Thoughts On: Verity Birt

Still from Omens of the Pleistocene, 2016
Verity Birt is a moving-image, sound and sculpture artist whose overarching concern within her practice is time and duration. She approaches her practice from a wide angled view, using her research to consider differing concepts of time from varying philosophers, scientists, filmmakers and science fiction writers.

Birt specifically explores the encounter of time within historical sites and seeks to make work that challenges the threshold within what she calls the “void” between our concept of the past and our concept of the now. She calls this void a “temporal gap” through which the viewer can step into multiple narratives and durations.

Overall, Birt sees time as a subjective experience. One of her primary influences is the philosopher Henri Bergson who theorised in Matter and Memory (1911):

“…our body is nothing but that part of our representation which is ever being born again, the part always present, or rather that which at each moment is just past. Itself an image, the body cannot store up images, since it forms a part of the images; and this is why it is a chimerical enterprise to seek to localise past or even present perceptions in the brain : they are not in it; it is the brain that is in them.” 

Which he represented in fig. 4 to the right, where the “totality of the recollections accumulated” constitute SAB; the AB plane is in the past; S is the human body (existing on plane P) and P is time moving forward. Birt’s work essentially appears to take place at point S while she manipulates plane P from the present moment all the way back to Deep Time.

Strata, 2015
Deep Time is the geological expression for a period of time which is epic in comparison to the length of a human lifespan but not infinite. In her piece Strata, Birt explored our understanding of, and relation to, Deep Time. Strata comprises of a vast slab of silk granite, representing Deep Time, that she cracked down the middle in a gesture of the human “now”- a moment of time in human terms meeting time in geological terms. It is part of Birt's ongoing project COMMON ERA.

As she has worked on utilising data and digital renderings, Birt has found herself pursuing a more digital aesthetic and pushing thresholds of a different kind: physical versus virtual; mud and stone combined with video sculpture; material and virtual time intertwining.

Kairos, 2015
In Kairos, a collaged video piece displayed on a 7” screen formatted to resemble a smartphone and embedded in granite, she has pitted super8, HD and VHS films against found footage from YouTube. By using archival footage spanning several decades of technological advances, Birt comments on the media used to study the past. Furthering that theme the granite block which the screen is embedded into resembles the material Egyptians and Assyrians used in their architectural and sculptural work. The 25minute silent film mashes together images of ground penetrating radar, wooden building blocks, restorations, digs, 3D renders of artefacts and ISIS destroying Nimrud and Palmyra.

Omens of the Pleistocene, 2016
Birt often utilises real data and images from historical and current digs a well as geological research as she is interested in the marks we have made on the land through the evolution of our species and civilisations. She also uses research into the field of evolutionary genetics, with a particular interest in Atavistic characteristics and traits. Her work Omens of the Pleistocene features 3D printed Neanderthal and Homo Naledi bones as part of a homage to the “Oracle, an ancient female character disregarded by patriarchal enlightenment ideals". She combined this with a video piece of the Oracle prophesying a coming Barbarism and return to pre-civilised culture after an earth-wide or celestial event out with our human control. In this way she looks backwards but also weaves in glimpses of a potential future.

Birt’s latest work: Hing the same about hir craig was a Site-Specific work, commissioned as part of the group show Chemhex Extract at Peacock Visual Arts. The piece comprises of two digitally printed banners, collaging: ground penetrating radar images of the Scottish subsurface, gathered data from Aberdeen University including archives of ritual sites and burning sites and scripts of witch trials that took place around Aberdeen. As you view the banners, a sound piece plays in the background, providing atmosphere and context. The sound piece, similar to the soundtrack of Omens of The Pleistocene is an incanted spell and prophecy laid over geological rumbling noises.

Hing the same about hit craig, 2016, installed in Peacock Visual Arts

I attended a talk by Verity Birt on the 21st October 2016 as part of the Guests@Grays Series. More information on the series Archives of the talks stretching back to 2008 can be found on the Guests@Grays Blog.

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