Photochemical Alchemy in Sub-Arctic Finland

Sam NightingalePublishing

I recently published an article in CAA Art Journal Open that entangles augury, alchemy and experimental photochemical processes using plant energy.

Among all the arts, it is the art of alchemy which most closely imitates nature.
—Albertus Magnus (teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas), ca. 1250

I found myself on the banks of Lake Kilpisjärvi in sub-Arctic Finland last autumn. I was there with a group of other artists, media researchers and biohackers for the Bioart Society’s Field_Notes conference. Our agenda was to explore the ancient art of augury (divination), examining how we might divine or sense signs from the organic and inorganic worlds that we are a part of but that also operate beyond rational human knowledge. We approached this from the perspective that sense and sensing are forms of divination foretelling the actions we should take as we go about life. Each day we set ourselves the task of finding tools for divination in the ecology, places, and materials around Kilpisjärvi. With experience in photographic alchemy, I proposed we devise a practice that used the inherent photochemical abilities of plants to produce images, thereby combining natural elements, such as salt and botanical matter in photographic processes. This approach to augury and divination offers a path into the unknown energies and forces contained in the ecology around Kilpisjärvi, and draws on the primal poetics of matter.

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Also see the project: Para-photo-many