I spent part of today looking at sediment cores with Jess Trofimovs and Ben, a PhD student who is working on a project mapping the flow of volcanic eruptions from Montserrat and trying to determine a pattern to them. The core store is refrigerated at 4 degrees the average (i guess) temperature of the seabed.
A sediment core is a tube of what looks like mud made up of different kinds of detritus, the length and means of extraction of which depends on where it is taken from. Once in the lab it forms part of a kind of jigsaw puzzle which when allows Jessica and Ben to identify periods of volcanic activity, as indicated by changes in colour and composition.
The age of some sections, more than 250,000.00 years, is difficult to grasp, as is the fact they have only been exposed to light and air so recently. What is also striking is the laborious nature of the work Ben must do in order to piece together this picture. Much like the PhD students I share an office with upstairs who spend many painstaking hours separating grains of basalt out from other matter under a microscope, in order to prepare their samples, so Ben must carefully cut each core in half, photograph, log and test it in a variety of ways. The extent to which such basic, repetitive and simultaneously precise work, underpins even the most sophisticated scientific endeavour seems to offer a point of root connection with the role played by material and technical processes in artistic enquiry.
The core store itself is extraordinary, a material library that is both impressive and unsettling, it puts me in mind of 19th century collections of flora and fauna and while these drain-pipes full of sludge lack the glamour of either such earlier specimens or contemporary ice cores there, is still something deeply disconcerting about the journey they have made from the deep sea bed to a hanger in Southampton.