Body erodes, memory erases & covid erupts

In recent years my work has become increasingly performative in the manner in which it is made. Yet during those years, my body’s capacity for me to move or control it has become exponentially reduced. Irreversible changes present challenges with interesting outcomes.

These changes have not been caused by any one distinctive physical disability, but by organic deterioration as I age. Different parts of my body have been affected by erosion materially, my joints, bones, nerves; and mentally in terms of memory and shifting senses, sight and balance. I am in a constant state of transition and accept these changes, that have required me to alter my art practice accordingly. 

Of course, this is true of everyone as all life is a process that ceases upon death. (That is a biggie so let’s move away from that comment!). 

My thinking around this has been influenced by reading about climate change. There are parallels between planetary demise and other organic beings. The deterioration of both are irreversible and inevitable. The lifecycle of the planet is long, it will adapt and change over time, which is what we must do now in relation to the climate emergency. As humans, our lifespan is merely a flicker compared to that of the earth.

I have enjoyed reading Ingold’s book, Correspondences, because he poetically unfolds our understanding of the earth as a living entity. Not dissimilar to Damien Hirst’s works that cut through the flesh of cows and exposed their internal landscapes. I was deeply struck all those years ago by the fact that cows are not only inhabitants of the landscape, but their inner organs look like hills and valleys. Similarly, watching a colonoscopy camera move through my body was fascinating, as it travelled around my own inner landscape. 

Ingold considers landscape through the lens of the familiar game of scissors, paper, stone. Instead of cutting, wrapping and blunting, he refers to inscription, eruption and erosion:

  1. Inscription moves along, leaving traces of movement – the movement is continuum but traces continue only in contact. Trails of inhabitants
  2. Eruption is to take paper/earth and reconstruct it with folds, creases, cracks. Interruptions of surface. Untouched or affected by surface marks
  3. Erosion erasing, wind, rain, scouring

With these thoughts in mind, I find myself reconsidering my body and it’s reducing functionality. Rather than being upset or angry that my drawing arm now has an intentional tremor that limits my hand control, I am finding ways to work with it. Freehand drawing can be produced by literally relying on the earth, and weather, to support me during the process. Leaning against a cliff, holding paper against it while I produce a frottage drawing, or melting ice mixed with pigment during a heatwave.  I have begun to understand these materials sufficiently to produce drawn residues that give evidence of the water’s journey across the paper. 

Rather than simply drawing a picture of a river to have framed, I create drawings, which I film, revealing the process of washing them away. Which is how flooding will erupt and eventually erase the landscape. I construct dioramas of the river landscape in a fish tank, then flood it. Printmaking also keeps my hand in close contact with surfaces, letting me rest against them, colluding as opposed to controlling. 

I continue to work with writing and film. I write copious notes about the process, to ensure my memory doesn’t erase anything along the way. 

As I write this piece, I am in bed with Covid, for the first time. And I think again about erosion, eruption and erasure. My joints are eroding, my memory erasing and my body is currently erupting thanks to a virus settling into my body.

Can’t help wondering whether covid is defending the earth from humans, who seem set on destroying it.

I am grateful for this visitors’ presence, as it has forced me to slow down and reflect on these matters. Hopefully it will move on soon, so I can get back to my studio.

Touching the Triassic – paper lithography (C) Carolyn Black

Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

4 thoughts on “Body erodes, memory erases & covid erupts

  1. It is very important to both chart the body’s changes (in youth as well as when ageing), and to compare with the alterations in landscape with words and image seems like a valuable exploration to me as well. I love the sound of the fishtank flooding. Thank you for articulating this so clearly and concisely. And yes, I think covid must have a function – nature doesn’t do stuff for nothing! Get well (so you can get back into your studio) soon!


  2. Thanks Tamsin. As long as we remain curious and use creative processes to understand the world, we are (sadly only in some ways!) ageless. Just as the planet will continue to be what it will be, so do we.


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