In honour of finally changing my website name to my real name www.sarahneedhamartist.co.uk I have decided to change my blog name too, to the same!
Trace Elements will be on show from 8.2.18-28.2.18 at Deptford Does Art 28 Deptford High Street, Deptford
This is a three person show with Paul Anderson Morrow and Matthew Gould
For tickets to the private view on the 8th Feb or the In Conversation with the Artists hosted by Rosalind davis on the 24th click on the link below
At one level my paintings in Trace Elements are simply abstract works playing with techniques for developing a sense of space, a space you as the viewer might fall into, get a little lost and think your own thoughts. This is a level I respect and value, and at some level it makes me reluctant to overload that experience with all the thinking going on in my head which allows me to reach this particular space. Because actually providing a space to be, is central to this work.
However the other side of this coin is that there is a starting point to this work, a process I go through, which is about developing my sense of understanding in the world. I am interested in the way in which people are affected by trade, the duality of that effect, both the development of wealth and of exploitation or in fact unexpected consequences, and in who gets listened to in these circumstances. The starting point of my work in Trace Elements, which at the time did not even have a title, was a bit of research about the history of trade in Deptford, so what is Deptford known for? The death of Marlowe, Pepys extramarital affairs, Pepys business affairs with the Navy, the victualising offices, King Henry the VIII and ship building, with the end of wooden ship building the development of an international cattle market…(Steve Burden’s Pepys Estate works are really interesting in this respect, I came across his work the first time when I was showing with him in a group show at St Katharine docks). Charles II is said to have passed through Deptford on his way back from France to reclaim the throne. This is a place with a long history of trade and close associations with power, and its impact on ordinary people. The scale is vast and the potential enormous, but I wanted something that linked into the history of trade, and pigments, and its impact on people and place, and the thing that kept coming back into my view and taking my attention after a few blind alleys was the copper bottoming of boats. In some ways this linked with my St Katharine Docks indigo works and this may well be part of the appeal: How technological developments that may appear morally neutral can be the spark behind the fire of world events which impact on the lives of people in dramatic ways. So the story goes like this; historically there was a problem with the growth of limpets etc on the bottom of boats which increased their drag and reduced the longevity of the wood they were made of. Initially this was dealt with by treating or sheathing the wood with additional layers of wood and a kind of lining of treated hair, with the advent of longer distant shipping these methods were insufficient against the warmer water nevalis worm. The Spanish developed lead sheaths, effective against the worms but made the boats significantly heavier. Charles II viewed The Phoenix at Deptford and approved sheathing of English ships with lead fixed with copper nails despite the problems acssociated with corrosion caused by copper, steel and lead in a salt bath of the sea together-galvanic corrosion- a process not understood at the time. Over the years the process was developed and refined so that the sheath was copper and the fixings were made from copper alloys. By 1784 there was full scale copper bottoming of the navy which lead to a massive expansion in copper mining in Britain. However because of the cost, merchant ships, that is trading ships, were much less likely to be treated in this way. In fact the 3% which were, were employed in the slave trade, these ships went into nevalis worm infested waters, and the slave trade triangle routes were so profitable that the ship owners could pay for the expense. 80% of slave trade ships were copper bottomed.
The secondary impact of this was the massive expansion in copper mining in Britain.
SO how does any of this relate to the work I have made? Well cobalt is a toxic by product of Copper mining. Before the copper bottoming of ships most copper mining in Britain was done as surface mining, and the presence of cobalt was hazardous but with deaper mines it became more so. Cobalt presents in copper mine a solid minerals which are toxic and as gas with arsenic which is deadly. The turquoise pigment in all these works is a cobalt derivative Cobalt Turquoise.
to bring it up to the present day cobalt is also used in our mobile phones and electric cars in rechargeable batteries which happily for the mining companies often also require copper. The main seems of the mines are now in the African copper belt, where the Guardian reports the use of child labour and high mortality rates amongst the workforce.
So in the use of cobalt pigments, the instability of cobalt, its tendency to easily form compounds with other metals is in part at the heart of its toxicity, and also the heart of why it makes such vibrant amazing pigments from blues to reds to yellows.
The work I have produced for this exhibition works at two levels, in the making I have research and remembered the impact of the developments in Deptford on the history of trade and its impact on people through the development of the naval base by Henry VIII and later the Stuarts, the way in which technologies developed here fed into the most profitable parts of the transatlantic sea trade- slave trade. The trade whose profits funded the developments that fed into the industrial revolution in Britain.
In “Disturbing the Bed” I am playing with the imagery of a disturbed river bed in the process of dock building, the disturbed beds of the wives of Henry VIII , the disturbed beds of the associated trades around docks, the disturbed beds of Pepys and his coiterie, the disturbed beds of the copper mines in Cornwall and other copper seems across the country, the beds that are distubed still in the mining of copper and cobalt for contemporary uses.
In King Kibold I am playing with the counter point of the beauty available from cobalt as a pigment and its toxicity and fatality in mining.
In these works I also use earth pigments, ochres my universal pigment. Ochres have been used across the world, by all peoples and cultures. They are culturally transnational, and at the same time traceable to their geographic origins. They have been spread widely through trade and sourced locally since prehistory. For me they are the link between people and the first traceable expressions of culture and imagination. They are the people in my abstract works.
In the ICI series of works I use pthalo green, a pigment developed and owned by ICI, the ImperialChemical Company, a current Transnational Corporation with its routes firmly in the products of Empire. Pthalo green is a permanent pigment, solving some of the problems associated historically with green pigments, a technological solution, following the history of the development from alchemist to local chemist to global industrial pharmacological companies.
In “Deptford Traces” and From “Deptford to Shooters Hill” I play with this notion of instability within the cobalt, with the processes that were happening in the development of Britain as a sea fairing nation, and the instability of consequence. In as much as I think that it is important to both understand the history of a place and how we got here, and also to understand that while that history could have been other, and our understanding of exactly what went on is hampered by hearing only certain voices, we have agency in acknowledging the processes which brought us all here, that agency allows us more possibility for action in facing what comes next.
The second level is to produce works where you can fall in, and have your own contradictory thoughts…..