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Jon Adam’s Look About at Winchester Discovery Museum

Posted by Colin Hambrook, Monday 9th July, 2012

purple, red and black digital map by jon Adams

Jon Adam’s Look About project sounds a massive undertaking when you meet the artist and talk to him. Notebook in hand he speaks whilst making geological-style diagrams recording the ‘strata’ of the moment.

As the Look About leaflet says: you make two vertical lines to record your impression of the moment. You state the time on the left; write down what is happening in that moment and use the space between the lines to record how you feel about it. In the examples there are scribbles; wavy or straight lines; or small circles - that all give an emotive impression.

I love the fact that Look About is as much about encouraging participation in the project as it is about the artist creating artwork himself. As a process for making artwork it is presented as a straightforward mapping process. Like all simple ideas, it has layers of complexity that necessitate a much greater deal of thought than you might imagine on first inspection.

However, I remember a brilliant response from a lad from Bittern Park school who took part in of one of Jon Adams’ Driving Inspiration workshops. The result was a four foot high piece of artwork detailing a day in the life of the school, which was shown at Mandeville School in July last year, as part of the Driving Inspiration celebration day.

There is something ingenious about using a geological metaphor as an example to show how a set of tools for understanding one field can be exploited to create what is in effect a type of diary method for recording visually how you’ve spent your day.

Showing in the library in the Discovery Museum is a selection of 12 digital prints and a display cabinet of found objects, posters and postcards. These ‘fossils’ include a variety of art flyers, geological postcards and a selection of found objects; all labeled like museum artefacts. There is a battery, a small piece of rope, a metal nob amongst other items all labeled and categorized, telling a story about a specific moment.

The most intriguing of these is a broken plastic, analogue clock with letters instead of numbers, spelling out the word ‘stratigraphy’. I had to look this up, to discover it is the name of ‘the branch of geology concerned with the order and relative position of strata and their relationship to the geological time scale’. So does this represent something about how the scientific method has been broken apart to create a new way of working; mirroring how fault lines break down what is known, or recognized, in the process of decay and renewal?

As with much of Adams artwork the audience is given clues about what you are seeing and configuring meaning from those clues is a journey in itself. For example the 12 digital prints on show are like aerial views taken from an aeroplane; looking down through the clouds to see aspects of industrial, urban and country landscape. But equally, with their vivid colours and poetic, abstract quality they detail something about a state of mind. There are spotlights and highlights of colour that could convey an idea or a moment of clarity.

I couldn’t work out the relationship between the geological diagrams in the display cabinet and the resulting digital images. On asking Jon Adams about the connection between the two he said that: “The digital images are representative of details of the rocks in the layer diagrams. So as well as measuring time and collecting ‘fossils’ I look at structures; just as you would take a rock and cut it to see the structure inside with a microscope.”

So the artworks either represent or are derived from patterns in the detail from the diagrams. The images are then scanned and manipulated on the computer. Some end up as sections; some as elements of the final map. And Jon says “some that look very map-like are, in fact, very small stains.”

I look forward to seeing this multi-layered project presented as a whole. I find myself wanting to piece it all together and find the narratives the images are telling. There is an exceptional determination inherent in the work, but finding out what it means is another story.

As part of the showing of the work I’d love to hear Jon Adams on audio giving his audience a coherent response to the making of the work and how it fits as a response to Accentuate.

Ultimately there will be four distinct aspects to the project unfolding as film, animation and sound works as well as the other elements. I look forward to seeing how the project progresses.

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