Response to fossils in paper

Madison Kelly with her ‘‘trace fossil’’ made out of home-made paper for ‘‘Art + Water’’. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Madison Kelly with her ‘‘trace fossil’’ made out of home-made paper for ‘‘Art + Water’’. Photo: Peter McIntosh
In this year’s Art and Science Series, artists and scientists have collaborated on the theme of ‘‘Water: mountains to the sea’’. Rebecca Fox talks to artist Madison Kelly about trace fossils.

Investigating how to mimic sediment settling in the burrows of long-gone animals has resulted in Dunedin artist Madison Kelly being surrounded by piles of home-made paper.

Kelly is one of about 34 artists and scientists who have been collaborating on the annual Art and Science Series to produce works which are not an illustration of the science but an artistic response to scientific research.

This year's theme is ''Water: Mountains to the Sea'' involving scientists from a range of fields from biochemistry and anatomy to zoology and communications, as well as community projects such as the Sinclair Wetlands.

They have been paired up with artists from a variety of disciplines to investigate a variety of water-related topics such as impacts of land use on water quality, waterborne environmental DNA, effects of ocean acidification, ecology of the coastline shallows and the deep ocean canyons, bioengineering on farmland and conflicts in communities around water scarcity.

Guest artist Michelle Wilkinson: previous fish extinctions in NZ.
Guest artist Michelle Wilkinson: previous fish extinctions in NZ.
For Kelly, who has taken part in the exhibition for the past three years, it is a chance to reconnect with her interest in science.

''It's really rewarding to learn from people who have scientific expertise and a really good challenge to try and communicate your own ideas using those as foundations and having that back and forth between labs and studio.''

Vivien Dwyer works with Chris Arbuckle: water quality in Lake Wanaka and the efforts of the local community to take responsibility for their discharges.
Vivien Dwyer works with Chris Arbuckle: water quality in Lake Wanaka and the efforts of the local community to take responsibility for their discharges.
She studied science at university before deciding art school was a better fit for her.

Kelly has always been interested in biological sciences but the methodology of demonstrating those ideas ''never matched'' up for her.

''The visual arts is where can you really respond on that and do it big way while communicating and being enthusiastic about it.

''I still rely heavily on those ideas and how they frame the world just in a different mode now.''

Much of her artwork is centred on animals, conservation and endangered ecosystems, which ties in nicely with her part-time work at Orokonui Ecosanctuary.

''I come from a drawing background and am very much interested in the relationships between humans and non-humans.''

For this year's work she met with University of Otago geologist Jon Lindqvist who studies trace fossils which link geological fields of sedimentology and paleontology.

''Trace fossils are a record of animal activity and include burrows, footprints, tracks, and trails.''

In New Zealand they are best seen on clean surfaces of sedimentary rock along the coast.

''Every time we meet up at the geology department I look at different fossils and see the colours or find out about a different types of worms, then, oh gosh, you start thinking other ways you can visualise the tracks.''

Jessica Ritchie is working with Henrik Moller: how farmers can use dung beetles to clean up pastures.
Jessica Ritchie is working with Henrik Moller: how farmers can use dung beetles to clean up pastures.
From this, Kelly became interested in how they could not pinpoint what exactly had made the traces.

''We talked about it a lot and about different ways to replicate those, infer who made them and how they might interact and the sedimentation process that led them to be preserved.''

She finds it fascinating to wonder what created a trace - what sort of animal or plant, wind or sound it might have been - and what people could learn from them.

''Speculating what the traces might be from what is around me today.''

In this project Kelly is tuning into existing sites that might in the future be affected by rising water levels, such as South Dunedin, and might be subject to fossilisation in the future.

''A lot of interactions might be mundane or urban but if they were fossilised and found in the future they could be quite interesting.''

Kelly has spent time on the South Dunedin coast investigating, drawing and filming trace fossils.

She decided the best way to reflect trace elements was to hand-make paper.

''Sedimentation is very reliant on water and pulp and grains. I've learnt a lot about how rocks were made.''

From the drawings she made, she got different types of clay into which she pressed different weights of paper to create the 3-D embossed ''trace'' like where an animal had borrowed into the sand.

''Like an archive paper fossil. The physical process mimics how an animal is burrowing; it creates a divot in the sand and some dirt or sand gets washed into it and settles, creating the fossil.''

It has required a lot of paper-making as she has sought to find the best paper suitable for the job.

''There's lots of chance involved with trace fossilisation.''

The project has widened as she began recording the flight path of different organisms on the coast creating a web of their journeys.

''Getting as much of an archive as possible in real time as I did it.''

While she is still developing the final concept for her work in the exhibition, she is thinking it will probably incorporate some digital video component.

''It could be quite different. There is an interesting relationship between how we archive digitally and visually.''

To see
Art+Water, HD Skinner Annex Otago Museum, September 9-12.

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