Pareidolia – Opening January 16th.

I have a new solo exhibition on the (very near) horizon.

Here’s the announcement from my gallery!

Please come to the opening if you are anywhere nearby.

Pareidolia: New Works by Donald Fortescue

OPENS January 16, 6:30-8PM, Artist Reception

EXHIBITS January 16 – February 22, 2014

Oakland Art Murmur Celebration on February 7, 6-9PM
Vessel Gallery, 471 25th Street, Oakland, CA 94612, 510 893 8800
Gallery Hours:  Tuesday through Saturday, 11-6PM
You are cordially invited to join us as we kick off the New Year with the new and exciting solo show “Pareidolia: New Works by Donald Fortescue.” This exhibit is a culmination of the last three years of work created through residency programs he’s completed between 2011 and 2013. I’m most excited to bring forth Donald Fortescue’s distinct vision shaped by an early career as a scientist which later blossomed into an artist and a professor of design and craft.  I perceive Donald retains and applies the scientific approach to lab or field work to his studio artwork.  These last few years he has gone on expeditions to Snowmass, Colorado, to the Headlands in Marin and Bolinas, California, to Iceland and even to his native land, Australia, to gather his artistic findings.  There he engages in the field as a naturalist: he systematically and creatively gathers materials/native findings, such as tree branches to whittle and carve, or records and documents findings and photos to take back to the studio to study, experiment with, sculpt into visual and aural artworks. We’re most excited to present the fascinating works and opportunities for discoveries originated by Fortescue’s journeys included in “Pareidolia.”  — Lonnie Lee
Maculata #4 (2013) Archival digital print  H 32.5” x 44”

Maculata #4 (2013)
Archival digital print
H 32.5” x 44”

“”Pareidolia” is the psychological phenomenon whereby a vague or random stimulus (often an image or sound) is perceived as significant or having recognizable form – classical examples being seeing the “man” in the moon (or the “rabbit pounding rice” if you are Japanese), the Shroud of Turin, and the “face” in the Cydonia region of Mars.Much of my recent work explores this phenomenon. I’m interested in how information or meaning is read in patterns formed in nature and by human culture and technology? Detailed close-up images dissolve on close inspection revealing their fractal qualities (self similarity at varying scales) and leaving space for our imagination. Similar fractal qualities are also revealed in the digital and physical processes used in creating the work. Is there a correspondence between processes in nature and human technical processes and systems of thought?Is the ‘signal’ distinguishable from the ‘noise’?  Or is it just our imagination?I use contemporary digital technologies such as image manipulation software, 3D scanning and digital printing, video and sound, combined with more traditional hand-making processes and compare the inherent qualities or ‘artifacts’ of these processes with natural processes of emergent complexity and pattern formation.Most of the work in this exhibition is made in response to specific locations in northern Iceland, the south-east coast of Australia, the Rocky Mountains near Aspen, Marin County California, and at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia. As an artist who worked professionally as a scientist for many years, I’m interested in the common ground between the methodologies and philosophy of science and art.”
Donald Fortescue

"On the level, #2" (2003 - 2013)  Study of installation, recycled redwood suspended in an array.

“On the level, #2″ (2003 – 2013)
Study of installation, recycled redwood suspended in an array.

                

EXHIBITION  January 16 – February 22, 2014
ARTIST RECEPTION / OPEN  Thursday, January 16, 6:30-8PMARTIST TALK SERIES  Saturday, February 8, 2-3:30PM, refreshments following
Donald will give a presentation of his residency work with slides, and open discussionCELEBRATIONS  Friday, February 7, 6-9:00PM during Oakland Art Murmur,
and 3rd Thursday, February 20, 6:30-8PM
Music Performance The Haydn Enthusiasts is a society of amateur and professional musicians who appreciate and celebrate the genius of Joseph Haydn. Filled with unlimited creativity, Haydn’s string quartets are pinnacles of the genre, as well as the originals. Their mission is to present each quartet as a consciously crafted performance.
Vessel Gallery is located in the heart of Oakland’s Uptown Arts District
Use 19th St. Station at BART - a 7 minute walk to our district; paid parking, and street parking available nearby.
For Press Inquiries / interviews or further information on our stable of artists, contact:Lonnie Lee
Founder / Director / Curator
info@vessel-gallery.com
PRESS ROOM:  http://www.vessel-gallery.com/pressroom.html
Phone: 510 893 8800
Vessel Gallery

Vessel Gallery

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the Estuary

It has been 0ver 10 years since my passion for sea-kayaking gave way to my passion for sailing and maintaining a folkboat, then the ownership and remodeling of a 1897 Victorian in West Oakland and most recently, to surfing. But all are connected with cultural histories and rich traditions of craftsmanship and of course, the ocean (which will most likely come through my Victorian home sometime soon as it is just 8′ above high water mark!). So I thought it was about time to get back into a kayak and get into the Bay – thanks to the crew at California Canoe and Kayak –  a Jack London instistution!

Head West!

Head West!

Oakland has such a great industrial port. There are huge chunks of steel in crazy colors from all over the world  temporarily passing through Oakland. You have to keep your eyes open as some of them do u-turns  the middle of the Estuary, heaved about by giant tugs, whose backwash is enough to make your sit up and notice.

The ships are astounding – the scale, the vibrant colors, the textures revealing the structures beneath, the markings which are a mix of signage and the patina, and the various pieces of equipment, portholes, and apertures seeping strange stains!  Delicious! And then there is all the human history and thinking about exploration movement, transport, the size of the world, sustainability.

And on top of all that its sunny out and the seals seem friendly!

Some images from the waterline!

Red Hull

Red Hull

Blue Hull

Blue Hull

Dry dock

Dry dock

CGM Libra #2

CGM Libra #2

CGM Libra

CGM Libra

Blue Hull

Blue Hull

And the dock works and shoreline flotsam and jetsam can be engaging too.

Dry dock

Dry dock

Tug snout

Tug snout

Fender

Fender

What’s not to like?

“Concrete and rubber and steel, Oh my!”

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Filed under Bayarea Gems, Boats and boatbuilding

Mt. Solitary

No trip to Australia would be complete without a serious dose of “the bush”.

To enliven my last few weeks, my old pal Kerry and her beau Graham invited me for a three day walk to Mt. Solitary in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

I have always wanted to do this walk. Especially when I lived in the Mountains nearly 30 years ago! But it always seemed a bit out of reach. Mt Solitary dominates the skyline from all of the classic escarpment lookouts of the Blue Mountains (Katoomba, Leura, Wentworth Falls). Across a deep and wide valley of seemingly impenetrable bush.

Mt. Solitary from the Golden Stairs near Katoomba.

Mt. Solitary from the Golden Stairs near Katoomba.

But with two trusty local guides, backpacks full of fabulous food, and some rather reluctant ageing knees, we set off. It was early Spring and it had been one of the warmest winters on record so the wildflowers were going off!

The local Warratahs are spectacular.

The local Warratahs are spectacular.

Isopogon.

Isopogon sp.

Hakea sp.

Hakea sp.

King orchid.

King orchid.

Wall hugging Epacris sp.

Wall hugging Epacris sp.

The first days hiking was gorgeous, inspiring and debilitating. We only walked about 6 miles but  we came down off a ridge into the deep valley of the Kedumba Rver and then inexorably climbed all the rest off the day all the way up to the peak of Mt. Solitary along a narrow rocky ridge line – big altitude change, rough ground. I was looking forward to the fresh shrimp pasta we were having for dinner but not relishing the pound of thawing prawns in my back pack. To top it all off, just as we got to the edge of the Mt. Solitary escarpment we were deluged by a hail storm! Very refreshing.

Post storm delights

Post storm delights

Mountain sunsets!

Mountain sunsets!

The camp that night was under a canopy of gum trees next to a tiny but delicious spring fed stream.

Kerry frying bacon at campsite 1!

Kerry frying bacon at campsite 1!

Right next to our campsite was a spectacular view back towards Katoomba across the Jamieson Valley. Good spot for breakfast!

I wonder why they call them the Blue Mountains?

I wonder why they call them the Blue Mountains?

The second day was easier walking – just as well as my calves and thighs were complaining. We walked for a couple of hours along the ridge line to Chinaman’s camp where we knew we had more spring water available and where there are some amazing cliff overhangs that are perfect for camping under.

Cave camping Blue Mountains style

Cave camping Blue Mountains style

Here’s a short time-lapse of the closing of the day under the cave overhang.

There is nothing like staring into a fire under the stars!

There is nothing like staring into a fire under the stars, waiting for a billy to boil!

As it turned out the spring that we were counting on was almost dry. Fetching water required a hike down to the very end of the dry creek bed until just before it plunged over the cliff. The last little puddle held about a kitchen sink full of brown and murky water full of mosquito larva! Now that’s what I call camping!

But this is the sunrise 10ft away from the water source!

The next day dawned clear and bright and threatened to get hot. This was just a week or so prior to the first bad bush fires of the season up in this part of the country.

Our path ahead was clear. Follow the edge of Mt. Solitary along until it drops into the valley, follow the ridge line to the “Ruined Castle” and then through the rain forest under the escarpment until we get to the “Golden Stairs”. Then up, up, up, the Golden Stairs until we get to a hot bath somewhere. Graham told me that we weren’t the first to see the Golden Stairs as the path to salvation. Early in the white history of the Blue Mountains the valley’s edge was mined for coal and shale kerosene. At the end of a hard week of toil the miners would head out of the valley for some well deserved R&R in the bars and fleshpots of Katoomba. Waiting at the stairs were a crowd of well-intentioned christian ladies who would sing hymns to discourage the wanton behavior of the weary miners. One of their favorite ditties referred to the Golden Stairs on the path to Heaven – but the miners saw the path in front of them climbing to a more earthly paradise!

The path ahead

The path ahead. Follow the ridge line, then turn right along the bottom of the escarpment until you get to the head of the valley, then up!

We had other companions on our walk. The furry critters in the Australian bush mostly come out at night when its cool, but insects and lizards are around during the day.

Giant bush roach

Giant bush roach

Our most constant companions were the amazing Australian Cicadas. Cicadas are widespread around the temperate regions of the world, and the US is proud of its cyclical cicada emergence which is happening this year. But trust me, there ain’t nothing to compare to Australian cicadas!

This year promises to be a boom year for the Ozzie cicada too. Everywhere I looked their perfect carapaces were lined up all along trees and fence lines. The trees and air were full of their fat little bodies (my cousin Malcolm says they were created as Christmas dinner for the birds), and the air was thrumming with their ear piercing song. Part of me wished I had my excellent sound equipment with me (duh) but a bigger part of me was glad not to have had the weight! How would the iPhone hear this?


"Green Grocer"

“Green Grocer”

Moved out.

Moved out.

As we came under the shade and moisture of the escarpment we went from the dry Eucalyptus and Casuarina dominated forest into the green moist Coachwood and tree fern dominated rainforest and the cicadas gave way to the raspy mimicking repertoire of Lyrebirds

Kerry botanizing in the Coachwood forest

Kerry botanizing in the Coachwood forest

At the foot of the Golden Stairs we had  a breather, and sucked down the last of our brown spring water from Chinaman’s camp before climbing out of the valley, enjoying the views back across the valley to Mt. Solitary.

Kerry and Graham having a breather.

Kerry and Graham having a breather.

A level view of the iconic "3 Sisters"

A level view of the iconic “3 Sisters”

Oh and a final 180 degree panorama of the view South into the Burragarang valley and  Sydney’s water supply.

Burragarang Valley from Mt. Solitary.

Burragarang Valley from Mt. Solitary.

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Filed under Australia, In the bush!, Travel

Artifact and Translation

The climax of my stay at ANU was the exhibition “Artifact and Translation” that ran from October 1-5, 2013.

Here is the flier!

A3_poster.indd

It was a great opportunity to show the digital images I developed as a consequence of our field trip to the Kioloa Field Research Station, along with the whittlings and translations that we have all been working on.

Here’s the view when you entered the Foyer Gallery from the main entrance of the ANU School of Art.

Entering the gallery

Entering the gallery

With four large prints on the left,  my whittle translation in the center and everyone else’s whittles and translations along the far wall.

The four large ‘Old Blotchy’ prints. Developed from images taken of the gnarled and wrinkled skin of that grand old survivor.

Maculaata (Old Blotchy) #1-#4

Maculata (Old Blotchy) #1-#4

And a close up to see how it looks in real life.The photorealism breaks down.  The patterning which is an artifact of the Live trace software has been tuned to closely resemble the patterning that is natural to the Spotted Gum tree bark which flakes off periodically leaving pastel colored scars with the occasional bright orange scar from humans sgraffito. Natural artifact mapped into software artifact.

Maculata (Old Blotchy) #1 detail

Maculata (Old Blotchy) #1 detail

And my whittle translation. This is the first time I’ve used digitally manipulated images of whittles in my work – another digital translation of the hand made.

Teatree topology

Teatree topology

Each whittle was from a successive slice from a branch of Teatree harvested at Kioloa. It was interesting treating each successive, subtly different, slice as if I had never worked that material or form before. Exploring what moves with the knife worked and what the existing convoluted branch forms suggested.

Chunk of teatree.

Chunk of teatree.

First teatree whittle.

First teatree whittle.

Teatree topology translation

Teatree topology translation

Teatree topology detail

Teatree topology detail

Along the opposite wall was the series of 6 smaller prints.

Maculata #1-6

Maculata #1 – #6

I think this one is my favorite.

Maculata #4

Maculata #4

And close up.

Maculata #4 detail

Maculata #4 detail

The final portion of the show was the whittlings and inspired translations by all of the folk who joined in the field trip to Kioloa.

We arranged the whittlings along the wall on a narrow shelf (thanks for the timber donation Tim!), each accompanied by its translation into another medium or process, and a swing tag giving some clue as to its identity.

An array of whittles and translations.

An array of whittles and translations.

Some details.

Whittle, translations and tag by Pia Nemec

Whittle, translations and tag by Pia Nemec

Translation by Andrew Carvolth

Translation by Andrew Carvolth

Andrew created a tool, and used it on a piece of wood to create marks. The essence of whittling, translated into a whole new entity! Nice work.

Ashley, Brian and Shep trying to solve the puzzle.

Ashley and Brian trying to solve the puzzles.

Shep just savoring the full sensory experience.

Shep just savoring the full sensory experience.

Huge thanks to everyone who made this exhibition possible. Especially to Ashley Eriksmoen who invited me to ANU and who was such a generous, supportive and inspiring host. To Jason O’Brien who did such wonderful work with my prints and who was forever cheerful despite my constant hounding. To Jason Kochel for all his help with the gallery. And finally to all the staff and students of the Furniture Workshop at the ANU School of Art, who welcomed me, worked late at night with me, and who dedicated themselves to the art, whimsy and mystery of whittling.

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Filed under Australia, On exhibition, Whittling

Hybrid Artifact #2 (for John Bartram) – with Matthew Hebert

My colleague and co-conspirator Matthew Hebert (San Diego State University) and I have just completed a new work in our series (two makes a series, yes?) of Hybrid Artifacts that marry the ancient craft of whittling with contemporary digital manufacturing technologies. This is the culmination of our project at the Bartram Gardens in Philadelphia which I posted about on my first visit for the project in November 2011. Its been a long term project and we’ve worked with many collaborators along the way – the list of whittlers is at the end of this post. There is a summary of the project on my portfolio page.  I thought a more expanded description might be appreciated here on the blog.

Here’s our statement about the piece – illustrated along the way with process shots!

“John Bartram’s garden and collecting expeditions provided the first systematic exports of the botanical wonders of North America to England and then on to Europe. This happened in the midst of the European Enlightenment and the materials that Bartram supplied helped establish the foundations of the modern scientific fields of taxonomy and plant hybridization. The transport of these specimens in ‘Bartram’s Boxes’ was a technical (and often logistical and political) accomplishment in its own right. The seeds, seedlings and plants that travelled on the long and dangerous voyage across the Atlantic ended their journey in the hands and glasshouses of some of the most advanced plant biologists living at the time. In effect they inspired and provided the substance of a revolution in biological science that is still being played out today. Interestingly enough, this happened through a direct correspondence between two individuals on opposite sides of the ocean. Two men who both displayed extraordinary passion for the North American flora, a certain impatience and frustration with the tyranny of the distance between them, and a long-standing friendship and collegiality, which was never consummated by them meeting face to face. These two men were John Bartram, striving to both farm and explore the newly colonized East coast of America, and Peter Collinson in England, working hard to both enrich his own modest garden and to help distribute Bartram’s Boxes to the leading gardens and research facilities in England and Europe.

The seeds for “Hybrid Artifact#2 (for John Bartram)” originated from Bartram’s garden in Philadelphia. Donald Fortescue milled a freshly fallen Willow Oak tree on site and made 16 green wood ‘Fortescue’s boxes’.

'Milling' willow oak - part 1

‘Milling’ willow oak at the gardens.

'Milling' willow oak - Part 2

‘Milling’ willow oak at Michael Hurwitz’s studio.

Raw (and very wet) lumber

Raw (and very wet) lumber

Box building production line

Box building production line

Fortescue's boxes

Fortescue’s boxes

A group of enthusiastic students from the University of the Arts, the Buck’s County Community College and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, hand whittled small wooden sculptures from wood from the Gardens and provided a hypothetical text description of the completed pieces. These small sculptures were then individually and carefully packed in the ‘Fortescue’s Boxes’ and shipped across the country to Matthew Hebert waiting with great anticipation in San Diego, California, all the way across the US – 2,700 miles (a tad less than the 3,550 miles covered by Bartram’s Boxes).

Happy whittlers

Happy whittlers

Caterpillar Skate

Caterpillar Skate

Kubrick

Kubrick Shifter

The full collection of Bartram whittles and their 'toe tags'

The full collection of Bartram whittles and their ‘toe tags’

Bon voyage!!

Bon voyage!!

Matthew then opened the boxes (conserving them carefully) and began work on his technical translation of Donald’s specimens. Utilizing an array of reverse engineering (3D scanners) and digital fabrication technologies (CNC machines and 3D Printers), Matthew translated the hand-hewn objects into 3D computer models, manipulated them in software, and then re-created them as physical objects. He created negatives of the whittlings and then remounted these in the original boxes; framed and lit from within like Victorian cameos. The descriptions provided by the whittlers were read by artists in Australia and then linked to their respective cameos.

Printing whittles

Printing whittles

The 16 artifacts are arrayed to reflect notions of hybridization, mutation, and genealogy. The subtle textures created by both the hand of the whittler and the processes of digital fabrication highlight the problematic space of contemporary making. The radical changes in society resulting from the scientific revolution in John Bartram’s time are drawn into parallel with the radical changes in contemporary society arising from digital manufacturing.”

Hybrid Artifact #2, 2013

Hybrid Artifact #2, 2013

Plaque

Plaque

A whittle cameo

A whittle cameo

A whittle cameo lit within

A whittle cameo lit from within

 

Huge thanks to Don Miller Jr. and Michael Hurwitz in Philadelphia, to the intrepid  troop of whittlers from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, the Bucks County Community College, and the Indiana University at Pennsylvania for their enthusiasm and contributions to this project, and to the following whittlers for the use of their work –  Lily Baker, Steve Loar, Don Miller Jr., Donald Blankenship, Robert Haskell, Joshua Skott, Catherine Caulfield, Olivia Mays, Sarah Martin, Kevin Bogan, BA Harrington, Kerin Posobiec, Ryan Berardi, Janice Smith and Colin Pezzano, 

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Filed under Hybrid Artifacts, In the Studio, On exhibition, Whittling

Kioloa – Australia

I’m just getting going on a one month residency at the Australian National University School of Art - my alma mater. As soon as I arrived and settled in, the entire Furniture program loaded up and headed down to the south coast of New South Wales to the ANU’s coastal campus and  field research station at Kioloa. Set in a rich forest of spotted gums and blackbutts and right on the edge of a beautiful string of golden beaches its was a great place to meet the students and check out some of the local woods.

Heading to the beach

Heading to the beach

Students completing local habitat analysis.

Students exploring the local habitat.

Prof. Fortescue's technial demonstration.

Prof. Fortescue’s technical demonstration.

I wasn't the only galah on the beach.

I wasn’t the only galah on the beach.

Off into the forest with a trailer load of testosterone.

Off into the forest with a trailer load of testosterone.

The spotted gum forest is so engaging. There were magpies and rosellas soaring through the trees and yabbering away to each other and a discrete lyrebird working on his repertoire down amongst the tea trees.

The spotted gum forest

The spotted gum forest

Spotted gum bark

Spotted gum bark.

I’m interested in using images of the spotted gum bark for a series of prints while I’m here. The markings are remarkably similar to the artifacts of ‘livetrace’ that I have been exploring recently.

I wonder how they will turn out?

Felling an Acacia to take back to the station for whittling.

Clare Solomon felling a mighty Acacia to take back to the station for whittling.

Night whittling

Night whittling

Whittles in Native cherry, Acacia and Teatree.

Whittles in Native cherry, Acacia and Teatree.

Ian Guthridge took me out to see ‘Old Blotchy’ a huge and ancient spotted gum that has been around since before the whitefella landed on these shores.

Ian Guthridge gives scale to Old Blotchy.

Ian Guthridge gives scale to Old Blotchy.

What a magnficent vegetable!

What a magnficent vegetable!

... with gnarled and wrinkled skin.

… with gnarled and wrinkled skin.

A local enjoying the sunset.

A local enjoying the sunset.

More soon as I get going on some new work here in Canberra.

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Filed under Australia, In the Studio, Whittling

Taking steps towards Antarctica – Isotropism

I’ve just read Roland Huntford’s wonderful book The Last Place on Earth. Like Scott who’s unpreparedness for the Poles forms the backbone of Huntford’s thesis, I feel embarrassed to admit that while professing a fascination with the histories of Antarctic exploration I have never read this seminal evaluation of the great race in the austral summer of 1911/12. I knew the story of course. The first academic award I ever received (at primary school at age12!) was a biography of Roald Amundsen, that fixed my everlasting interests in the Poles, the Northwest and Northeast Passages and the potential of Zeppelins! Huntfords’ anti-sentimental analysis of both Amundsen and his doomed competitor Robert Scott in their race to the pole opened my eyes in new ways to the Antarctic continent.

Ever since reading Bill Fox’s analysis of our changing perceptions of and in the Antarctic, I have been focused on the notion of isotropy in the Antarctic environment.  Fox begins his book Terra Antarctica – Looking into the Emptiest Continent with the statement – “How the human mind transforms space into place …. is most easily traced when watching the mind at work in large, unfamiliar and relatively empty environments, where we often have difficulty understanding our personal scale in space and time, versus the temperate forests and savanna where we primarily evolved as a species, or in cities that we have constructed to fit our needs.”

Deserts, and the world’s greatest desert Antarctica, present isotropic qualities to our senses – no matter which way you face whether you look near or far, the same scene presents itself. This is most extreme in a whiteout where even up and down are impossible to distinguish. In such an isotropic environment our perceptions can’t be trusted and our minds create illusions or misguide us in consequence. Explorers, scientists and artists working in Antarctica deal with this in varied ways but all must face the cognitive dissonance presented by an isotropic landscape.

Fox describes the strategies and experiences of artists dating back to William Hodges who sailed with James Cook’s on his first encounter with the Ice in 1773/4.

Two contemporary artists whose works Fox describes shed light on the isotropic qualities of the Antarctic. The New Zealand photographer Anne Noble who first visited Antarctica in 2002 “photographed in whiteouts and took pictures straight into white snow and white skies. She pushed the lack of definition in the landscape so far that, when she turned in her films for processing, the photo lab called her up to alert her that there was “nothing” on the film. That’s exactly right, as what she was investigating was the cognitive ambivalence of isotropy.”

Another example “Sandy Sorlien applied to the NSF (the US National Science Foundation) in 1995 to work in the visiting artists program but was not selected. She decided instead to photograph close-up landscape scenes in the North East, primarily New Jersey during the Winter, as analogs.” “By manipulating vantage point and scale, Solein balances an interrogation of how we cognitively frame geography with her desire to see the Antarctic, an emotional context seldom examined in a non-sentimental fashion.”

Sandy Sorlein 1996, Polar Explorer Self-Portrait, New Jersey

Sandy Sorlien 1996
Polar Explorer Self-Portrait, New Jersey

Sandy Sorlein 1996  Snow, New Jersey

Sandy Sorlien 1996
Snow, New Jersey

So why am I so interested in this matter of isotropy? I’m currently designing an ‘instrument’ for possible future deployment in the Antarctic and have been pondering its form, function and meaning.

Following my experience of the making and using the wind activated Bærnjo at the Bær Center for the Arts in far Northern Iceland last summer, I have wanted to continue making objects that respond to environmental conditions by making sounds.  My latest ‘instrument’ will be a hybrid between a sampling device, a small field station, a sculptural structure and a resonant instrument for producing sound. It will be compact and portable, in a specially constructed case. It will be set up and operated in the field, and photographed in-situ. It will act as a base of operation to collect sounds generated by environmental and atmospheric impacts on the ‘instrument’ (especially wind). I imagine the sound will be created by both the tightly tuned guy wires securing the ‘instrument’ and from a set of strings arranged internally around its central mast that will be bowed by a wind driven device attached to the top of the mast – a wind-powered Aeolian harp and hurdy-gurdy that you can sit inside!

But why deploy such a device in the Antarctic. What will it reveal?

Thinking of the potential of deploying such an instrument in the far South I remembered the epochal image of Amundsen and his men saluting the “Polheim” (Home of the Pole) that they erected at the South Pole following their meticulous but flawed efforts to ensure that they had located the true geographic pole. For me this whole effort strikes me as more art practice than scientific. The pole is as strangely notional as Tom Friedman’s 1992 artwork entitled “Untitled (A Curse)” which consists in its actual manifestation of an 11” sphere of space cursed by a witch, located 11” above a standard gallery pedestal (valued at north of $30,000 at its most recent sale).

Tom Friedman 1992 entitled Untitled (A Curse)

Tom Friedman 1992
Untitled (A Curse)

Once Amundsen and his crew had decided that they were as close to the ‘pole’ as possible (and had covered and marked enough ground around it to ensure polar priority) they planted a tent and put letters and notes inside. In all directions for hundreds of miles lay the featureless and thin-aired Antarctic Plateau with absolutely no outstanding physical markers. A blank page in all directions with only their own tracks in the ice marking the presence of any living being.

Amundsen and team with the  "Polheim".  December 17, 1911

Amundsen and team with the “Polheim”.
December 17, 1911

Richard Byrd described the pole in 1930 after his visit. “The Pole lay in a limitless plain…One gets there, and that is about all there is for the telling.”

As Fox outlined, all sense of scale, distance and perspective can collapse and invert in the isotropic whiteness. Huntford retells Amundsen’s quintessential isotropic experience. Mere tens of miles from their goal en route to the South Pole Amundsen’s teammate Hassel had a dark feature catch his eye in the white on white landscape -

“Do you see that black thing over there?” Hassel called out urgently as they were making camp on the 13th. (December 2011)

Everybody saw it.

“Can it be Scott” someone called.

Bjaaland ran forward to investigate. He did not have to run far.  “Mirage,” he reported laconically, “dog turds”

The explorers’ sensory space and psychological space were conflated. Perspective in both was lost and something as insignificant as a dog turd blossomed into both a sizeable object and a boogey man of defeat! (or perhaps alternatively, Norwegians have a robust sense of humor).

There’s an interesting article about the search to find the original Polheim here. It’s thought to be buried under 60ft of accumulated ice and have wandered perhaps hundreds of feet from its original (rather uncertain) location along with the  movements of the ice plateau.

Stephen J. Pyne in his expansive and deeply textured book The Ice – A Journey to Antarctica has pointed out that “The journey from core to margin, from polar plateau to open sea, narrates an allegory of mind and matter”. “Antarctica is the earth’s great sink, not only for water and heat but for information. Between core and margin there exist powerful gradients of energy and information.” “The extraordinary isolation of Antarctica is not merely geophysical but metaphysical. Cultural understanding and assimilation demand more than the power to overcome the energy gradient that surrounds The Ice: they demand the capacity and desire to overcome the information gradient.” Pyne compares the concentric ice terrains defining the Antarctic continent to “the ordered rings comprising the hierarchy of Dante’s inferno”.

Pyne describes two separate gradients that seem to run in parallel. As the pole is approached the physical landscape becomes increasingly isotropic and featureless (the information gradient approaches zero), so the scope for the human imagination to write its own meanings into the landscape increases.  The lack of physical bearings unmoors us from the real world and we float into the worlds of metaphor and imagination.

All that inexorable isotropic whiteness and our predilection to read meaning into the void reminds me of one of my favorite sentences in English literature – Herman Melville’s efforts to explain both the sublime and the horrific aspects of the great whale Moby Dick as embodied in its whiteness -

“Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal preeminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title “Lord of the White Elephants” above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; and though, besides, all this, whiteness has been even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things – the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honor; though in many climes, whiteness typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies, Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bull; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great-white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.”

Yes, that’s one sentence!

My brother Christopher first pointed out to me that perhaps the greatest example of horror and the sublime in literature is the dreaded ‘blank white page’ faced by all artists and writers (including Melville we know) – the page awaiting our imprint, like footsteps in the snow.

And so back to my question as to the form and meaning of my hypothetical ‘instrument’.

Thinking along the path outlined above it’s clear that the  ‘instrument’ should be intrinsic to the isotropic field on which it will be situated – visually, acoustically, and experientially.

It needs be white and of a form that might confound a viewer. Is it a natural formation? An icy extrusion of the landscape? A beached bergy bit? Or a manmade intervention? A shelter? A piece of scientific equipment? An icy turd?

Similarly the sound created by the instrument will be amorphous – haunting and eerie and once again questionable. Part of the landscape or an intrusion? Natural or manmade? Is there some structure within the sound? Some meaning?

And finally the experience of viewing the instrument in a gallery setting should also be disorienting and re-present the isotropic field. Its scale should stretch the expectations of the space in which it is installed to make it clear that it lives in space of another scale and the experience of entering the ‘instrument’ should transport the viewer to a larger aural, visual and experiential space.

Documenting the instrument in situ will contextualize the experience within its isotropic space.

The scale of marks.

Figure ground relationships.

The separation of signal from noise.

Strategies for negotiating a blank canvas.

Navigating the space of imagination.

The role of the viewer as agent.

How to distinguish art from shit.

All of these matters seem essential to the enquiry of art making!

Don’t you think?

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