I have art papers and supports of every kind and in every size, just about. Examined under a microscope, some will be found to be dusted with the sands of Dubai and Grand Cayman, the Isle of Sheppey, the D-Day beaches of Normandy, the Moon.
Sand from the Moon?
No, my art materials and I have not been to the moon, sadly – that would have been my most memorable poetic walk – but some of the materials in my studio date back to the time I held a moon rock in the palm of my hand.
That was at university when I was doing my fine art degree. I’d gone to a public lecture in the Physics Department. It was delivered by a guest speaker from Geneva – the European Space Agency – Cern – Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire – now Organisation Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire.
The lecture was about Halley’s Comet, which means it was 1986. That’s when the comet was last visible in the sky. As it turns up every 75-6 years, it’s possible to see it twice in a lifetime and there was one man in the audience who stood up and announced he’d seen as a boy its previous appearance, which must have been in 1910-11.
What’s Halley’s Comet got to do with moon rocks?
Well, nothing. The lecturer went on to talk about the work of CERN in relation to moon trips and had brought the rocks along to show us.
He also talked about an idea to colonise the moon for the production of oxygen to transport back to earth, since we were struggling to produce enough here on earth, due to deforestation, the expanding global population, pollution …
The costs of colonisation were prohibitive however, so the idea was going nowhere. I wanted to stand up and ask why the cheaper solution, of leaving the trees alone, was not an option.
I didn’t really hold the moon rock in my hand. They were sealed off in a glass case and all we were allowed to do was to file past them at the end of the lecture.
I thought they had a kind of atmosphere, however, which was a bit odd since the moon has no atmosphere.
I wasn’t thinking of that kind of atmosphere, though. And I think these eco prints have an atmosphere. Each print has been made by sandwiching leaves between a pair of two watercolour paper boards. The process transfers the dye from the leaves to the watercolour paper and creating on each board, a mirror image of the other.
I like the way the leaves react with each other, sometimes orbiting, sometimes attracting sometimes repelling one another. Some seem to be disintegrating, burning up like meteorites entering the earth’s atmosphere; others are little more than ghosts in the background, like the cosmic microwave background from the beginning of time, that is only now just passing by as I write.
Image four has a moon presiding over it. A chestnut moon. It’s actually a print from a green eucalyptus leaf. Other leaves I used in this suite were maroon-coloured bramble, a chervil-type leaf, fern and the lovely and surprising yellow is from St John’s Wort leaves, from a bush in our garden. I scavenged the others from nearby woods, slipping and sliding on paths made muddy by recent rain.
Maybe the chemicals in the rain helped get such definite transfers of the leaves’ colours onto the paper. Then, the watercolour boards were thick and so when I placed tiles either end of the pile and secured it – with a lot of rubber bands – I was able to get a really tight sandwich.
I boiled it for two hours in an agrimony dye I’ve had for a couple of years and not used. I like that it’s stained the edges of the paper and here and there, bled further into it, creating muddy tributaries.
I also like the embedments created by the stalks of the leaves being pressed hard down into the paper. I like that I can have a variety of mirror images, depending on which way I arrange the cards. Oh and PS, the cardboard backing falls away from the watercolour paper during the boiling process. It falls off in layers, leaving only the first layer remaining.
There isn’t a single leaf here that isn’t descended from what the cosmic microwave background has recorded, from that great first explosion of nothing into something. Nonsensical of course, the notion of nothing exploding. You know what I mean. Mind you, our model of the universe is under revision following last year’s discovery (possibly) of a fifth force, to join the four other forces: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces. If true, Physics will undergo a revolution.
These prints have the atmosphere of etchings, aquatints.
“Mitakuye Oyasin,” as the Lakota/Dakotas would say; “We are all related.” Why is it that our aboriginal cultures have always known what science has taken centuries to catch on to?