Embodied Processes


Some back story. Three years a go when I was preparing my research proposal to send to the University of Brighton, my research interests were in slightly different area. At the time, I was concerned with how we might possibly, through art,  make environmental processes that operate on a different time scale to human time more personally meaningful, or at least more easily comprehended.

A promising route to a more meaningful experience of slow-moving or large-scale processes seemed to be through art works that physically embody the natural processes they seek to describe. Take for example the handmade book work Once Around the Sun by Kristjan Gudmundsson. According to Frieze:

In the first volume each page is covered in dots, in total as many dots as there are seconds in a year: 31,556,926 dots in all. The pages of the second volume are densely covered with horizontal lines. Joined together, the lines would measure the distance the earth travels in one second, that is 29,771 metres, or about 18 miles. 

This means that these two books, when considered together, are a handmade, visual representation of the distance the Earth travels in one year.   What is achieved in these two volumes, is the translation of distances and timescales, so large as to be practically meaningless, through an object that is not only human-scale in size, but also efficiently and poetically expresses large periods of time in a way we can begin to appreciate.

However, over time my research interests evolved and it is only recently when exploring ways to reflect a process such as coastal erosion through drawing that I have been thinking again about art works embodying environmental processes.

Which brings us to the physical counterpart to the online component of this research diary. Arriving home from work today I was greeted by the roll of Fabriano 200gsm paper that I had ordered, from which a concertina sketchbook will be made. Taking its cue from Gudmundsson, the sketchbook will be 4.5 metres long, a distance equal to the amount of land lost to the sea per year in some areas of Covehithe. The concertina design is crucial, as it will make it possible to exhibit the book in one long piece, presenting the journey the research has taken in an object that  makes visible and understandable the amount of land loss that is occurring in some areas.

To provide weight to my point that we sometimes have a hard time imagining time and space, I hadn’t really considered how long 4.5 metres actually is, only giving thought that the 10 metre roll of paper I had ordered provided me plenty of room for errors when making the book (traditionally I have always been a measure once, cut twice kind of person). Well, I can report, it isn’t easy to wrestle with a 1.5 metre x 10 metre roll of paper (especially working in a spare room as I am studio-less), and further more, folding a 4.5 metre long sheet of paper into individual pages is also a time-consuming task. It is now made however, and is sitting under several hardback books to try to flatten the pages. Future posts will explain in more detail the purpose of the physical book, as well as discussing other ways my work will come to explore certain aspects of erosion, such as degradation and protection.