Echoes is an art installation comprised of a set of more than forty, 25 centimetre square by one centimetre thick ceramic tiles. They are mounted on a wall in a 5 x 8 grid arrangement with three 5 centimetre spaces between the tiles. On each tile is a pair of materials side by side, on the left side is a natural material, on the right side is its synthetic analogue. Each one of the tiles compares a different pair of materials: thorn and barbed wire; cork and styrofoam; burdock and velcro; etc.
A strict set of criteria is applied to determine the pairs of materials suitable for inclusion in the set. One is that the material and its echo be of a sturdy composition that will last in situ for many years, if not permanently. Another is that the materials included in the pair are of the same relative size, which may be achieved by breaking off a sample from a larger piece or by the building up of a sample from smaller pieces. Another criterion is that the natural material must have had or represent some use for people long ago.
The work is mounted on ceramic tiles because of their permanence and high strength adhesives are used to hold the materials vertically to the tiles. Some of the more delicate natural materials have been treated to preserve them. Every attempt has been made to make this a permanent collection. It can be considered as a historical document, a time (rhyme) capsule.
This work shows the natural origins of many of our inventions and how we have not really improved on Nature. In many respects synthetic materials are actually dangerous. People's reaction to this work is amusing and enlightening. Most people are familiar with the synthetic and are often perplexed by the natural. This suggests that one of the dangers of our relentless simulation of nature is that the prevalence of synthetics alters our perception of and relation to the natural world.
Some may suggest that by simulating nature, we defer the need to harvest the living and in this way are helping to preserve nature. Fake fur = saved lives. This view ignores the ecological consequences of manufacturing, marketing and disposing of synthetic materials and also overlooks the distortion of our relation with nature. Rather than preserving nature, the production of simulacra perpetuates our degradation of the natural world.
The meta-structure of the installation is a partial resolution of the two sides as they have been brought together in the same work. But this creates more questions than answers. Some links are provided but the resolution is left ambiguous so that the viewer is engaged to create a synthesis in their imagination.
The work is quite large and generates a lot of interaction with viewers. They must move about to view it all and there is a lot of finger pointing. People often laugh at the absurdity of some of the simulacra and at the incongruous juxtaposition of materials. It is fun for people to try and guess what the various materials are, either by deducing the origin of the synthetic or by extrapolating the synthetic from the natural. In this way the Echoes installation is a useful learning exhibit that I hope to display in an public educational context such as a natural history museum.