Feather © Tim Gomersall, 2022
Growing up in the 1980s as a child of the North, I had the impression that cities were just… really… grey. The Leeds of the 1980s was dominated by nondescript boxy buildings, a skyline pierced by high-rises and cranes. A not-so-fine layer of soot and grime clung to everything, a throwback to the city’s industrial past, topped up in the present by traffic jams and gangs of smokers. In Glasgow, from my occasional childhood visits, I remember the effect being even more intense: in fact, this was confirmed when two of the native Glaswegians on my course discussed memories of the entire city being black, before the buildings were sandblasted over more recent years.
Seeing beyond the grey grime of a city is a matter of looking closely. In Feather, I’d come across quite an arresting subject when out searching for texture and colour in the area surrounding the Glasgow School of Art. There was a certain group of paving stones in lurid orange tones, pockmarked with blue divots and textures. I might have passed them by, but for the white feather in the midst of a piece of decayed black plastic.
More than a homage to surprising flecks of colour in the city, Feather is a painting about the way organic matter and inorganic technologies meld together in the urban landscape, such that we cannot tell where the technology starts and the “natural” being ends. This was the captivating thing about the feather – it was so closely intertwined with the plastic and grime there seemed to be a consummation between them, so that they had become an inseparable whole, completely different from the originals. Although the idea of fleshy bits in a synthesis with plastic might make us feel… disgust is too strong, but certainly uneasy… is this so very different from our relationship to technology? Doesn’t every encounter with technology transform us, for better or worse? There isn’t an easy resolution to this, and I certainly don’t buy into the techno-utopians’ view that the way to solve the problems caused by technology is… more technology (‘green’, ‘ethical’, or otherwise). As I write this, we are experiencing yet another record-breaking heat wave, with temperatures likely to hit 40oC in London: Surely a stark reminder of the dangers in our relationship with technology. And yet, despite the increasing awareness we all have of the problem, it has become extremely difficult, if not impossible, to decouple ourselves from technology. Art cannot give us a straightforward answer about how we might respond - but at least it can make us pause and think.