Erika Cann and Siân Goldby: Towards a geological-artistic practice

It’s been a while since we’ve posted on ecoartscotland. Several pieces are in the pipeline. Earlier this year The Barn, Banchory, ran a second iteration of Becoming Earthly. Following the first iteration of Becoming Earthly, ecoartscotland published a blog by David Haley.

Following the second iteration this year, together with The Barn, we commissioned two blogs. The first by Holly Drewett was published on The Barn’s website. Holly explores caring for language and practices of writing daily letters to the sea. Read her blog here.

The second blog comes from Erika Cann and Siân Goldby, both movement artists, who discuss the ephemerality of their practices and the materiality of geology. Their text is in two voices, as they explain.

Photo by Erika Cann

After participating in the Becoming Earthly seminar series, we got together to reflect upon the experience and discuss how our practices and thoughts might overlap. Overwhelmed by the breadth of the topics on the course, and contained to the 45 minutes of a zoom call, we chose to ask each other a series of questions over a word document, allowing a conversation to flow and for answers to develop as an organic thinking-through-writing practice. Below are some excerpts of these questions and answers.

We have been exploring the creation of text-as-strata to indicate the voices of two people, layering ideas upon one another’s practice. The text could be thought of as a conglomerate rock; as layers of sedimentation that have built up over time. The words in bold act as anchor-points, having emerged from the seminar themes alongside significant quotes which continue to guide our thinking, fossilised within the body of the text.

Plain text: Erika Cann
Italics: Siân Goldby

To apply for Becoming Earthly we had to send a question.
…..Our questions were: How can an active, outdoors based /
time-based arts /
…..practicecreate alternative perspectives to becoming earthly? /
connect human awareness with temporalities experienced by the non-human,
and tap into the micro/macro realities of worlds that exist alongside
and outside of human-centric perception?

At the time of asking I felt the need for my practice to become more collaborative and investigative, to be further situated within physical spaces, after a period of time where I had felt dislocated from my place of practice (Dartmoor).

I came to the Becoming Earthly series with an interest in how artistic practices can expose what’s hidden, or not immediately obvious to human perception, and thinking about how these practices are uniquely positioned to do this because they allow for spaces where time-realities can be suspended. 

I’m interested in overlapping land usages, breaking the top-down, ‘plan’ perspectives of a cartographic map, and the idea of merging a ‘deep mapping’ of a place with deep-time. I wanted to learn more about how different practices/non-art practices could produce new ideas or distort ways of seeing. This could be by creating certain atmospheres, disruptions, or a bringing together/ layering of elements that you might not have imagined before you went through the creative process.

As you mentioned, an art practice’s ability to play with time and realities are interesting, and I hope that through my practice of climbing I’m aiding new perspectives and processes of thinking within my work by experiencing the environment in a different way, putting myself out of my comfort zone, and working intimately with place. After Paolo and Amanda’s sessions I have been thinking a lot about processes of tuning. Perhaps part of Becoming Earthly could mean finding space for active attunements to environment as a refreshing of perception, a landing, a way of recognising how humans go about ‘worlding’ (Morton, 2013) through an imagined continuity of experience.

What can re-contextualisations
do to things?’

Amanda Thomson, Becoming Earthly seminar

I wonder if divers feel the same way about the sea, and how these moments outdoors might be brought into the studio. In my practice, I’m interested in how thinking choreographically can help us attend to the bigger picture.

art as a moment of encounter’

Amanda Thomson, Becoming Earthly seminar

Many of the Becoming Earthly participants had an element of movement in their practices and interests, allowing us to discuss topics from different perspectives – we were experiencing the same time on those Friday afternoons in winter, but perhaps from different speeds and scales.

Paolo Maccangno’s session on landing and gravity really shifted the way I thought about my practice of climbing. The fact that we’re very much tied to the earth we stand on through gravity makes the practice of climbing (often described as ‘defying’ gravity) the antithesis of landing. But the Feldenkrais session created a sensation that was akin to this feeling – the bodily awareness, merging and connecting with the ground is a symbiosis that might aid thinking beyond the separation of body and land. I think it’s important to remember that the body/land split is not a universal experience. As Zoe Todd writes, indigenous thinkers have engaged with human enmeshment with environment for millennia (2016). Nora Bateson suggests that the grammar of identity creates this separation of I/body (2016), so perhaps by thinking of our practices as an extension of ourselves – and the Dartmoor Tors as an extension of myself – means that we have less far to fall. I’m also reminded of bell hooks when she asks us to ‘stand on solid ground and be a true witness’ (2008:71).

‘What is landing?’

Paolo Maccagno, Becoming Earthly seminar

I think the space to play and experiment with new ideas that Becoming Earthly provided was critical in developing my artistic practice. The exposure to different perspectives and seeing how others’ practices were evolving gave me the impetus to think differently about my approach: I have been playing with the idea of choreographic practices as a creation of material ‘choreographic objects’ (Forsythe, 2018) or ‘choreographic hyperobjects’…

In his session Jan Zalasiewicz talked about rocks and stone specimens having different stories from other chapters, and extracting narratives from places, times and environments that have since disappeared. I enjoyed this description of geology as it transforms what’s often perceived as static material into something that is creative and flowing…

Extracting stories from rocks

Jan Zalasiewicz, Becoming Earthly seminar

…Thinking about how choreographic material-as-action could carve up spacetime much like the theory that ghosts exist as a form of emotional residue within a slice of time. Like a ripple. Once ‘an object of choreographic action’ exists within that layer of time, it cannot be undone. It may be hidden to those who are not aware, but it is still there. I’m fascinated by the ‘thingness’ of a choreographic ‘object’, how and when they are considered complete, what is the timespan of a piece of choreography, how much of a piece of choreographic material ‘leaks’ into the spacetime within which it was produced? How do audiences/environments/places contribute to this feedback loop? There’s a process of perceptual bracketing that occurs at some point. It’s curious how we call this choreographic stuff, which is generally considered immaterial, ‘choreographic material’. If we took a slice of the strata of this choreographic material-as-object, what would that look like in all of its fluidity?

stand in the midst to feel the past’

Amanda Thomson, Becoming Earthly seminar

I’ve been thinking about writing in relation to this; Morton suggests that ‘how we write and what we write and what we think about writing can be found within agrilogistics’(2018:44) but I think that words could also move beyond agrilogistic thinking to become influenced by the geological. Geological writing could endure times beyond the spans of language as we know it, and favour slowness and depth (geologic) over speed and growth (agrilogistic), which stretches away from the earth and leaves thin layers of soil as its surface.Words stratify the page, fossiliferous in origin – both on paper and on the screen, coal has been spent.

Morton raises an interesting point about how the English language has developed over generations, and how a lot of the terms we still use have their roots in agrilogistics. Potawatomi biologist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer also speaks to the lack of appropriate terms in the English language as it forces us to perceive ourselves as separate from nature, because we always have to refer to things which are not human as ‘it’, or an inappropriately gendered pronoun (2017). Could a geological approach as you mention take us beyond codified language? Anthropologist Tim Ingold suggests a synchronicity ‘between the way in which words are inscribed on a page of writing, and the way in which the movements and rhythms of human and non-human activity are registered in lived space’ (2010:11) if we consider words ‘not as text but as texture’ (ibid.). Perhaps a geological approach to writing-as-texture, as strata, operates with the same synchronicity as human movement that is attentive, connected, grounded, attuned to the textures within a geological landscape, fostering a deeper connection to place.


Amanda talked about slow making and engaging with the local which resonated with me, as exploring a place deeply is important in the process of seeing.

Gentle activism – coming back to the local and small’

Amanda Thomson, Becoming Earthly seminar

I’ve noticed a decline in the density and richness of the purple Bell Heather on the Dartmoor over the years. I’m experimenting with the slow process of anthotypes (which uses plant pigments) to make photos of the heather moorland using images of my encounters with the flower across the years. I’ve chosen beetroot as the photo-reactive pigment due to the proximity in colour,

Erika Cann From the Bonny Bells (2022)
Beetroot Anthotype

I find anthotypes a fascinating example of artistic methods making the invisible visible, and also giving agency to nature. It’s also interesting because the parts we see as humans are only those which exist within the colour spectrum that humans can actually see.

You can’t ‘fix’ (make permanent) the image either – it’ll gradually fade with exposure to the sun. Some of the prints are being shown at my local museum, which I find quite interesting – the image will be ever-changing and fluid in a place where preservation and the longevity of objects is the main goal. As you said, there are many elements of the piece that we can’t see, and we also won’t be able to visibly notice the changes that are happening to the image. Just as the gradual degradation of heather moorland and other landscapes evades the human eye, the rate of disappearance is too slow to see, often until it’s too late. This concept of Slow Violence (Nixon, 2011) is interesting in relation to slow making and seeing.

I’m interested in the ‘formation’ phase of rock-making; a slow build-up of substance. Things are floating and settling. I’m at the beginning of my practice and by the end of the process there might be a whole pebble, or even a hand-sized rock, but it might also get washed away. I like that idea of practice as a process of sedimentation, so things can sediment and ‘bed’ down in the way that you describe – forming a foundation for solidification, a bedrock for practice to flourish.

But then also it can work both ways – erosion as layers get washed away to gradually reveal what was there originally, but then that thing itself has also changed with time and pressure and has become something new. Sedimentation documenting events as trace fossils, encapsulating ideas like creatures that have fallen to the sea floor – they’re part of the ecosystem, a foundational structure holding the present, but which might crumble and become part of another body. I’m similarly intrigued by conglomerate rocks – ideas lumped together to create something bigger and other than itself. This chimes with Morton’s theory of ‘hyperobjects’ (2013): huge entities which are distributed on such a scale across time and space that they, as a whole, are less than their composite parts. There is a continuity and circularity to practice-as-strata which I enjoy in your descriptions.

Does it shift our perspectives
to think about continuums?’

Amanda Thomson, Becoming Earthly seminar

It can take quite a long time for ideas to solidify themselves into an idea for a performance work. If you think of your practice as strata, I suppose I would consider mine as a stalagmite/stalactite situation, a kind of crystallisation.

‘rich durations’

Amanda Thomson, Becoming Earthly seminar

I like the idea that there’s leakage (Ingold, 2010), not just within my own practice but in relation to other beings that encounter my practice, be they human or non-human. So there’s some leakage and absorption of practices through people, place, non-human, environment. And that leakage doesn’t have a fixed temporality. Like the juices that you get from composting/biodegradation. Choreographic practice as bin-juice??

I like your thoughts about leakage – it reminds me of porous rocks seeping water long after the rain has been and the ground is dry – things held onto that slowly trickle and emerge. I thought of you while I was deep underground in the Skocjan Caves in Slovenia, where the Reka river has carved through this incredible space – disappearing underground and reappearing in Italy. Something about the disappearing/reappearing act reminded me of how you described art bringing attention to things. The Reka river and the karst region are leaky and slippery, it’s a geology ‘where water refuses to obey its usual courses of action’ (Macfarlane, 2020:178). I could imagine your choreographic practice taking place deep within the karst!

‘How does stone change our movement?’

Jan Zalasiewicz, Becoming Earthly Seminar
Postcard from the Skocjan Caves, Slovenia

I have been working with a process of washing objects that were dug out from the earth in my garden. There are all kinds of things, lots of glass, plastic wrapping, roof tiles. It would have been the rubble from when they built the house but there are also milk bottles which makes me think it might have been more like a general tip for past residents. The process of intimately caring for each object on an equal level is important and shifts the process to be about care for the forgotten and discarded object. Care as a form of resistance against the throw-away, consumerist, extractivist culture which has caused so much damage to the earth and its human and non-human dwellers throughout history. Kimmerer comments; ‘If all the world is a commodity, how poor we grow. When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become’ (2013:31); returning to your comments on thinking about geology and earth as not static but something in motion

‘How can we bring kindness and gentleness?’

Sophie Hope, Becoming Earthly seminar

…there’s also something interesting in the circularity of this process. It is a form of extractivism, yet the materials that are being extracted have already lived a life of transformation from past raw, organic materials into objects with a fleeting existence, returned to the ground to be extracted again. How can the reappearance of these objects influence our sense of deep-time, human history, domesticity and the complex dichotomies between ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’? What might these objects want to tell me? Would they even want to be objectified in this way?

‘Who speaks and who listens?’

Sophie Hope, Becoming Earthly seminar
A slice of a milk bottle which used to be ‘pasteurised’ is now simply ‘past’

This human strata of objects is like a material slice of time, much like the landfill which is hidden from our day-to-day landscapes (at least in the UK, mostly) but it leaks. And that leakage, in this case, is dangerous. The leakage betrays the reality of past actions that cannot be undone.

I’m interested in where you have stored these fragments – are they neatly categorised by material, or on display in your living room? The collection and repurposing of fragments is an interesting part of an arts practice – these things (material, object, ideas, memories) that we collect and hold onto – things that might otherwise be seen as waste or as broken, that might one day become part of something new. Artists often hold things for durations longer than others would, using these scraps to alter their original form, using them in ways beyond their original purpose – an imagination of how fragments from the anthropocene might be interacted with in the deep future. I love how your fragments have also created their own narrative as they’ve been lying underground for several years, self-editing, from ‘pasturised’ to ‘past’, altering our perception of the recognisable man-made object into something more fossil-like. The re-extracting and reshuffling of natural and man-made materials is like shuffling the deck of cards of time; now ammonites from museum cases will sit alongside glass fragments and plastic in the strata. How can we find new ways of thinking about geology and time?

‘To hold a stone – and to feel it in our nervous system’

Jan Zalasiewicz, Becoming Earthly seminar

From the patterns of dirt in the sink I have produced a series of photographs which I titled ‘Kitchen Sink Realism’. [1]

Siân Goldby ‘Kitchen Sink Realism’ (2022)
Siân Goldby ‘Kitchen Sink Realism: everything but the kitchen sink’ (2022)

This again highlights and embraces what could be considered the waste or ‘by-product’ of a process, something which could so easily be overlooked. It’s also ephemeral in its nature too because after these images were taken it all got washed away, but then the image is maintained as an archival record, and of course the dirt still exists in the world, just not in that arrangement. I was also playing with this idea of the unexpected – the images look like a beautiful natural landscape, until you realise that it’s actually really mundane. This makes me reflect again about how flimsy our worlds are, and the stories we tell ourselves.

‘It is feared that the dream of a humanity transparent to herself, stripped of
mystery, might prove to be a catastrophic illusion’

Mbembe, 2021

Reflecting on these sessions through an ongoing conversation with Siân has brought up new perspectives on the Becoming Earthly sessions and has linked ideas and experience back to these discussions. Becoming Earthly wasn’t just a seminar series, it was the beginning of a sedimentation of thoughts that continue to layer and build as we continue our making, feeding into the ecosystem of an arts practice.

I am enjoying the idea that snippets from the sessions will continue to leak into my practice for a long time to come, and there are inevitably parts which I’m yet to connect back to specific moments from the sessions but they are still there. It’s like a slow rippling, or vibration. What happens when we embrace this slow mulching process? This composting of elements? Things emerge but never disappear – they exist in a kind of limbo until something else happens which connects them to the present, like gossamer threads through time, temporal lines connecting past to present.

‘What can I know from what I’m seeing?
What am I not seeing?
What is my responsibility to what I’m seeing?’

Newton Harrison, notes from final Becoming Earthly session

Erika Cann is an artist who lives between the granite tors of Dartmoor National Park and the dynamic cliffs of the Jurassic Coast in Devon. She is a recent BFA graduate from the Ruskin School of Art. Erika navigates environments through climbing her way up time, geologies and accumulated narratives.

Sian Goldby is an interdisciplinary performance maker based in Bristol, who’s choreographic work combines movement, soundscape, light and film projection. She is currently undertaking a practice-based PhD on how the use of miniaturisation in performance practice can shift perceptions of time, space and scale in a context of climate crisis.


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Forsythe, William (2018). Choreographic Objects. Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art Boston/Boston and DelMonico Books.

hooks, bell (2008). Belonging, A Culture of Place. New York: Routledge.

Ingold, Tim (2010). Working Paper #15, Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials. In: Realities (2008) ESRC National Centre for Research Methods: University of Manchester.

Kimmerer Wall, Robin (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.

Kimmerer Wall, Robin (2017) Learning the Grammar of Animacy. Anthropology of Consciousness. 28(2). pp. 128-134.

Macfarlane, Robert (2020). Underland: A Deep Time Journey. UK: Penguin Books.

Mbembe, Achille (2021). Futures of Life and Futures of Reason. Public Culture. 33(1). pp. 11-33.

Morton, Timothy (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Morton, Timothy (2018). Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nixon, Robert (2011). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Todd, Zoe (2016) An Indigenous Feminist’s Take On The Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word For Colonialism. Journal of Historical Sociology. 29(1). pp. 4-22.

[1] This title is a play on the form of ‘real-life’ drama which came about in the 1950s, capturing the ‘gritty’ lives of the working classes which was a significant departure from the escapism offered by television programming until that point.

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