Sam NightingaleOther, Projects

TimeSpan, Helmsdale, Far North Scotland
November 2016

TimeSpan’s Residency Focus: Deep Time moves beyond a human scale, beyond language, beyond fact. In Scotland’s Far North it can be seen in the geological and the nuclear: the peat bogs of the Flow country and the nuclear site of Dounreay. A consideration of deep time also suggests possible methodologies for practice: excavation, speculation. 

During the Practising Deep Time residency at TimeSpan in the far-north of Scotland, I conducted research for the project, Darkness Visible which seeks to make perceptible what is beyond the limits of human vision, that which exists within the geological temporality of deep-time. That is, a deep time that stretches into the future as much as it finds its inheritance in the far reaches of the past.

I used the opportunity of the residency to think further and experiment with developing forms of visuality that can make perceptible this deep time state through an engagement with ‘darkness’. Rather than looking to the light (symbolically related to reason and science), but where an over abundance of light can blind or conceptually obscure what is present, I approached the ecologies of Sutherland and Caithness through darkness (symbolically linked to the limits of knowledge) as a conduit that can make visible a spectral ecology.

Using this methodology for my practice, I spent a lot time focusing on the nuclear site at Dounreay, which is in a slow process of being decommissioned, to think about ‘nuclear’ as a geophysical force that is both material and invisible. In doing so I have been considering deep time not just as something relating to the past marked in the strata of the earth but in relation to the material traces we are currently leaving and will be present within the earth’s composition for thousands of years – a (our) presence that will haunt the deep time of the future.

What unites the images in Darkness Visible is that each image is framed in almost complete darkness, it is only through long photographic exposures that the site framed reveals itself – in a way that is far beyond the limits of my own night vision. The images, in which time and the environment are folded into one another, record a site specific photo-material entanglement where the photograph cannot be thought of as a representation but rather as an operation.