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Experiment: 16 shades of brown

The collected mud samples were left to settle and differences emerged in both shade and texture. My plan was now to study those differences and investigate whether work could be created using the samples themselves or using them as a source of inspiration. What interests me most is how this collection has compressed both scale and time as a geographical feature has been made visible in one frame but also the corrosive impact of river flow is summarised in 16 samples. Effectively we are seeing a timelapse of both travel and time and I wonder whether this is the basis for an outcome that could create a new sense of wonder.

Below are a set of the 16 samples that have been dried on filter paper and all are different, subtly so in some cases but no two samples felt or looked the same. With nothing else added the feeling was of the river at work, grinding, mixing, settling, and ignoring. All these forces had created the differences we see. I get the same feeling as I did when I looked at the work of Nick Rands – that the earth under our feet is as much a part of the circle of life as we are. It is a leveling reminder that we will return to the earth and I think the most significant idea to expose using mud as a medium.

I’m reading Underland by Robert MacFarlane which urges us to think about what lies under our feet and how all the life that has preceded us has been reabsorbed back into mother earth. He argues that too much of human existence looks up to the heavens and neglects to look down. Looking down can be life-affirming and this piece of text stood out:

A deep time awareness might help us see ourselves as part of a web of gift, inheritance, and legacy stretching over millions of years past and millions to come, bringing us to consider what we are leaving behind for the epochs and beings that will follow us.

– Robert MacFarlane, Underland

So a project centred around the substrate of the river has the potential to delight the viewer in a realisation that they are a link in an evolutionary chain, but would this really create the epiphany I’m looking for? This treatment is removed from the more overt HS2/DH Lawrence angle I started with and I’m not getting the personal buzz that I’ve found a new perspective that is enticing enough to take forwards. Furthermore, this is not a piece that could find its way into the public arena which is another thought that sits at the back of my mind.

Summary & next steps

The physical journey along the river has been fascinatingly mindful as a research experience but I don’t think my collected samples are divergent enough to take forwards to an outcome. The journey and sample collection has given me a unique appreciation of the scale of the river, its changing nature, its beauty and its neglected corners. It has generated a passion to learn more and generated a realisation that it is a force way more powerful than we can imagine. To do the river justice I need to turn the heads of the public in a truly original way and a physical interruption or other intervention seems to offer way more potential.

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