Carl’s aim during his art residency was to develop a strand of exploration from his residency last year with North Light Arts, where he investigated the ways in which people have variously engaged with the geology of Dunbar. Carl’s experiences of camping near the Torness nuclear power station, and speaking to fishermen, writers, and geologists in Dunbar, led him to question not only our physical imprint, but the consequences and impact of language-use on our collective understanding of the environment. The culminating project, ‘Untitled (Anthropocene Confetti Cannon for the British Seas)’, involved Carl launching confetti – inscribed with quotations about the sea from a variety of sources – into the North Sea. We say that language is out most proud in(ter)vention. The shimmery bits of celebratory garbage also called attention to its destructive power.
James Hutton’s ‘Theory of the Earth’ (1788) is Carl’s main text for this year’s project. Sitting in the beach hut with Carl on the fourth day of his residency, I confessed that I have never read the text. Not many people today have, Carl told me: it is written in an antiquated and bombastically inaccessible style. Hutton’s contributions to our understanding of Earth, however, have not been underestimated. Hutton was called the father of modern geology for his refutation of the scriptural estimation of the earth’s age (6,000 years), and for his development of the concept of ‘deep’ geologic time based on his investigations of rock formations in Scotland (Siccar Point near Dunbar being one such site). Carl used his residency as a research period to consider the specificities of Hutton’s influence on the thinking of the day, beyond our general appreciation of the geologist’s (then) radical theories. One element of his investigation involved a re-creation of Hutton’s boat-trip to Siccar Point (which sadly did not happen due to inclement weather). Another aspect was a close-reading of ‘Theory of the Earth’. Carl was particularly struck by Hutton’s apocalyptic tone and imagery. Painstakingly copying Hutton’s words onto strands of confetti (which were on display in the hut), the project poses the question of whether Hutton’s text, intended to describe Earth’s past, can also serve as a kind of cipher for Earth’s future.
My conversation with Carl was eye-opening for me, in terms of witnessing how conceptual art can be developed within the remit of a week-long art residency. Carl’s week was busy: he visited the University of Edinburgh’s geology archives at the Cockburn Museum, took a walk with poet-geologist Colin Will to Siccar Point, and attempted to suture Terry Eagleton’s ideas about contemporary cultural theory in his book After Theory to Hutton’s text as a way of illuminating the very idea of theory-making in art, literature, and science. Carl’s investigations can be seen/read at his blog here (http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/3439159/0/1/desc) and at his website here (http://www.carlgent.com). His residency with North Light Arts ran from 28th July to 2nd August.