climate crisis which reflects conflict as if we are at war with the sea, when in reality we are the aggressors. Karen’s place is the Atlantic. Michele Noble’s submission also includes a book that is as visual as it is literary, with essays alternated with fiction, and tracing paper and torn edges to represent the layers and strata she finds in the shorelines and rockpools she studies in her writing and artwork. Michele’s work is all about connection – the repetitions of line and form through different scales in biology and landscape, for example. I love her description of rockpools where in the surface of the water you see a reflection of the sky overhead and a glimpse of the submerged world below. Michele tells us of her personal experience of loss in the middle of making this work. I imagine her observation and textured, tactile representations of the water edge – where everything is changing, but where nothing completely disappears – etched and shaped by her process of trying to make sense of loss. Michele’s place is the Scarborough coast.
Susanne Layla Petersen filmed ‘The End of the World’ in Ilulissat Icefiord, Mojave Desert, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, and Muir Woods. The work is made up of 7 videos and 20 images. For CBV she presents a speeded-up journey through different landscapes, ice, water, desert and rocks – horizontal layers empty of human life. Gen Doy made ‘Lighthouse Song’, as one of a suite of six Suffolk songs, which respond to coastal erosion and change. ‘Lighthouse Song’ is about the lighthouse and oil store at Orford Ness, and Gen Doy recorded the song in the oil house and recalls the taste and smell of the oil as she sang. The lighthouse was recently knocked down to prevent a more dangerous falling into the sea. Gen Doy also reflects on the job of the lighthouse keeper, which increasingly takes place remotely and digitally. The buildings and coastlines have disappeared, but the sounds and music recorded there live on.
Today opens with Roger Roach’s beautifully written memories about the eleven plus, luck, and coal in his Welsh childhood. This gentle story expresses his ‘love/hate’ relationship with coal – intrinsic to Welsh heritage and identity, but also the cause of damage to health and environment. Roger’s place is Nant-y-Moel. Luke McTaggart’s powerful and sparse landscape painting of the salt marshes just outside the town of Amble on the Northeast coast. Luke paints with mud covered with washes of paint and expresses contradiction – the beauty of the Northumberland countryside alongside the damage caused by coal mining in South Northumberland.
Julian McKenny presents collages which combine maps, diagrams and aerial views with areas of bright flat colour, uneven washes of pigment and some text. These images are based on maps of the bunkers that ‘wealthy hedge funders’ would flee to in the ‘event’ of an ‘end of time’ occurrence. The layers in the collages make me think about how some people would be buried away and protected whilst others would remain on the surface, visible and vulnerable. Julian’s places are underground bunkers. These collages are teamed up with Beth Barlow’s evocative film ‘Show your working outs’ which was made in collaboration with Huddersfield University. This piece also hinges on layers – of sound and imagery - patches of colour, ink marks, vertical lines, images, and voices singing, talking, enquiring, and digitised. The work brings together different people in conversation about climate action and Barlow describes her interest in debate and communication particularly with groups whose identity is bound up with the industries that caused many of today’s environmental issues. Beth’s place is Facebook as she set up a site and group as part of the project.
The next day’s pairing brings together the performance work of Lo Lo No with Nilsu Alanyali. Lo Lo No is a trans/non binary artist who brings together the experience of a body in transition with places on coasts and borders - sites ‘in a balance between utter degradation and possible development and investment’. The performance responds to the concept of ‘The Brink’ with a piece entitled ‘Counter’ which is the border between staff and visitors in the hotel where it is filmed. The mesmerising work involves Lo Lo No moving, leaning, writhing, sitting, balancing on the barre/tightrope/counter - sometimes becoming part of the structure. For part of the performance they are wrapped in plastic so that their head could be mistaken for a knee and the movements remind me of a baby squirming and turning in the womb pre-birth. Lo Lo No’s place is all border places of transition – but particularly the Nayland Rock Hotel, Margate. Nilsu also explores transition and transformation through the rock cycle – a ‘loop’ whereby rock transforms through different states – from and back to magma. She examines this through animation and still images. Nilsu’s place is rock formations everywhere.
Helen Elizabeth makes, prints, and assembles her art works – sometimes in collaboration with wind, weather, water, snails and other elements of the non-human world. The textured crumpled surfaces suggest decay and decomposition and highlight the damage done to nature – for example the draining of the Fens in East Anglia and the polluting of an urban brook at the back of her garden. She works with carbon based materials and produces carbon-scapes – rather than sea or landscapes. Susan Plover also assembles her images – but this time from found images interspersed with art history references. These fragments and ‘subversions’ join forces to suggest deeper meanings. In ‘Future Days’ she explores the ‘trail’ we leave behind in terms of consumer goods. I’m going to designate Helen’s place as the picture surface.
Ellie Gearie also presents strange combinations in her monoprint illustrations which reference loss of land and life due to human ‘destruction of natural habitats’. She explores borders that separate and frustrate – for example an underwater ear that is unable to hear the bird above whose habitat is now flooded. Ellie’s place is borders that are barriers. In contrast Rosi Robinson tells a story about her travelling adventures from Hornsea East Yorkshire to Shetland – and back again – by public transport. Along the way she found generosity and connection – through chance encounters and coincidence. I like to think that Rosi’s artwork also explores connections through pattern, repetition, and rhythm. Rosi’s places are Hornsea, Shetland and the connections between places rather than the places themselves.
Nigel Walker’s place is the Humber Estuary. In his photo essay he describes and captures the importance of the estuary/river for trade, port activity, industry, and energy. Nigel also documents the importance of the mudflats along the inside edge of Spurn Point, the Saltmarsh, the shoreline lakes and temporary river islands for birds and invertebrates. He creates a picture of a particular and changing geography that is vital to human and non-human life but which is ‘deeply threatened’ by climate crisis, extreme flooding, tidal surges and rising sea levels. Nigel also reflects, through words and image, on beauty – he observes light, space, colour, scale, contrast, and change. Samuel Joshua Richardson also uses (but also subverts) the medium of photography. His borders aren’t so much geographical as the edges of photographic practice. Samuel creates photoluminescent room installations so that the ‘audience’ interact with light to create images on the walls so that, as Samuel describes, they are like a device within the camera creating the photograms. Samuel talks about ‘switching the framework’ as he pushes the boundaries of production, expectations of permanence and challenges the unethical practices of digital photography. Samuel’s place is spaces of performance and installation.
Anthony Irwin’s film presents short phrases in white capital letters which hover and unfold slowly against changing and moving backgrounds of water, sky, and abstracted digital imagery. The combinations of image and text highlight and interweave environmental and economic observations and concepts. Degraded ecosystems, ancient woodlands, mist, cloud, competition, markets, accountability, consumption – so that climate crisis and the values of neoliberalism are interlinked. Anthony mentions two specific places – The Swiss Riviera and a volcano in Hawaii. Stuart Jones explores ‘the human relationship with landscape’ in oil paintings built up in layers of washes, stains, poured and sprayed paint. They have floating textured and dynamic elements. Stuart talks about our increasing separation from the natural world and notes the absence of the human form in his work. His place is the canvas surface.
The next day and Geraldine Leahy’s painting have affinities with the floating layers of Stuart Jones’ work yesterday. Geraldine uses natural and man-made materials found on the seashore. She embeds these into the surface (through mono printing) adding and subtracting washes of colour (like the tide coming in and out?). Geraldine describes how man-made objects ironically take on the look of natural forms during the painting process in works which evoke ‘the entanglement of the mankind and the natural world’. Geraldine’s place is the seashore. Geraldine is paired with Tessa Teixeira today who presents images from her print series ‘Another Kind of Fire’ which reflects on climbing temperatures and consequences including ‘droughts and wildfires, mass internal and external migration’. Tessa uses warm and hot colours and images of flames and smoke – but also her exploration of etching and aquatint involves working with acid and heat. She talks about this process and the use of resistant materials as a ‘tension between co-operation and conflict’ which she connects to David George Haskell’s description of living networks: ‘where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved.’ Tessa’s place is places on fire.
Richard Benbow’s paintings are responses to walking in his local landscape. He incorporates spiritual connection, dream imagery, direct experience and observation, art historical influences with experimentation with gesture, mark, line, colour and composition. The paintings have different degrees of abstraction from observed appearances. Richard’s place is the Douglas Valley in the Northwest of England. These paintings are teamed with Aldebarán Solares’ experimental video, ‘Pareidolia’. Aldebaran ‘steps back’ so that his portrait of the Amazon River was made by the river itself (not with a camera) – the 35m film was ‘fogged and rubbed’ under the river before being developed. He is interested in the trace, the index, the contact of the river. Aldebarán’s place is the Amazon River, Ecuador.
John Dearing’s illustration connects passages of stormy sky, choppy sea, and the wind turbines that extend above and below the water, with repeated patterned elements. He depicts the carbon neutral wind farms built on the bottom of the sea in places which were once mined for fossil fuel. There is a sense of threshold in his work – between one thing and another. He talks about dualities – such as ‘the new frontiers of old grounds’ and ‘outward looking observation and inward-looking memories’. John’s place is the wind farms in the North Sea and thresholds everywhere. Audrey Rangel Aguirre’s work also addresses dualities or oppositions – art and science, the organic and the digital. Her video shows photographs of organic matter such as plants, algae, and carbon powder as taken through a microscope to create a chain of cells from the material natural world which then enter the digital realm. She proposes trespassing borders of knowledge in order to find a more ‘respectful’ way of interacting with the ecosystem. Audrey’s place is the microscopic realm.
Paul Henery presents ‘now and then’ images of a small corner of Northumberland and Doggerland which connects and contrasts place across time in ironic and telling ways. The first image of dense forests represents Northumberland/Doggerland many thousands of years ago and the second image depicts today’s Northumberland coast with ‘remnants’ of tree stumps and rocks sticking out from the sandy beach. The ancient forests were the basis for the coal that was mined for fossil fuel which has contributed to our present global warming. Doggerland was once a landmass connecting the eastern edge of the British Isles with the continent before melting ice caused sea level rises which submerged the area. Today, of course, we face further flooding and loss of land. The connections between Paul’s two images are complex and critical. Paul’s place is Doggerland. Judith Whitehouse’s work responds to the environment using drawing, print, collage and photographic techniques. She is interested in art and scientific approaches and understandings of place in ancient and modern times. She also uses solargraphy which she combines with drawings of the sun’s movement. Judith’s place is West Cornwall.
In some ways related to Paul Henery’s work Ursula Troche is interested in borderlands and the connection (through sound and history) between Dumfries and Freisland – the coastal region of Germany and much of the Netherlands and Denmark. Her film explores common origins and the winding tangled wool represents connections and journeys. Glen Farrelly makes sculptures from found, salvaged, and reclaimed wood which explore hope, precarity and delicate balance in the face of climate crisis. Some wood is rotten and some charred and burnt - he makes work from wood salvaged from Californian wildfires. His piece ‘Germination Resumption’ shows wooden seeds nestled in a pod carved from an old, discarded house beam. Glen’s place is the sites of Californian wildfires.
Sam Treadway’s ‘Artwork 286a (A-Switch-House-Moment)’ presents an old landscape format photograph of a coastal scene overlapping a more recent portrait photo of the construction of Tate Modern’s pyramid like Switch House. This addition to the gallery complex sits on the site of the building that once housed the switches for Bankside’s Power Station before becoming derelict and empty and finally converted into an art gallery. This pairing contrasts urban and rural, natural and man made and the impact of growing and regenerated cities on deforestation and rising sea levels. It also juxtaposes the former function of the building to generate electricity from fossil fuels and historic links and funding from BP with the current environmental crisis and Tate’s contemporary support for climate activist art and sustainable practices. Sam’s place is Tate Modern, Bankside, London. Sam’s work is teamed with Long Yuan’s and both artists examine aspects of conversion. Long Huan’s piece ‘Breathe’ is about photosynthesis – the process by which plants absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. He builds LED light sculptures around plants that also measure the concentration of carbon dioxide and convert the value into coloured light. The sculptures demonstrate the process and highlight its critical importance during global warming. Long Huan’s place is the surface of leaves everywhere.
Yolanda López’s film was inspired by the oldest tree in the world which was accidentally knocked down in 1962. In a way perhaps this stands for mankind’s widespread carelessness with the natural environment. Yolanda’s place is East Nevada, USA, where the tree once stood. Roger Hayden writes about the place where he lives, his house, village and the countryside and coast very nearby. From this point and this moment he focuses down to the cellular level and out to describe his position in relation to the North Pole, the moon, sun, galaxies and universes. He looks back and forward in light years to the beginning of time and to the end of our solar system. His writing reminds me of the never ending addresses on letters written as a child, ‘…Reading, Berkshire, England, the world…’. He writes about scale and vulnerability and the miracle of being in Druridge Bay, Northumberland, now.
Artemis Papachristou explores the future of the world in the light of predicted carbon emissions. sea level rises, and the displacement of millions of people and communities. In her film she calls for a ‘turning point’ in attitudes towards climate crisis. She focuses on The Isle of Sheppey in Kent where coastal erosion has accelerated and people’s homes slipped and tumbled into the sea. Artemis’ work is partnered with Mark Adams' photographs which also focus on the dangers of rising sea levels – but this time in Northumberland - along the Northeast coast. He presents work from a series entitled ‘Outlook’, taken between 2015 and 2021. He includes different kinds of seaside architecture – sea defences, walls, promenades, and buildings and explores the threats caused by climate crisis that ‘lie beyond the horizon’.
The next day and I arrive at my own contribution to CBV in which I imagine all the past, present and proposed art works on coastal sites around the British Isles connected in a ‘Round Britain Art Trail’. I am interested in what they say, collectively and individually, about our relationship with the sea, coastal erosion and rising sea levels. I begin my trail with Richard Farrington’s ‘Charm Bracelet’ on the North Yorkshire cliffs between Skinningrove and Saltburn. My place is also the coast of the British Isles. The second submission today returns us to Doggerland -where Farrington’s sculpture stands on the edge of this submerged land mass. The online and offline work is the result of a collaboration between artists Gemma Gore and Jo Willoughby who come from the UK and the Netherlands – either side of Doggerland. Their video ‘suspended soil’ was filmed in both countries and is about connection and conversation ‘throughout these shores where the sea meets the lands’. The piece comprises of hand painted words superimposed on film segments of beach, water’s edge, areas of shallow water and so on. These words – earth, soil, land, feel – are written in paint made from soil collected from walking across the filmed locations. Gemma and Jo’s places are the coasts of Britain and The Netherlands that border Doggerland.
The final day begins with Jessie Davies’ paintings inspired by freshwater reed beds on the Humber Estuary. She describes this ‘border land’ as a climate ‘buffer’ and a unique habitat threatened by sea level rises and the ‘detritus of human activity’. Jessie’s layered, textured surfaces of marks, colour, light and shadow include discarded and found ‘debris’ – rope, plastics, and wood. These are embedded and incorporated into the painted surface. Jessie lives with multiple disabilities and her experience and perspective throw a particular light on the resilience and vulnerability of border ‘on the edge’ places. Finally Silvia De Giorgi’s project ‘Traces’ began when she worked alongside rock specialists and archaeologists to record prehistoric rock carvings endangered by time and changing climates. This included making rubbings of the carvings on carbon paper. Silvia then used this technique to document a journey she made across the Italian Alps through the rubbings of rock formations and the marks made by prehistoric people. Sylvia’s place is South Tyrol, Italy.
My journey has taken me from Quzou, China (day 1) to South Tyrol, Italy (day 42), with clusters of activity along the Northumberland and Holderness coasts, the Humber Estuary, the Forth and Solway Firths, the East Anglian Fens, Doggerland and the English Channel and coast. Several of the projects connect places separated by distance or time which emphasise how we are all linked in a chain of cause and effect by climate crisis. Some contributions focus on journeys between places – particularly by boat or ferry – emphasising passage, transition, leaving and arriving. Several projects also highlight the plight of migrants and refugees especially those displaced by climate crisis.
There is often synergy or equivalence between subject, process, and materials. Procedures like washing, burning, assembling, accumulating, degrading, decaying, scratching, printing, etching are all present in both natural and creative processes. So that the subject and its means of representation are often confusingly similar. An image of flooding made with seeping washes of watercolour, an image of fire made with acid and heat, carbon dioxide that measures and generates its own representation, a painting of mud made with mud, imagery made by the action of the waves or the act of walking across the landscape. A stepping back to let natural forces take the stage.
Borders between shapes and colours on a picture surface; between water, land, and sky; past and present; places, nationalities, and cultures; disciplines; the human and natural worlds; male and female; artist and audience; are all present and often interchangeable. Sometimes borders are gateways and places of transition and sometimes barrier or hurdle. The intense focus on the water’s edge in many of the projects reveal the places most vulnerable to climate crisis but also the places where many ‘solutions’ or means of mitigation are found. There are other common themes and motifs: archives, clouds, graphs, maps, collage, and assemblage – things salvaged, recycled, and repurposed. Change and temporality are present in every submission. Moment to moment tiny shifts in light or movement, the changes that accumulate as materials, colours or marks are added or removed from an artwork, the twice daily changes visible and invisible on a beach or estuary. The gathering of change that transforms our urban, rural, coastal and ocean environments over large sweeps of time. The beginning and end of time. And the changes we are asked to make by this writing and artwork made in response to impending climate and environmental catastrophe.
Quzhou, China and the border between humans and nature
West Cork and the border between Pakistan and India
Creery Wetlands (Mandurah, Western Australia) and Little Woolden Moss, Greater Manchester
At the bottom, top, and halfway up a hill near the sea
The Northumberland coast and the Firth of Forth
The Southwest coast of Britain, the mountain ranges of Altuplano in South America, and the cave of forgetfulness where day and night meet
Visible and invisible clouds that surround us everywhere
Nangwylit Church in Cwm Elan, the Caban Coch Reservoir, and Aberdyfi Harbour
The Pacific Islands
The space of a graph – as generated by the x and y axes
Alnmouth beach at the end of the day
Now and Then
The Sussex coast, Burling Gap and Skipsea East Yorkshire
Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula
The uncertain borders between land and water
The sea’s edge where water meets land
The world of mushrooms and fungi
The Holderness coast and Mappleton
On the periphery, inbetween, and up close.
Withernsea on the East Holderness coast
The internet and maybe the North and South Poles
The Water’s Edge
The Water’s Edge on the Aberdeenshire coast
Skips and Rubbish Tips
The Somerset and Cornish coasts
Busy overpopulated cities, the artic, and cracks in the earth everywhere.
The beaches between Druridge Bay and Dunstanburgh Castle
Desktops and Screens everywhere
The Taw Estuary in North Devon
Birdham on the Manham peninsular and Deptford Creek
Doormats and post boxes everywhere
North Yorkshire – coast and forests
Places of emergency
The English Channel
The Atlantic Ocean
The Scarborough coast
Ilulissat Icefiord, Mojave Desert, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, and Muir Woods.
Amble on the Northeast coast
Nayland Rock Hotel, Margate
Rock formations everywhere
The Fens in East Anglia and an urban back garden brook
The picture surface
Borders that are barriers
Hornsea, Shetland, and the connections between places.
The Humber Estuary
Spaces of performance and installation
The Swiss Riviera and a volcano in Hawaii
The canvas surface
Places on Fire
The Douglas Valley, Northwest England
Amazon River, Ecuador
Wind farms in the North Sea and thresholds everywhere
The microscopic realm
Dumfries and Freisland
Sites of Californian wildfires
Tate Modern, Bankside, London
The surface of leaves everywhere.
East Nevada, USA
Druridge Bay, Northumberland, now.
The Isle of Sheppey in Kent
Northumberland - along the Northeast coast
North Yorkshire cliffs between Skinningrove and Saltburn and the coast of the British Isles
The coasts of Britain and The Netherlands that border Doggerland
Freshwater reed beds on the Humber Estuary
South Tyrol, Italy