The disaster climate change is projected to efficiently and, (Big Bang forbid!), swiftly deliver, dominates climate action discourse, and understandably so. The threat is existential. But within that dominant conversation is a more delicate tangent on the ways we commune with the world around us, our home. This tangent becomes apparent when you shut out the noise for a beat, and pay attention to how we, humans, orbit our environment, our geography, our atmosphere – the very canvas on which this existential dread comes alive. Away from the noise is a simpler, deeper connection which can help connect us better to what we stand to lose; because in the noise, most times, we tend to wander off-track. When we focus on this beautiful canvas, we unify in our communion with this planet. Whatever our individual contexts, the sky grounds us, the land catapults us, and the air, it carries us. And that is the vocabulary Dillon Marsh continues to explore – our relationship with the land, the sky and air, and how that brings to bear our very humanity, fragile as it may be.
Marsh’s latest body of work, From Linear to Circular, done in partnership with Nestlé East and Southern Africa, opened in a solo exhibition at Melrose Gallery in Johannesburg, in June 2022 during sustainability month. It is a collection of photographs, in three series, profiling three sustainability projects that are shaping the shift from linear economies to circular economies. The projects, Skimmelkrans Net Zero Dairy Pilot, Project Infrasalience and RE-Imagine Tomorrow, are all in South Africa. And this exhibition sits snuggly in a portfolio of work where Marsh consistently interrogates the way we relate to our environment. From Counting The Costs where he presents a new way of visualising the loss of glacial ice using accurately scaled spheres of ice models, to For What It’s Worth where he represents scaled models of metals removed from the ground as commentary on the mining sector’s impact on the environment. His interest in how humans and the planet earth relate has a curious novelty that excites and encourages contemplation.
This latest body of work, From Linear to Circular, is available for viewing in a virtual room on Melrose Gallery’s website here>>>. In the work is a visual language that he seems to be building and interrogating on his proverbial canvas that makes you sit up and pay attention to the issues. Well, technically, the works are in true giclée with a clarity that draws you in. He captures a moment, frames it with the sky, the landscape, the atmosphere around us, and overlays all this with data points that convey and visualise impact.
That his chosen medium is photography, makes sense. That in that photography, he overlays computer-generated imagery, at scale, elevates the work. It transforms it, and turns the medium visceral, and the subject rather confronting. He explores a visual representation of carbon in a black texturized spherical mass to denote a measure of carbon that is offset through sustainable interventions. The result is like something out of a horror movie, quite stark and confronting, yet with a strange beauty. For data points on water saved or recycled, he places a spherical orb of the liquid floating between earth and sky, as if Gi from Captain Planet with her water manipulating superpower has willed it so. For masses of paper, plastic and metal that are recycled, he uses spheres with the textures of each material, in a sea of waste. The visual language is simple and accessible, with an honesty that squares up for candid conversation. And so his photography feels necessary in capturing and suspending an otherwise threatened planet in time. It’s more than art, more than a social diary, it is an unintentional yet important archiving of humanity.
Marsh’s photography does this well, to archive landscapes framed by the sky, land and air, a constant and consistent threesome. In From Linear to Circular, he uses the sky to tie every single piece together. In Skimmelkrans 01, an invitation into a fourth generation, ambitious farming operation in George that is on track to become Africa’s first net zero dairy farm, a moody profile of the sky with a scattering of growing clouds open-wide to a muddy road that snakes through a creaky old gate into the future of farming. The same sky is reflected in the eye of a jersey cow in Skimmelkrans 02 spotting a lustrous brown coat, in Skimmelkrans 10 in the belly of the manure press, and in Skimmelkrans 05 where the sun glistens from a beautiful gush of recycling water, and so on. Even when he introduces a computer-generated representation of carbon, a large textured sphere placed in the middle of the photograph, to show the impact of regenerative agriculture, the sky dominates. In Skimmelkrans 11, overlays a ball of solid carbon, at scale, to represent the 500 tons of carbon dioxide per cow per year that the farm’s shift from linear to circular prevents from entering the atmosphere.
Travel to the north of Gauteng, and in Hammanskraal is the same sky, cloudy, he reflects in Project Infrasalience 02 at Nestle’s Babelegi factory, where flue gases from manufacturing pass through proprietary AI technology to deliver sodium bicarbonate and industrial water. And in Project Infrasalience 10 where he profiles the lab’s workings that output the baking soda. The data points in the project come to life in the computer-generated insertions of carbon and water, that is, 5,500 tons of carbon that can be prevented from entering the atmosphere and 292,500 kilolitres of water have been saved through the pilot project.
All the way in Tembisa in Ekurhuleni, the same sky binds the third project, aptly called RE-Imagine Tomorrow, into this intriguing body of work. In RE-Imagine Tomorrow, the pilot explores a meeting of minds between corporate, informal waste reclaimers, a buy-back centre, and a local tech startup. The sky, in all its majesty, plays a grand backdrop to the highlights of a waste recycling blueprint in development. In RE-Imagine Tomorrow 01, the clarity of the sky against a pile of waste is a sad beauty. In RE-Imagine Tomorrow 07, RE-Imagine Tomorrow 08, RE-Imagine Tomorrow 09, and RE-Imagine Tomorrow 10, the sky crowns waste reclaimers as they pack, and load sorted waste. In the data points of the project, with spheres in smooth dull metallic silver, synthetic plastic white and paper textured white, he lands the proof points of this pilot project.
In From Linear to Circular, the sky frames Marsh’s view, the land beneath grounds it, and between them is air. These three are constant in his exploration of how we relate to our planet. At a moment like this, when the threat of climate change looms over us, his perspective is most necessary. In the beauty of his work, he reminds us of what is at stake if we do not act swiftly. In the simplicity of his visual language, he invites us to a serious conversation on the progress we are making in fighting climate change and raises awareness of what more can be done to save our planet. He captures the ways in which we are rethinking and reimagining life as we’ve always known with a sincere honesty that captivates and intrigues. In From Linear to Circular, Marsh ties three innovative projects together, informing us how singular they are in objective, regardless of their different geographies, contexts, and technologies. It is, indeed, a necessary archive.