Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Punctuated Equilibrium

View from the stairs to the National Contemporary Art Award Gallery

You've read about the installation of my little solo show at the Waikato Museum, Punctuated Equilibrium. This post shows you around the Vitrine, and explains my ideas. I was inspired by the Vitrine’s associations with the cabinets of curiosities of Victorian naturalists. The confined space allowed me a manageable scale-representation of geological time and the glass windows are perfect for exhibiting delicate work which need to be seen but not touched.

Punctuated Equilibrium is a theory of evolution in which species stay stable for long periods with adaption and extinction happening relatively swiftly in response to environmental changes. Our Anthropocene age seems set to demonstrate this theory: the widespread species extinctions are well underway, although evidence of adaption will take a little longer to prove.

There are four elements to the exhibition: Deep Time paper scrolls, embossed fossils, embroidered fossils and the microfossil sketch book. The stories fossils tell about evolution, adaption, and the causes and consequences of extinction are particularly relevant today as we finally start to understand the long term environmental impacts of industrialisation, capitalism and consumerism.

Deep Time through glass reflecting the Museum foyer.

To understand these ideas you have to unfocus your eyes from the here and now and imagine the immensity of geological time, deep time. Last year, while artist in residence at Hamilton Girls High School I handpainted 570 metres of paper to represent the 570 million years of multi-cellular life on earth. I would love to represent the billions of years since the Big Bang, but settled for something that took only months instead of years for me to make. Deep Time is unfurled in the Vitrine as a rippling, layered cliff face evocative of both stratified rock formations and sea water.

Paper strata

Deep Time represents: millions of years when most of the world was covered in warm shallow seas populated by blobby things collectively creating our atmosphere. Millions of years of ferns and small and large creepy crawlies. Dinosaurs. Asteroids. Volcanoes and lots of tectonic plate shifting. Untold species that lived and died before mammals even thought about becoming primates, let alone humans.

Embossed fossils

I was fortunate to be able to take a print class at WSA last year, and despite Joan Travaglia's superlative teaching I became obsessed with blind embossing and never did anything more complicated after that. I made five woodcuts of different fossils and embossed hundreds of them onto heavy paper, then cut out each one by hand.

Stories Below Ground consists of 500 or so brown kraft paper fossils are spread across the floor of the Vitrine, like leaf litter (and in fact at first glance are easily mistaken for leaves). The same fossils embossed onto heavy cream paper are packaged as an artist book called Five Fossils which includes copy of my poem Punctuated Equilibrium and is for sale in the Museum's micro shop (as well as on Etsy). The five fossils are an ammonite, star fish, sea urchin, trilobite and Ediacaran jellyfish.

Framed embroideries

In the months between finishing last year's coral reefs and starting My Antarctica projects I stitched up a few small fossils for Punctuated Equilibrium. This was how I discovered the joys of embroidering onto blankets. I enjoyed playing around with a wider palette of stitches and colours with these projects. The fossils are from left to right: sea stars, crinoid, tessarolax and ammonite.

Micro fossil micro sketch book

By far the most common fossils in the world are the microscopically small ones, the planktons, pollens and other tiny life forms which have always been the basis of the whole food chain, the balance of gases in our atmosphere and nutrients in soils and the sea. Zoom in on images of these micro fossils and you will see an incredible variety of different shapes and textures. I sketched a selection to make into a tiny hand made book, a micro fossil sketch book.

Micro fossil sketch book on its own plinth (I love the plinth!) and groovy graphics by the Museum designers


Carol said...

I thought the photos of assembling this installation were wonderful but these show just how superb this completed work really is. Congratulations on a beautiful and meaningful work of art.

Gina said...

very very beautiful .... do you mind if i link to it from my site ...

lovely lovely work >>> GINA

Joan said...

Wonderful exhibition Meliors. Your art is amazing. so unique. Such a journey you are on.

Bronwyn Lloyd said...

Your installation looks fantastic Meliors. So much going on in a single vitrine and every detail of the work significant and carefully considered. I can't wait to see it. You are a huge inspiration to me!