Roger Ackling's tools of trade are simple — driftwood, a magnifying glass, the sun and the great outdoors. The result is Black Sun, on show at Edinburgh's Inverleith House.
Words: Susanna Beaumont
First. a couple of facts. The sun is 93 million miles away from the earth and it takes six minutes for the golden orb’s rays to hit earth. Roger Ackling quotes these facts with ease. Not that Ackling is some sun-fact fanatic. it is just that the sun is a crucial tool in his work.
Ackling is at the end of a cordless phone. He is sitting outside in his Norfolk garden. He has just being pulling up gooseberry bushes and breaks off to talk about his life and work.
‘In those days St Martin’s was a good old radical place.’ says Ackling of the London art college in the mid— 60s. where his contemporaries included the double-act duo Gilbert and George. Hamish Fulton and ‘heavy metal boy‘ Anthony Caro. It was while a student that Ackling‘s sister gave him a magnifying glass — a seemingly ordinary item that turned out to be a significant gift.
While some kids spend sunny afternoons scorching pieces of paper in the name of investigative research or ‘frying’ ants with the aid of a magnifying glass. Ackling did no such thing. But in his twenties. he found himself scorching pieces of driftwood. ‘It did feel slightly mischievous.‘ admits Ackling. ‘and slightly Dada.‘
A few years on while earning money as a gardener. Ackling again found time to burn. ‘I would eat my sandwiches in the lunch break and also mark wood.‘ he says.
'It is responding to the universe but there is nothing symbolic to the work. It's factual, more about the macro to the micro.’
Sun burnt: Roger Ackling's scorched piece of driftwood
By magnifying the sun‘s rays through the glass.
Ackling sears washed-up and washed-out chunks of
wood with burn marks. ‘I used to live in central London but would travel and get as much wood as I could into my rucksack.‘ he says. Now in his fifties. Ackling lives mainly in an old lighthouse on the Norfolk coast where wood is delivered literally to his doorstep. But it is seasonal work. the sun is only strong enough to burn frotn roughly April to early October. Ackling scorches the wood meticulously. Slender lincs made up of small circular burns run parallel and rhythmically along shafts of wood. Ackling regards these marks as over—exposed images of the sun. at record of its passage from ()3 million miles away to a
small corner of Norfolk and to one particular piece of
driftwood or old bit of an orange box. ‘lt is responding to the universe but there is nothing symbolic to the work.‘ says Ackling. ‘lt‘s factual. more about the macro to the tnicro.‘
Ackling‘s work has remained virtually ttnchanged over the years. It would be near impossible to date a work to twenty years go or to a sunny day last September.
‘I think invention is over-rated and I hardly rate it all.‘ he says. ‘I don‘t feel I have to be visually inventive. But I am taking functional objects that have been rejected by society and reflecting back the elements.‘
Black Sun by Roger Ackling is at Inverleith House. Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, Sat 18 Oct—Sun 30 Nov.
Eavesdropping on the Scottish art world.
THE SCOTTISH ARTS COUNCIL has been under fire lately for its funding decisions. At the recent re-opening of Edinburgh’s Stills gallery, SAC director Seona Reid braved the snipers and talked of the strength of Scotland's visual arts. Reid mentioned Dundee Centre for the Arts, which is to open next autumn, and The Modern Institute, devised to initiate art projects and generally act as support mechanism for Scotland’s artists. With ex-Tramway man Charles Esche at its helm, The Institute is still in its infancy and in need of financial nourishment. Could Reid’s mention of the organisation mean the Institute is to be further funded by the SAC?
MEANWHILE WITH PURSE strings being what they are and the money itself not in abundance, the fund- raising initiative goes on. Edinburgh’s Collective has just announced its Abso/ut Lotto. Names of artists who have donated work will be placed in numbered boxes and sold for £20, so you could be the proud owner of a work of art by a leading artist. Much better than getting a pot of jam at a tombola. The show kicks off on Sat 1 Nov.
TALK IS THAT the National Galleries’ plans to open a Gallery of Scottish Art in Glasgow have been put on hold by the trustees. Thankfully one of its up and running out—stations seems to be warming up to what is happening in Scotland now. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is in the throes of purchasing work by 1996 Turner Prize winner Douglas Gordon and Christine Borland, who is shortlisted for this year’s prize. It will be the first work by these two globally feted artists to have been bought by the gallery, which is to also take a solo show by Mona Hatoum next autumn.
PURVEYOR OF ACCESSORIES for a stylish lifestyle, Habitat has just announced a new award for the Master of Fine Art course at Glasgow School Of Art. Comprising a £5000 bursary for a first year student and five £1000 awards for graduating students, the package also includes the opportunity to show work at Habitat’s new store, to open in September next year in Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries. Sadly there is talk of a sofa being thrown in.
National pride: a work by Douglas Gordon is about to enter the nations collection
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