the scilly isles 20/12511

On the final day of the program the members of the expedition were requested to perform a 6 minute presentation relating to an aspect of their practice. What follows is a summary of my presentation which opened the proceedings in the village hall on the isle of St. Agnes. Many thanks to all who shared their thoughts with the group and to the organisers of the three expeditions, in particular Sion Parkinson and Tawia Abbam of Cape Farewell, and Daro Montag of RANE and UCF. I certainly hope that the intimacy and excitement of the experience shared will foster a legacy and relationship that will continue for many years…

Can a single action be creatively catalytic in effort and effect?

gentle action, troytown, st. agnes (pward 2011) 


A Short Presentation for the SHORTCOURSE/UK/Cornwall III (The Scilly Isles)

An action born from disenchantment with the art establishment, disinterest in the nullifying ‘truths’ of science and a heartfelt faith in the power of art to initiate social and ecological transformation and affirm an intrinsic connection to the earth through engagement with the creative process

science ritual intervention social sculpture magic connectivity locality intention resource action art

6 minutes to save the world 5, st. agnes (pward 2011)



locally sourced earth pigments 

locally sourced object from nature (such as a large granite pebble)

locally sourced water and receptacles for paint making (such as prickly cockle shells)


a magic hat

6 minutes to save the world 4, st. agnes (pward 2011) 

To make paint simply mix earth, clay or ground rocks with water and apply to a surface. For longer lasting effects mix with mediums such as linseed oil, egg yolk, milk protein, animal fats or glues. Due to the vast ages involved in their formation most earth pigment colours are extremely permanent.  


Sitting in an informal circle around a large granite pebble the participants were asked to make themselves comfortable and the ceremonial magic hat was adorned by the ‘responsible participant’ (myself). Samples of the raw pigments were circulated and background information about the process, both artistic and geological, was given. Participants were then asked to bring to mind a simple action, that they may aspire to achieve, (such as ‘driving their Aston Martin less’ or ‘eating fewer squirrels’!?) through which a positive social or ecological transformation may take place, and then in turn with this in mind to ‘intentionally mark’ the pebble with the premixed earth paints provided. The pebble stayed at the centre of the meeting as a talisman for proceedings and was left in the space as a gesture of goodwill and thanks.

6 minutes to save the world 1, st. agnes (pward 2011)


In 2008 I was invited by Appledore Arts Festival to research the sources and artistic applications of earth pigments in North Devon, with particular reference to ‘Bideford Black’, an organic carbon-based pigment historically significant to the area. My interest in earth pigments grew from a desire as a painter to convey the essential energetic nature of the immanent ecology through the resonance of the materials I chose to use. As the project has evolved it has radically transformed my practice from object-based to a predominantly process-led discipline and led me to re-evaluate my relationship with the arts establishment toward a broader collaborative pursuit, working through inter-disciplinary and scientific channels to communicate an attitude of holistically egalitarian eco-sensitivity and action…


bideford black images, north devon (pward 2011)

tree fern, abbey gardens, tresco (pward 2011)

‘Bideford Black’ is a naturally occurring earth pigment unique to North Devon that was mined commercially until 1969, when the manufacture of cheaper oil based paints made the industry commercially unviable. It was used as a pigment in the local shipping industry for caulking boats, for artists’ paints, as a colouring for cement, rubber and paper, for painting camouflage on tanks in World War II and by Max Factor in the production of mascara. The black clay like substance, or ‘culm’, was formed alongside brittle deposits of anthracite (high-grade coal mined for fuel) 350 million years ago from ancient forests of sub-tropical tree ferns (coincidentally seen in the Abbey Gardens on Tresco) when the landmass, geologically referred to as Gondwana, was situated on the equator. Environmental factors at that time forced destruction of the forest depositing large quantities of vegetable matter, more specifically the lignum, or trunk fibres, and excluding leaf, spore and bark, into ox-bow lake formations in river deltas. After subsequent sedimentation and earth movements, which have taken the deposits up to 8km below the earth’s surface, heating, pressurizing and grinding, the substance formed may now be found in lens-shaped pockets across the North Devon region. It is composed of equal parts carbon, alumina and silica, the carbon taking a plate-like hexagonal form giving it a fine-grained oily texture, reminiscent of graphite. Bideford Black may be easily (but responsibly) collected from a small outcrop in cliffs on the breathtaking North Devon coastline. Other evidence and connections with the industry and its broader implications may also be found locally.

‘ram’, troytown, st. agnes (pward 2011)

The brown pigment used during the action was scraped from the shallow soil covering the three hundred million year old igneous granite intrusion that has created the Scilly Isles. The Scilly Isles were formed from a large body of molten rock, or magma, known as a pluton, reaching 10 km down into the ground and extending under the sea all around Scilly. The Scilly pluton is one of a group, joined deep underground in a single mass reaching through Cornwall and Devon as far as Dartmoor.

During the last Ice Age, 21,000 years ago, a large glacier flowed southwards down the Irish Sea Basin reaching as far as the northern extremities of Bryher, Tresco and St Martin’s. South of this ice limit, cold tundra conditions resulted in the accumulation of orange-brown slope and wind-blown deposits known locally as “ram”. This ram is still visible in the cliffs around the islands. In places, the ram contains organic deposits containing fossil pollen of tundra plants, radiocarbon dated to the interval between 21,000 and 30,000 years ago.

bird art, troytown, st. agnes (pward 2011)

Within the context of the SHORTCOURSE/UK/Cornwall agenda as a forum for action and debate surrounding the issues of the artists’ role in response to climate change Bideford Black seemed appropriate as a carbon-based material to comment subtly upon the abuse of fossil fuels and their implications in the global crisis. The more site-specific brown pigment source was to imply the importance of the ‘local’ and the potent resourcefulness of any creative activity. By further drawing attention to the vast sense of geological time involved in creating the elements chosen for the action, and the near unimaginable processes and transformations that led to their present state, I hope to create a temporal perspective regarding the crisis we are presently facing as well as a tactile connection to such universal energies and sense of creative empowerment through the intentional act of painting within a group situation. Rather than perceiving the pigments used as ‘art materials’ I prefer to see them as vehicles of energetic intent. The use of such materials may also connect us sympathetically to a time before our ‘civilized’ reliance on fossil fuels when humans were more attuned to the instinctual and qualities of resourcefulness that we may be usefully reminded of in this ‘age of austerity’. Through the employment of un-pretentious ritual acts, especially within group situations, I hope to affirm the sense of universal belonging and communal intention essential for any ecologically political engagement.


Q: How many shaman does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None – the light bulb is perfectly capable of changing itself!

To see more photographs of this event and the SHORTCOURSE/UK/Cornwall Expeditions please visit my facebook album


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