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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Music from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: Björk

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is one of the most impressive geological features of our planet. Extending for more than 40,000 km, it represents one of the major tectonic boundaries of the Earth. In fact, at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge humongous volcanic phenomena form new crustal material, separating different tectonic plates.

The Atlantic Ocean is characterized by an underwater mountain system (the Mid-Atlantic Ridge) longer than 40,000 km. The Mid Atlantic Ridge has an important geological significance as it separates the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate in the North Atlantic, and the African Plate from the South American Plate in the South Atlantic.
Relationship between the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and Iceland.
Unfortunately for geologists, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is usually placed at considerable dephts, preventing direct observations. In this regard, Iceland represent a unique place because it consists of a segment of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that rises above the ocean surface.
Björk is another phenomenon that erupted from the wild geological landscapes of Iceland.
Known for her eclectic musical style and a distinctive voice, Björk is among the most enduringly popular musician of modern times.
The cover of Biophilia. From
It makes no surprise that an artist born on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge realized geological music. Indeed Björk recently released Biophilia, a musical project including strong geological references. In particular, 'Crystalline' portrays an aethereal mineralogical universe. The video features crystal growth and a meteor shower.

Crystalline video.

Crystalline app. From Pasta&Vinegar.
Analogously to the other tracks of Biophilia, Crystalline is accompanied by an interactive application. IPad lovers can plunge into a geometric world, somehow reminescent of the celebrated videogame Rev.
Nevertheless, there is even a more explicit geological reference in Björk's new album: Mutual Core. It is a geological hymn narrating the inner mechanisms of our planet. 

Mutual Core  includes strong references to the homeland of Björk, the emerged segment of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge:
I shuffle around
The tectonic plates
In my chest
You know I gave it all
Try to match our continents
To change seasonal shift
To form a mutual core
As fast as your fingernail grows
The Atlantic Ridge drifts
To counteract distance
 - Björk, Mutual Core

At the Befestival 2011, Björk performed a live version of Mutual Core, including amazing visuals. The visual performance dramatically shows continental drift in action: tectonics and paleogeography in art.

Björk performing Mutual Core. The lyrics and the visuals are explicitely geological.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Geological Theory of Painting: John Ruskin's Modern Painters

“[The laws of the organization of the earth] are in the landscape the foundation of all other thruths – the most necessary, therefore, even if they were not in themselves attractive; but they are as beautiful as they are essential, and every abandonment of them by the artist must end in deformity as it begins in falsehood”
- John Ruskin, Modern Painters, vol. 2, pp. 1-2

Modern Painters is an art treatise written by John Ruskin between 1843 and 1888. Primarily written as a defense of the English painter J.M.W. Turner, it influenced an entire generation of painters. Indeed, as Worthington Whittredge wrote, it “was in every landscape painter's hand” (Wagner, 1988).
Ruskin argued that modern painters were superior to the previous ones (the so-called 'Old Masters'). With Ruskin's words: “there is […] a greater sum of valuable, essential, and impressive truth in the works of two or three of our leading modern landscape painters, than in those of all the old masters put together [...]; while the unimportant and feeble truths of the old masters are choked witih a mass of perpetual defiance of the most authoritative laws of nature".

John Ruskin , (From: Modern Painters, Volume I, page 75).

As witnessed by the initial quotation, Ruskin regarded geology as the foundation of all other 'truths' of painting, namely the truth of tone, colour, space, skies, water and vegetation. An early interest in Earth Sciences explains his 'geological' theory of painting. Ruskin collected many of his geologic observations in his geologic treatise, the Deucalion, but he also simplified geological concepts for artists (Wagner, 1988). This aspect emerges from a letter to Charles Eliot Norton:
“[...] I'm afraid of coming in this way, and go on at once to say that I can't let you have my mountain chapters. I'm going to add them, and publish with notes, not as part of the Deucalion, but as the geology of Modern Painters”.
Ruskin had an important influence on landscape painters, and still nowadays he is considered one of the leading intellectual figures of the Victorian era.
Ruskin founded his own school of art (the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, known as The Ruskin) under the umbrella of the University of Oxford. Moreover, John Ruskin had proficient contacts with eminent artists of the Victorian era. For instance, he spent the summer of 1853 with the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Milias. 

 Ruskin spent one summer at Glen Finglas (Scotland) with the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Milias, who painted a portrait of Ruskin himself (left). On the other hand, Ruskin relized his Study of a Gneiss Rock.

In her brilliant paper 'John Ruskin and Artistical Geology in America', Virginia Wagner (1988) writes: “Landscape painters selectively applied Ruskin's theories and approach in three ways: by painting rock studies, by delineating the geological consistency of the earth, and by interpreting the scenes in Ruskinian terms”.
In fact Ruskinian theories had an important role on the art of Frederic Edwin Church, who was a central figure in the Hudson River School (Wagner, 1988). As mentioned in a previous post, the Hudson School deeply involved geology in its scientific and artistic expression. Among others, Ruskin influenced Frederic Durand, painter and amateur fossil collector, and David Johnson, Arthur F. Tait, Charles Herbert Moore and William Trost Richards  (Wagner, 1988).

Frederic Church, Eruption at Cotopaxi.
Wagner, V.L. (1988). John Ruskin and Artistical Geology in America. Wintherthur Portfolio, vol. 23 (2-3)