Genevieve Robertson is a visual artist with a background in environmental studies. She holds an MFA from Emily CarrUniversity and has participated in residencies, exhibitions and been included in publications internationally. Genevieve’s work is informed by a personal and intergenerational history of resource labor in remote forestry camps in British Columbia.
Carbon Study:Walking in the Dark
My drawings involve extensive physical exploration and are materially linked to specific regions and their land and resource politics. This body of drawings uses pigments made with found carbon-based compounds—coal, graphite, and forest fire-derived charcoal—collected in the East and West Kootenays where coal and graphite mining take place and forest fires are increasing in severity. Gathered during walks to mine sites and forest fire burn sites, these materials are elementally linked to flora and fauna from the primordial past. Both coal and graphite are produced from ancient living matter that has undergone immense transformation over millennia and are remnants of rich ecosystems that flourished in past geologic eras. Our present forests also indicate a period of ecological abundance, while eviscerated trees, smoke-filled skies, and falling ash are the apparitions of climate catastrophe.This project records a sustained effort to capture an elemental and animate quality embedded in these materials and is meant to evoke carbon’s duality as a life-bearing element and its insidious use as a fossil fuel.
Walking in the Dark references the literal practice of walking to collect carbon-based materials, and the process of locating oneself in an atmosphere obscured by forest fire smoke. More specters than specimens, these granular, stratified images suggest botanical field studies of the 18th and 19th centuries.By collecting, excavating, processing and drawing with found materials, I implicate myself in relationship to the history of these representations and the industrial use of these materials: the entanglement of human, non-human and geologic bodies that coexist in our biosphere.
An artist book titled Walking in theDark was produced for an upcoming exhibition at the Langham CulturalCentre, in Kaslo BC. The book contains contributions from artist Jim Holyoak and artist/geologist Carol Wallace and can be downloaded as a free PDF online.
text drawn in part from Genevieve Robertson,“Lichen”, by Lorna Brown, for the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery's Art in the Library program, Koerner Library,University of British Columbia, 2019
It has been four years now since I’ve been working with found (and sometimes gifted)materials as the basis of my drawing practice – silt, salt, crude oil, bitumen, found coal, forest fired-derived charcoal, found graphite, lichen, ash, calcium carbonate, algae, plant dyes. These materials have taught me about the places they come from, their properties, and the land, sovereignty and resource extraction politics they are part of. This work has also been a lens to explore ecological grief, long cycles of life and death through the use of primordial geologic materials, and the entanglement of human and more than human beings in a time of climate crisis, mass extinction and political upheaval. This process has been incredibly integrative, linking my interests in contemporary drawing, ecology, and geology while engaging my heart.
The early stages of a new project often involve extensive walking and exploring in the area that I want to learn about. I often walk alone as I find it generates ideas. I let my mind wander and pick up objects that interest me: an old gun shell, lichen, a moldy leaf or bone fragment. I also sometimes collect pigments to work with.
In the studio, I use a mortar and pestle to break up the pigment, and then a coffee grinder, and finally a glass muller. I then add in a binding medium such as gum Arabic, honey, soy milk or casein.
My work is an alchemical process where materials react and repel, where chance and intuition inform the drawings. The pigments are less predictable than synthetic materials and one must learn their uniqueness: how they move, dry, and collect on the paper. Through processing and drawing with natural materials I learn about their composition, properties of coagulation, dispersal and entropy, and most importantly, the places where they are located. Drawing with found materials isa way of implicating myself directly in the process of landscape representation. I hope that working with these materials also exposes them in a nuanced way that can be viewed intimately or applied to larger questions about ecology and climate change.
When I spend hours in the studio pouring over drawings, in a way, through mimicry, I’m giving attention to other beings and in that process, there is empathy and care for the non-human, for the tiny or the overlooked. I am drawn to the bareness and vulnerability when something – often a small thing– is examined and given attention on its own. I hope that through scale and material, these drawings push back, at times becoming less pictorial and more alive or spectral.
The artists that I most relate to are people like Terry Winters,Kiki Smith, Sherry Boyle, Olafur Eliasson, who have dedicated their lives to an urgent and seemingly obsessive need to describe alterity, whether it is plant, animal, or mineral alterity.
To learn more:
If you enjoyed this experience, please consider donating to the Sitka Center by clicking the DONATE button below. Your donation will help support Sitka’s Artist in Residency program and supplement lost workshop revenue as we continue to support the health and safety of the Sitka community in regards to COVID-19. Your amazing generosity helps ensure the Sitka Center’s and artists it supports continued success.