In the previous episode, I wrote: “It (Cornish sea salt) celebrates distinctive experiences, sells a longing for distance, promotes an exotic lifestyle and memories of immersing in the landscape”. An intuitive example of material breaks away from the limitation defined only by materiality and sublimed into a symbolic power. Salt becomes a metaphor in this context which is able to narrate a complex story by only a few syllables.
Practice about this theme has been carried on for almost the entire year.
Feast on, 2020, Mixed Media
Catch of the Day 2020, Mixed Media
Passive Decoration, 2020, Mixed Media
My interest in landscape paintings has also been sublimed to its regional identity defined by images of landscapes and of course, their symbolic power. The term landscape identity often reflects less philosophically. It is more like a technical concept which provides an essential structure for relevant researches. Its significance often reveals in, e.g. urban planning, landscape heritage preservation (which makes it considerably crucial in the European context giving the amount of intricate historical events and the diverseness of its people) and regional identity study. In 2005, Geographer Marc Antrop of Ghent University pointed out that landscape expresses dynamic interaction between the cultural and natural process. This article logically and precisely proved the importance of past landscape to the future, and it was titled after this conclusion too. The quote continually appears in the scholar’s subsequent works.
When unscrambling the Materiality of Stones, Tim Ingold stated that the nature of stones is not opposed to its cultural product; nature is included as a part of its culture (2005). To my understanding, I recognise the decisive role that our conscious act in defining landscapes. For example, inhabitants, or artists who express their feelings through landscapes, would seek peculiar features in the vast environment they engage and present them as metaphors of symbolic power; identities could then be established on these conscious, out-of-nothing cultural products. In the physical dimension, the territoriality of landscape divides people through its boundary. For example, two tribes differentiate by opposite sides of a river; two distinctive symbolic powers could also inspire primitive, nature-worshipping religions (e.g. Shamanism), and divides inhabitants on the spiritual-cultural dimension.
I enjoy inventing an identity on the landscape through imaginative processes. I usually imagine myself as a lone individual of an intellectual species or an adventurer who sets foot on a new continent. I observe and reflect, interact physically with the landscape, absorbing the experience as a new part of myself. It eventually leads to a reshape or an extension of the current self-recognition.
Many landscapes that transit into symbolic power after losing original functionality exist in Cornwall. Megaliths, mines or wrecks, they are all results of economic/human impact on nature that shaped the culture and the areal identity of in lengthy ages. Centuries of social and industrial transformation witnessed them being taken back by nature due to resource depletion, user loss or replacement. They experienced the process of transforming from natural to human landscapes and degraded into natural landscapes again. Policies like historic site preservation, revitalisation of the first industry shift the focus back to the materiality, providing residents conditions of establishing new identities, consciously or unconsciously.
In the previous article, I defined my salt extraction process as “a method of precisely defining somewhere in an artificial coordinate system”. Landscapes identified via this method inevitably involved with territoriality; mixing extractions, however, conceptually merged an entity of landscapes. In the repeating Cornish landscape, I chose white-painted wall as the metaphor of “the distinctiveness based on materiality”. I dissolved all extracted salt into seawater and repeatedly sprayed it over an acrylic sheet until it looked like a patch of wall. I filmed its appearance in various lighting conditions and tried to place it in different contexts. My intension was to project the microscopic embodiment of a cultural character with a personal perspective instead of in the conventional Grand Narrative. The idea brought my practice to the next phase.
(And it was dissolved back into the ocean, the cycle of material completed)
Wall Patch, 2021, Mixed Media
Interpreting sea salt in the term of Extractive Capitalism could be incredibly interesting. Many scholars and researchers noticed how extractive mining exhausts ore in South America and pointed out the social transformation caused by this activity. Hypothetically, if a region was gaining population and supportive infrastructure, what process will we witness in its identity when natural resource depleted, infrastructure abandoned and inhabitant relocated? Sociologically speaking, it is highly likely to meet the transformation of social structure, reformation of industry (unnecessary means improvement), relocation of labouring population to areas with higher demand. (Interesting but irrelevant, it is a conclusion in capitalism context. Similar influences could be seen in socialists context, but its nature and process are completely different. It might suggest the comparison between “reporter illustration” with my own history from a mining village could lead to some interesting output.)
What is different from coal, tin or oil, sea salt is relatively infinite. It mines the sea, output economic and cultural product. It is suddenly a sustainable, regenerable economy. Visualisation of its process turns a static craft into a performance, as if a moving specimen placed in a Christmas ball.
Extractive Capitalism usually connects to critical theories like post-colonialism, which opens up a new perspective for my practice. Unlike the past, I was convinced that local post-colonialism research is to identify cultural and identity suppress in Cornwall due to the English parliament’s centralisation of power, this time post-colonialism was used as a reference to reflect on the art-making process. Utilising narratives for artistic expression would make the construction of the narrative unavoidably becomes a part of the practice. Audiences will be blocked by the fourth wall, which prevents them from participating in the development of narratives as if in a traditional theatric performance. The storyteller weaves an information cocoon by the way he tells the story. In this case, I almost have full control. I am free to establish a sequence which guides the audience to retrieve the same result as I did. Did I unconsciously set the due result because of the strong purposefulness of this project, that the field investment is not due to find out, but designed to support an assumption?
Picturesque, the Hudson River School even Impressionism could be considered as “specific method in order to obtain designed results”. Dominant aesthetic preference in the art market decided the artists’ tendency. I planned to visualise summarised landscapes around Falmouth after concluded particular elements for identifying landscapes. For example, the rust-dyed industrial harbour facilities and docked naval ships next to them, crowded balconies with views under the sun, black cliffs and thorny pathways, shelter-less grassland upon which sea wind sweeps. But soon, I realised what I purposed to depict was essential gazes in a pre-set structure —— it was completely determined by designed contexts and results, leaves improvisational space only for technical aspects. Therefore before attempting to decolonise anything else, I have to decolonise myself.
I still displayed gazes in the pre-set context. Useless chimes, fish hooks sank in wax, used tea bags, they all lost their functionality that they could have in an open conversation. They are like pre-occupied impressions summarised as a message in each bottle, sealed in a contained space ——and before breaching the physical containment, they can only act as a symbolic power due to lack of accessibility to their materiality, working through being gazed upon. Encapsulation of conceptual landscape mimics the essence of Extractive Capitalism: occupation. They are hand-made micro landscapes, intentionally invented to produce (or to simulate) symbolic metaphors; they are bottled and portable, capable of being deciphered into giant contexts, they are purely purposeful.
In the communication with Doctor Carolyn Shapiro, we talked about Extractivism, romanticisation and pre-occupied impressions. We have the historical context and critical angle of post-colonialism that we both agreed. She will deliver some potential artistic approaches for de-colonialism and de-post-colonialism, which I cannot agree more. Since material connects with metaphorical power, depriving material would also deprive identity and culture. But I would like to add something to the whole methodology of looking into de-colonisation: I believe that artist method is not a standard procedure that can be directly applied; it is necessary to constantly, and critically reflect on the methodology and its anchor point. Otherwise, the strong purposiveness might narrate another layer of pre-occupied impression onto what was set to be challenged with de-colonisation approaches.
Message in a Bottle, 2021, Mixed Media
Antrop, M 2004. Landscape change and the urbanisation process in Europe.
Foraging for Identity: the Relationships between Landscape Activities and Landscape Identity after Catastrophic Landscape Change. Andrew Butler, pge 303-319, 15 Mar 2019.
Comments on Christper Tilley: The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology. Tim Ingold, Oxford: Berg 2004.