Science has become in a sense, the revelation of mystery in a way that art once was, exposing feats of natural adaptation and evolution, where nature works faster than man in restoring ecological balance or developing rationally impossible characteristics to survive the most hostile environments. The bacillus infernus survives without oxygen at temperatures as high as 167°, while in the massive oil spills created in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, hydro-carbon loving bacteria have absorbed the polluted sediments more efficiently than salvage experts could have imagined.
Measured in Shadows offers up such discoveries as possible truths to affirm how little in fact we comprehend about our universe (as I write this, astronomers have witnessed the birth of the first galaxies 10 billion years ago and question now whether the universe may in fact be ‘open’ rather than ‘closed’ at the point of an original cosmic explosion): even time as we have conceptualized it is called into question.
It offers these evidences however as a celebration rather than a negation where the earth itself and the transformations nature demonstrates provide an order and resonance of immeasurably greater potential than history, science or art alone can provide. It places man not centrally, but as an integral part of the natural order: isolated, trapped even, but nonetheless elevated as the one animal able to comprehend its state and bound through consciousness to respond, record, connect, to create.
…the work is affirming/seeking to enable
axioms to feel (upon our pulses) – not thrust upon us.
…ideas are embedded in things.”
“So I began to get an idea of bog as the memory of the landscape, or as a landscape that remembered everything that happened in it and to it…
Moreover, since memory was the faculty that supplied me the first quickening of my poetry, I had a tentative unrealized need to make a congruence between memory and bogland and, for want of a better word, our national consciousness. ±
A cloud of books rises (or is pulled back into it) an earth mound. Among ‘future fossils’ is still discernible a mainframe computer disc (its colours refracting like petrol on water). A flock of birds on a video screen changes direction as one movement. Surface traps the memory of process in images of such painterly ‘accidents’ that their nature might seem to be their subject. A murmuring of voices in an ancient dialect, half understood, half forgotten. An image made in shadows, moving.
The attempt to depict chaos, flux and transfiguration in an installation of this scale is a bold one. Measured in Shadows resists any fixed linear interpretation, most directly in that the random sequencing of lights and looped soundtrack will never repeat identically. The viewer’s experience of the work will be different dependent on where s/he is and what events happen to be coinciding at that particular moment in time.
The installation in this sense is layered in the same way that the individual works are, the artists setting up the potential to contemplate apparently random moments dependent on fixed time, as a means by which to glimpse time flowing forwards and backwards. The objects; the books, the paintings, the excavated artifacts take on a particular significance, acting at once as triggers or indicators of specific memory and as evidence of the immutable flow. ‘Little forevers’ (as Mills calls them) where spatial and temporal time are fused, where the past co-exists with the present, imagination with reality.
Ian Walton and Russell Mills moved from London to Cumbria respectively in 1988 and 1992. Their association both as friends and sometime artistic collaborators goes back over 25 years when they first met at Canterbury College of Art and though their professional paths have been different what has remained surprisingly and discernibly consistent is a shared vision of the place of art to provoke and reveal a consciousness that comes from examining these nebulous areas of change, these edges of shadows where man’s intellectual knowledge coincides with natural wisdom.
As a whole the installation echoes the Wordsworthian imperative that art should disclose in the workings of the universe analogues for the workings of the human mind and soul. More specifically in the individual paintings Mills and Walton mirror natural processes allowing materials (paint, pigments, dust, earth, etc.) to be true to their natures, deploying a series of painterly accidents; staining, evaporating, collaging, excavating, veiling, which both describe and embody their subject.
These works are almost always made over a long period of time and they require time and quiet contemplation for their multi-layered meanings fully to resonate. The installation derives its name from the evidence that classical Greek architecture originated in the sun, that the architects knew how to measure geometrically by raising a column and tracing an initial north-south axis marked by the shortest shadow cast by the sun’s zenith. It is this meeting of the rational and the natural, the known and the instinctive which permeates and is given voice in the work.
… it is a flow, which has form, a form which flows…
This form is delineation. It is not fixed (nothing in nature is fixed), it is fluid still
and ready for transformation, which is inevitable movement to a new form… The fluid is given new form; the static is sensed to be fluid, at the still point of
the turning world, neither arrest nor development. Form in stone, cloud, poem,
It seems that man in an atavistic search to understand the nature of what he is moves inextricably from relationship with the very forces that shape his being. We accept ourselves as rational, cognitive animal, gaining insights from scientific truths and succour from un-earthed evidences that past civilisations, like ourselves, shaped the world to reflect man’s image of himself. We have hunted, cultivated, navigated and mapped every landscape, which might support human life. We have formed language systems, arranged sound in recognisable form, manipulated the atom, recorded in infinite minutiae our socio-historical pasts. In our longing to assuage a sense of powerlessness at the relentless and undeniable truth of the continuum we arrive at what end? Perhaps only to discover from all our searchings the actuality of mystery, the certainty that nothing is certain.
© Emma Hill, Director of the Eagle Gallery London, Measured in Shadows catalogue, 1996.
The pockets of our great coats full of barley –
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp –
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the trump.
A people, hardly marching – on the hike –
We found new tactics happening each day:
We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike
and stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until on Vinegar Hill, the fatal conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave. They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August the barley grew up out of the grave. ^
*T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Burnt Norton V, Faber and Faber Ltd (1944)
**Rupert Sheldrake, The Rebirth of Nature, Century (1990)
±Seamus Heaney, Feeling Into Words (1974) from Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978, Faber and Faber Ltd (1980)
~Idris Parry, The Tree of Movement from Speak Silence, Carcanet (1986)
^Seamus Heaney, Requiem For The Croppies from Door Into The Dark, Faber and Faber Ltd (1969)