June 28, 2009

Field Polaroid #4: Art and Science

Sunlight reaches out to touch the dormant dew-laden balloons. Longer blades of grass begin to sway in a light breeze.

Archimedes’ was the Greek scientist who discovered the principle of buoyancy. There is an infamous story of him leaping from his bath and running naked down the streets crying ‘Eureka’ when he noticed that water rose when he sat in his bath. The buoyancy principle applies equally to gases such as helium which are lighter than air. In this case the external pressure of oxygen forces the helium balloons upwards.

I think there are a lot of similarities between Scientists and Artists. Both require a creative, open and inquiring mind. Both have a natural curiosity. Importantly, both work with the future in mind. The products of both scientific discovery and art also give us a stronger sense of who we are and how we fit into the universe. Questions are not always answered, but sometimes raised instead.

If I wasn’t an artist, Science would be high up on my list of alternate careers. What I am currently loving is seeing a merge between art and science in the works of artists such as Walter De Maria, Nancy Holt, Renata Buziak, Stelarc and Patricia Piccinini. There are many, many more that I could add to this list. In fact, if you have a favourite artist that merges science and art or even a scientist using art, please let me know in the comments section.

Walter De Maria’s seminal work The Lightning Field is an interesting piece in itself. It is made up of 400 stainless steel poles spread grid-like across a field in the remote Western New Mexico. The work is apparently best experienced during a lightning storm as the poles become grounding points for the electricity. However, because of the remoteness and the strict conditions attached to viewing the work, very few people can actually experience the work. Photography is also restricted so it is not an artwork for the masses. While I like the idea behind this work which utilizes scientific knowledge I do have a many questions about its perceived value.

One work I found particularly fascinating, that blurred the boundaries between art and practical science, was a garden project set up on radioactively contaminated land. The ‘art’ project involved earth remediation through the use of selected plants that can absorb heavy chemicals such as mercury and lead. A small area was fenced off and divided into four squares with different plants in each to study the effectiveness of each plant. This garden art work was questioned as to whether it actually constituted as ‘art’ or if it was just a practical science project. The artist argued that it was the concept behind the work in renewing the contaminated land that made it art. I am very annoyed that I cannot remember the name of the artist who made this work! I came across it in a book last year while exploring the work of Nancy Holt. Always write these things down! *edit: thank you to the anonymous commenter for giving me the name. Mel Chin is the artist and the work is called 'Revival Field'. More about this work can be found here.* It is works like this one where the line is blurred that I find particularly interesting.

Speaking of Nancy Holt, this artist belongs to the Land art tradition, and I found her Sun Tunnels while researching for my Archimedes’ Field project. Her Sun Tunnels are four large concrete tunnels placed in the shape of an X. Each one has holes drilled into the top in the shape of various constellations. The tunnels draw attention to light and our relationship to the sun, the stars and the passing of time as the view changes constantly with both the time of day and the time of year. What I like about her many works are that they are useful, accessible and socially necessary as well as beautiful.

Renata Buziak’s Biochromes are stunning and unusual documentations of the decompositions of plants using photographic paper. She has developed a unique way for the photographic medium to interact with vegetation. Her work allows for nature to take over the process of creating the final artwork in a very intimate way.

I guess the similarities between these works and my own is that they all allow for nature to take care of the results of the work, they all have a basis in scientific knowledge and they all openly welcome chance.

Throughout the shooting of Archimedes’ Field I was constantly at the whim of the wind. I had initially imagined the balloons standing tall like sentinals but the slightest breeze would set them off in every direction. They often would dance around in seemingly illogical directions. Also, like the land artists, my work was firstly designed to be experienced in person and interacted with. It was a mini-installation for my family and myself to enjoy.

One of the most beautiful moments of the whole installation was when I sat amongst the balloons alone on the first night. The moon was shining and reflecting off the ivory balloons, millions of stars shone above, and all was quiet except for the occasional dog bark and night bird. Oh, and there was the sound of the balloons. It was incredible, I still remember the soft sounds they made as they bounced randomly into each other creating a surreal orchestra that was visual as well as aural. They were alive and communicating with each other and their song was sublime.

June 21, 2009

Field Polaroid #3: A Memory Plantation

On the Saturday morning the balloons lie expended in the morning sunlight. My project is complete. At least that's what I thought.

I would like to share someone elses words with this weeks Polaroid release. When Archimedes' Field was first exhibited at the Circle Gallery last year the arts writer Nick Walsh kindly wrote the words for our catalogue. Here is his piece on Archimedes Field:

"Exploring the theme of impermanence, Rachel Marsden's work Archimedes' Field delves into the latent memories that pervade and structure a site. Marsden chose what was once her father's vegetable patch as a location for her installation. Residual physical reminders of what once occupied the patch of earth were present in the form of old garden taps, providing a link back to the original function of the area. In the installation Marsden inflated white balloons, placing them in rows in the vegetable patch. Taking on a ghost-like form the balloons appear to echo the veiled memories that lie beneath.

After initially installing the balloons in the pasture, Marsden returned to find the crop, as expected, deflated on the ground. However, when the sun rose and the day heated up, the balloons re-inflated, blooming like flower buds. Accompanying the photographs of Marsden's memory plantation is a video piece documenting this blooming, highlighting almost a physical manifestation of the impermanence she finds so enlivening as a focus for her practice. The balloons represent this tenuous presence through the very obvious hollow nature of their forms, reignited perhaps by the memories that fertilise the pastoral space."

June 18, 2009

Small Details

I just finished adding the final touches to the first Field Polaroid prints going as gifts to collectors of my work. It is a delightful feeling to be packaging up something I created to give to people who love my work. People say that giving is always more enjoyable than receiving and it's true.

As with all my prints, each image is signed, numbered and dated with the print date. Usually this is on the print's verso as I can't use pencil on the front of a lot of the paper stocks I use. Pen is sometimes too visible and I feel this takes away from the image. The images are printed with a white border so they can be framed more easily and this also serves to protect the actual print edges from damage.

I check over every image multiple times in different lights before I send it out. The papers I use, though beautiful, often damage far too easily and I will have an image reprinted if it has even the tiniest scratch or fingerprint on it.

I keep a register with details of size, paper stock, edition number and contact details of the person each print goes to. This enables me to keep a thorough record of how many images from each edition are out in the world.

More than just a formal book keeping tool, though, my register is a collection of names of kindred spirits from around the globe and a reminder that I have been able to connect with people through my art.

Images: A lady hangs out her washing in Pune, India.
Floral wreaths, India. January 2009

June 14, 2009

Field Polaroid #2: Influences

This is the second Polaroid out of seven to be released in the lead up to the Archimedes' Field exhibition in July. It was taken on the first afternoon just after the sun set. The balloons were full and bouyant and moved in unison with the slightest breeze. It was beautiful to watch.

Leading up to the shoot and even after it I did a lot of research into other artists who were exploring similar ideas to my own or who's work interested me. Eva Hesse and Andy Goldsworthy were key influencers in the development of my ideas.

Eva Hesse is of particular interest to me because of her minimalist creations and use of non-mechanical repetition. This is one of my favourite works:

Repetition Nineteen III, 1968 (click to view)

Apparently, she was not particularly happy with this work because she found it too beautiful and against her search for a “non” aesthetic. Despite this, I love the simplicity and repetition of the circular cylinders and the hand-made aspect of the work. I love the imperfect nature of it.

Most of her work was not made to last- she often used materials such as latex which she knew would deteriorate. She said her work was about ‘the process’, ‘a moment in time, not made to last’. I like that she see’s the impermanence of her work as an attribute rather than a flaw.

"She seems, in fact, to have been incorporating an anticipation of aging and, especially, the unknown into the creation of her art.” Elisabeth Sussman (curator of Hesse’s only solo show before she died).

Her anticipation of the unknown is an element I can relate to in my own work.

Andy Goldsworthy: I love the impermanent nature of the majority of his works and how they (often quickly) succumb to nature. This particular piece by Andy Goldsworthy captured my attention in the way the beauty of nature is documented and played with:

Extract from Rivers and Tides (click to view)

This scene in his documentary ‘Rivers and Tides’ is similar to what I hoped I have achieved in the Archimedes' Field installation. Goldsworthy spends many hours creating a beautiful dome of sticks, just next to the tide line. The documentary then shows an aerial view of the dome as the tide comes in and lifts and breaks apart the dome he has just created. In his documentary he talks about how his work is about the transience of life. He fights it by not trying to make permanent things but rather to accept and enjoy this transience.

June 8, 2009

Field Polaroid #1: How it came to be...

Let us start at the beginning:

Several years ago I had a vivid dream about a red inflatable mattress floating in the air outside my parent’s home – the place where I spent my childhood. A pink sunset lit up the sky and I remember just watching this mattress hover, weightless for a long time. The dream perplexed me and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Last year, while studying, the opportunity to create an installation work presented itself. I wanted to recreate the surreal feeling I experienced in the dream so I decided to create a floating bed.

I spent a lot of time trying to make a pretty pink child’s bed that could be held up by helium balloons. Calculating the weight of the bed compared to how much the balloons would lift, then working out how many balloons I could actually afford and then how I would attach them and then photograph the bed without the balloons or strings visible was a very time consuming process that kept me awake long hours at night.

By then I knew I wanted to capture the rise and fall of the bed to illustrate the temporal nature of childhood dreams. However, something wasn’t right with my concept, it was too cynical and simple, trite and a little patronizing.

I wanted to express something about the impermancy of human life and dreams but combine it with a celebration of the constancy of nature.

I kept working away at this silly bed, then one day it just clicked, as these things often do, that a field of balloons would be a marvellous way to recreate that magical feeling I’d experienced in my dream. I had found a way to express my ideas in a more refined and subtle way.

However, when it came to the installation day, nature and science turned my concept into something more complex and much more beautiful. I had allowed for the unknown, even welcomed it but the results were totally unexpected…

To be continued...

Related posts : The Doing Girl

June 7, 2009

Seven Weeks. Seven Images.

To celebrate the upcoming exhibition of my Archimedes' Field work I am pleased to be releasing seven never before seen images taken over the course of that weekend. One image will be released online - on my blog and webpage - every week during the lead up to the exhibition with the final one released the day after the opening.

It was little known by anyone that in addition to the medium format film and digital images, I also shot Polaroid's. In contrast to the high quality of the original images these Polaroids, reproduced as prints, are soft, grainy and otherwise technically flawed. This lo-fi approach enhances the dream-like feel of the field- almost as though my original vision was scooped directly out of my unconscious brain and placed onto paper in all it's unrefined and messy glory. I love this and especially like the way they compliment and add to the original images and video work.

With the release of each image I will also be providing additional insight into how Archimedes' Field came to be and the thought processes behind it.

The first of the Polaroid prints are going as gifts to collectors and some very special people in my life (often these people are one and the same). The rest will be made available for collecting as they are released. If you would like to acquire one of these Polaroids (or any image from the series) please e-mail me. The Polaroid's are available in two small limited edition sizes:

| 8x8inch - 30 only | 5x5inch - 30 only (+2 artist prints of each size)

But, of course, you will want to see them first so please do return soon.

Archimedes' Field opens at the QCP on the 18th July 5-8pm. I shall be very pleased if you would attend.

June 6, 2009

Image: Dreams of Sapa

A H'mong girl walks home through the fog after a morning of selling friendship bracelets and bangles to western tourists. Vietnam, 2007

June 4, 2009

The Red Balloon

I recently released a series of images called The Outsiders - Soul-animals. These images explore balloons as metaphors for human emotions. A lovely collector who was the first to obtain one of these images said they reminded her of 'The Red Balloon'. I had never heard of it before but soon discovered that it was a 1954 French short film about a boy who finds a sentient red balloon.
The film is poetic and metaphorical.
If you have the time to watch (it's 34mins) you can view it here:

Click to view full screen, sit back with a hot cocoa and enjoy. If you do take the time to watch it I'd love for you to comment on it below.

June 3, 2009

Sacred Space

It may seem odd but the place where I feel most connected to the world is a cemetery near my home. It is a large cemetery and quite beautiful, with rolling hills, well kept grass and tall, leafy trees.  It's certainly not the gloomy, frightening cliché you might expect. 

 I recently went through a very emotional period.   At one point, all I wanted was to be left alone so I could have a good cry.  I got in the car and just drove - and I ended up at the cemetery.  It was a late afternoon, and the setting sun's rays were touching the headstones with gold.  I sat and gathered my thoughts, watching the shadows from the stone monuments lengthen.  In the east, I could see a just-risen full moon.  I didn't feel like crying any more.  Instead, the stillness of the place seemed to soak right into my bones; I felt calm.

I got up and had a liesurely ramble, stopping to read dates, names and loving messages on the graves.  I wondered about the lives these people had led and the relationships they'd had. Noticing the tragically short lives on some of the stones gave me a much-needed fresh perspective, and a sense of 'the bigger picture'.

I still visit the cemetery often.  It never fails to soothe my mind and soul, and to remind me to be grateful for my life and for the people who care for me, and to cherish them while I have them.  I always leave feeling grounded, peaceful and full of hope.

*this piece was first published in Nature and Health magazine, April-May 2008

I'd love to know: what makes you feel most connected to the world?