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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Something from Nothing?

I spent a few days alone recently at our tiny apartment in Nantes. I began to feel a bit bored by the second day and whilst looking for something to do, I noticed a shopping bag full of magazines sitting beside the trash containers in the courtyard. I took a glimpse, quickly decided that I was neither interested in the women's magazines nor political rhetoric of a certain slant and was on my way. A little while later I had an idea and came back to take a second look. I spent the rest of a happy afternoon with scissors, glue stick and paints altering and cutting pages until I had made three collage sketches (some quick snaps included below). I love the idea of taking something discarded and creating a new life for it. This has been a central concept in much of my work over the years, with natural and found objects and recycled newsprint papier-mache combined to create entirely different (and I hope unexpected) things. I like to see it as a subtle homage to the natural world and a sort of challenging game for creativity.
The Dragonfly Who Fell In Love With the Sun


Undine's Island


Little Witch Consults Her Grimoire To Summon Familiar Spirits

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Faery Science: The Life and Work of Delphine Warburton


Faery Science: The Life and Work of Delphine Warburton

Near the end of her relatively short life, the once respected nineteenth century scientist Delphine Warburton became increasingly enmeshed in the inner workings of nature and human spirit. Despite the rational bent of the scientific community of the time, or perhaps because of it, she made no secret of her belief in a parallel world of higher energy vibrations, a world rarely glimpsed by modern humans, but once experienced, never to be forgotten. 

It has been my rare privilege to be the first scholar in over eighty years to have access to both her meticulously illustrated research notebooks and  private journals. These are housed in a dusty corner of the university library of Manchester, where a distant cousin saw fit to lodge them after Delphine’s untimely passing. Her writings led me to an obscure stone house in the French countryside which, according to the provisions of her will and an ample trust, remained sealed for over a century…

Time and the elements had penetrated the quotidian realms of kitchen and bedchamber. As I made my way between fallen beams and stones, I held little hope of finding the laboratory workrooms in a better state…

*Illustration 1: View of entry to sealed Warburton house and laboratory, rural southwestern France, November, 2008.

*Illustration 2: Device to view the realm of fae and essence sample discovered in laboratory of D. Warburton, circa 1896; mica, butterfly wings, glass vial with faint residue, gold frame, turned wood, oxidized spike, metal cog, bottle cap, twigs, snail shell. Viewing device 17” high x 10” wide, base 9” high; combined height 22”

The obsession of Delphine Warburton (English scientist, 1854 - 1912)  with proving the quantifiable reality of the world of fae focused her considerable powers of invention and analysis on creating a means to capture a “hard copy” of certain phenomenon that had previously existed outside the tangible realm. Many scholars have argued that the notion of fairies as a minute winged race is the product of the human tendency to anthropomorphism, that most “fairy sightings” are simply a result of the rich and varied insect life of our planet combined with an active imagination and the artifice of light. Delphine saw it otherwise. The so called “photon casts” shown here reveal the moment of metamorphosis between fairy and insect, a product of the fae talent for shape shifting, facilitated by the same forces that Delphine recognized and tapped to create an electrostatic cast. And in the best manner of the Victorian museum display, she afterward freely married art and science to create her startling specimen boxes.


*Illustration 3: Specimen box #1 “Metamorph”  from the laboratory of Delphine Warburton, circa 1895: wooden box, porcelain, mica,  butterfly wings, brass drawer pull, oxidized bottle caps, pine cone, bark, twigs, moss, lichen, acorn cap. Height  14” high x 4.5” wide x 2.5”deep.

*Illustration 4: Specimen box #2 “ Fae Realm” from the laboratory of D. Warburton, circa 1894:  porcelain, mica, butterfly wings, glass, skeleton key, bark, twigs, moss, shelf fungus, snail shell, lotus pod, wasp nest. This piece is of particular significance since, after careful study of the descriptions in Delphine’s lab notes, I believe it to be the first completely successful photon casting, achieved on the evening of April 11, 1895.

*Fae Larval Specimen

From the journals of  Delphine Warburton, circa 1885: "I arose early this morning with no other thought than to clear my head of the past night's dreams--all unpleasant and lingering. In the garden before the sun was fully up, puttering about under fallen leaves with my small trowel (given to me on one of Edwin's digs)--I unearthed a strange bundle of what at first appeared to be sticks and dry leaves covered in a viscous, semi transparent material, much like the cocoon of some lepidoptera or the sac which accompanies a fetal mammal. As I watched the bundle began to rearrange itself, bulge and split. Several long appendages issued forth and in a moment I beheld what appeared to be the larval form of a fae break free and slither into the pale light. It had much the appearance of an adult of the tree guardian ranks, yet it also possessed an unformed, infant quality that gave it a strangely vulnerable air. I was speechless at my good fortune--the question of how and where the fae originate had occupied a great deal of my thought and research and now I had been presented at least one answer, like a gift...And when her transformation was complete, she had left behind an amazingly detailed thin shell, similar to that of a larval cicada. I was able to carefully preserve it and create a plaster cast and wooden replica of my strange and wonderful find..." 


Letter from Delphine to Edmund Perkins
Dated 21 November, 1892


My Dearest Edmund,
     I have begun to suspect that a little time in Paris or at least one of the spa towns closer to hand might prove salubrious. If the isolation of the farm house provides a haven for my uninterrupted work, it is also an odd, solitary existence I live here, albeit surrounded by nature and the diverting antics of the cats and a cheeky magpie. My only contact with the outside world is when I have supplies and the post brought in once or twice a week by a young village woman with a small pony cart. I always look forward to our tea and a little conversation by the fire before she ventures back home again. This week, alas, I was too caught up in my work to hear her arrive and she left as quietly as she came. In short, dear one, I am lonely these days, not only for you, but for human companionship in general. There is an oddness to this place that I cannot adequately explain. I walk daily on ancient paths between stone walls that meander toward a nearby megalith ( and despite warnings about the wild pigs here, I have seen none, much to my regret--I would love to be run up a tree in these long, foolish skirts!). Moss drapes the woods in great thick curtains and everywhere the trees and rocks seem alive with dancing forms or twisted, gnomish faces. Along the stone walls the smaller trees grow entwined in a manner that gives the appearance of some ancient runic alphabet, spelling out words I feel I am on the verge of recognizing, but cannot. (Perhaps if you were here with your wizard’s gift for ancient glyphs…) I took the box camera with me last week and managed to capture a small semblance of this strangeness.  I have enclosed a print of two entwined profile silhouettes found amid the rocks and moss.

*Illustration 5: Photo by D.Warburton, Autumn, 1896

They are not all I have observed---and perhaps I run the risk of having you think my good sense has deserted me at last ---if ever I had any--- case in point--- this life I have chosen! I know you often told me that you have experienced many inexplicable things in the isolation of your archaeological sites. And if my sanity seems in question maybe that will serve to spur you to my side! All the better. But it‘s not a laughing matter, really. In short, I have seen evidence of life forms I would have scoffed at only months ago. Perhaps I am too alone and cannot trust what I perceive with my eyes and ears any longer. But are these not my greatest tools? And if I have not my powers of observation intact, then what am I? Certainly no longer a scientist. Have I finally become an “hysterical female“, living up (or down, rather) to every dreadful caricature of the “weaker” sex?  Because I believe I have seen …   

Here the page was damaged, severely water spotted (rain? tears? residue in current lab analysis as of  March, 2010) with a large section torn away. While my immediate reaction was one of  profound disappointment  (and of course not a little unprofessional curiosity) I found Delphine’s journal notes from the same period to contain abundant references to these startling experiences. (Later, of course, her laboratory contents were to elaborate and support her claims).
To be continued...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In the attic of the artist’s quarters at the Petit Theatre is a Dickensian dream of a room with layers of sagging wallpaper, terra cotta tiled floors and the remains of a graceful bird who came in through the skylight to stay forever. The corners are too dark to photograph properly without a flash yet it seems a place more suited to these soft, slightly out of focus existing light images. I would love to make a short film here.
Outside in the larger attic space there is a strange sucking whine that filters through the door. Miss Haversham has strange company---a robotic octopus straining through the spider silk to reach the skylight and escape to his craft on the roof?
The gardens are sweet with the coming spring, although there is little green to see yet besides the faded remains of winter battered leeks and cabbages. But I feel it coming. It is a mystery one can sense in the softening air and changing light. Here and there papery skinned onion sets in neat rows await the rain. Villagers work the soil in their allotments under the protective walls of the castle or along the narrow river running through the edge of town. It is a book of hours page from the Limbourg Brothers. In the ground the promise sleeps as it has for all the linked, unfolding years of seasons past and yet to come…

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Beginnings




Once upon a time in the small season between seasons called March, in the kitchen of an ancient house tucked under the ruined walls of a medieval city an artist sat pondering this thing called a blog---wondering how to begin, how to share all the images and ideas from today and yesterday, from traveling here and there and beyond...And so it begins with an artists' residency at a petit theatre in the west of France. I am here to create a new work, jointly, with music and shadow puppets, projections and marionettes. But the beginnings of spring and the evocative remains of history beckon between work sessions--the ruins of a fortified chateau are outside the back doors of the theatre, beyond them a series of waterways bordered by an ancient mill and 15th century dovecote, first violets tucked among the mossy roots of a massive oak and the sound of bells and new lambs calling out to their mothers.