Convergent Evolution

The New Year often brings with it an awakening of new (and old) ideas.  Having always been interested in the way life forms so often repeat themselves throughout the macro and micro natural world, I was interested to recently discover the term ‘convergent evolution’.  This describes the independent evolution of similar features in different species – structures that have a similar form or function.  The ability, over time, of insects, birds, reptiles and some mammals to fly is one example.  David Attenborough’s new “Conquest of the Skies” series illustrates this beautifully.

I’m fascinated by certain primal structures, which are echoed everywhere, from tiny microbes to nervous and planetary systems.  Lately I’ve been focusing on spheres, branch-like forms and ‘cirri’ (tentacles, tendrils, hairy filaments..).  Many natural forms combine all these in varying degrees.  Through my recent investigation into quarry environments for step in stone, I have been discovering more about ancient sea life forms that existed over 350 million years ago.  Locally, in the Mendips, the most dominant rock is carboniferous limestone, which is full of fossiled skeletons, particularly an abundance of crinoids (sea lilies) and corals (e.g. rugose).  Although both marine creatures, they are from completely different families, yet have strong similarities, as do diatoms (marine micro-organisms).

Nature’s tenacity and persistence is reflected in disused quarry sites.  Silver Birch seeds blow in and take root almost immediately and in no time at all, vast cavities of scooped out rock are covered with a multitude of life forms.  In addition to fundraising, I’ve been doing some drawing and thinking about possible site-specific work to install in these spaces for step in stone later this year (see below).  At the moment, I like the idea of making 2 metre tumbleweed-like forms that relate to crinoids and rugose corals. They will entail a great deal of work, but an exciting prospect!

Crinoids and Coral Rugose Coral Tumbleweed ideaErnst Haeckel's Rugose Coral Sea Pen - Ernst Haeckel

We received well over our crowdfunding target for ‘step in stone‘, have received more funds from a local trust since and now awaiting news from the Arts Council bid – fingers crossed!

Happy New Year!

Africa, Wildlife and Art

I’m very proud to have roots in Africa.  David Attenborough’s recent BBC TV series has brought the continent to the fore and each film brings tears to my eyes – mingled emotions of sadness, nostalgia, amazement, joy, laughter, despair, pride, love…  Several people have commented to me on the memorable Dung Beetle and Ball episode, as I have an affinity with Dung Beetles.  I make sculptures of them, use one as my gravitas and even won David Shepherd’s 3-d Wildlife Artist of the Year Award (’09) with my Dung Beetle and Ball piece (see below).  Since my childhood, I’ve always been captivated by dung beetles.  Their attachment to dung, the backward ball-rolling, their striking appearance, strength and perseverance appeal to my interest in the extra-ordinary.  Worshipped by the Egyptians, they are also symbols of wealth and power.  My Dad used to (and still does!) enjoy picking up dried elephant dung on safaris (see also my brother’s Andrew Campbell safaris) or driving over it for fun, and I guess the dung thing has stuck.  Hopefully, more people now understand that the beetles roll balls with their back legs and why they love dung so much (nutrition, nest etc..).  In galleries I’ve had to reverse my beetles, after being placed the wrong way round!

This week I managed to catch the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at Bristol Museum before it ends (today).  Wildlife in all its guises – again raising all sorts of emotions with incredible images of nature – closeup, narrative, beauty and horror (mainly due to ‘sick people’ as my son succinctly put it).

My son and I then popped to the Arnolfini’s Worktable event as part of IBT13, passing IBT’s fake moon rising in College Green on our way to the harbourside.  Worktable is a drop-by interactive artwork by Kate McIntosh set in connected shipping containers with microphones to record the antics. We chose an item to use/smash up (rollerskate), which was great fun to do in a room on our own, then had to artfully re-assemble someone else’s trashed object (car) in a shared room with other creative participants, with very basic materials. Equally exciting was seeing the results of everyone else’s handiwork at the end.  Challenging work – good for lateral thinking with no pre-conceived ideas.  Project ends later today.