I have spent a couple of days at the third Species of Origin workshop. Much of the workshop focused in on language and the voice, with particularly fascinating presentations by scientist Tecumseh Fitch on the evolution of the voice, author William Fiennes speaking about the writing of his book The Snow Goose, and artist Marcus Coates who spoke about two of his works: his re-construction of birds’ song using human voices, Dawn Chorus, and Radio Shaman, in which Coates roams around the town of Stavanger in Norway, communicating with animal spirits in an attempt to address issues around prostitution in the town. Whilst Marcus’ work comes across as very accessible, largely because of the humour and wit in the works, there’s an obsessive quality and strangeness about them that I find mesmerizing.
* From ‘Pig’, a poem by Jo Shapcott
Last night we launched Aleksandra Mir’s limited edition calendar for 2008, which documents the construction and dismantling of her spectacular rocket Gravity, a monumental ephemeral sculpture built in the former engine shed of the London Roundhouse in September 2006. The 20-metre high rocket was built out of junk: steel, fibreglass, tractor tyres, industrial fans and a discarded tank from a toothpaste factory. The rocket is commemorated through photographs of the artwork, plans and drawings and the artist’s own photos taken in scrap yards around England during the search for old and dirty things to make the work. Throughout the calendar, data inserted in its corresponding date highlights failure or resistance in the history of space exploration – a catalogue of various failures, disasters, minor mishaps and political hurdles (on sale from Cornerhouse publications and at Tate Modern bookshop). Alongside the calendar, we also commissioned a documentation film of the making of Gravity, which can now be seen on You Tube.
I was in Glasgow last week attending the second Species of Origin workshop, one of a series of three workshops organised by Edinburgh College of Art, in partnership with Glasgow University and the Natural History Museum, as part of a research programme to promote artists’ work and interdisciplinary dialogue around Darwin, evolutionary theory and the natural sciences. The literary critic Gillean Beer gave a public lecture at the start of the workshop. Titled ‘Darwin and the Consciousness of Others’, it was one of the best papers I’ve heard for years: a firework display of ideas and reflections on Darwin’s free-thinking around the question of consciousness in plants and animals, illustrated by fascinating readings from Darwin’s notebooks, and cogently connected by Beer to his love of literature. Wonderful scholarship and argument, delightfully imparted.