The above Hodgkin quote is the ideal line to open As Coastline is to Ocean. The exhibition takes Hodgkin’s statement and goes a step further, presenting the theory that the frame itself – both physically and metaphorically – plays a more important role than simply surrounding something. The exhibition places that exact point ‘where the picture stops’ in the centre of our viewfinder.
Joseph Calleja and David Cass are connected by an enthusiasm for working with found materials. The two have maintained a creative dialogue over the past decade, since sharing studios whilst studying at Edinburgh College of Art. As Coastline is to Ocean features new, unseen works by Cass and Calleja, alongside seminal pieces by Robert Callender (1932—2011), selected by the artists to give a third voice to the exhibition.
Over the last few years Cass’ work has become increasingly concerned with environmental issues related to water. From explorative works created in drought-zones, to illustrative projects focussed on flooding. His current works refer to rising sea levels, and in this exhibition Cass is looking specifically at coastal change. The coastline is one of the first casualties of rising seas. In Scotland, we may think of sea rise as an issue lapping at the feet of others – a far off, foreign concern – but this phenomenon will soon become local to us all.
Calleja takes a more anthropological approach to the project, discussing the links between the appearance of objects and their essence. During a recent An Talla Solais residency, Calleja worked on the series Imcaqlaq; a set of works that would be vital to the curation of this exhibition not just because they deal with the found object but also because these pieces heighten the importance of the peripheral in art.
Cass was born in Edinburgh in 1988. Since graduating from Edinburgh College of Art, he’s participated in exhibitions & events with an increasing focus on the environment & sustainability. He’s currently based in London.
The atmosphere could be considered the frame of the Earth – a thermal blanket of gasses – shrouding us from space and endless universe. Zoom in to the Earth, capped on each end by ice. At the top, the Arctic, a frozen ocean ringed by land; at the bottom, the Antarctic, a massive continent of mountain chains and lakes buried under ice, circled by an ever-changing frozen ocean. Life is dictated at these extremes, these outer rings. What goes on here is crucial to all life on the planet.
Environmental change is perhaps the key happening in all of our lives today and the Arctic is considered ground zero of this change. Cass’ principal inclusion in As Coastline is to Ocean is a series of artworks based on the albedo effect (in relation to ice melt). These works reference Cass’ Rising Horizon series, using proportions and divisions of surface to explore the topic of rising sea levels. In Rising Horizon, the variable is the level of sea (versus sky) in each painted seascape. In these albedo works – titled Arrangements – the variable is the proportion of black, heat-storing sea versus diminishing reflective ice occupying the surface.
Calleja was born in Rabat (Gozo) in 1981. He moved to Edinburgh in 2004 to study Drawing & Painting then Art, Space & Nature (MA) at Edinburgh College of Art. He’s based in Edinburgh still, returning regularly to his workshop in Qala (Gozo).
The site plays a crucial role in Calleja's As Coastline is to Ocean series. This aspect took precedence throughout his making process, reshaping certain pieces and omitting other explorations. Calleja alludes here to the notion of the in-between, through a series of site-specific works. Two of his key pieces – Shards of Zen and Antipode – relate to specific points within the gallery, down to the exact geo-location.
His series Imcaqlaq (below) examines the frame and its historical use to adorn, protect and delineate the artwork it surrounds. Looking at this periphery as a focal point, the frames Calleja works with become the subject of the work. In this series the re-assembled glass follows suit, protecting no artwork behind it other than itself.
Callender was born in Kent in 1932. After a period as a student of medical illustration he went on to Edinburgh College of Art, where he became an artist – and would later mentor young artists as a much-loved member of the College staff. An involved member of the Scottish art community, he also exhibited internationally. Robert died in July 2011, in Fife.
The area between foreshore and coastline is frame to both sea and land. That margin – the narrow slip between low and high tide – occupied almost the entirety of artist Robert Callender’s career. The zone where wash and shingle pools, a gathering point for the silt of life, but also for life. The ways in which that zone changed during Callender’s lifetime have little to do with the eternal to and fro between tide and land so much as with the effect of man's disregard for the environment.
In his text The Beach’s Unbearable Lightness, Andrew Patrizio* quotes eco-philosopher Timothy Morton**, who says of liminal (coastal) spaces ‘…as a matter of urgency, we just cannot go on thinking of [these spaces] as “in between”. We must choose to include them on this side of human social practices, to factor them in to our political and ethical discussions.’ Patrizio writes ‘Callender brought such spaces to the forefront of his work … like many artists, he seemed attracted to marginal places and their troubling existence. In recent decades the environmental movement has highlighted, perhaps more than any other region, the edge, the borderland, in its attentiveness to change – such as low-lying, disappearing island communities or the zone where the melting polar ice-sheets meet and become the sea.’
Callender was born in Mottingham (Kent) in 1932. Readings from nearby Sheerness show that the sea level there was 144mm lower† on his birth year compared to today. Almost forty years later, when Callender and his wife Elizabeth Ogilvie first visited the Stoer Peninsula – where they set up a re-purposed bothy – the Minch strait which met their shore was 109mm lower than today; and when the couple moved to Sea Loft in 1990 the area of North Sea which meets the Firth of Forth lay 54mm lower. Throughout this time of dramatic sea rise – and thus, coastal topography change – another phenomenon rapidly began to alter Callender’s zone: the washing-up of ever more plastic waste.
Between 1995 and 1999 Callender worked on a series titled Coastal Collection. The series comprises 500 small sculptures of beachcombed objects. These creations simulate driftwood and wooden boat parts, they speak of the correlation between the appearance of objects and their essence, which is a theme explored by Calleja throughout his practice, since participating in the Robert Callender Residency in 2012.
We could perhaps romanticise the pieces that make Coastal Collection, we could name these acceptable examples of flotsam and jetsam – expected forms of nautical debris. But in 2003, Coastal Collection evolved into Plastic Beach (below). Gone were the muted colours of salt-water washed wood and flaked ship’s paint, now replaced by the gaudy primary colours of plastic waste. In his own words, Plastic Beach is ‘for our children’s children’s children’. The project took four years to complete and is designed ‘to draw attention in a graphic way to the grave state of our coastline. The horrific assortment of plastic is quite alarming. Debris is both commercial and domestic but primarily commercial, reflecting the nature of our society’.*
Before the topic of beach waste hit the media as we see today, Callender’s piece was ahead of its time – a clear visual representation of environmental damage. Callender's work can be linked to the topic of global warming most clearly through the theme of excessive consumption and the dangerous over-use of petrochemical products (plastics). Furthermore, data released in August 2018‡ states that plastic waste on land – whether dumped or washed up on beaches – releases methane when exposed to sunlight.
And so – in the most extreme picture – the gathered plastic that inspired Plastic Beach references one tangential cause of what one day will be the disappearance of that same beach. Seas rise as gasses warm the planet. Callender’s works are portals to a world we’ll never re-capture. They are wholeheartedly site-specific, no matter the scale. Yet, the site needn’t be the beach at Stoer, nor the strip of sand below Sea Loft. Callender’s site, his zone, exists the world over.
Top Cracked Rudder (1989) 122 x 61 cm | Above Plastic Beach (2003–2008) 500 items
Text by David Cass & Joseph Calleja (further editing by Joanna Wright)
Photographs by Bremner Design, courtesy of the Robert Callender Estate.
* A2B: An Artist’s Journey, Lateral Lab 2015
** Ecology Without Nature, Harvard University 2007
† Figures obtained from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s public sea level trend charts 1900–2020
‡ Relating to the Public Library of Science’s research article Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment 2018. While it was known that plastic releases carbon dioxide as it degrades, this is the first research made measuring the emissions of other greenhouse gasses.
20th July —
8th September 2019
Isak Anshelm, Julia Barton, Chris Bryant, Stuart Cairns, Becky Campbell, Pin-Erh Chen, Craig Dow, Gair Dunlop, Lily Hassioti, Caroline McGonigal, Lar MacGregor, Lauren McBride, Martyn McKenzie, Kevin Andrew Morris, José-Luis Ochoa, Ellis O’Connor, Katie Parkin, Vivian Ross-Smith, Christine Sloman, Daisy Williamson
In collaboration with An Talla Solais – alongside As Coastline is to Ocean – Cass and Calleja devised and designed an Open Call to promote discussion on the subject of coastal change. The artists sought artworks which delved into this globally significant environmental topic. A hundred artists applied from around the world, referencing aspects such as coastal erosion, construction, beach waste, sea rise, flooding, acidification of sea water... Twenty selected artists were shown on rotation for the duration of the exhibition.