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Play and experimentation, Erika’s residency reflections continued

This month I have been trying out new materials and working on new ideas for projects. I think January is a good time to play and experiment as it’s a great way to slowly get back to your practice after a break and you get a new perspective after you return to the studio in the new year. I don’t make resolutions, but I have enjoyed trying out new materials and testing new ideas for projects so I hope to continue this as the year goes on! 

So far I’ve made a photobook zine, exploring the hidden objects and secrets that tell of the volcanic history of the region surrounding Exeter. Exeter castle, also known as Rougemont castle, is built on the site of an old volcano. The hill structure which you can still see today is the old volcanic plug, which is when the lava sits in the cone of the volcano and slowly solidifies over time, essentially plugging the chamber and making the volcano extinct. The castle is named after the colour of the volcanic rock – ‘Rougemont’ meaning ‘red mountain’. The bubbly volcanic rock has been built into the old walls, and boulders of it scatter the edges of the gardens. I like how the deep time and past still lies within the gardens, as a reminder of past climates and environments and how a place changes and will continue to change beyond human history. 

I’ve been inspired by the activity we had planned for the Christmas workshop for young people at the RAMM, which took museum objects and recreated/transformed them through observation in clay. I’ve been using the pliability and softness of clay to think about the relationships between our bodies and rocks – when climbing and generally. I’ve been squeezing the clay in my hands, forming absences of space. They appear fossil-like – similar to the ones found in the clays at Lyme Regis. This relationship between living body and rock, and fossilised body and rock, interests me – and how the relationship changes in the transition from one to the other (living to fossil). 

It has also led to me thinking about the different rocks and geologies we have in our landscapes, and their uniqueness and different properties.

Chalk is integral to climbing, but it can’t be climbed on. It’s soft and crumbly, incredibly porous and smooth. It’s in between clay – which is pliable but soft, and granite – which is brittle but hard. Where clay sculpts, chalk can draw. I’m quite drawn to these geologies that overlap with art mediums, as working directly with the object to think about its materiality feels quite playful. Chalk also has the ability to hold bodies – fossils, and it allows bodies to hold other rocks- by removing moisture from the skin, allowing better grip when climbing. 

This transition between body holding rock and fossilised body held within rock is something I’m beginning to think about but haven’t yet resolved. As a sedimentary rock, layering is an important part of the process in chalk. I’m interested in the agency of the body / hand as a proponent to layering geologies on top of each other – chalk onto granite as a climber, shells within chalk as a fossil. 

In geology there’s a term ‘nonconformity’ – which describes the layering of sedimentary and igneous rocks and speaks to the idea of anomalies. I like the idea that the body is an anomaly (to mean ‘deviating from what is standard’), as a method of bringing change and different perspectives within the geology. 

Amongst all of the play, I’m excited to have the opportunity to show some of the emerging work and ideas in an exhibition with the theme of ‘rewilding’. The exhibition is at Maketank, Exeter, so I chose to exhibit the emerging work about Rougemont, as the location of the exhibition space is really close to the park, and I hope to encourage visitors to explore the park for themselves after seeing the work.

The project plays with fictional and non-fiction narratives surrounding the geology and past environments of Rougemont Park. I’ve been enjoying merging the histories with ecological thinking for the future, as a way to encourage local residents to think about the green spaces in the city in a more imaginative way, and to hopefully foster care and attention to the park. Through the images and narratives the volcano is rewilded back into our imaginations. Volcanoes are one of the most visibly active and living examples of geological formation, which helps to create a sense that geology is also living and constantly changing, just on a different timescale to us. To imagine a landscape or environment in a place that’s completely different, and existed millions of years ago, opens up the imagination to thinking about what might be here in the future. It also situates us within a much larger time scale, and questions how our activities don’t just impact upon biological elements of the earth, but also the geological elements.

I hope to continue to explore this narrative, potentially through film, or through a workshop or event situated in the park. I’m enjoying the accessibility and centrality of this location in contrast to the remote, wilder places I explore on Dartmoor. It also feels like the park needs some attention and care, and I hope that I can help to start bringing that about, through encouraging locals to think about and visit the park.

If you’d like to see the exhibition (and pick yourself up a zine!) then head over to Maketank, Exeter between 11th February and 6th March – check the website for opening times. 

I hope that everyone has found time to play and experiment with new thoughts or processes in January, and that the fresh perspective the December break provides has given you some inspiration and ideas for the new year!IMG_20220128_180141

Written by significantseams

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