Ruth Lyons introduces our material world

In Ruth Lyons' first of two workshops at Fingal Community College in Swords she began by inviting students to look at a selection of natural materials - oil, chalk, limestone and rock salt - all substances that human beings dig up from below the earth for our own uses. She spoke of how these (usually) hidden materials shape our society. She said that until recently, and for a long time, salt was the most precious and traded commodity on the earth. Referring to oil and coffee beans as the first and second most traded materials in our contemporary world she asked the students what they thought these two things might have in common. She then spoke of their mutual relationship to energy and acceleration. Showing them images of the 64km of tunnels of pure rock salt below ground in Antrim and the map of the 230 million year old Zechstein sea where northern Europe now exists, she described how the condensed dead bodies of the creatures from this ancient sea created the current geological seam of salt that stretches from Ireland to Russia.  She told them about her current long-term project working with the EUsalt association and eight of the salt mines across Europe who mine the rock salt left over from this ancient sea to create a series of 'salt bowls': each series a different colour due to the differing mineral content of the earth in each location (in Poland white, in England brown...). She showed them images of other artworks including 'The Forgotten Works' from 2012 - a large, minimal black sculpture that loomed from the roof and upper facade of The Project Arts Centre building in Temple Bar, Dublin. This temporary sculpture was made of timber pieces painted with 'bitumen' - the lowest grade of oil, used in building our roads, 'the black matter that fuels the earth'. 

Following Ruth's stimulating and expansive talk, she invited the students to consider what material they would like to commemorate. What materials did they use in everyday life, and what materials that we use today might people in 100 years time view as interesting? What material would they like to be part of a personal commemorative object? Could it be cotton, paper or maybe the root of paper - timber? In this first workshop the students made the silicon mould which they would use to cast their material object in next week's workshop...