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.

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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.

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Asabikeshiinh V

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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?

 

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Asabikeshiinh II. Photo Credit Frankie Pike.

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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.

 

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Asabikeshiinh IV

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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?

 

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Asabikeshiinh Praegressus. Photo credit Frankie Pike.

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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.

 

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Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II

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Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II detail

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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.

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Turitella Duplicata II

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Turitella Duplicata II detail

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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.

 

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Pithváva Praegressus I detail


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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: Rabindranath Tagore

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The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
Rabindranath Tagore,“Stream of Life”

Public Domain Image via publicdomainpictures.net

Quote for Today: David Rakoff

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Is there some lesson on how to be friends?
I think what it means is that central to living
a life that is good is a life that’s forgiving.
We’re creatures of contact regardless of whether
we kiss or we wound. Still, we must come together.
Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more–
since it beats staying dry but so lonely on shore.
So we make ourselves open while knowing full well
it’s essentially saying “please, come pierce my shell.”
Image: Karunakar Rayker with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Sarah Kay

I love hands like I love people. They are the maps and
compasses with which we navigate our way through life:
feeling our way over mountains passed and valleys crossed,
they are our histories.

Some people read palms to tell your future,
I read hands to tell your past.
Each scar marks a story worth telling: each callused palm,
each cracked knuckle—a broken bottle, a missed punch,…

–Sarah Kay, Hands

You can read the entire poem here, as well as Sarah’s biography. Stunning vulnerability.

Traveling by Touch: Experiencing São Paulo in Samparkour

Most of us navigate the world principally by our sense of sight. What if we expanded our sense of touch?

This remarkable video, directed by Wiland Pinsdorf, is an exploration of the Brazilian city of São Paulo, a concrete jungle teeming with people. We see the tall buildings sandwiched together, the cars threading their way between them, people in the maze of public transportation and walking the busy streets. We see the marks of urbanization, graffiti that challenges the status quo and cars mired in traffic. Our eyes tell us that life is cold and hard here and that people are trapped into the rat race of what is expected of them and what they can expect. A blind man walks alone down the street with his stick, picking his way calmly and safely through this metropolis.

Soon we meet our hero, Zico Corrêa, as he takes in the city around him and responds in a way that defies the vision of São Paulo as a maze or a rat trap. He begins to avoid the everyday path and careens off of lamp posts, walls and buildings to get where he is going. Corrêa practices parkour. Parkour is a training discipline that teaches how to get from point A to point B efficiently and quickly, using the body and the surrounding landmarks and structures to move the practitioner across the landscape. Developed from military training on obstacle courses, it seeks to maintain momentum while making intelligent and safe choices. The practitioner must understand his environment and his own body, never underestimating or overtaxing either to the point that he injures himself, which can happen very easily at any time should his concentration or execution waver. He must see and understand what awaits him at every bend, every jump, every alteration in course.

Corrêa must use not only his eyes, which may daunt and deceive him–look at the misleading reflections caused by water and glass and imagine the fear most of us feel when faced with a wall or exposed on heights–but his sense of touch. Like the blind man, he must be sensitive to surfaces and subtle changes that will determine his stride, his grip, and what type of motion he will employ. When negotiating a climb or descent he must break it down into small, manageable steps. He must know how to slow himself down or take advantage of his momentum by tumbling. Failure could easily result in death. Parkour isn’t something to be done on a whim, but requires strength and flexibility that require training as well as a great deal of planning.

Most of us won’t be practicing parkour any time soon, but we can appreciate it and the metaphors it gives us for life. It reminds me not to trust my eyes completely, but to test and feel my world through touch and experience. We are all cowed by the obstacles around us from time to time and can always use the reminder that there is more than one way to do something and that the path of another may not be suited to our combination of strength and flexibility. This journey of life is unique for each one of us and we must each negotiate our own ascents and descents.

Safe travels and happy tumbling!

Quote for Today: Rainer Maria Rilke

At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.

Rainer Maria Rilke

© B. Monginoux / Landscape-Photo.net with CCLicense

© B. Monginoux / Landscape-Photo.net with CCLicense

Synkroniciti has quoted Rilke before here.

Quote for Today: Justin Somper

© eschipul with CCLicense

© eschipul with CCLicense

Well, if pirates are bad,
And vampires are worse,
Then I pray that as long as I be
That though I sing of Vampirates
I never one shall see.
Yea, if pirates are danger
And vampires are death,
I’ll extend my prayer for thee-
That thine eyes never see a Vampirate

…and they never lay a hand on thee!
― Justin SomperDemons of the Ocean

 

Join us this week for an exploration of vampires and the fears that lay behind them.