Walking several hundred miles across Arctic Sápmi (Sámi lands) in 2023, I continued my exploration of What is My Culture?, researching the unique Sámi relationship with the natural environment and how it is reflected in art and living. Back in the Highlands, the challenges facing the Sámi in the face of a dominant culture of natural resource exploitation seem universal. The work questions the choices we make, which human and non-human 'Cultures' we value, exploit, or simply overlook.
What is My Culture?
Drawing on five weeks wandering across Arctic Norway with my tent during summer 2022, this work reflects on contrasting meanings of the word ‘Culture’, both as social organisation and in the sense of how we maintain and nurture life. Returning to the Highlands from the north to what seems a teetering world, I explore the myriad ‘Cultures’ with which we coexist. Do we only value what is of use to us? What human and non-human 'Cultures' do we value, exploit, or simply overlook? What is My Culture?
Inspired by a coast-to-coast walk, this work wrestles with Scotland’s cultural myths. Across large areas the stag, Scotland’s icon of wildness, roams a landscape grazed bare of vegetation while miles of fencing are needed to protect trees. Drawing on indigenous art of Finnmark and Scotland tracing 5000 years of coexistence with deer, I reflect on boundaries, fear, identity and control against today’s backdrop of global crisis. What role do boundaries play in safeguarding what we value? Do My Fences Keep Me Safe?
Natural phenomena - elemental, viral - defy human control. This work explores the human as both actor and observer within the wider natural environment. There is an acceptance of being 'uncertain implements', measuring time in repetitive manual actions. Like Cassandra of ancient Greece, we sometimes feel able to discern the future, but at the same time feel helpless to change it.
This work was shaped by the pandemic and by personal events and explores water as touch and time as physical. Porcelain casts of plastic bottles erode in the ‘rain sleet darkness wind’ referenced in the poem ‘Sisyphus’ by Alice Oswald. Sisyphus, an intellectual control-freak, cedes control to the transformative qualities of physicality...
... draws on repetition and ritual to explore the materiality of embodied time. A skin-like tea sculpture becomes a manifestation of lockdown touch, while a Covid carer’s log reimagines ‘vital signs’. Collection of a body’s worth of precipitation, lockdown installation of pieces in the ‘Danger of Drowning’ zone of a dam, film, painting and print continue this exploration of material relationships, uncertainty and separation.
Juhani Palaasma observes on ‘ocularcentrism’ that ‘The only sense that is fast enough to keep pace with the astounding increase of speed in the technological world is sight. But the world of the eye is to live in a perpetual present, flattened by speed and simultaneity’. This work is an exploration of how resonance and listening affects our relationship with time.