WRECKED MATTER

Paul Nash gave a sense of ‘aliveness’ to everything, even inanimate matter. More than 80 years later Jane Bennet also described in her book Vibrant Matter explores the notion that all matter is pulsing with life.

In the summer of 2018 and 2019 Hughes traveled along the coast from Cornwall through Somerset, Dorset, and the Kent Coast, visiting Hastings and completing his journey at Dungeness. Over the recent past, he has been drawn to the work of Paul Nash, in particular, his writings and visualisations of inanimate objects and his depiction of wrecked materials such as Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 1940–1. The suggestion of a ghostly presence in the material depicted in this scene resonates with Hughes own practice and exploration of the seashore and lost matter. The two journeys form part of an ongoing research project exploring pilgrimage with specific references to place, agency and how Hughes own positionality might be located within another artist engrossed with materialism and the metaphysical.

Location: St Catherine's Chapel, Abbotsbury, Dorset, England. 

The chapel is dated to the late 14th century, built on a platform which may have been originally for a pagan temple. The Chapel was built as a place of pilgrimage and retreat by the monks of the nearby Benedictine monastery Abbotsbury Abbey. Its position on the top of a hill about 80 m (260 ft) high, overlooking the coast from Portland Bill to Bridport, it location and position made it a prominent feature for seafarers.

Location: Dymchurch 2018 | Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

Location: Dymchurch 2018 | Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

Location: Dymchurch 2018 | Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

In 1919 Nash moved to Dymchurch in Kent, beginning his well-known series of pictures of the sea, the breakwaters, and the long wall that prevents the sea from flooding Romney Marsh. 

Photograph by Paul Nash 1889–1946 | TitleBlack and white negative. Cottages, Dymchurch, Kent [c.1930–4]

Photo © Tate |CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) | Tate Collection Link

Location: Funfair directly opposite the cottage where Nash lived, Dymchurch, Kent.

Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

Location: Dymchurch, Kent. Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

Location: Sea Wall, Dymchurch, Kent. Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

Paul Nash, Totes Meer (Dead Sea), 1940–1

‘The thing looked to me suddenly, like a great inundating sea ... the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain. … nothing moves, it is not water or even ice, it is something static and dead.’ Paul Nash

Photo © Tate | CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/nash-totes-meer-dead-sea-n05717

Location: Sea Wall, Dymchurch, Kent. Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

Location: Lyme Regis, Dorset. Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

Title: Beach Monster. Location: Swanage, Dorset | Media: C-Type LightJet Print 30 x 40 Inches 

Hughes traveled to Swanage in the summer of 2019, visiting and walking the paths and beaches that Nash most likely walked. Nash lived in various locations including Swanage, looking for objects and finding particular places that spoke to him. He often thought about “objects as personages”, for instance in his late-1930s photographs of animal-like fallen trees, he called ‘“monsters”. During his life he identified different kinds of monsters, from rusted anchors to Dorset dinosaurs to bomber planes; it was another way of rendering the English pastoral uncanny.

In his essay "The Life of the Inanimate Object", he wrote "the endowment of natural objects, organic but not human, with powers of personal influences..." and …merely because they are not perceived… To discover, for instance, the landscape of bleached objects is to open up endless possibilities of fresh adventure… But, you may protest, who in the world wants to bother their sight or understanding about a bleached object? That, however, is an entirely different matter. All these things under consideration here – stones, bones, empty fields, demolished houses and back gardens – all these have their trivial feature, as it were, their blind side; but, also, they have another character, and this is neither moral nor sentimental nor literary, but rather something strange and – for want of a better word, which may not exist – poetical.


Location: Sea Wall, Dymchurch, Kent. Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

Title: Nest of stones in formation. Location: Sea Wall, Dymchurch, Kent. Media: Digital C-Type print, 16x20 Inches

Further work from this project will be online in 2020 

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