INTO THIN AIR
LAUREN CARROLL HARRIS & HANNAH CARROLL HARRIS
The environment is important. It is the only thing that stands between us and the vast inhospitable expansive of space: it is a fragile membrane upon which we sit.
Our environment is now well into the age of the Anthropocene: This is the environmental age characterised by a supreme influence from human activity: Whereas the fledgling civilisations of the past revered the power of the earth and it’s unpredictable nature, the opposite, infact, is now true. Our quest to better ourselves has conquered the domain of nature.
Jonathan Jones wrote in September last year for the Guardian of how nature feeds culture: from the earliest examples of art to the present day, the wilderness from which we came is the backbone of the symbolic world that we inhabit.
‘In the 21st century the same paradox endures. Human activity endangers entire species, yet human culture is profoundly rooted in nature.. The loss of a species is also the loss of the images, stories, symbols and wonders that we live by’.
The cedars of Lebanon, as an example, are a tree intrinsically linked to the national identity. It adorns the flag, the currency and carries a weight of symbolic importance to the country’s history. It is now threatened by climate change.
Observing that ‘the built and natural environments are now changing so rapidly that our language and conceptual framework have to work overtime just to keep up... there is a mismatch between our lived experience of the world and our ability to conceptualise and comprehend it’, Glenn Albrecht, an Australian professor at Murdoch University in Western Australia, coined the neologism ‘solastalgia’ (http://theconversation.com/the-age-of-solastalgia-8337).
Solastalgia is, succinctly put, the feeling of homesickness while one is at home. This feeling was first noted by Albrecht in the Hunter Valley during the 5 year long drought that the east of Australia underwent in the early 21st century. This, along with widespread mining activities, imparted psychological malaise to the inhabitants of the Hunter.
This term has garnered wide discursive currency since its creation in 2003. The Carroll Harris sisters, Lauren and Hannah, both work with the themes of solastalgia, anxiety, loss and capture.
The primary communication of these concerns flows directly from the mediums used: we find silk, crystal, algae and string, the delicacy of these materials speaks of the precarious situation the natural environment finds itself in. Obversely, the use materials could be seen as an attempt to immortalise them before they disappear from the natural world: what else do we treat with such reverence than the work of art?
The delicate floating mountains/icebergs of Lauren’s work hang like thought-bubbles in a comic book: They feel as though they could dissipate at any moment. When you consider that the work was produced in rural isolation at the small town of Cumnock, NSW, at the Dark Tea Time of the Soul Residency, the work assumes a Romantic contemplation of nature: but unlike the work of say, Caspar David Friedrich, where the figure is often belittled against the backdrop of mighty mountains, the mountains themselves are belittled,.
Meanwhile, Hannah’s woven crystal sculpture IS Google Earth, it’s omniscient satellite view has been placed atop a plinth. Our technology has made a mockery of the vast power of nature, while Hannah’s landscape sculpture still is worthy of the symbolic loading of a plinth, it hangs limp at one end and rises like smoke at the other.
Jonathan Jones later gives his dystopic vision of the future as our environment sustains further losses: ‘we face the bare walls of an empty museum, a gallery of the dead’. Perhaps this is a thought to contemplate while view the work of the Carroll Harris sisters.