Channel 2014 is a series of twenty-nine near-square format photographs taken in a small mangrove forest on the coast of Port Dickson, Simryn Gill’s hometown in Malaysia. Nine of the photographs are black and white gelatin silver prints and twenty are colour Ilfochrome prints. They can be shown as a full set, in smaller groups or as individual works; there is no specified order in which the pictures are to be hung. The series exists in an edition of two, of which this is the second, plus one artist’s proof. The photographs show the coastal environment of Port Dickson, framed and criss-crossed by mangrove trees. Entangled in the branches and projecting roots are colourful plastic bags and other items of domestic detritus that have been washed up by the rise and fall of the daily tides. Hanging almost like clothes on a washing line, these plastic and fabric remnants have been integrated into Gill’s compositions like an integral part of the landscape. One photograph in the series does not show any litter on the shore, but rather an expanse of sea with a large ship approaching the port.
Channel is one of a number of series in which Gill has been concerned with Port Dickson. She has been recording the industrial port town since 1993, using a range of different media from installations of cubes made from termite soil from the area, to photographic series such as Channel. An earlier series of forty photographs, A Small Town at the Turn of the Century 1999–2000 (Tate P13507), includes images shot at the same beach where Channel was made (prints #1, #4 and #16 of A Small Town at the Turn of the Century).
Channel is representative of Gill’s practice, in which the use of natural materials and ideas of modification are important concepts. Curator Jessica Morgan has written: ‘Not only do people become fruit, but also books become vegetation, discarded or crushed objects develop mobility, photographs become sculpture, people become books, and books become beads.’ (Jessica Morgan, ‘No Place like Home’, in Storer, Morgan and Taussig 2008, p.60.) Transformation is thus an element of the work on a number of levels, including artistic genres and media as well as the objects photographed. Gill routinely collects shells, driftwood, plastic bottles and shards on the beach, classifying these found objects according to form, colour and material. By choosing to photograph items entangled in the trees, she has added another layer to this practice. The fact that Channel comprises both black and white and colour photographs suggests that the artist was looking at each individual object and scene in detail, for its compositional effect, and exploiting the qualities of the different photographic prints and processes. The gelatin silver prints focus on the dynamic forms of the trees, tangled pieces of litter and the water; the ilfochrome prints accentuate the colours of the found objects and the surrounding environment.
Focusing on normally overlooked litter, shaped and expelled by the sea, Channel draws attention to the shipping of products to and from Port Dickson and, more widely, raises questions about migration and globalisation. The contamination of the mangrove forest by plastic waste invokes the complex and difficult relationship between humankind and the environment. In using her last remaining stocks of Ilfochrome paper – which is no longer manufactured – to print the twenty colour photographs of the Channel series, Gill highlights the transient nature of everyday life and our impact on an ever-changing environment, as well as the fugitive nature of the photographic medium itself.
Simryn Gill: Selected Work, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, July–September 2002.
Russell Storer, Jessica Morgan and Michael Taussig, Simryn Gill, Cologne 2008.
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