Picture a spiderling aloft a breeze, its gossamer thread citing a departure point, its destination at the mercy of the wind. Picture hundreds of these tiny invertebrates on their perilous journeys and you arrive approximately at Julia Parkinson's monochrome Kiting series; a word which describes this natural world marvel as well as the title of her show at Brocket Gallery until the 10th of February.
Kiting's inky blue strands and blotches on aluminium have a drifting illustrative quality to them. Mutations of paint depict water sculpting the land or air currents shaping cloud formations. Pigment slips and slides through a fixing medium, a process the artist refers to as 'painting in a swimming pool', until it is brought to rest and dries over time, during which the composition and materials are vulnerable to a fractured atrophy. As with the spiders, their mortality rate is high.
From aerial views to the depths of the underworld, the introduction of a striking red shifts the composition away from the sublime
We witness the dramatic power of something resembling Dante's Vestibule of Hell, where the Futile are tormented 'as whirlwind whips the spinning sands together'. Parkinson explains that the series 'seeks to capture turbulent elemental forces, restraining vast expanses into panoramas, arriving at a deep stillness where unruly currents become settled and time stands still'.
In bulkier works, blackened wax is used to create the Plough series as a physical marker of the beginnings of agriculture. These recall the book Revolutions that Made the Earth, in which Andrew Watson and Tim Lenton view the 'evolution of life and of the non-living environment as one coupled, indivisible process', pairing population growth with an ever increasing impact on our environment. Parkinson's work describes this inter-dependence and its resulting impressions on the earth's surface.
Plough pieces follow the swirl of the farming implement's patterning, recounting its deep, cutting impact on the landscape. An invitation to a create a piece for Luciano Benetton's size restricted Imago Mundo collection, instigated a group of Small Ploughs which expose infinitesimal details of how the ground is dramatically churned to feed our agri-fuelled existence. It also pushed Parkinson to grasp the artist's mark in a single gesture.
Downstairs shifts us away from the end production to the materials themselves. In the custom of artists such as the pioneering American Michelle Stuart and Korea's Chung Chang-Sup, Parkinson displays her commitment to organic materials and their by products. Not surprising from a New Zealand artist whose homeland offers a plethora of natural splendour. Parkinson explains that her work aims to 'talk about landscape, the origins of materials and the effects from changes that are taking place through either natural or manmade forces'.
In this immersive installation, the gallery's floor is replaced with etched steel plates which simultaneously point to a configuration of erosion as well as the dirty end of industrial production from where raw materials will eventually find their way into contemporary architecture. Stepping stones guide our path to the standing ledges where rusted walls, powdered gold, sand and concrete engulf us in an airless atmosphere of resource mining or a snapshot of geological time. The space connects with the Martha open pit in Waihi New Zealand, where Parkinson researched the enormous cavity in the earth. It is also not far from her earlier work, In Conversation, a stepped amphitheatre enclosing a whirlwind of coloured sand and selected for the prestigious Bloomberg New Contemporaries prize.
The changing states of all these surfaces allude to transmutations in our terrain, scoreboarding negotiations between resources and human needs. Artist and writer William Morris's early versions of eco-socialism come to mind, as well as economist E F Schumacher's appeals that we reign in our profligate habits. To that end and as a humble gesture of sustainability, Parkinson has propagated a vast perennial garden in Kent. In contrast to her gallery works which freeze moments of flux, the garden continually withers and regenerates in drifting Piet Oudolf style which brings us back to the fragility and ephemerality of Kiting.