Cellular | Ingrid Bolton

by Ashraf Jamal
Ashraf Jamal, 2018

It is when I leave Ingrid Bolton’s studio, poised in the corridor, that I see a work in ink on paper which evokes the flight pattern of birds, or some obtuse and sublime trajectory. The work was created by tracking the movements of her wireless mouse, says Bolton, as I peer more closely. There are varying dots, some blackened, others thinly circled, intercut with a frenzied mesh of fine and jagged lines. Overlaying this is a fretwork of fine copper wire.

 

I return to Bolton’s studio, needing to learn more about these works on paper. While markedly different to the artist’s experiments with coal and calcium carbonate, resulting in works arranged involuntarily on the rim of a horizontal plane of finely bevelled paper – works evoking smoky mountain ranges, the strange graphs of a beating life – and also markedly different to the artist’s sculptural works made of copper cabling – her most distinctive signature – this work in ink and copper wire nevertheless reaffirms the artist’s abiding fascination with ‘correlated conjunctions’ – the title of her joint exhibition with Zyma Amien.

 

Circuit boards, the inspiration behind a work in progress in the artist’s studio – a meter by a meter and a half in scale – further expresses Bolton’s interest in the topographical intersection of realms, the proximitous connections between things. Terms such as ‘matrix’ and ‘cellular’ pepper the artist’s conversation. Trained in medical technology, completing an MA in Fine art later in life, Bolton finds herself drawing connections between the realms of science and art, which, for her, are inextricable in a culture as mediatised as ours.

 

If her one sphere of interest concerns climate change – and the ocean’s acidification in particular – then the other addresses cable theft – a treacherous act which, she says, is directly connected to China’s insatiable demand for copper, a material intrinsic to computerised production.  We are networked through copper filaments, Bolton muses. But, paradoxically, we are also disconnected through them, because hyper connectivity also threatens our capacity to truly connect. Hence the artist’s preoccupation with the shared realm of science and art. 

 

Bolton was first spurred to work with copper following the theft of irrigation piping on a farm she managed. It was then that she first began to reflect on the integral nature of this material. Visits to junkyards followed. With the assistance of a group of assistants, Bolton proceeded to cut defunct cables. What compelled her was the pattern inside the tubing which echoed the cellular patterns one associates with sacred geometry.

 

More obtusely, Bolton informs me that ‘the molecular structure of copper is cubic’. I’m puzzled by this nugget, but buoyed nevertheless by the artist’s keen interest in patterns which are not discernible to the eye, but which remain integral to all forms. Abstraction, then, is structural. Shape and volume the very dynamic nature of our lived world. In this regard, Bolton’s art can be seen as a mirror for the inscrutable.

 

The artist speaks of ‘finding the overlooked’. This taste for the hidden, for that which we either discard or fail to reflect upon more deeply, stems not only from Bolton’s scientific training, but also from her acute realisation that today – in a world glutted and inflexible in its obsessive-compulsive demand for our attention, grinding, churning – there remain pockets of stillness, instance of sublime repose, which allow the fortification of our distracted and distracting lives. Her art is the locus of this stillness.

 

As Bolton muses on ‘phytoplankton’, a bacteria as insignificant as it is utterly essential to the ocean’s ecology – the ‘bottom of the food chain’ – I am forcefully reminded of the fragility of life, and the precarious balance required to sustain it. ‘The energy we burn, coal, fuel, gas, is absorbed by the ocean’, says Bolton, the disasterous outcome of which is acidification – unlivability.

 

We kill that which we most need to nurture. And if Bolton’s art performs a particular role, then it is as a warning. That the works are comparatively placid, conceal their inner aggravation, has everything to do with the artist’s temperament, for there is nothing excessive or frantic about her nature. Instead, Bolton’s work is a sounding, a kind of sonar, quiet, recessive, and yet alarming. For despite the seeming calm and conscious beauty of her works, Bolton remains aware that ‘our world is driven by uncontrollable events’.

 

Harnessing this discord, cutting then suturing it, examining that which connects and disconnects us, Bolton arrives at a place ethically animated and becalming. Hers, one senses, is a journey long in the making, which is only now unfolding. Trial and experimentation are fresh capacities, increasingly rare in a time overly preoccupied with certainty. I imagine the artist finding surprising new ways to understand the interconnection between science and art … life and its strangely poised and cellular fructification.