Cores

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.

Underwater Boyles

I have been thinking about the possiblity of working with the undersea locations that formed part of the Boyle Family's journey to the surface of the earth 'random locations' project.

In 1964 they invited members of the public to throw a dart into a map of the world, while blindfolded, thus generating a 1000 different locations, which became in turn the basis of the World Series, an ongoing project, which involves the making of a three-dimensional cast of an area of each site.

As far as I am aware they have yet to tackle those which resulted from darts that fell into the sea.

In one sense my interest in their work echoes the random basis of the original selection, offering a means to select undersea locations from the infinite number available. At the same time the concepts behind their enquiry resonate with my own interest in questions of objectivity, truth and knowledge.

“They attempt to present a slice of reality as they found it at the moment of selection. And yet, so much is left out. The world is not a fixed and permanent place. There are an infinite number of elements and factors that are constantly changing. No matter how good the recreation, it is still a recreation and only an approximation to reality. They know that it is impossible to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But they try to isolate and reduce the elements to see if it is possible to tell the truth about anything.”

Talk

Gave my introductory talk today. Despite my anxieties that my audience might feel alienated by the speculative nature of what I do and the fact that it has little to do with the acquisition of hard data, it seemed to go well. A number of points were raised, prompting discussion about different mapping conventions and the impact of these upon popular perceptions of different areas of land mass - Africa appearing much smaller than it is and Russia much bigger – the later being a significant factor in levels of American cold war paranoia, apparently.

At one point I mention my interest in the possibility of creating a globe, which inverts height and depth. Clive Boulter a structural geologist responded by saying that he frequently uses pseudoscopic techniques or reverse relief as a way of viewing terrestrial features. As he discusses the possibility with Tim of using a similar approach to model undersea environments I feel that I have perhaps in some small way facillitated a conversation that might not otherwise have happened.

Perhaps the most striking discussion was had later on the bus to the station. Bramley Murton was talking about the way in which at depth buoyancy counteracts gravity and how, seeing a small jelly fish swimming along at 30,000 metres below sea level, its tentacles splayed out to the sides, he had been prompted him to reflect on the extent to which while in terrestrial environments the fact that everything finally falls to the ground exerts a primary influence, in undersea environments it has a limited currency.

I am still pondering the implications of this conversation, immediately it made me think of the extent to which the notion of a return to earth fundamentally unpins our myths and beliefs and how profound a shift the idea of being buoyant represents to the ways in which we understand who we are.