Friday, 18 September 2009

No wealth but life

I’m in Cumbria with family at the moment and this week visited Ruskin’s house, Brantwood, where Alexander Hamilton has responded to the place with an exhibition, Sensorium: Picture’s from Nature’s Laboratory. In a blue room he displays a series of photograms of plants, images made from laying plants on light sensitive paper which when exposed to the sun catches the plant’s shape in a vivid white against the indigo.

(from Sensorium, (c) Alexander Hamilton)

Hamilton explains, ‘I want to let the plants reveal themselves’. By the chance of his chemicals and the plants’ forms the resulting image is very beautiful, laying out the plant as though moonlit so you look again at a crocus or snowdrop because it has been made strange. I appreciated this glimpse of spirit of crocus, anemone, fern; Hamilton himself avoids naming.

(Sensorium, (c) Alexander Hamilton)

Hamilton is also experimenting with images drawn from the plants’ sap. He tries to show the inner life of the plants by making a solution of sap and water that soaks up into paper to form bubbling layers of greens and browns. From day to day the images change, perhaps responding to the moon, to the weather, or to the artist.

Hamilton worked in Ruskin’s moorland garden on the slopes above Coniston Water. Ruskin (who is quoted in today’s title) shaped grassy terraces between the trees and created small reservoirs in a stream that flows down through Brantwood’s gardens. The path zigzags up to this place away from the more managed gardens. Ruskin had a plan for the slopes patterned on Dante’s Mount Purgatory, topped by the garden of the earthly paradise. 

The idea made me smile, since we visited on a grey Cumbrian day and the moorland garden stream gives out before reaching the lake, so it didn’t appear to have the cleansing force of Dante’s Lethe. But after we’d spent a quiet moment there listening to the breeze in the birch leaves and smelling the damp grass, while a last heavy bodied dragonfly danced alone at the end of summer and clattered above the ponds, I felt differently about Ruskin’s idea.  

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