Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Setting a compass

You've met John Holstead before, here and here and here. Part of the pleasure of coming to Ireland each summer is seeing what John has been up to since my previous visit.

I first met John nearly 40 years ago, during his and my first visits to Ventry, when he was on holiday as a young marine engineer plying the world's oceans aboard oil tankers. We both fell in love with the place. I eventually made it my habit to return each summer; John became a permanent resident. Even as a marine engineer there was an artist in John struggling to get out. The artist has been loosed, and the engineer now lurks inside.

As you will have read in previous posts, John reminds me of a demiurge making worlds. In recent years he has taken on projects that can only be described as cosmic. This time it is a piece that would have made the pre-Socratics happy, a cosmic egg, a self-contained universe, but with the convex Earth turned inside out, and local.

From the outside, an egg, with the top cracked off like a breakfast entree. Inside, folded onto the surface of the shell, a three-dimensional representation of Ventry, with its mountain heaths and patchwork of ancient fields. Click to enlarge.


John started with a Google Earth image of the parish, then added, on his computer, elevation data from Ordnance Survey maps. The hard part: finding the mathematical formula that would project the map onto the inside of the egg. Next, again on his computer, generating the templates for the dozens of separate laminations that would stack up to make the egg -- glued together, finished by hand, polished, painted.

All this as part of a multi-artist book/exhibit celebration of place, this place, this fold of land and sea on the western margin of Europe, deep in history, rich in lore.

Art, yes, but more than art. I think of Blake's The Ancient of Days "when he set a compass upon the face of the earth" (Proverbs, viii 25), a fusion of art and science, except with John's Apple Mac computer taking the place of the demiurge's compass.