I’ve just got back from Nottingham, where I met artist John Newling for a conversation about my PhD work.
The conversation with John was richly full of diversions around the theme of salted earth. We discussed his early salt works, and his interest in salt as both a preserver and polluter of life. We talked of migration being initiated by the salting of land, as land becomes desert and soil becomes unproductive, people must move. Also of scientific salt experiments – Dr Alan Gadian is currently experimenting with harvesting salt from seawater and sending it up into the clouds, in an attempt to decrease global warming (the project is actually called ‘Silver Lining’) We wondered whether art can have the potential to reinvent polluted spaces, whether literally or metaphorically?
John’s current work is very much focused around soil and plants, for example in his project about Miracle Trees. He showed me the Miracle Trees he is cultivating. These wonder plants have all sorts of real curative properties as well as metaphorically being miraculous.
We discussed the genealogy and migrations of plants – he told me of a plant in the deserts of the Southern USA which apparently pulls up its own roots when it can no longer find water, and then migrates on the wind in search of better climes. He told me also that we are now in the anthropocene age, that geologists are acknowledging the effects of human industry (and architecture) on the soil. I thought of how soil contains architectural ghosts, and this reminded me of Victor Buchli’s discussion of an archeology of the present which can be used to study the ‘active role of material culture in the study of social relations’. Buchli suggests that this process can become’ a profound therapeutic act’.
We also talked about causalities, structural anthropology, and how to select and distill texts for a PhD. He mentioned this quotation from Levi-Strauss: “Myth is the gap between the object and the expression of it.” He thinks this is a good working definition for art. I think it might be a useful distillation of what it is I am trying to find out, too.
Victor Buchli and Gavin Evans (ed.s) (2001) Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, Routledge