Fabric of the Land

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

It was a summit, if you will, between the left and right sides of the brain.

For the third year at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen, an exhibit called Fabric of the Land brought together scientists and artists in an attempt to break creative bread.

By highlighting the works of those who have dedicated their skills to bridging the gap between art and science, this year’s show, titled “Elements,” was an opportunity to explore the common DNA of each discipline.

The first steps toward creating the exhibit began modestly enough three years ago, as the department of geology and petroleum geology at the University of Aberdeen, during a slow time during the school year, was trying to come up with a program that would coalesce the city’s art and scientific communities.

Its goal, according to AAPG member – and recently named winner of the AAPG Grover E. Murray Distinguished Educator Award – Andrew Hurst, the impresario

The artists it invited.

“Fabric of the Land is a series of exhibitions exploring links between art and science,” Hurst said. “This year we invited artworks that considered the ‘elements’ within the environment and landscape from a geological perspective.”

The recent show featured nearly 80 art works (including about 20 “geo” photos) that also were offered for sale. More than 700 people attended.

The goal for Fabric of the Land, Hurst continued, is to attract more artists who see and explore the connection between art, science and impetus.

And from all indications, the goals are being met – and then some.

This year’s show was, according to Hurst, a “storming success,” which explains why a tour is in the works.

He now wants more.

“Aside from stumbling into something rather successful, we now know how to convert a teaching laboratory into an art exhibition,” Hurst said.

Mostly, though, what Fabric of the Land is doing – to stretch the metaphor like a piece of Rose’s fabric – is widening the bridge between art and science, making sure traffic can flow easily in both directions.

The Artists

The University of Aberdeen’s Fabric of the Land exhibit once again gave artists a chance to create works that interpreted the earth from a geologic perspective.

In other words, it sought to display new, fresh creations that synthesized art and science.

Three of the artists who accepted this year – Keith Mellard (sculpture), Belinda Rose (fabric) and Chris Andrews (photography) – all believe there is a symbiotic relationship between the two disciplines.

Keith Mellard, a sculptor who works with stone and metal, admits he has little knowledge of geology as an academic discipline, but says that deficiency may work in his favor, as he is after something more than just a representation of the obvious.

“In any event, my work is concerned with giving a shape to human feelings,” he said.

Were it a dance, Mellard wouldn’t care who was leading.

“Sometimes the material tells me what to do, sometimes my idea becomes the material,” he said. “The best times are when the material informs the idea and all is rhythm and music.”

And, in fact, he calls sculpture, “material music.”

“It’s more than just selecting interesting rocks and lumps of metal,” he says.

He is expanding on a theory that’s been around hundreds of years – the business of the inherent quality of what art is already within the stone.

“Michelangelo said … there is a shape inherent in a stone and that his job was to release it. This is often portrayed as a spiritual statement. My own view is, that it was a technical statement, acknowledging the natural nature of stone.

Let’s split the difference: it’s technical spirituality.

“I am concerned with human aspirations, physical and spiritual, and trying to reflect on them.”

“Fine art sculpture is easy,” he says, “you just remove the stone you don't want and leave the stone you do.”

Belinda Rose, whose works consists primarily with the examination and manipulation of fabric, says when she looks at her work, she sees a schema – a schema not all that dissimilar to the land.

“Just as the formation of the earth and forces of climate developed the core and strata of the earth, fabric can be constructed with a basic core and many different layers, partly joined or entirely separate, elastic or static.”

By example, she cites a piece of hers chosen for this year’s exhibit, one she calls Calm.

“It is a double weave structure, mixing cotton and wool with a phosphorescent glow in the dark yarn. The surface was smooth, yet implies the strength and unerring force of water bearing down.”

For inspiration, she says, she not only takes in the images from rivers and oceans, but also from NASA and university textbooks.

“There are so many ways to interpret a surface,” she said. “For me, the point is to find a response that I can express in weave; to find the right content and expression of it.”

Wishing to compile a visual map of the 208-kilometer coastline of Aberdeenshire in northeast Scotland, Chris Andrews’ SandMap consists of selected images that are approximately 6.5- kilometers apart. There are 32 in all, and while each image is a pictorial subject in its own right, it is its entirety that fascinates Andrews.

“It has the effect,” he says, “of re-engaging people with the landscape.”

The piece took over a year to complete – and while admitting exactly what and how much to photograph was arbitrary, Andrews emphasizes the subject, if you will, wasn’t bothered or manipulated. His presence left only small footprints – literally.

“The art is non-interventionist,” he said. “I discover images by walking in the landscape and photograph subjects vertically downwards from chest height. The subject is isolated so it can be appraised for its character rather than its spatial composition.

“There is an abstract quality that encourages a perception of landscape as a process of which we are a part,” he said, “rather than landscape as an external object to be admired.”

It examines, then, both the destination and the arrival.

“A mark on the sand asks for an explanation of how it got there, why the sand itself is there – indeed why sand should exist at all,” he continued. “Attempting to explain the images I discovered wonderful, noble and enquiring minds endeavoring to understand the world we live in be they in the arts, sciences or humanities.”

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