Growing up on the Isle of Wight, Simon Linington was fascinated by the different coloured sands that made up the cliffs near his childhood home at Alum Bay. Here, new colourful strata would sometimes be dramatically revealed when parts of the cliff-face crumbled due to erosion. As a child, he would fill small glass bottles with layers of the sand, producing the typical tourist souvenirs that are still sold in the area today.
These early experiences led Linington to an understanding of material and place as inseparably linked. They also inform his ongoing series ‘Souvenir’ (2015): a sequence of sculptures displaying strata of local materials in acrylic or glass vitrines that are inspired, in part, by the Victorian tradition of making sand vial landscapes. These works simultaneously evoke a landscape and a tourist economy, an historic pastime and contemporary concerns.
The latest piece in the ‘Souvenir’ series is Linington’s first outdoor sculpture. ‘Bajo la Sierra Larga’ (2021) is set within the Parque Natural Sierra María-Los Vélez: a semi-wilderness on the Mediterranean steppe in Andalucía, Spain. To make the work, Linington gathered materials from a nearby dry riverbed and sorted them according to type, colour, and size, before layering them in a vitrine that stands over two metres high.
Through the labour-intensive act of sorting the grains of soil, sand, and rock by hand, Linington seeks an intimate, embodied knowledge of the landscape. The environment in which he has been living and working becomes inseparable from the artwork via a methodology that is ecological on both a personal and a geological scale. The division between life and art fades, modes of existence become entangled.
The sculpture is a site-specific work that responds to its location by actually becoming it. This notion is part of Linington’s ongoing interest in what he calls “decreation” – taking apart an exhibition space and using the materials to construct something new. ‘Bajo la Sierra Larga’ is a re-presentation of the landscape, literally reassembling rock and soil in new formats, while also evoking the contours of the surrounding mountains, with the colourful strata carefully choreographed into alignment with a distant treeline or the top of a nearby bush.
Linington made this work during a residency at Joya AiR: a centre for art and ecology in the Parque Natural Sierra María-Los Vélez. The installation is the first of a series of multidisciplinary interventions in the landscape, curated by Simon Beckmann under the umbrella of a new annual award titled, ‘SENDA’. The intention is to invite a succession of artists to make a new work in response to the unique geography of the site, drawing on themes of animacy, the unseen, and responses to ecological decline.
In its semi-wild location, ‘Bajo la Sierra Larga’ takes on an animacy of its own, shifting with the weather and the light; recent photographs show it in striking contrast against an unexpected snowfall. It is both a memento of and an homage to the landscape of which it is a part – a souvenir-in-situ.