There are scratches on the surface of the world. These manifested in the titular ‘Weather Station’: a semi-transparent, spherical ‘zorb’ recently anchored by ropes to a makeshift platform outside OSR Projects. A series of artists have entered or engaged in dialogue with the object, and so it bore the traces of previous wear, drawings and marks. In some patches, it was possible to see where the skyline has been delineated, in others, where a landscape had been crudely mapped.
For those artists who stepped inside the ‘Weather Station’, the airtight membrane formed a skin: an impermeable border between outside and in. It’s a neat illusion that separates human from nature, allowing for dissociation and observation from a safe distance. But it was also a precarious prison, which could not be opened from the inside. The incarcerated artist had between 10 and 20 minutes before the air emptied of oxygen and lips turn blue - an explicit, if metaphorical, note of caution.
Weather Station (Part I)’s exhibition showed the results and ephemera related to three artist interactions with the ‘Weather Station’. Its centrepiece was a traditional flat-bottomed rowing boat, ‘Some:when’, built by Jethro Brice and Seila Fernandez Aconada as part of a long-term project addressing flooding and community resilience on the Somerset levels. Stepping into the boat was an act of disorientation: the vessel imperceptibly moved, the gallery floor turned to water, the world suddenly seemed a little less stable.
This position of exposure was best for viewing Alexander Stevenson’s video ‘Vstříc Divočině’ (Czech for “towards wilderness”). Shot in a forest clearing, the artist began a series of ritualistic and ridiculous gestures by kneading and smearing his hands with soil. He goes on to writhe in leaf litter, burrow in the earthy roots of a fallen tree and stomp on stilts bearing branches on his back. With the grimacing artist kitted in hiking gear, it’s an easy parody of the ‘outdoor lifestyle’, a leisure activity that promises proximity with nature. But the soundtrack - composed of digital growls and monstrous breathing - seemed darker, more ominous. The video was filled with odd jerky zooms, indicating an observer of this strange fauna, or perhaps turning the foolish creature’s gaze back upon the watcher.
Stevenson’s other work dominated in height and colour - a domed tipi cloaked in kaleidoscope robes. Like a sea swell of festival tents, ‘Mountain’ was decked in absurd outer layers of neon - a patchwork of pink, blue, green, orange. It was tall enough to enter, and once inside, black mesh and silver stitching enveloped the viewer like a dark cocoon. Patterned with wheels, grids and lines, conjuring crop circles, desert geoglyphs and celestial bodies, the interior recalled a previous human existence, in which the seasonal and the cyclical were attended and anticipated.
There was also a sense of eerie premonition in Simon Lee Dicker’s ‘Red Sky in the Morning’. From a pasted billboard, a silhouetted man gazed out to sea beneath a busy train carriage. The photo was taken before the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which would strike Sri Lanka and wipe out a packed commuter train, killing almost 2000 people. Nearby, on iPods, Dicker’s parents each retell their experience of the disaster, beginning with the moment the water struck the beachside cafe they were in. There is dark humour - it’s a breakfast-themed escapade - but also biblical dimensions, as the couple find themselves guiding blind companions towards a temple and scrambling up a mountain to escape the waters. With elements of the stories manifesting in the space (a freshly prepared Sri Lankan ‘Egg Hopper’; a chair like those they were lucky to sleep in), the work spoke of foresight and hindsight, personal myth and human endurance.
But lest we breathe easy with thoughts of co-operative survival, Jethro Brice discomforted with the most exacting and critical observation in the exhibition. In a wall text, the significance of water - and a lack of it - comes to bear on Israeli/Palestinian life. Observing the black water tanks that distinguish Arab villages from Jewish settlements, the narrator realises: “...water supply is managed by Israeli companies. In times of shortage, Arab families are the first to be cut off, sometimes for months at a time.” A bird with iridescent blue wings was drawn nearby, he perched beside the words, grounded.
It was akin to a warning flash, a reminder of who lays claim to natural resources and the role that state ideology plays in necessitating, and even inviting, our resilience against disaster. As a term in increasing use - and happily claimed as a buzzword by politicians, banks and corporations, Mark Neocleous notes in Radical Philosophy that “Resilience is by definition against resistance”. Here in Somerset, and everywhere that extreme weather events occur, we need a critical eye on the response - not only that of the local community but of wider governance. What are we failing to resist? Who benefits from our resilience?
In a continuation of the project, Weather Station (Part II) will see the orb travel around the South West in summer 2016, gathering new encounters with artists. As I left the gallery, the breeze picked up, and the ‘Weather Station’ tugged, gently, at her tethers.