In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river.
From T.S Elliot’s The Hollow Men.
This is the epigraph Nevill Shute uses to preface his vision of our end in the book ‘On the Beach’. I had to look up the meaning of tumid. It means unhealthily swollen. ‘On the Beach’ describes the last days in Australia after a nuclear fall-out has rendered the northern hemisphere mute and unmoving. I have been reading a lot of books about the end of times lately, watching a lot of movies about natural disasters, I guess so have you. And I feel a little unhealthy, a little swollen as if I have been greedily ingesting grief, hoping to develop an immunity to what seems increasingly likely: our end.
When we look at Jamie North’s work, we see columns of concrete and slag, spheres of glass, and nature in the form of native plants, crawling and clinging, asserting their right to survive. When I think of North’s work, I often find myself thinking of not of endings but of passing, the passing of time. I find myself in a state of melancholy, of reverie.
Columns are supports. They hold things up; they hold up roofs, they hold up ideas of centrality, dominance and power. The column in North’s exhibition ‘Inflection’, appears defeated, created to be always and already broken. Yet, in its decrepitude, it retains its function of support. We can see that this column supports life, with ivy and various ferns emerging from the cracks and crevices. That which appears in the process of decay has provided a home for native species to thrive.
Around this column, there are a series of terraria; glass forms containing more native flora. These plants survive in a state analogous to all of us here on earth. A little closer to the sun we would burn, a little further away and we would freeze. So, as we also do, the inhabitants of these little glass houses owe their existence to the Goldilocks principle.
In a sense, you could read North’s exhibition as a blueprint for life after Homo sapiens. When the buildings fall, and our rather loud voices go quiet, things will continue. And yet, the word “inflection” comes from the Latin inflicter, meaning “to bend.” A break that occurred that saw human beings separated from nature. And whether that break occurred when we began to till the fields, or when we started using fossils to fuel, matters little now. What matters now is that we bend our wills and mend our ways, and only when we realise that we are a part of nature, not distinct from it, can everything be ‘just right’.