Aims, reflections, results and observations connected to an ongoing project re-imagining 18th century geologist James Hutton’s revelatory and pivotal trip around the Berwickshire coast to Siccar Point.

Hutton’s encounter with Siccar Point helped him ratify his theories and can be sited as the birth of modern geology.

Occuring as a part of North Light 2013: Walking a Line in Dunbar, Scotland.



MU: I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to reply to your email! ahh!

I read your message on the way home from a talk about artists’ studios ****************** And oddly, the talk and your msg touched on a lot of the same things.

I know it’s difficult to continue a conversation with a month long gap (!) in between, but I wondered, when you say honesty is radical and powerful, but its important not to elucidate to clearly the process of production, then where does the honesty manifest itself? And what’s the difference? Maybe too much honesty is just like too much information, and kind of just distracts from the core thing the work is honestly trying to get at? I find it really confusing. Because at the same time when is the mystery just about escapism, when does it become like adverts and soaps? Hmm! It sounds like the punchline to a 70s sci fi made for tv film, but I guess sometimes reality is a mask or a distraction, and what can seem like mystery and escapism is in fact the way out and towards a new different kind of truth. Maybe not… In the end I think you are right when you say ‘I think it all remains fine’

Are you all ready for back to school?! New shoes? Pencil case?

CG: Continuing conversations with a month-long gap are what blogs are ALL ABOUT!!!!! Wooooooo!

Honesty is a bit of an opposite to mystique isn’t it? I guess (in this model) the history of the artwork is clothed in a bit of mystery but, if it is really successful, it has arrived at a truth and that is where the honesty is resident. And there is the illusion of triumph, by delivering something worthy but concealing where you found it. Haha! Sounds awful doesn’t it? Like some kind of Victorian phantasmagoria, very dishonest. But still maybe producing the art that packs the best punches. Maybe too much honesty can slip too easily into too much reality which can, again, slip too easily into too much society and then we’ve arrived at some kind of comfort-tool for the mundaneity of current-time existence. Who knows??


POST 26: (Paibian)

Time has passed, but not much time…

Correspondence with a friend (MU) has been vital throughout this project. He was running a project based in Milton Keynes and both of us were keeping blogs and making work-in-progress publically visible. We ended up having a discussion about the merits of keeping such things as blogs going which, in retrospect has been a vital tool in clearly transcribing the entirety of my thought-process and is allowing me to pick up the work again after a necessary break.

Here’s how some of our conversation went…

MU: Hellish week on Scottish coast sounds great! If a bit unpleasant. Like a film in which you get possessed by Hutton’s ghost.

Talking of blogs… I was wondering what you[r] thoughts were on presenting developmental work and ideas more generally. I’m starting to find that for me the defining characteristic of the MK project has been it’s presentation as something partial or incomplete. I don’t mean because it’s split across a series of iterations, but because of the blog and the presentation of ‘test films’. I kind of hate it, like it feels like a big cop out. But it’s also kind of interesting if you think of the project as an attempt to learn more, and the socratic thing about being aware how little you do or can ever know anything. But I’m not sure it’s interesting enough. Like is it liberation from the pseudo-completeness of normal work, or is it a big lazy excuse for not making any proper work? I remember reading a quote a while ago with someone talking about artist’s practices and asking when are people going to stop practicing and start actually doing….

Is the ‘I’ in your blog completely you or a character or between?

CG: Yeah it was pretty good in retrospect. What was required. If I maintain the balls to take this work to fruition, I think it will end up better for it. Possibly. Certainly more in keeping with the power of the original text. Whether this will equate to a piece of art that would be more interesting is another question.

The blog-thing is indeed a many-sided sword. I’m a big believer in honesty always being radical and powerful but I also believe that a sense of mystique is a vital component to many pieces of art. Not necessarily in the physical construction or the conceptual content, but rather the journey that the artist took to get to this point. By presenting a working method with all it’s fairly mundane turns and troughs… I feel it might suck any final power out of the work.

And yes, you’re totally correct – the blog is a product and therefore it can feel like enough of an artwork to disable any other residues of the process attaining the status of something worthy for presentation. Not sure if I’ll do it again. And yes, the I is definitely just me but due the insanity of the week that ‘me’ certainly shifted a fair amount.

Back to the mystique-thing. I read that ‘On Pornography’ essay by Susan Sontag about a year ago (it was in the back of George Bataille’s ‘Story of the Eye’ – have you read it?) and three things stuck with me. 1. Porn is about death. 2. Porn and sci-fi are very similar in interesting ways (that I can’t remember)

and the third point was just a really obvious and I guess slightly clichéd statement about the role of the artist being a ‘broker in madness’, travelling to the limits and extremities of the human experience and then returning to report on what they found there. I guess we’re taught to not imagine the artist like that, like some bonkers Van Gogh character. BUT I think there is actual real truth in it, at least in terms of the stuff that floats my boat. Seen through this lens, what does the blog do? It’s like the video diary of that Ellen Macarthur woman, i.e. containing far LESS IMPACT than if the journey was simply embarked upon and no reports were made until the final presentation.

Hmmm. Good ramble, managing to fit both Georg Bataille and Ellen Macarthur into the same discussion! :-D

I think it all remains fine as long as there is final work, or at least a re-processing/presentation of the blog at the end.


POST 25: {Guzhangian}

I dreamt I was back in Dunbar, in the Harbour, trying to live and work in a fictional tall concrete ‘lighthouse’ towards the castle end of the Harbour. Storms and waves were battering the structure. I had a feeble whiteboard with tentative red pen marks. Laughingly I tried to discuss my work with visiting public with the sea spray and discarded chip-meals all around. I have been having several dreams with Dunbar in since my return.

It seems that even if my nearest and dearest aren’t badgering me to continue with the work as I’d hoped, then my subconscious is more than making up for their absence.

There is always something a tad strange about easily-read dreams though. The sense of unease is not dispelled by explanation, rather it is amplified. Like a good work of art: the process can be delineated after the fact, but the sensations remain. Often amplified through their persistence in spite of a clear context.

Is this where science and art can differ? Both follow similar methodologies in their pursuits (observation; questioning; research; hypothesize; experiment; analyse; repeat until something sticks; report/present/exhibit) and both, if successful, take human awareness to somewhere previously unbeknownst to the masses. However, with art the journey seems subterranean, connected with a base experiential spectrum that cannot be rationalised through an exhibition of the working method. With a scientific revelation, the world is made anew and we can marvel at the ingenuity, imagination and dedication required to arrive at said revelation, but we also understand it at the same time: this is implicitly required. The journeys that artists take at the evidence the bring back is not to expand our knowledge but to expand in other territories: understanding is not required – it does not slot the piece into our world view, rather the work remakes the world, irrespective of explanation.

Anyway, I drift.

It’s been nearly a fortnight since my return from Dunbar and primarily due to the consuming nature of work and house-moving commitments, not much progress has occurred. (Except in my subconscious evidently).

The trajectory is true. Boil down ‘Theory…’ into it’s four key lesson-revelations. Play with how this can be written, said and used. Take it from there.

Prepare for a boat trip and isolate what is important about it. I had originally been planning to leave from Dunbar Harbour down to Siccar Point. Hutton’s actual journey was from the far closer Dunglass Burn. Two options present themselves; firstly to go on the boat-trip as intended (from Dunbar) on whatever vessel I can find, secondly, to leave from Dunglass Burn in a much smaller hand-powered vessel as close to Hutton’s as possible.

The second option allows for a far greater accuracy in terms off replicating the original experience. It could also allow us to row into the small cove to obtain the best viewpoint of Siccar Point which would be unlikely in a smaller vessel. The initial option is far better in terms of collecting stable footage of a reasonable duration and also as a precursor to a ‘tour’ version of the journey which would leave from Dunbar.

Initial thoughts of the second option are plagued with peril. Such as my inexperience in rowing boats out at sea and the dangers of getting too close to the rocks at Siccar. My thoughts then lead to the notion of the boat mooring and breaking apart – there is something in this I like, something about the peril of Hutton’s discoveries.

That’s it for now. Back to the text.


POST #24: //Drumian//

FINAL DAY (DAY SIX ) ON SITE: Bye Bye Beach Hut. Pt.2

(continued from previous post…)

That is not to say this week has been a bust. Far from it. Within the space of five or six days it has accelerated my understanding, respect and awe of Hutton’s achievement. Asides from learning valuable lessons about how to approach larger projects I have collected a great wealth of photography, come away with ideas for new works less explicitly connected with ‘Theory…’ or Siccar Point but grown from essential points within Hutton’s writings – works that will hopefully increase the viewers sensitivity to time. I have completed the undocumented section of my ‘Anthropocene’ performances, and am so much further into the content of the work than I was before. For six days, it has been incredibly productive.

It has just also been incredibly frustrating. This is really the only substantial project I have been working on for a few months now and, due to the usual boring constraints (time, money, job, life, rural lethargy and existential ennui), I am still stuck in the conceptual stages of the work. I am SO DESPERATE to make something happen physically, but simultaneously so reticent to make anything worthless (a waste of what time there is).

As a residency, it has been exactly what it should be. Strange, intense, unwieldy and ending somewhere completely unforeseen. I had aimed for advancing the production of the work and instead I have advanced the ideas of the project far further. I can only hope that the final work (if it ever arrives) ends up a better work for what has happened this week. I am fairly confident this will be so.

This sounds like a summing-up. It is exactly that, but it is a summing-up of the week in Dunbar, not the work. This blog will continue, possibly (and hopefully) at a slightly reduced fury but (even more hopefully) not by much. I sincerely hope I can continue this progress upon return to Sussex. I also sincerely hope I will get severely berated by my girlfriend, friends, family and enemies if I start to lag.

As for North Light, it has been as perfect an event and organisation to be a part of as it was last year and it is my earnest hope the final work will honour the support that everyone at North Light has given.

As things progress I’m finding it harder and harder to recall where I first encountered Siccar, Hutton and North Light. I can sense no vestige of a beginning.

Let us hope there is at least the prospect of an end.


POST #23: ( Series 3, Stage 5 )

FINAL DAY (DAY SIX) ON SITE: Bye Bye Beach Hut. Pt 1.

Just a quick note to have a summing-up of this week in the Beach Hut. It’s failures, successes, lessons and exit trajectories.

Without lying, it’s been very difficult. A week is a very short time to make anything large happen and this is a much larger project than any I have attempted in a couple of years. With such short residencies there are a few tactics one can take. Firstly, and preferably, one can take it entirely as a period of openness, one where you meet as many people, encounter the sense of place (or whatever subject matter you are focussing upon) as much as possible and let the period influence your thinking, coming away fresh with inspiration, ideas and places to go. Secondly, you can have a system of production that is very set in stone upon arrival, work hard and see what is produced in the period. Thirdly, is somewhere between the two, a resource-collecting venture. Meeting people, places, sounds and sights and collecting them for a later assembly into a more narrative-driven artwork.

At different times I think I have adopted all of these approaches (with varying degrees of success) at previous residencies. This week in the Beach Hut has been a total hodge-podge of all three.

Last year’s I very closely followed the initial model. I knew I wanted to make a piece of work about James Hutton and Siccar Point. While I was here I was deeply affected by the region and ended up leaving having discovered several things about my working method I was not previously aware of and lots of ideas for new pieces of work. One of these was the Untitled (Anthropocene Confetti Cannon for the British Seas) work that I performed, documented and exhibited throughout the previous year. Another was the re-writing of Hutton’s ‘Theory of the Earth’ that has been the focus of this year’s residency.

I was always aware that if I was to embark upon this, then it was a large project and that I needed to encounter, digest and re-work the writing at a very early stage in the process. I was also aware that I needed to re-visit Dunbar fairly early on if I was to create the book/film/boat trip in time for the close of the season. Due to less-than-perfect management of time on my part and the unexpected weight of Hutton’s text both of these things have happened later than desired. Taking this on board, I came to Dunbar this week with the aims of collecting a lot of source material (photos, video footage, stones) as well as doing a lot of writing with the hope of leaving with a fully-fleshed out ‘script’ and possibly a good strong notion of the final format of the book-version, and the boat-trip version.

As it stands I am coming away with considerably less. At least less of what I had intended to come away with. Weather was bad on days boats were available and boats weren’t available on days when weather was good. Ergo, the video footage was not captured.

Having already realised Hutton’s text was fairly ‘un-workable’ I had intended to try sketching out alternate models and isolate other books I could ‘cross-breed’ with ‘Theory…’ in order to make an artistic point. Trying to find a way of thinking about the text whilst making a piece of work resulted in me scrawling out Hutton’s words on confetti strands and sealing them in a cannon. (This was a more laborious process than it seemed it would be when I started it, I also don’t know what worth I got out of it, other than a mildly distracting backdrop for an filmed interview.) But discussions with people and encounters with artefacts at the Cockburn Geological Museum, the experience of travelling to Siccar Point with Colin Will, and the reading of an essential ‘Romantic literary’ essay on ‘Theory…’ re-opened it’s worth to me. To start trashing around with it would be as inappropriate as printing On the Origin of Species in Comic Sans.

(continued in next post…)