Cairns

Sculpture of a concrete rock cairn using metal filing trays installed on a sea wall

Introduction

A cairn is a man-made stone mound that dates back to prehistoric times. They are usually formed as markers, memorials or landmarks and found in various forms around the world.

The use of filing or letter trays to form these cairns, stems from an interest in the processes of filtering, stacking and displaying as a basic, instinctive human form and material response.

These particular found filing trays reference our comparatively more recent ‘advances’ with their designed material choices, interlocking structures and factory production methods. Their layers and stacking functionality also pointing to the organisation of complex societies and cultures. Perhaps more simply, they signify workaday life where humans are pre-occupied in their offices.

Combining the found ‘stones’ with these trays as modern day cairns, makes them both markers of our current state of existence and memorials to our impact in the world.

The first two Cairns here have been selected for The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2022. The theme this year is 'climate'.

Cairn: Sea-worn, land-slipped tarmac

Sea-worn, land-slipped tarmac, perspex acrylic letter trays, 35 x 26 x 38cm, 2017

The 'stones' selected for this cairn were originally part of the tarmac from a cliff-top car-park above a popular beach (Compton Bay, Isle of Wight).

Intermittently, whole sections of tarmac still sink down towards the beach, as the car park’s territory is eroded by the action of the sea at the foot of the cliff. Over a period of time, earlier broken-off chunks have been worn round by the rise and fall of the tide, starting to resemble natural geology.

This cairn and the one below were briefly reinstalled back in the locations where their material content was sourced. Here, the first at Compton Bay beach, Isle of Wight.

Cairn: Sea-worn concrete

Sea-worn concrete, chrome wire letter trays.

38 x 27 x 66cm.

2017

 

The ‘rocks’ in this cairn were found at another beach (Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight). These were spotted when exploring, in amongst natural flint, chalk pebbles and shingle, having originated from failed 19th and 20th century cast cement and shingle sea-defences.

The pieces selected for the cairn evidence the subsequent years of being worn down, of being reclaimed by natural forces as they were gradually and patiently being smoothed round and reduced in size to eventually, one day be erased.

Cairn: Sea-worn bricks

Sea-worn bricks, painted steel letter trays.

29 x 38 x 102cm.

2018

 

A third cairn assembled with sea-worn bricks collected from the beach around the mostly demolished Fort Victoria on the North West coast of the Isle of Wight.

Together with the previous two cairns, it was installed inside a WWII bunker as part of Sculpture Network's Start '18 as a joint exhibit in The Bunker Gallery, Ventnor with Lisa Traxler.

The theme for the Europe-wide event was 'building' and this installation was intended to also relate to architecture, where the structure of the letter tray shelves, could additionally be seen to reference the constructed floors of ascending towers.

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