Shell Metamorphosis: Works of Rowan Mersh

Being connected to modern culture requires a certain amount of screen time. You and I, in order to share these musings, which are surely worthwhile, have to spend time on a device. The paradox of our reality is that, the more time we spend in this two dimensional, textureless yet very real place, the less time we spend interacting with our neighbors and our local, three dimensional environment. What do we do when we need to remember to get out of the box?

My cats remind me by snuggling up to me at the keyboard, rumbling, enticing me with a friendly purr. My husband and friends remind me when it’s time to go to the store, or hang out, or take a walk. Then there are those quiet moments that we long for: at the beach, in our backyard gardens, climbing a mountain. There are also moments brought to us by art. At a museum, in our own homes, in community spaces, physical art, especially sculpture, reminds us of our desperate need for texture, touch and connection. It helps us get out of our shell.

rowan-mersh-bob-lorimer-placuna-anima-maris-2017-1024x682[1]

Placuna Anima Maris (Oyster Soul of the Sea), Rowan Mersh and Bob Lorimer. Photo Credit Frankie Pike

I’d like to share the immensely beautiful and exquisitely textured art of Rowan Mersh with you. The irony of sharing pictures of physical art online does not escape me, but the beauty of the internet is that it can show us things that would not enter our normal day to day lives.

Rowan Mersh is a multi-media sculptor living in London. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, he has created a variety of work, from kinetic and interactive installations to textile sculptures. Today I will concentrate on his work with shells.

Asabikeshiinh_V-1[1]

Asabikeshiinh V

Asabikeshiinh_V-4[1]

Asabikeshiinh V detail

Mersh slices the shells, which are sustainably harvested, grinds and polishes them and reassembles them by hand into structures and patterns which he then coats with a fluorocarbon resin that preserves and fuses the piece. It’s a painstaking process; the larger pieces take months to create. These Doxander vittatus shells, common name Vitate Conch, look as delicate as lace. I love the way Asabikeshiinh V seems to flow and move. Do you see a school of fish, or maybe tropical foliage?

 

rowan-mersh-asabikeshiinh-dreamcatcher-ii-2017-1024x683[1]

Asabikeshiinh II. Photo Credit Frankie Pike.

rowan-mersh-asabikeshiinh-dreamcatcher-ii-2017-detail-1024x683[1]

Asabikeshiinh II detail. Photo Credit Frankie Pike.

As the shells fit together, they determine the design of the piece. The turritella shells in the piece above were laid with the largest in the center and the smallest at the outer edge. Asabikeshiinh II recalls the graphic designs of M.C. Escher, but with the magical addition of texture. Seen up close, it looks remarkably like a lace textile.

 

RowanMersh_Day20003-1024x797[1]

Asabikeshiinh IV

RowanMersh_Day20010-1024x683[1]

Asabikeshiinh IV

Here’s another variation on the theme, this one resembling a light and airy chrysanthemum in full bloom. Does it surprise you that asabikeshiinh is an Ojibwe word for “spider? The legend of the Spider Woman who protects the Ojibwe people tells that, as the Ojibwe became scattered across North America, the Spider Woman instructed women to construct dream catchers to filter out bad dreams and hold them until the sun could destroy them. I knew this legend only vaguely through commercial efforts to sell tourist goods and trendy healing products. Mersh’s works seem to reclaim some of the dignity and significance of the original story. Can you see the webs?

 

rowan-mersh-asabikeshiinh-dreamcatcher-praegressus-2017-1024x683[1]

Asabikeshiinh Praegressus. Photo credit Frankie Pike.

rowan-mersh-asabikeshiinh-dreamcatcher-praegressus-detail-2017-1024x683[1]

Asabikeshiinh Praegressus. Photo Credit Frankie Pike

Asabikeshiinh Praegressus shows the evolution, or progression of the dreamcatcher idea. This time, Mersh has allowed the form to curve in on itself, creating a sort of nest or basket. The turritella shells here look more plantlike, almost like reeds, but still retain their weblike pattern.

 

rowan-mersh-designboom-06[1]

Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II

rowan-mersh-designboom-08[1]

Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II detail

rowan-mersh-designboom-07[1]

Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II detail

Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II looks as if it is made of soft feathers, but it is actually made of the shells of the windowpane oyster, the same shells that we often see in windcatchers. The hard, brittle, transparent discs, also known as Capiz Shell, are abundant in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The title translates Oyster(shell)s for My Love.

mersh-2[1]

Turitella Duplicata II

mersh-3[1]

Turitella Duplicata II detail

mersh-4[1]

Turitella Duplicata II detail

Returning to the turritella shells, Duplicated Turitella II leaves them mostly whole, sticking out like some strange sea plant or perhaps a nappy animal pelt. The closer you get, the sharper and more amazing the spines look. An illusion of motion is created by gradually varying the angle of the shells. Mersh’s talent for shaping, which involves thinking of each shell as a painter would think of a brushstroke, is astounding.

 

rowan-mersh-pithvava-praegressus-2017-detail-back-1024x683[1]

Pithváva Praegressus I detail


rowan-mersh-pithvava-praegressus-2017-front-1024x683[1]

Pithváva Praegressus I

Pithváva is a deity of the Yurok people of the California coast. He created the dentalium, or “tooth” shell, considered by the Yurok to be sacred. Dentalium shells were frequently traded among First Nations People. This piece is an exploration of both the dentalium and the god, a physical representation that is almost kachina-like in its significance. It is Rowan Mersh’s connection between his material, the natural world and the metaphysical legends of the past that give his work not only beauty, but a reverant resonance. You long to reach out and touch it, and through it to connect to nature and the past.

All images used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational purposes. Please spend some time on Rowan Mersh’s amazing website, where he has many more pictures and works to share.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quote for Today: Diane Ackerman

2017-08-16-08-00-34-1000x668[1].jpg

At some point, one asks, “Toward what end is my life lived?” A great freedom comes from being able to answer that question. A sleeper can be decoyed out of bed by the sheer beauty of dawn on the open seas. Part of my job, as I see it, is to allow that to happen. Sleepers like me need at some point to rise and take their turn on morning watch for the sake of the planet, but also for their own sake, for the enrichment of their lives. From the deserts of Namibia to the razor-backed Himalayas, there are wonderful creatures that have roamed the Earth much longer than we, creatures that not only are worthy of our respect but could teach us about ourselves.
Diane Ackerman, The Rarest of the Rare: Vanishing Animals, Timeless Worlds

Public Domain Image via Pixnio

Quote for Today: Kate Morton

4706323_444e1f69[1].jpg

Apart from such visits, for the first time in her life Eliza was truly alone. In the beginning, unfamiliar sounds, nocturnal sounds, disturbed her, but as the days passed she came to know them: soft-pawed animals under the eaves, the ticking of the warming range, floorboards shivering in the cooling nights. And there were unexpected benefits to her solitary life: alone in the cottage, Eliza discovered that the characters from her fairy tales became bolder. She found fairies playing in the spiders’ webs, insects whispering incantations on the windowsills, fire sprites spitting and hissing in the range. Sometimes in the afternoons, Eliza would sit on the rocking chair listening to them. And late at night, when they were all asleep, she would spin their stories into her own tales.
Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

Image © Copyright Chris Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

 

 

Giving the Beast a Voice: Man and Beast, a Film by Daniel Ariola

What can animals teach us about ourselves and the world around us? Perhaps humans are not as superior as we would like to be.

jaguar-1377982_1280[2]

Beasts do not speak our language, nor do they build civilizations we recognize, so we usually consider them lesser beings. Most people are ignorant of the richness of animal life and experience, oblivious to the fact that an animal can teach us much about survival, satisfaction, and sustainability. When catastrophe strikes, the modern human being lacks skills which are intuitive for many beasts, even “domesticated” ones. On that note, I think we could argue that, in some cases, man is actually the one who has been domesticated. Did you know that science now believes that cats meow and purr chiefly to influence human behavior?

Many people recognize the unique personhood of their pets and service animals–their moods, quirks and tastes–and bond deeply with companion animals. In many cases these animals become part of our families and gain a worth slightly below or equal to our own. Precious few humans have the opportunity to enter into an understanding with a wild animal, a contact that verges on the totemic and the spiritual even as it is visceral. This short film, Man and Beast, directed by Daniel Ariola tells the story of Dr. Alan Rabinowitz. In these days of Marvel super hero films, it has a mythological ring to it.

Video via Peter Simonite on Vimeo

Growing up in Queens, the largest borough of New York City, in the 1950s and 60s, Rabinowitz was plagued by an intractable stutter. Placed into classes with troubled students as well as those with physical and mental impairments, he was lonely and frustrated. It was only with animals that he was able to relax and speak normally. The beautiful jaguar he met at the Bronx Zoo became a symbol of the voiceless and helpless. He saw himself in her captivity and frustration. It is she who lends an air of mystery and mythology to Dr. Rabinowitz’s story. His interest in animals led him to study science, which took him out of human civilization to truths that lie in the jungle, beyond human awareness. The second jaguar encounter confirmed his youthful promise and set him on a journey to protect animals all over the globe. Dr. Rabinowitz’s journey ended last year, as he succumbed to leukemia at the age of 64. What a privilege that he was able to dedicate his life the protection and study of animals that inspired him!

Dr. Rabinowitz worked for the Wildlife Conversation Society for almost thirty years. He discovered new species of mammal, including the Leaf Deer, in Myanmar, where he also helped found five national parks. He created the Jaguar Corridor, a series of protected pathways and environments, from Mexico to Argentina and established the world’s first jaguar sanctuary in Belize, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve. As the head of Panthera, the company he co-founded to continue his mission of helping big cats, he initiated work on a Tiger Corridor in Asia. He also worked in Taiwan and Thailand, founding and championing national parks and animal sanctuaries and studying beasts. His vision and drive are legendary, all stemming from childhood pain he was able to transmute into action. You can read a tribute to him on Panthera’s website.

 

 

 

 

 

Quote for Today: Walt Whitman

 
child-2086908_640

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun…. there are millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…. nor look through the eyes of the dead…. nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Quote for Today: Pat Conroy

 

beach-sea-coast-water-sand-rock-1188754-pxhere.com

The sea rose invisibly beneath us and the moon shone smooth and bright. A glossy flute of light, like velvet down a bridal aisle, lit the marlin scales and the backs of whales migrating a hundred miles at sea. The tides surged through the marsh and each wave that hit the beach came light-struck and broad-shouldered, with all the raw power the moon could bestow. Magically, an hour passed and we, ocean dancers and tide challengers, found ourselves listening to the sea directly beneath us as the waves began to crash in earnest against the house.

Pat Conroy, Beach Music

Public Domain Image via PxHere

Quote for Today: W.B. Yeats

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing circa 1786 by William Blake 1757-1827

Come, faeries, take me out of this dull house!
Let me have all the freedom I have lost;
Work when I will and idle when I will!
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
W.B. Yeats, “The Land of Heart’s Desire,” 1894

Image: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing. William Blake, 1786

 

 

Quote for Today: Karen Pryor

 

8308456238_c008ea7878_z

As he [Sir Malcolm Sargeant, conductor of the London Philharmonic] stood in waist deep in the shallows of Whaler’s Cove, the littler Spinners came drifting over, sleek and dainty, gazing at him curiously with their soft dark eyes. Malcolm was a tactful, graceful man in his movements, and so the spinners were not afraid of him. In moments, he had them all pressing around him, swimming into his arms, and begging him to swim away with them. He looked up, suffused with delight, and remarked to me, “It’s like finding out there really are fairies at the bottom of the garden!”

Karen Pryor, Lads Before the Wind: Diary of a Dolphin Trainer

Image: Spinner Dolphins © Kyle Greenberg with CCLicense

 

 

Quote for Today: John Muir

volcano-spewing-lava-hawaii-volcanoes-national-park[1].jpg

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.

John Muir

Image: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park via GoodFreePhotos