19/10 - 8/12/2018
‘Landscapes’ is the second solo exhibition at Anima-Mundi by the London-based artist and academic Onya McCausland (b. UK, 1971). Following on from her 2012 show ‘Sited: Salt Green / Blue Earth’, ‘Landscapes’ will extend across all three floors of the gallery and focus on McCausland’s recent collection of paintings in varying scales and applicaitons, guiding the viewer through three specific and creatively significant landscapes : Saltburn (floor 1), Cuthill (floor 2) and Deerplay Hill (floor 3). McCausland’s multi-layered, minimalist paintings and wall installations are made from ‘waste ochres’, produced as a result of the mining industry, and each floor of the exhibition will pay homage to the origin of the materials used, recording the aesthetic intensity and unique quality of each landscape. McCausland’s research (in collaboration with the coal authority and UCL) has led to the creation of high-quality artist pigments in a range of rich, earthy ochres (ranging from primrose yellow to burnt terracotta) giving new purpose to an otherwise redundant and environmentally damaging material.
(The Exhibition Introductions can be viewed below)
ONLINE CATALOGUE (click below)
LANDSCAPES (From Coal Mine Waste to Landscape Painting)
These landscapes / paintings are made using ochre or iron oxide pigments that form as waste during the treatment of mine water in coal mining regions across the UK. Their names: Cuthill in West Lothian, Scotland; Deerplay Hill in Bacup, Lancashire; Saltburn in East Yorkshire, acknowledge the origins and complexities of the ochres’ formation, and link the great coal mining regions of the UK’s industrial past with the formation of contemporary colour. The individual colours of the landscapes are determined by the unique conditions of their geological context by responding and behaving in different ways to processes in the studio. Each material dictates its own idiosyncratic form of representation - individual paintings recall their landscape origins, embodying a memory of place. Individual works involve, evolve and invoke the physicality of material process more explicitly. The personality of the material is revealed through its formation : these paintings follow the materials’ urge, its sensuality, implicating natural forces of fluidity, skin, surface and viscera.
The landscape sites and paintings are not only about the discovery and utility of a new colour material, the paintings here also deal with different formal concerns around ways of seeing within the concept /“confines” of landscape painting; they propose alternative ways of perceiving and conceiving landscape and its uses, by voicing the materiality of place in ways that overlap, or conflate geological and human time frames.Traditional devises, or ‘tropes’ of landscape painting are exploited, pointing to and describing surface and depth. These perspectival orientations and formal organisations of surface historically have been used as a means of placing/displacing, separaing/folding, of suggesting proximity and distance.
The space and spacial relationships in particular works define and undermine stable placement or positioning of where we are. Some works like Deerplay Hill, describe the surface as a topography - from the Greek topographia, from topos ‘place’ and graphia; to write. A landscape, of moorland, mountain and bog, seen and experienced from the ground (both the “ground” of the painting and the earth) is also one seen close up. The surface of a painting is not only optical but tactile, sensual, physical, animal like, material.
The physicality of the paintings run parallel and equal to their opticality. The depth, opacity, transparency of individual colours are reflected in the landscapes they belong to : Saltburn ochre is derived from mines in the North East coast just south of Middlesborough where the sharp bright light, refracted off the North sea has a flattening effect on the surrounding landscape. The Deep mines, run under the sea creating an oppositional pull between surface and depth, cerebral and psyche, light ness and dark. This is accentuated by the methods of seeing the sites from Google earth and as the paintings are inextricably linked to the mine water treatment sites where the colours are forming - the sites (photographed from Google Earth) are also conceived of as landscape paintings.
Cuthill works concern themselves also with the process of material formations with the hand/ without the hand - material as it forms in the landscape and in the studio : matter subjected to the action of its own physical properties where the optical develops with the material in the making - material follows physical laws - gravity, motion, viscosity, pressure and temperature - the same physical laws that cause sand dunes, land slides, sediments and mountains to form. The colour Tan-y-Garn is heavy and blood-like - haema or haima, as in haematite, which means blood, as if it comes from an ancient place resonant with the human body, fluidly, water flow, viscosity and sensuality “ the mud, the blood and the beer” echoing the landscape. There is resemblance - inthe medieval sense that like things are reflected in each other.
These paintings here are just a stage in processes of material transformation or a meeting point of converging processes - from mine water minerals oxidising and participating in the formation of landscape, to becoming ochre and in turn to becoming landscapes hanging on the walls of the gallery: They can be seen as a redefinition of sorts of landscape painting…exploring an examination of materials from different perspectives, view points and across various scales.
The material is a starting point for the paintings, the paintings a temporary representational interpretation culminating in the synthesis of geological formation and human intervention. The works - the paintings and the sites - can be seen as a performance of change where the connections between physical processes and human actions cannot be separated. These landscapes made from this distinct material are part of the lineage of human activities and cultural practices that stretch back to the beginning of human history. Cave painting, ancient burials, mining, waste and landscape painting. And colour, the process of making ochre that the mine water treatment sites perform is historically unique, and the material that the sites harnesses is an important cultural signifier.
Each landscape site produces a different coloured ochre that is mineralogically unique to that place, to that mine, to that geography: the colour and the painting converge, they signify and embody Place - identity, belonging, history, community, the economy and the contemporary economics of waste.
Onya McCausland, 2018
DEERPLAY HILL (Bacup, Lancashire)
The Mine Water Treatment Site at Deerplay Hill sits high up on Todmorden Moor - the source of the river Calder in the Lancashire Pennines - overlooking the wind farms that have sprung up in recent years. The landscape is formed of shale, mudstone, sandstones and gritstones, the ground is a thick layer of hill peat covered in scrub grasses and heather. The peat minerals in the ground influence the colour leaching from the old mines which appears dark brownish orange in the landscape. When the ochre has been dried and ground and painted in a transparent medium like watercolour it reveals a wider register of colour from dark charred brown with a tinge of purple, through to a
The relatively small scale of the mine workings in this region, which mainly closed around the 1960’s, are a reflection of the geological fracturing of the coal fields caused by fault lines cutting up and displacing the coal field.
CUTHILL (West Lothian, Scotland)
The Mine Water Treatment Scheme built in 2003 sits beside the river Almond near Addiewell village in West Lothian, Scotland. The coal mines were worked here until the early 1960’s. The coal provided fuel for the giant furnaces used for extracting oil from shale in Scotlands first oil industry. Cuthill Mine Water Treatment Scheme is a few fields away from one of the slag heaps or ‘bings’ that mark the landscape of West Lothian; Five Sisters Bing was designated an artwork by John Latham in 1976, and has since become an internationally recognised monument. The scheme at Cuthill performs the function of cleaning the polluting mine water that inadvertently produces many tones of waste ochre every year.
Burning ochre at around 600 degrees will cause it to dehydrate, turning the yellow ochre material red. The ochre from Cuthill is distinguished by the subtle pinkish tone it creates when burnt, a colour that resembles the burnt fragments of waste shale that form the structures of the ‘bings’.
South of Middlesborough on the north east coast of England is Saltburn-by-Sea. A mile or so inland is Saltburn Mine Water Treatment Scheme. The site treats the floodwater of an iron stone mine that closed in the 1960’s. Like the surrounding landscape, illuminated by the glare of reflected light off the north sea, Saltburn yellow ochre is lighter in tone than the other mine water ochres. The paint on the wall is an ultra matt emulsion that resembles the material in its raw pigment state, it has no additional binders or enhancers other than an organic cellulose medium. This flat matt surface conceals an unexpected brightness and warmth visible when the colour is expressed in a transparent medium like watercolour.
Saltburn is in one of the few mining regions that remains active. A thousand meters under the North Sea is Boubly potash mine, one of the deepest in Europe. An environment so remote that it doubles as a deep underground laboratory suitable for hosting ultra-low background science projects, like the search for dark matter.
VISIONS OF EXCESS
Type the coordinates 54°34 07.37 N 0°57 42.87 into google earth and you will dive down into a pool of red: ‘Saltburn Mine Water Treatment scheme’. I say dive into, however this virtual free fall halts just before you reach ground level; a jittering curser hovering directly above. From this aerial perspective the landscape is levelled out. Conventional sight lines are rearranged, with the horizons lumps airbrushed and flattened. Saltburn’s Mine Water Treatment pools lose their rippling variation and the distinct areas of colour are isolated, as if neatly fitting into a hardware store wall paint colour chart. A hardware aesthetic created by a piece of computer software. It is as Italo Calvino said; ‘software cannot exercise its powers of lightness except through the weight of hardware. But it is the software that gives the orders […] The iron machines still exist, but they obey the orders of weightless bits’. These google map screenshots expose their digital creator; the treatment sites in their rigid geometry have the inhuman appearance of computer integrated circuit chips.
Perhaps the treatment site itself is still something of Calvino’s ‘iron machine’, obeying the demands of almost weightless particles (a mineralisation process unlocks pyrite which is then oxidised into the insoluble ferric form and precipitates particles of ochre pigment). This dynamic eco system is not evident from the static monochrome found on google earth. Whilst the dizzying descent into coordinates gives the impression of rattling through the macro to access the micro it is ultimately disappointing. We remain so far away, suspended in this unnatural aerial vacuum there are no faithful timekeepers; not the drum beat in my chest, nor the lilt and sway of breath, no august chorus of insect chatter clicking in the clammy night. These natural rhythms are autotuned to obey the same frequency, so we access digitals images without presence. We see monochromes without organs.
The map is not the territory, nor is it a simple ‘birds eye view’. With new features like ‘angled’ and ‘street’ views multiple perspectives are amalgamated to produce a multifocal image. Where are we experiencing this from?
Where is our place in this landscape? The nature of our human experience is our inability to master all fields of vision. Phenomenology, the study of consciousness experienced from the first-person point of view, understands totalising accounts to be impossible. Our perception is constrained by what is in front or behind, above or below, only rectified by physically changing position. Maurice Merleau-Ponty argued that ‘experience is [...] lived by me from a certain point of view; I am not the spectator, I am involved’.
McCausland does not halt at surface, rather she plunges into the depths of terrain entering into a dialogue with that which the earth provides.
The titles of her works reflect this engagement that occurs both above and beneath ground. ‘Cuthill’ references the depth of the mine, using the vertical reference system: Ordinance Datum Newlyn - which establishes a reliable bench mark measurement system underground whilst The Google Earth images by contrast are titled according to the distance from above the ground. Passing through the earth’s membrane she facilitates an interplay between above and beneath, light and shade. Not only does McCausland’s practice re-orientate the physical axis of our engagement with landscape. She scrutinises our conceptual axis with regard to how we approach and understand ‘waste’.
McCausland’s colour is the waste product of a decanting process. ‘Waste’ is often considered contaminated or hybridised and, if no adequate nutrient retrieval systems exist, then its use value is voided. In 2014, between 4 and 5 thousand tons of ochre were being sent to landfill every year because an economically viable use could not be found and landfill was the cheapest option. By reusing this otherwise redundant material in her work McCausland has demonstrated the uniqueness and cultural value of these colours and their landscape contexts. Her practice re-energises the discarded matter bestowing it with new life-force as artists’ pigment. There is no useless matter. if something seems useless, we should not discard the thing itself but reassess the frame in which we have trapped it. These muddy pools are rather fonts abundant with blood red pigment.
McCausland’s recognition of the potential of the overlooked is embodied by Baudelaire’s rag picker who ‘in the muddy maze of some old neighbourhood, Often, where the street lamp gleams like blood’ catalogues and collates the annals of intemperance. In this figure the locating and repurposing of foraged scraps becomes an extended metaphor for the poetic method. Both ragman and poet are concerned with the disregarded and refused. The ragman found an accomplice in the Avant Garde artist of the 20th century. From Dada Collages to Rauschenberg’s accumulation, artists used the flatbed picture plane as an adhesive surface upon which all manner of residue could gather. The act of retrieval and assemblage, rather than composition of painting proper, results in an openness, a negation of ego in favour of object agency. These practices did not turn their back on the world but were occupied by it. When Picasso made his collages, he said he wanted the real offal of human life, the dirty, poor and despised. These moves motivated by the desire to muddy the sheen of the commodity and circumvent the economy of the art market reached parodic status when Piero Manzoni canned his own shit and sold on par with the value of gold. This act epitomises Freud’s belief that artworks always have an overdetermined relationship to faeces. But so do all systems, be them bodily, aesthetic, economic. Everything participates in the impulsive and uncontrollable drives of ingestion and excretion. I note we began this essay soaring above, trapped in a slick sealed computer programme, we have now plunged into the base, where all is soiled and pigment is belched out of the belly of the earth.
McCausland’s recognition of the interrelation between waste matter and art matter follows in the footsteps of Baudelaire’s’ ragman and Manzoni’s Freudian jester persona. But it also follows the economic theories of Bataille for whom the output of one system served as input for another system. Whilst the treatment sites attempt to control and contain the ‘waste’ material, its life does not end there. it is as Bataille said; ‘rather than the excretion of the foreign body removing the foreign body it actually liberates it, and liberates it to a heterogeneity that is out of control’. Sensitivity to matter’s vibrant potential facilitates transference from one perspective to another. The waste is energised as the fuel for a business endeavour; as commercially available pigment. The landscape is ecologically and
economically fertile; producing ochre, generating an income for the local econmy and creating high-quality pigment for artists. Nietzsche commented; ‘the world exists - it is not something that becomes, not something that passes away, or rather, it becomes, it passes away, but it has never begun to become and never ceases from passing away – it maintains itself in both – it lives on itself; its excrements are its food’.
The artists’ picture plane is emblematic of the porosity between ingestion and excretion. When applying the pigment McCausland notes how when the second wet coat met with the first dry coat it was immediately sucked into the dry ochre, like parched soil that gulps down fresh water. Colour consumes colour, allowing it to become healthy and ‘full bodied’ in tone. Colour also absorbs light and alters accordingly; expanding and contracting its mass, weight and volume.
Each pigment has distinct behavioural properties just as each mine site has its own method of water treatment, its own lexicon, creating an entirely unique ochre pigment. ‘Tan-y-garn’ site uses limestone and mushroom compost to reduce the acidity of the water and make a full bodied reddish brown. At ‘Saltburn’, the water from an iron stone mine becomes a light yellow ochre. Even within one pigment there are multiple potentialities, it can be a milky tangerine when raw and a dense syrupy russet when cooked. The capacity to receive and repel colour and light alters depending on whether the pigment is wet or dry, raw or cooked. Onya has titled some works with reference to the cooking process; ‘Iron oxide pigment from Cuthill Mine Water Treatment Scheme (2016) burnt at 600° mixed in oil on gessoed canvas’
This is a quantitative title that entails qualitative engagements with surface and ground.
The passage from raw to cooked is found in most mythic narratives and is commonly emblematic of the passage from death to life. At the Palaeolithic Terra Amata site in Nice, archaeologists retrieved 75 ochre pieces ranging in shades from yellow to red and red-brown, with many intermediate and irregular ones attributable to different thermal influences. It is understood that the transformation of yellow stone into red was interpreted by the Early Acheulian hunter-gatherers as a magic, life affirming process. Through the addition of heat a sickly yellow stone could be revived and made bulbous with red blood. Ochre is used in the mortuary rituals of many Mousterian sites, Palaeo-Indians and Late Archaic populations in North America where red pigment would be smothered on the flesh of the dead or placed in bowls beside the body. These practices recall the Maori legend of a woman who, in the nether world, came upon a bowl of ochre, she ingested the colour and was returned to life. These burial practices coat the skin with pigment enabling the pores to ‘ingest’ the substance with hope that the body is sustained beyond the grave. McCausland feeds surfaces with ochre, and as the canvas consumes the colour it gains more agency. This is nowhere more apparent than in ‘Cuthill watercolour (drop)’. Experimenting with how the pigment responds to contact with different surfaces McCausland placed paper in a horizontal water tank and poured the pigment on top. Left overnight in the dark, the ochre blindly feels its way toward the bottom of the container and joins with the paper. Interestingly its fall forms softly curving hills of dusty red; recalling the shape of the land from which it was born (we are forever on our way home).
The ochre forms on paper also recall the derelict heaps of red shale known as John Latham’s ‘bings’. In 1975, the Scottish Development agency contacted artist John Latham for an urban renewal project. Concerned that these heaps of burnt and oxidised oil shale constituted an ‘eyesore’ in the landscape what was really required was a new outlook. Let us recall; If something seems useless we should not discard the thing itself but reassess the frame in which we have trapped it. Latham re-conceptualised the mounds of waste as ‘process sculptures’. They were named as landmarks and with that given a new identity and impetus. In Room 2, McCausland provides a map that shows the seams of coal mines, and four shards of shale from one of Latham’s bings, weigh down the map’s four corners.
Following Latham’s approach, McCausland is campaigning for the mine water treatment sites themselves be renamed as monuments. This move to name the sites does not untether the perspective I have been weaving (for this perspective is something of an ever cycling mobeius loop). I have so far stressed how McCausland relinquishes the role of artist as someone who controls and contains colour to adopt the role of gleaner who liberates the voice of the
discarded. Consequently, the idea ‘trademarking’ may seem the antithesis of a sensitive approach. Sticking words to things always entails some form of capture. but McCausland’s naming follows the sympathetic leanings of Walt Whitman who was so attuned to the murmurings of matter that his poetry is a seismograph of its song. His elemental words, as he defined them, do not overwrite but ‘accord’ with the earth, and ‘are in the air, they are in you’. Pregnant with multiple temporalities, words are not static in definition and fixed to the page but are ‘lispings of the future’. Again returning to the notion of the passage from raw to cooked, Whitman’s song of the rolling earth proclaims ‘amelioration is the blood that runs through the body of the universe’. As in Early Acheulian ritual where burnt ochre was saturated with this vital red life force, Whitman’s poetic form warms words until they throb with energy. Words, like the earth, possess something underneath, that something is meaning and that something is colour. McCausland taps into Whitman’s seismograph. Rather than hybridising and contaminating the colour with metaphor she amplifies what has been silenced. Naming the colour as it obdurately exists in its environment. Mary Douglas wrote how dirt is not dangerous so long as it without a name. In naming the pigment after the site McCausland unleashes its vibrant agency. Much like the methods of Manzoni, Picasso and Rauschenberg; the refuse is realised.
Through the act of naming, landscape is socially and historically experienced; it becomes a collective event. The experience of viewing these works within the gallery setting is also a collective event where we are in dialogue with space, colour, time, light, one another, etc. The structure of the architecture entails each gallery space be stacked vertically, creating a kind of geological strata in which the works, like worms, can create their own environment. The viewer journeys through lightness and darkness, penetrating each zone and consequently becoming aware of a distinct materiality of the space. Whilst each room draws attention to a different Mine Water Treatment scheme and thus a different pigment, there is a binding relationship between them. The layout of the exhibition behaves much like the systems I have outlined. McCausland’s project recognises that nothing can be understood in isolation; waste is in a dialectical relationship with wealth, just as there is porosity between raw and cooked. Rather than a hierarchical linear
narrative, everything participates in a cyclical system. It makes sense then that none of McCausland’s work exists as a singularity but is extended and environmental, operating in part to whole relations. One plane is but the crop of a harvest of pigment. A horizon line is but a bend in a vertical. A straight line the fragment of a curve. Upon viewing, we too must be the ragman, the archaeologist, gleaning and excavating the matter before us to piece together a whole of ecological influx and efflux.
Standing before McCausland’s works, time is not a container but a component, where all is in process, all is in song. Walt Whitman extolled ‘the masters know the earth’s words and use them more than audible words’. McCausland is exploring the earth’s vocabulary.
Isabelle Bucklow, 2018
Onya McCausland is a British artist born in Zennor, Cornwall in 1971. She currently lives and works in London.
McCausland’s practice consists of minimalist paintings, murals, installation and land art. Her work is concerned with how specific materials and processes can be used as a conduit to open up interconnected underlying ideas that draw upon the changing economic and environmental conditions underway in the contemporary landscape. This is expressed in a current body of work that examines new uses for waste materials found in ex-coal mining regions across the UK.
McCausland is collaborating with the Coal Authority and UCL to generate new uses for mine water waste ‘ochres’ as usable coloured pigment for paint. Her research repositions this ‘waste’ ochre as significant cultural material that can be used to change perceptions of post-industrial landscape sites.
In 2014, between 4 and 5 thousand tones of ochre were being sent to landfill every year because an economically viable use could not be found and landfill was the cheapest option. By reusing this otherwise redundant material in her work McCausland has demonstrated the uniqueness and cultural value of these colours and their landscape contexts.
The landscapes are perceived through the vehicle of the earth materials forming at their site. The medium of painting is used in its widest sense, drawing on the history of minimalist and post-minimalist aesthetics, and landart to examine the proximities between the idea of ‘ground’ and surface, where surface is used to join geographic, geological and painterly realms.
In collaboration with the Coal Authority, McCausland is working to designate five selected Mine Water Treatment Schemes as living paintings that perform the production of ochre, while generating an income for the local economy and producing high-quality pigment for artists.
McCausland is currently working as a Leverhulme Early Career Researcher based at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London working on her project : “From Coal Mine Waste to Landscape Painting - New British Earths” Recent exhibitions have been supported by Camden Arts Centre on London, Newlyn Art Gallery in Cornwall, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and the Delfina Foundation in London. She was also supported by the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust and has received funding from the Arts Council, British Council. the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She has also been shortlisted for the prestigious Wollaston Award at the Royal Academy and the John Moores Painting Prize. She has exhibited her work internationally and has work in numerous private and public collections. Onya McCausland is represented by Anima-Mundi.