ArtlessBlogNatural Aesthetics

Curlew Camp , Walk 2

Curlew Camp, Walk 2

August 2019

While engagement is central to all aesthetic appreciation, the coastal environment points up features found in every environment and renders them particularly intense and vivid . . . Aesthetic engagement leads to appreciation that is not contemplative, not subjective, and not an exclusively mental act but an activity that requires bodily participation. Arnold Berleant [1]


Photo-shopped mountains, atolls, dunes and ruins razzle the sublime. Tourism bleeds 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Stay close.

Chronology is a constant reckoning, a constantly reordering. As the last of the glacier released this deep valley (gouged by a glacier in a previous ice age), the versatile sea rushed in.


With so much clutter in our lives and the planet being clawed bare, why extract more for art materials? The history of photography is poisoned by mercury, silver and sulfuric compounds. This camera manufactured with environmental costs seems interested (for a while) in a ribbon of winter light.
A walk is a collision of opportunities and circumstance in scenery with the added complication of machineries of rock, branch, water. An abstract art recommends contingency, flotsam, jetsam, hybrid materials and erosion. I recommend fresh air, interest in the world, appreciation of beauty, all prep mental and physical recuperation.

Minimalist artist (and murder suspect) Carl Andre admitted, ‘The wood was better before I cut then after. I did not improve it in any way’. [2]


Is Whiting Beach in Sydney Australia’s most dangerous beach? The problem has become so bad at Whiting Beach, Mosman, that workers from nearby Taronga Zoo are forced to remove dozens of potentially infected syringes every day. Daily Mail, 11.12.2017.


Birds Nest fern (Asplenium nidus): Is this fleshy archaic luminosity one of the oldest living colours?
Plato believed beauty was about proportion, in Philebus arguing for natural beauty in regular lines and figures. Now we find beauty in Mandelbrot’s fractals. Aristotle in Metaphysics argued beauty derived from order, symmetry and definiteness (mathematics the key). Vitruvius thought architecture referenced the beauty of the proportions of the human body.

I find rocks and trees and plants beautiful, which cuts out some explanations of beauty and offers more. This fern is an epiphyte. The cupped leaves catch fallen leaves, fruit, bird droppings and other detritus which slowly decompose feeding the plant.


What to make of our framework and our contribution? Mulch or biodegradable authenticity, and with luck eventual sustainability.
This installation magnifies the natural light. a wafer-thin radioactive glow shrinks shadow space.


Then there’s the details of what’s underfoot and taken for granted. I photograph what they knew and what they didn’t know. A lichen is both fungus and photosynthetic organism, a cyanobacterium or green alga, a mutualistic relationship, we know in our gut. Nothing can be taken for granted any more.


A four iron onto the putting green. The water’s torque offers a ticket to be here, the views expensive, the architecture reissued. I scramble down (carefully looking where) past the sign, ‘Please keep to the track, bush regeneration in progress’. Meanings are trust. The excuse in my head is Gautier’s, but with guilt.
I am using a camera, so you don’t need too.


A limp red rag to the lens, as if wings have been torn away or a giant scarf lost.
Bloody flotsam – presence overboard, destination problematic. And so much has sunk, gold, coke cans, hub caps among the seed pods and timbers. The human trace sometimes somehow wilds.


I recognise ‘smiling rock’ in a Streeton from 1896. An auspicious moment. The plein air revolution required technology, not a sighting device like the camera obscura, but an invention from the 1840s, paint in a metal tube.
Poetic licence changed angles and included action, a maroon rowing boat and distant ferry wearing two white funnels for coherence. Can a painting achieve immortality or will its energy inevitably atrophy?


Mobberley and Perry Ltd. fabricated firebricks in the West Midlands from about 1880 in this most physical world. I saw Courbet’s Stonebreakers (long after it had transformed into floating ash in Dresden’s conflagration) when travelling through India. I still can’t believe what is still happening.
The wind tears off the sound of words.

Writing lasts longer and words carved in stone last best, which the aspirational Ramesses 2 appreciated.


I’ve seen worked stone around the world: Mycenae, Mootwinge, Ephesus, Persepolis, Great Zimbabwe, Loyang, Chichen Itza, Ajanta, Amber, Dendera, Petra, Palmyra, Skara Brae, Stonehenge, Sukhothai, the Parthenon and Pantheon, all but a couple without a camera. An honest mistake or a useful mistake, depending on what I learnt.
These stones are winnowed 24/7, some locked down, introverted, fist-tight. Endurance dragged into the light is oblivious but obvious. On a full moon some bellow into the night.


Oysters scratch the bubbling light. The mystery of moist oysters clumped like a miniature golden boulder fissured by heat and ice, is uncertain. The tidal zone is an unstable boundary. Water’s playful impulse explodes out of the rich net, more species of fish are sucking on this harbour than in the whole Mediterranean Sea.
Some of us work on ambition. There’s a photograph of David Nash pushing a large oak boulder along a river in Wales. It’s autumn, leaves cover the banks; it’s cold, he’s rugged up levering this roughly round boulder which he has hewn. A different work ethic entirely. I want to collaborate with the natural without formal procedures to enjoy the randomness each walk generates.


A sole is stopped in its tracks, presence trapped by patterns, one calloused foot missing, one active human.


A tiny limestone figurine with wide hips, exaggerated drooping breasts (and strange round beaded head) was carved around 30,000 years ago. Art critic Waldemar Januszczak handles a likeness of the ‘Venus’ of Willendorf for the camera. In photographs, the Willendorf Venus looks wildly overweight, but in the flesh, the most noticeable thing about her is the soft and welcoming motherliness of her presence. Look at those fabulous DD breasts. That gorgeously embedded belly button. The sweet cleft of her oopsie. She’s actually tiny, no taller than a small cigar. As soon as I spotted her, my hands started twitching with the desire to cup and cradle her. [3]

He finds it comfortable in the hand, enjoyable to hold and goes on to claim that sculpture is the preeminent form of art.
What’s your process of engaging with art? In a gallery, do you look at the work first or the signage? Can you date the painting to Mannerism or the Baroque? No? Don’t worry, you can still enjoy it, Can you date these different rocks, explain their genealogy. Sedimentary? Age (by epoch)? Don’t worry – go with the flow

Susan Sontag attacked much contemporary art criticism, wanting viewers/listeners to allow works of art to act on our senses before imposing theoretical constructs upon them (‘an erotics of art’): ‘Like the fumes of the automobile and of heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities.’ [4]

Turning a blind eye to knees, elbows, ears and neck, prick, scrotum, vulva, any hint of an expression, thought or emotion, tight-lipped, preferring a natural consummation of a sandstone pocket of crumbling torso. The backstory is the flawed continental edge.


Can you imagine a world without rocks, or birds?
Or beauty?

The Golden Whistler: ‘the male is not easily confused for another species with its bright yellow colouring. The female, however, is mostly grey but still a very pretty little bird.’[5]


[1] Arnold Berleant, ‘Aesthetics of the coastal environment’ in Aesthetics and Environment: Variations on a Theme, (1992) Routledge, 2018.

[2] ‘‘Last Ladder’, Carl Andre, 1959’. Tate, c 2016.

[3] Waldemar Januszczak, ‘The Origins of Everything’, 4.2.2013.

[4] Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966.


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