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The test of time

The next phase of the residency at Musee d'art du Valais, was taking the drawings out into the high alpine areas to be tested in the glacial environment. How would they survive? Would they melt in the heat of the sun? How would they record the experience of exposure?

The first was glacier du Moiry, picturesque at the end of a glacial lake, reached by a walk through alpine meadow. The plants making their home in the land vacated by the glacier.

Closer to the glacier, in the shallows of the glacial lake, some can even be seen steadfastly making their life in the rich sediment of glacial mud.

It’s a harsh environment. Devoid of colour and intense light . Bleak sun, tempered by strong gusts of wind. Filming of semi invisible drawings is not easy. The white drawings are set amongst the boulders, they fit right in. They huddle together and quiver in the wind.

An icy chill greets us as we approach the glowing blue of the ice cave , out of reach, the other side of the lake. A water fall roars above tumbling down from the upper glacier, drowning out any hope of recording the subtler sounds around us – like boulders tumbling down the steep moraine, the glacier cracks. The landscape is visibly and audibly changing as we watch it. As if to reinforce this point, a flotilla of mini ice bergs sails past, making is way down stream, caught in the eddy they dance and circle each other.

The next day we set off for Arolla, in the Val d’Herens where the pilot field work was done last year. In just a year, the ice has visibly retreated, the ice cave collapsed and the course of the stream altered.

The route through the boulder field of moraine is full of patches of glacial mud. I collect some of the finest for making the tiny paintings on glass. Like the archaeology , this mud is something left behind by the retreating glacier. In German its called gleischermilch, glacial milk, and in English, glacial flour. Milk and flour. I think of how it is nourishing the plants now growing through it. We film me gathering it. A process of miniature orogeny and mounds form and fall under my hands.

Making and unmaking. I fold and unfold the drawings, setting them up for exposure. Fold and unfold again. We film this act of care, and with it the gradual accrual of wear and tear it brings.

The drawings in the outflow, floating, bobbing around at the mercy of the current. And floated downstream, grabbed by the currents and disintegrating. A visible reminder of just how brutal water and erosion can be for delicate objects, be it the drawings or the archaeology. I realise the drawings are not just records of melt, more metaphors for the archaeology.


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