Waving not Drowning !
In the technological age of the twenty first century there is little if any significant use of semaphore as a means of communication and only a small fraction of the population are now able to understand it. It is a system based on the use of flags, light wands or simply bare arms held out in a series of positions to represent letters of the alphabet and numbers.
If however our complex technologically reliant communications systems were to fail or be rendered inoperative due to loss of power, as the result of catastrophic environmental disasters such as floods, earthquakes, acts of terrorism, technical malfunction, hacking etc, then semaphore would be our only non technologically dependent form of visual communication.
‘A Catalogue of Errors’ is a body of work that uses this communication system and in particular the sign for ‘Error’ sometimes also called ‘Attention’. Since 2008 I have created Error signals in a number of locations that have geographical and political significance or are focal points of environmental sensitivity and trauma. The work falls into three sections.
The first section is the Arctic Region where I have witnessed the dramatic affects of climate change, easily observed and seen clearly to be escalating at an alarming and potentially irreversible rate. The Arctic remains the key indicator of the global condition of our climate, a living testimony to our errors, possibly since the time of the industrial revolution.
The second section is Japan and in particular the Tõhoku Region that I visited prior to and after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. Here, as well as the devastation in towns such as Minamisanriku, Ishinomaki and Kesennuma, and subsequent loss of life caused by the power and scale of the earthquake, there is an ongoing anxiety and environmental concern over the safety of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the implications for a displaced population, increasingly isolated and stigmatised.
The works in the third section are from the UK and are linked to the Arctic and Japanese work in that they also focus on the nuclear presence and coastal areas where the threats of coastal erosion and sea level rises are becoming more probable and dramatic due to climate change. A key work from this series is ‘What Has To Be Done’, a performance light piece made in 2011 on the shoreline at Aldeburgh, a few miles from Sizewell Nuclear Power Station on the Suffolk coast. It was made in response to an earlier work by the German artist Joseph Beuys in 1980 called ‘What Is To Be Done’ commissioned by The Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh as a series of interventions and debates about the relationship between nuclear power and alternative technology.
In the intervening thirty three years the debate about energy supply options, carbon emissions and resource extraction has continued to come in and out of focus and has gathered momentum but little has changed to quell the overall desire for increasing levels of energy and power consumption. Our planet is under ever increasing pressure to support ‘civilised’ lifestyles largely based on an energy greedy and exploitative attitude to the natural world and a determination to measure its wealth and improvement by a process of out of control consumerist acquisition leading to a potentially fatal depletion of the world’s most valuable natural resources.
History reminds us of our catalogue of errors – how will our future errors be seen?