It takes more than guts to peer into an erupting volcano... Or to stand beside a river of lava moving at 40mph... Or to gaze at a cloud of tephra larger than any skyscraper. It could even be said that in doing these things it's not just the earth's stomach that you witness but also your own insides, your human guts and sense of scale. During the later years of his life, George P.L Walker turned to investigating active volcanoes as a way to perpetuate and develop the then little-known science of rheology (the study of fluid dynamics). Walker used cinema to record his rigorous explorations of lava flow during the 50's and 60's, and only now have his films been rediscovered and preserved for the public to share in his life's work. With an eye for the unlikely and ineffable, artists Curtis Tamm (USA) and Hermione Spriggs (UK) reopen the unseen cinematic and textual archives of George Walker through a multi-faceted research project entitled Viscous Shape. Through a collaboration with Breiðdalssetur, a geology center in East Iceland, the artists work with Walker's archive as a way to engage the literal and metaphysical implications raised by the groundbreaking work of this scarcely known geologist. 

"As collaborators our ongoing work involves a search for this space wherein science itself “drips” into other belief systems, becoming inversely proportional to the calcified stereotype of objectified progress and colonial discovery. Our fingernails grow at the same rate that the earth’s plates move during continental drift. Where and in what is this pattern uncovered? Can we find ourselves revealed in the layers of our geosophic making?"

                                                                                                                                  image of GPL Walker courtesy of Breiðdalssetur

                                                                                                                                image of GPL Walker courtesy of Breiðdalssetur

Where does “hard” science (in this case the geological study of rocks and their formation) collide with a “runnier” pre-scientific understanding of the world as animate, imbued with agency and soul? What personal, corporeal compulsions drive scientific research, beneath the visible crust of objective knowledge production?

George Walker was a British volcanologist who helped to popularize the worldview of Plate Tectonics through a seminal study he conducted with Icelandic lava flows. His films and manuscript, known as the “The Viscous Shape”, are filled with intimate perceptions and encounters with geology: listening to the sound lava makes while cooling, descriptions of its transient color and even its smell. For Walker, the lava-flows of Eastern Iceland were embedded with a pattern, which he called the  “language of stone”, that when decoded, “reveal the record of their making”. Walker referred to all lava as having but a single shape-shifting form, illusory and inversely proportional to its current trajectory.

Thanks to:
Breiðdalssetur Geology Center
Arts Council England International Development Fund
Skaftfell Center for Art

2016