‘Technofossil’ Holy Island

‘Technofossil’ (2017) was made over five-days, wrapping pebbles in bailer twine, at Coves Haven, Holy Island. As part of a group show ‘Materiality 2’, curated by Graham Paterson. See essay below by Mike Collier.

23rd sept – 1st Oct 2017, Alex Hughes, Chun-Chou Chiu, Graham Patterson, Helen Pailing, Ruth Brenner, Lindsay Duncanson


One island, two names … names that link culture with nature.

Lindisfarne – possible (natural) derivation – lindis; a stream associated with the island and farne – a celtic word meaning land

Holy Island – the ‘official’ (cultural) name dating from the eleventh century when the Normans ‘re-established ecclesiastical life’, calling it Insula Sacra (Holy Island)

In this short text I want to suggest that this merging of identities is appropriate for an island (and exhibition) that collapses the relationship between culture and nature; where the past so visibly lives within the present.

The works in Materiality reflect the artists’ embodied response to this remote island off the north east coast of Northumberland. They have worked with materials and processes that interact and engage with both the physical outdoor environment and the history and physical structures of the island. To explore each piece, you have to walk the island; to experience its wildness – its mudflats and sand dunes; its tidal estuaries and rocky shores; and its track-ways, lined with hawthorn hedges – evidence, too, of the island’s rich artistic, religious and industrial history.

There is something about Holy Island – its wide-open spaces, weather, and light – that draws you in … and all the artists in Materiality have been drawn into, and engaged with, the life of the island in some way.

Helen Pailing’s Technofossil plays with ideas of ‘active matter’ whilst referencing the very real problem of accumulated waste that increasingly litters the island’s shoreline. It is made up of multiple lengths of knotted baler twine stitched into a line and embedded along a ledge of rocks at Coves Haven. There is a meditative and reflective element to this work which uses an economy of means to gently question the relationship between the natural and the manmade in our age of the Anthropocene.

Lindsay Duncanson’s nine-foot Cyanotype self-portraits on silk can be seen billowing in the wind from flexible bamboo poles near the Snook. Cyanotype is an old monochrome photographic printing process that gives a cyan-blue print. As Lindsay says, ‘this technique allows the landscape to capture you, rather than, as with photography, you “capturing” the landscape’. There is a sense of vulnerability about these images that reflects our uneasy relationship with both nature and the past in the twenty-first century.

Graham Patterson’s kinetic assemblages use salvaged debris from the shoreline combined with reflective materials referencing the movement of sky, sea and sand. The works, which are joined together with industrial and fishing equipment can be seen embedded into, and suspended from, driftwood on the North Shore and Sandham Bay.

Ruth Brenner’s clay material objects on the Broad Stones coast will be at the mercy of the North Sea weather throughout the period of the exhibition. Wind and rain will scour the clay just as it has eroded and consumed the landscape of Holy Island over many centuries.

Chun Chao-Chiu’s woodcuts have been printed on kozo / rice paper and he has used rice glue to attach the prints to pillars and pews in St. Mary’s Church. The paper was made at PSN (Paper Studio Northumbria) Northumbria University, utilising bog cotton, thistle down and seawater collected from the Island.

Alex Hughes is presenting two performances in the hall during the period of the exhibition, creating a living collage from a formation of people adorned in material to animate and perform imaginative explorations on the relationship between objects and human.

My own work – a walk and talk ‘meander’- on 23rd September between the various sites of the exhibition on the island, will link natural, social and cultural history. Accompanied by natural historian Keith Bowey, we will, together with the artists and members of the public, explore the relationship between culture and nature on this windswept island as we walk between the artworks through the dunes, along the coast and into the village beneath the Castle.

This project has been curated by Graham Patterson. It is significant, I think, that Graham was born and raised in Berwick – just a stone’s throw from the island. This was Graham’s ‘playground’ as a child – something that is reflected not just in his own playful work, but in the open-ended experimentation of the artworks in this exhibition. Graham is no incomer … he cares deeply about Lindisfarne, and he has brought together a group of artists who have responded to the materiality of the landscape and its sense of history and isolation.

Mike Collier, Professor of Visual Art, Sunderland University, 2017