from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

the spaces of the heart 2: Chris Drury's land art

Hand on Heart, a monoprint echocardiogram with iron oxide and blood by Chris Drury
At Dartington yesterday I was excited to be able to attend, in addition to the Rumi presentations, an illustrated talk by the land artist Chris Drury, of whose work I'm a longtime fan. Here's some background...

To add to my conversation with myself (and sometimes with others, often The Man) about the differing roles and possibilities of science and art, reason and intuition, in approaching the mysteries of creation and consciousness, I'm going to open with some words by Mel Gooding in the Foreword to Song of the Earth, a book detailing the work of some European land artists, amongst them Chris Drury.

'As science constructs realities, so does art, and both set out to define aspects of that intuitive self-awareness that is the essence of human experience. It might be that science considered as a whole – a vision of the world, a stupendous collaborative construction, always changing like the world it represents – constitutes the greatest human artefact of all. It is conversely true that art, in its manifold realisations, is a kind of science, a mode of research into the mysteries of the individuated human consciousness.' 

And: 'The imaginative faculty itself, in its creative shaping of our experience of external events,  is empowered by memory, recollection and recognition, by the perception of similarities in differences and differences in similarities, and by those innate abilities, unique to our species, to make connections and distinctions, and to arrange and classify: the operations of both rational intelligence and emotional sympathy... Art increases our sense of what it is to be alive, to be in vital relation to the world we inhabit...'

The work of land artist Chris Drury has long rendered me inarticulate with inspiration. Do you know how it is when something is so special, so magical, so inspiring you can only enter it in moments, in glimpses, in sips - you kind of hold it as a secret in the heart, and ration it out, like savouring opening Christmas presents as a child? 

That's how I relate to Drury's work. So I quail a bit here in attempting to conjure the range of it in its wordlessness in my few paltry words. But I do want to speak of it because it's so inspiring. But you'd do better - after reading this, of course! - to check out his website and blog. Address below, at the bottom of the blog page. 

I don't know if it's OK to lift an image from an artist's site to show his work - but I have, anyway.
Chris Drury, 
dry-stone walls, timber and
turf roof, mirrors, lens
Lochmaddy, North Uist,
Western Isles, 1997
The image above is taken from within the cairn/bothy/stone hut Drury built in North Uist; I imagine he's used a kind of camera obscura effect to take the photo.

Yesterday's talk opened with strikingly beautiful photographs taken on a canoe trip Drury made with a friend through the lochs of North Uist (envy!) in the Scottish Western Isles. Drury spoke of the paddling, camping, the portage (dragging the canoes over heather in between bodies of water) and the final art pieces inspired by this. Apart from stone cairns and huts built in the landscape, the pieces he later exhibited in a gallery marking the trip were a huge panoramic photomontage of the profiles and silhouettes of the North Uist landscape created as a map made of the words from the Gaelic and English place names (you may remember a posting I made - I think! did I? - about the evocative Gaelic names for places eg on Iona: Hill of the Starlings; Bay at the Back of the Ocean; Meadow of the Lapwing; Grove of the Hazelnuts; Port of the White Bull etc etc); and what he called a Dream Canoe; an open structure made of heather from North Uist with gunwales wrapped in salmon skin.

There is so much more to say. But for now, because it was Drury's focus in the presentation and because it's been an ongoing project for him, and also because it addresses the spaces of the heart so ties in with the Rumi yesterday, I'm going to attempt to describe briefly Drury's current source of creative inspiration which draws together science and art to attempt to 'speak' of the very real echoes and connections between self and other, macrocosm and microscosm: heart.

Drury's project which perhaps has brought him the widest recognition is the installation the Heart of Reeds project in Lewes in the UK. This maps out in reeds over three acres of wasteland now transformed into significant wildlife habitat a cross-section of the human heart, with its flows and vortices.

One way and another, a great deal of Drury's work since has been exploring the similarities between the spiral patterns and vortices of the blood flow to and from the human heart, and other natural phenomena: 'The cardiac twist found in the double vortex tissue laid down in the heart is itself a mirror of the pattern of blood flow through the heart. Fingertip whorls take the same pattern; so does the message transmitted from the nerve-endings in the fingertips to the brain. The sap rising in a tree creates the same pattern; as do weather systems, whirlpools and galaxies, and so on.' 

If we sit at the interface of nature and culture, registering the impact of the world upon us and recording our impressions, we need nonetheless to remember that we are not apart from but an integral part of the process. 'Nature and culture are the same thing,' asserts Drury.

Chris works with scientists, especially heart scientists (he now has a number of cardiac-inspired installations and pieces of work to his credit) but also alongside others working on, for instance, the British Antarctic Survey. He transforms the findings of science into visual communications, and to that extent he's a kind of medium: transmitter, alchemist.

He spoke of his work in Antarctica: 'Under the ice, which can be up to 4kms thick, Antarctica shows the flow-patterns of rivers. These layers have been building up for about 900,000 years; that is, since roughly the time that our most recent ancestor, Cro Magnon man, was emerging.'

The New York Times of February 25, 2011 spoke of this work: 'More permanent pieces were created from the patterns of echograms of the ice cap. Using a device that measures the layers of ice, each line on the echogram represents about 500 years of ice buildup. These reminded him of mountainous scenes in classical Chinese scroll painting, an effect he enhanced by highlighting them in pencil and ink. Other echograms were combined with strangely similar echocardiograms of the pilot who flew the Twin Otter plane low over the ice to take the soundings.'

What Drury has done with all this is to create very resonant and moving pieces of work that draw together the experience of living within the cosmos with our attempts to describe the struggle of the heart to find its place... And I highly recommend his website, listed under 'interesting blogs' below; on it you will find a link to his blog.

And for me, now, back to thinking about the elections...

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