Artist : Jonathan Anderson
Title : Coal Dust Mandala
‘Coal Dust Mandala’ Jonathan Anderson at Oriel Myrddin, Carmarthen.
Review by Ciara Healy
When the clocks went forward a couple of weeks ago, there was an almost palpable sense of relief visible across the fields and valleys of Carmarthenshire. Every year, the one-hour shift from winter to summer is surprising. We forget this tiny extended gesture of light from the sun will come. There is hope attached to it, we can begin again, the dark nights and cold mornings are pushed to the past once more.
So it is uncanny and appropriate that Jonathan Anderson’s solo show should be the first exhibition on the edge of this year’s summer time at Oriel Myrddin. His dark coal dust circles represent the still centre of time, the axis mundi between darkness and light, between presence and disappearance.
Grouped together on trestle tables along the edge and down the centre of the gallery, Anderson’s ‘Coal Dust Mandala’ compositions are constructed from scraps and fragments of wood and cardboard. The majority of the works are made as part of a daily meditative ritual that draws inspiration from the philosophies of Eckhart Tolle and Zen Buddhism. However this influence is ambiguous. The trestle tables are packed with clusters of black circles that clamour for our attention, there is no space to contemplate them individually. The contradictions continue: how can materials as malevolent as coal, as overlooked as broken billboards or torn cardboard boxes, be rendered beautiful? How can a substance capable of (and predominantly responsible for) destroying our planet and clogging the lungs of many miners be an intrinsic and ancient part of our geology? These tensions signify the paradox of the sublime. Like the rosebays flowering on over three-quarters of the bombed sites in London in the first summer after the blitz, Anderson has found beauty akin to what Richard Maybey calls ‘Defiant sparks of life amongst the desolation.’ 1. This liminal space between destruction and repair ultimately reminds us of what time brings; transformation, inevitability, loss, hope.
Anderson actively attempts to ‘loose’ himself when making, slowly moving the coal dust in circles before fixing it in place. This process is a way of capturing the essence of that still, centred state of mind, sliding out of the present to feel the earth’s pulse beating within us and echoing through us. Heidegger called this experience Dasein - a momentary transcendental state of connectedness that is often abruptly interrupted by a woozy, wobbly awareness that we are only truly alive, right here, right now, in this moment.
The Mandalas collectively connect both the artist and the viewer to the source and base of mind, the source of thought and the source of all matter. They remind us that space and time are permanent only in the sense of duration, durable to the degree that they will always transform. Winter is on its way.
1. Mabey, R. (2010) The Unofficial Countryside, London: Collins p. 10.