....Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish Citizen and artist Matt Baker

Friday, 16 April 2010

threshold moments for placing ourselves in the world.1 Hutton's Unconformity

 

On a Spring day in 1788 James Hutton and his companion John Playfair landed a small boat at Siccar Point on the Berwickshire coast of Scotland. Here they saw something that Hutton had been searching for in excess of 25 years - an irrefutable example of an Unconformity.
Theoretical Unconformity published in Hutton’s
‘Theorey of the Earth’ 1795

in Hutton’s time, all areas of what we now call science was challenging a mythic understanding of the world. The Judaeo-Christian creation myth stated that the Earth that we all live on and experience as our physical reality was created in a single day and that day could be dated as approximately BC 6000.

What Hutton found at Siccar Point was a visible example of two contrasting geological processes, one laid directly above the other - thus demonstrating that the rock strata had not all been laid down in one day but over a much longer period during which different actions had been at work.
‘Hutton’s Unconformity’ Siccar Point
Berwickshire, Scotland

Standing at Siccar Point today is slightly mystical - one feels very close to an inconceivable amount of time. Hutton’s companion Playfair described the experience that day as “the mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time”.


I am certainly no Creationist, rather I do subscribe to the Laws of Thermodynamics that state for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction - in gaining our new understanding of natural processes I imagine that we also lost a mythic or poetic understanding of our relationship to the material of our world.

In our fascination for the poetic understanding of their environment shown in ‘Indigenous’ cultures (eg Australian ‘songlines’) we often forget that our versions of such myths are really not so far removed. When we tore ourselves away from our creation stories - what was the consequence for our human ‘being in the world’ ? All of a sudden we were faced with a radically depersonalised version of our environment. Reviewing Playfair’s statement in this light makes for interesting interpretation of the giddiness he felt.




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