Informed and inspired by ideas of chaos and order, control and surrender, Russell Mills will exhibit new mixed media works and an ‘aleatoric’ soundwork, made specifically for Brantwood. Mills creates works that mirror and explore many of Ruskin’s ideas about nature: as matter, as force, as school, as metaphor for transformation, and as being profoundly political and economic.
Mills studied at Canterbury, Maidstone and the Royal College of Art. His work encompasses painting, installation, sound, film, and design for contemporary dance and music. He has worked with Brian Eno, Nine Inch Nails, David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel amongst many others.
Underpinning all of Ruskin’s work, be it on aesthetics, scientific observation, ethics, or social issues, is one central theme, that of the potential of cooperation and collaboration to achieve organic unity. In numerous essays he uses mineralogical imagery as metaphor to attack the divisive competition of political economy and to advocate ways of bringing people together in unity, crystallised not atomized.
Do you think that I am irreverently comparing great and small things? The system of the world is entirely one; small things and great are alike part of one mighty whole.
For Ruskin, the natural world, even in its indifference, continually revealed analogies for the human mind and soul. In his conception of elemental particles, crystals are not merely unyielding stones, but emblematic of dynamic systems that transform through states of dissolution and decay, solution and convergence. In Modern Painters, he describes the way in which an ounce of mud – an amorphous slurry of carbon particles – through co-operation and environmental dynamism, is transformed into new combinations and configurations: a sapphire, an opal, and a diamond.
Collage – or assemblage, or montage – is not merely a technique of materially juxtaposing disparate elements in new configurations or contexts, or of incorporating elements of reality into a work without imitating it – it also serves as a paradigm for experimentation and adaptability. It accepts a capacity for risk and with it an acceptance of the failure that may follow, and from which sometimes new and surprising correspondences may be discovered.
The works evolve through a reciprocal exchange between contextually anchored ideas and physical and chemical processes, each, in varying degrees, influencing and informing the other. The materials, objects, solutions and processes are not employed for aesthetic affect, but rather to act as metaphoric carriers of meaning and as triggers of associative potential. By abandoning certain vestiges of control, and surrendering to the vagaries of contingency, the unfamiliar may unexpectedly materialise. Contingency – life’s condition: the nature of nature – is not random: things come into existence in causal nexus, small variants initiate changes which are continually shifting, as they themselves are similarly contingent. The factors they are contingent upon are also contingent, ad infinitum.
Our reasoning mind is either confounded or fascinated by the unfamiliar. It retreats in confusion or opens wide to the possible. Marvelling at the incomprehensible, at what eludes us, is what feeds our curiosity and prompts questioning. Throughout his life Ruskin continually demonstrated the primacy of this state of not knowing, of wonder, as the very essence of our quest for a better understanding of our world, our place in it, and our responsibilities to it. When explaining the phrase “truth to nature”, offered as advice to artists, he defined it as meaning “moral as well as material truth.”
Russell Mills 2019