1984 Ritual/Landmarks

'The beautiful and varied coastline includes the fossil rich cliffs of Lyme Regis and Charmouth. It was in the cliffs near Lyme Regis that Mary Anning discovered the famous ichthyosaurus fossil, and these cliffs still yield a never ending supply of fossils, mi_ions of years old.' Holiday and Tourist Guide to West Dorset I982. 'Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together under the one place and let the dry land appear.' Genesis I. 9

A quotation from the Bible is not a common way to begin an article about a series of contemporary art works. However, much in the same way in which the first verses of Genesis detail the progress of the creation of the world, so does the structure of these frame a sequence of events. Both are a chronicle of a creative process and achievement, neither are literally true, but each seeks to bring the complexities of natural phenomena into a comprehensible form.

The means which Roger Polley and John Woodman chose for their work are both simple and complex, ancient and modern. The technology of colour-film records a few simple, even commonplace, man-made objects, the transitory effect that they have upon the movement of the sea and the irresistible impact that the sea has upon them. Glasses and shaped pieces of wood are placed in one of the most complex environments on this earth; the fluctuating line where sea and land meet, where an extra-terrestrial force has imposed a basic rhythm. Against this an infinite number of themes and variations are played through the intervention of continents, islands, cliffs, rocks, pebbles, grains of sand, flotsam and jetsam.

Time plays an essential part in these works. The finite time of the human mind, the tine it takes to contemplate one of these works. There is an implied time gap between one section of the image and the next. There is the literal split-second technology of the modern camera which isolates an event which, although unique, is always occurring. It happened and was happening long before we groped our primaeval way from the sea onto the shore. It will still be happening when our species, like Mary Anning's ichthyosaurus, is long, long gone. Indeed, depending on the manner of our going, the rise and fall If the tide may be the only movement this world will keep.

The contrast between the click of the shutter and the process of evolution is complemented by the real and implied changes of scale. Images appear and fade away; what at first could be taken for a composite satellite photograph of the earth's surface becomes a sequence of events which can be read from side to side, vertically or diagonally like a literally puzzle. Precise circles vanish, the geometry dissolves and another image appears; the indistinct form of a man. The evolutionary process is revealed. But who is the observer and who the observed?

Like poetry these works contain rhythm and rhyme, simile and surface texture, metaphor and, even, pun.

Mostly the wooden shapes play only a passive role waiting to be arranged and re-arranged at the whim of the sea. But sometimes the shapes and grain of the wood are _very bit as important as what happens to them. The _rain of wood and a grain of sand react with each other. Circular discs contrast in colour, texture and size with the softness of the sandy beach; the number of discs finite, the sand particles infinite. The regularity of the wood resembles a board game without a board. They are involved in a conflict where the pieces are moved and the rules change with every ebb and flow of the tide.


Roger Polley, John Woodman 1984