Commission: Portland (in partnership with b-side)
Location: Portland Bill
Originally trained as a zoologist before turning to art, Simon Ryder’s work investigates how we interact with the places in which we live and work, and how they, in turn, shape us. He adopts ideas and methodologies drawn from science, art, natural history and geology in his work, often using one to transform another; so for one commission he turned birdsong into landscapes, and for another crystallized horsetail ferns as a form of keeping memory alive. Simon Ryder has produced work for a wide range of places, including Gloucester cathedral, Southmead Hospital, the National Wetlands Centre Wales, and is currently working in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve North Devon and the Cotswold Water Park. You will be able to follow Simon’s progress on Portland through his blog which can be found at http://www.artnucleus.org
Simon says: “It will be an exciting challenge to address the variety and complexity of Portland, dealing with the many layers that coexists here – geological, historical, ecological, military to name a few – and to find a way of relating these to the bedrock, the underlying limestone. On top of this, I have also been fascinated for some time now by the Jurassic Coast and the way it plays with time, compressing millions of years into a few kilometres of coast.”
A Natural History of Pseudomorphs
Co-commissioned by b-side, supported by National Coastwatch Institution, Portland Bill for Portland by Simon Ryder, is inspired by the unique geology, industry and nature of the place. At the heart of Simon’s work lies a fossilised Jurassic snail, the Portland Screw (Aptyxiella portlandica) and the notion of the pseudomorph. Using the latest 3D scanning and printing technologies as his tools, Simon has explored how the pseudomorph might be used metaphorically to explore other Portland features, such as The Race (an area of dangerous currents just south of the Bill). Local people, places and history are core to his ongoing research, so the new Coastwatch Training Centre, located next to the old upper lighthouse on the Bill, is the ideal place to delve into his discoveries.
The Portland commission provided an exceptional opportunity for an artist to engage with a place that is somewhat liminal – not quite an island – attached to Weymouth by a thin causeway, like an umbilical cord. On Portland there are rare finds to be had not available on the mainland. There may be no rivers, but there are other unique natural wonders to compensate – local fossils, including the Portland Screw and ‘Orses ‘Eads, and the beautiful Portland Blue – a silver-studded blue butterfly. There is a magnetism sensing centre, three lighthouses in a triangle formation and a breathtaking landscape, whilst offshore there is the Race.
Originally trained as a zoologist before turning to art, Simon is fascinated by how we interact with the places in which we live and work, and how they, in turn, shape us. He adopts ideas and methodologies drawn from science, art, ecology and geology, often using one to transform another: so for one commission he turned birdsong into landscapes, and for another crystallized horsetail ferns as a form of keeping memory alive. Simon Ryder has produced work for a diverse range of locations, including Gloucester and Brandenburg cathedrals, the National Wetlands Centre Wales, Bristol (Southmead) and Newton Abbot hospitals, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve North Devon, and he is currently working in the Cotswold Water Park.
Simon is a collector of concepts – he draws out relationships between things and re-presents them anew. Not unlike Joseph Cornell’s boxes, he finds links between disparate objects and ideas, and like Mark Dion, he forages the past to inform the present, in this instance including the Mesolithic excavations at Culverwell on Portland Bill. Science is never far away from his art, whether it is in the process of research or in the making. Simon has a keen eye for nature, but also explores and utilises new technologies that enable his, and ultimately the viewers, eyes to see what has not been seen before. Simon’s practice is not restricted to any one discipline or process but shifts across media.
For ExLab, Simon has had access to contemporary scanning processes – (such as DORIS, LIDAR, and CT) used by geologists and archaeologists – this has enabled Simon to reveal the unseen and previously unknown. Following an extensive period of fieldwork, Simon’s artwork has come to pivot around the concept of the ‘pseudomorph’, which literally means ‘false form’ or ‘false body’. The Isle of Portland is situated within the Jurassic part of the World Heritage Site and in terms of Jurassic geology the petrified wood found on Portland is a good example of a pseudomorph. Over time, the wood has been replaced by silica, thus preserving its overall structure (sometimes right down to the cellular level) but it is now made up of a non-original ‘false’ material.
The notion of the pseudomorph, of something that completely changes whilst at the same time maintaining its outward form, is an idea that can be applied across many different fields (from geology, archaeology to personal memory) and over different time frames, from the ‘deep time’ used by geologist to the immediacy of our lived sensory experience. It is also a notion that is relevant when thinking about contemporary 3D scanning and printing technologies, which excel at transforming one form, whether the shape of the sound of a wave or the internal cast of a Portland Screw, into another media. On Portland pseudomorphs abound!
Simon has extended his understanding of pseudomorphs to include the Race – feared by fishermen, this unruly mass of waves off the southern tip of Portland is generated by a combination of strong opposing currents and the underlaying topography of the seabed. The Race contains standing waves, waves that stay in one place and maintain their shape even though the water of which they are made is constantly changing – an aqueous pseudomorph. This transient and constantly shifting phenomenon is depicted as a solid feature on some marine charts, and has its place in the local history both as a natural phenomenon and a place of remembrance.
Every element that makes up ‘A Natural History of Pseudomorphs’ has gone through numerous transformations. To achieve this, Simon has worked with stonemasons, archaeologists, engineers, computer animators, and has collaborated with the musician and composer Oogoo Maia on the soundscape for the show.
Summarising the work that Simon presents in the Coastwatch Training Centre, one must return to the way in which he switches between how the gaze informs what we ‘see’ and how we ‘know’. Geologists use the term ‘deep time’ when theydiscuss the strata laid down over millions of years. The term ‘deep gaze’ could be applied to Simon’s body of work for ExLab. We can observe not only similar forms on different scales, but also through different eyes – the naked eye and how it embraces object and context as one, and the technological eye which penetrates deep down to reveal microscopic detail. Together, this information helps us to know and understand, and experience, the strange and fascinating world we inhabit. By juxtaposing these narratives simultaneously, Simon allows the viewer to bring their own thoughts to complete the story.
Simon Ryder would like to thank the following for their help and support. Each of the people listed here has, in some way, shaped A Natural History of Pseudomorphs. Thank you for the insight and expertise that you have brought to this project, and for making my time on Portland so special:
Susann Palmer (Association of Portland Archaeology), Barry Joplin (QinetiQ), Denys Brunsden (geomorphologist), Gareth and Nicole Beale (computational archaeologists), Geoff Peters (Coastwatch), Ian Chalmers & Pascal Mychalysin (stonemasons), Jack Lambert (CT animation), Philip Ball (author), James Feaver (GIS), Larry Walker (lighthouse keeper), Lisa Gravett (Portland Museum), Lyn Cooch (countryside officer), Mark Godden & Tony Porter (Albion Stone), Mark Mavrogordato (•-VIS), Martin Cade (Bird Observatory), Nick Holden (LIDAR & DORIS data), Richard Boardman (meshlab), Richard Dooler (3D printing), Richard Edmonds (Jurassic Coast geologist), Shaun Souster (boat captain), Su Illsley (Portland sheep farmer), Alfred le Maitre (editor), Gavin McClafferty (artist/writer), Nancy Grace (archaeologist), and Oogoo Maia (composer).
Commission managed by Amanda Wallwork on behalf of b-side. Partner organisations: Co-commissioned by Sherborne House Arts (SHA) and b-side. Commission managed by Amanda Wallwork and Sandy Kirkby b-Side Festival.