At Home – Collection Musings: All things Volcanoes
All things volcanoes….
As people were remembering the other day, it is 10 years since the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, which disrupted so much travel that April in 2010. It started some thoughts about connections to volcanoes in the modern and contemporary art collection so there are notes below about two artists inspired by volcanoes or the work of volcanologists. It also started a family project to make a volcano and see if we could get it to erupt at home.
In thinking about volcanoes and our collection the most immediate is Ilana Halperin’s video work Center for Short Lived Phenomena (1973/2005) which was screened in 2016 as part of the exhibition Ripples on the Pond. The video is an edited film by the artist from archive footage – shot by the Center for Short Lived Phenomena – of the Eldfell eruption on the Icelandic island of Heimaey. Following the screening in GoMA an edition of the work was gifted to the Glasgow Museums’ collection.
In July 2003 Ilana Halperin spent 10 days on and off underground in Kentucky, USA, working in Mammoth Cave with a conservation organisation called Earthwatch. She subsequently found out that Earthwatch formed in 1973 and much of this organisation’s work began through documenting the Eldfell eruption on Heimay within 24 hours of its start.
Bob Citron, the primary investigator on the fieldwork session, filmed 16,000 feet of volcanic eruptions between 1968 and 1974 through The Center for Short Lived Phenomena, an organisation he and co-investigators formed to study/document volcanic eruptions. When the eruption on Heimaey began he organized a spontaneous field session. The footage they shot was apparently so breath-taking it ended up on most news stations around the world. After the eruption, Citron and the team decided to print a book called Earthwatch about Heimaey and related volcanic events. It is from this publication that the organisation took its name. Blue, Ilana’s contact at Earthwatch, put her in contact with Citron, who then offered to loan her the original eruption footage before it was permanently donated to the Smithsonian as part of an extensive volcanic archive. The film ‘The Center for Short Lived Phenomena’ is a narrative edit of the original archival footage shot by Bob and his colleagues on Heimaey.
She was also due to have an exhibition at Mount Stuart on Bute this year – called There is a Volcano behind my House, currently postponed you can read more over on the Mount Stuart website, as well as a show as part of Glasgow International 2020 – excerpts from this show are now online until 24 May over on Patricia Fleming Projects.
The other work is ‘Rockface’ by Aubrey Williams (1926-1990) which was recently acquired for the collection alongside another work Maridowa Series IV, as part of the Art Fund New Collecting Award and a gift from the Aubrey Williams Estate.
‘Rockface’ 1964 and ‘Maridowa Series IV’ 1964 are two early-career paintings and were painted during the period between his arrival in the UK in 1952 – during the height of the Guyanese independence movement – and Guyana gaining independence in 1966, the same year in which Williams became a founding member of the Caribbean Artists’ Movement CAM. Before he left Guyana in 1952 he had worked as an Agricultural Field Officer among cane field workers on the Guyanese coast and then to a remote northwestern rainforest settlement in the country. This understanding of the fauna and landscape of Guyana was an important influence on his painting, but also his interest in ecology, the cosmos and human impact on the world.
Colour and the earthy tones from the landscapes he was familiar with – alongside the literary, spiritual and musical influences – merge and immerse a viewer in the paintings with no immediate narrative but lots of possible layers of meaning. In his work Williams drew from sources in science, nature and human histories abstracting ideas in paint on the surface of a canvas and concerned with form, colour and texture. In this period in the early 1960’s fellow artist Donald Locke wrote that he was fascinated with a film by volcanologist Haroun Tazieff and noted
‘that he spoke with a great feeling of gratitude for his association with the lecturer who had introduced him to an aspect of nature he was passionately interested in’. This experienced influenced a series of works ‘Magma’, ‘Lava’, ‘Volcano’ and the work now in Glasgow Museums’ collection – ‘Rockface’.Donald Locke, “Contemporary Guyanese Painters,”Kaie, National History and Arts Council, Guyana, no 2, May 1966 reprinted in Walmsley, Anne, “Guyana Dreaming: The Art of Aubrey Williams’ Dangaroo Press (1990), p.72.
Both of these works are currently planned to be in an exhibition in GoMA so there will be a chance to see them in the near future. For those interested there was an Aubrey Williams Study Day at TATE Britain in 2007, with the recordings of sessions available online
For those of you scrolling down the blog for this – here short video of how our volcano eruption went – it took a few afternoons with breaks in-between to make but with happy results!