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Dungeness, Paganism, and Nuclear Apocalypse: An Interview with Artist Laurence Jordan

Laurence Jordan takes us on a tour through his apocalyptic artwork.

Published onNov 24, 2021
Dungeness, Paganism, and Nuclear Apocalypse: An Interview with Artist Laurence Jordan

Laurence Jordan is a UAL Camberwell alumni and has contributed to several group exhibitions across the United Kingdom, given lectures at the V&A Sackler centre and Conway Hall, London, and has contributed to the 'Boring Conference Podcasts' radio series at the BBC Old Broadcasting House.

Finding comfort in mercurially striding between various mediums, areas of study and processes, Laurence Jordan’s most recent works and exploits involve inoculating of mycelium, foraging wild edibles and fungi, harvesting wild yeasts to ferment sour ales and meads, cultivating vegetables and honing the art of apiculture and Beekeeping.

Artist’s photo by Jessie Shaw

What do the Green Man, the uncanny and ominous presence of the Dungeness nuclear power station, and the apocalypse all have in common? It would appear that all three of these things exist in cursory antithesis to one another. And yet, all of these symbolic subjects dominate the artistic narratives of Kentish artist Laurence Jordan.

As we live through anthropogenic climate change, the burden of which is a heavy reminder of the desperate hope or stark reality we must all now cling to, we also find ourselves in a post-romantic age; surrounded by brutalist architecture and, in many parts of the world, unbearable living conditions due to capitalist industry, petrochemical companies, and big business. Despite (and maybe in spite of) this many artists, both literary as well as audio visual, look to nature for inspiration even finding spiritual solace in its pertinent power.

We asked Laurence Jordan, a UK graphic designer, visual artist, and print maker, who grew up on the Romney Marsh (which has been coined, somewhat jokingly, the fifth continent) about his relationship to the country he calls home, his art, nature, and his understanding of the/an apocalypse.

Study on a Shell - Laurence Jordan

Michael: What kind of relationship does your art have to your surroundings or, rather, what role does your habitat play in your art?

Laurence: The series of images in question were all recorded on site and act as a visual metaphor of the landscape they were found in and the state of flux one observes in Dungeness. Topographically speaking, Dungeness is officially a desert; consisting of 72 square kilometres of shingle, it is a designated nature reserve and is home to a myriad of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna1, yet one is also greeted by two nuclear reactors situated on the coastline. The coastal erosion is so severe that approximately 100 tons of shingle has to be shifted by machinery per day, every single day, perpetually in order to preserve the nuclear power station from destruction (as well as from entering a phase of atomic meltdown). The images themselves have all gone through a process of ‘slit scan’ distortion as a means of reflection on this landscape which is in a constant state of apocalyptic flux between the ‘man’ made and the natural world.

Slit Scan Fly - Laurence Jordan

Michael: Artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman found inspiration in the wasteland expanse of Dungeness. Do you feel growing up near to Dungeness and the power plant have inspired you in any way?

Laurence: I suppose it was inevitable that an outsider such as Jarman would retreat to Dungeness. Outsiders help fill a void in this landscape which someone once described as ‘God’s unfinished creation’. It is, most definitely, a sort of unfinished environment. Prior to Jarman and the creatives who followed, the gap was filled by fishermen who, in a way, are the original outsiders from their inland cousins the shepherds and farmers of the Romney Marsh. There are very few working fishermen left nowadays and, hence, the beeches are strewn with abandoned boats and a myriad of rigging, equipment, and winches encrusted in rust which have taken on a rather sculptural post-apocalyptic quality of their own; somewhat in the vein of British Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor. I don't think I would ever go as far as to claim that Dungeness and the power plant to be a major influence to my personal practice in the arts in general. However, Dungeness has always been ‘that place’ just a stones throw from where I grew up, but you are never truly at home there; it’s more of a retreat from the prosaic, the everyday landscapes of town and country. It’s like visiting your strange relatives from abroad; you always end up leaving with a fresh perspective and sometimes a new curio you found washed up on the beach. I actually discovered the skull of a harbour porpoise just a few years back and you don’t just casually ‘find’ such a thing anywhere else in England but in Dungeness, on the other hand, that’s perfectly normal.

Study on a Shell II - Laurence Jordan

Michael: As we live through anthropogenic climate change and our relationship to nature starts to shift, what does a Pagan have to say about the climate apocalypse? You brew your own beer and mead, forage regularly for your food, and live a fairly sustainable and indelible lifestyle; what are some important aspects of living sustainably as well as your spiritual ‘beliefs’ in the face of the conglomeration of catastrophes we now face?

Laurence: Marcus Aurelius claimed poverty to be the mother of crime; in a sense the anthropocene was born out of humankind’s desperate clamber out of poverty into a state of sustenance but the balance of a comfortably satiated society was tipped into a society which over stepped the mark into greed and overconsumption and I believe the culprit can be traced back to the agricultural revolution some ten thousand years back.

Civilisation and the idea of a city, would not be possible without a firm control on cultivated crops to feed those who dwell in said cities. Prior to the cultivation of crops our place in the world would have been completely dictated by the availability of plants, nuts, and fungi to forage as well as whatever animals we could manage to hunt. For a pagan or Druid, this way of living must have simultaneously fostered the idea of a world of boundless nourishing potential but the changing seasons would also force one to cherish whatever mouthful was available and thus an incredibly varied diet developed by preserving foods, drying, and fermenting.

Fermentation was seen as a form of magic or a kind of gift from the gods; without preserved foods, the lean winter months would have been fatal. Today, we welcome the return of the Spring for the lengthening days and warmer evenings but for the Druids of the temperate world it would have signified the return of nourishment; sugar rich saps flowing through the trees bursting their buds into leaf, the very breath of life as we know it.

Green Man (Carbon Embossed Lino Cut) - Laurence Jordan

Jethro Tull’s invention of the seed drill was one of the first links in the chain of mechanised agricultural which made way for vast monocultures and a narrowing down on the need to employ workers on the land so we have this dichotomy of more food, less variety, and a greater unemployment rate as a direct result the innovations which made large scale food production in a less labour intensive manner possible; there is a kind of twisted irony in that. One could say that, apart from giving the namesake of a good folk/rock band, Jethro Tull was partly responsible for pushing the world further into the anthropocene.

In all honesty, I do believe agriculture is a good thing; of course it is. I try and grow a variety of small veg crops myself and I forage for seasonal herbs and fungi to complement my diet. One aspect of this is you witness first hand the efforts involved in food production and so you inherently cherish what you have and spurn the idea of any food going to waste but if any surplus crops do take a turn for the worse I always have my compost heap at hand so that the energy and nourishment is kept in the cycle. I developed a similar respect for alcohol once I began home brewing batches of beer and mead, as well as distilling with my trusty alembic still, as there is so much time spent waiting for the brew to ferment and then ‘mature’ in the bottle that you almost feel guilty cracking open another bottle!

Speaking of brewing I have even come to ‘brew’ my own nitrogen and potassium rich fertilisers from fermented stinging nettles and seaweed respectively. I think stinging nettles might be my favourite plants as they are a power house of iron, calcium, and has up to more than six times the amount of vitamin C found in some citrus fruit; it also happens to be very palatable when cooked and is in season for over half of the year and you never seem to be more than a minutes walk aways from your nearest patch. I revisit my ‘personal’ patch of nettles on a weekly basis and it has become a kind of nourishing friend or ‘spirit herb’ of my very own but it even grows in urban environments as well. I see stinging nettles as such a gift but you see councils up and down the country spending countless hours and capital employing people to strip the plants away. We all talk a lot about food waste these days but that, to me, is a shocking waste of perfectly good food.

Thankfully, there are some incredibly common and nutritious plants which grow on their own accord all across the country including chervil, common hogweed, rose hips, ramsons, seaweed and even acorns which are rich in fats and carbohydrates. You can also find a myriad of fruit trees, especially apple, which have self seeded by the edges of motorways as a consequence of drivers discarding their apple cores. Again, there is a peculiar metaphor to be seen in that. Nature seems to bounce back in some very unexpected places and in even more mysterious ways.

Slit Scan Fly II - Laurence Jordan

Michael: What are some of your favourite apocalyptic films, books, or music?

Laurence: I’d like to share a folk story, if I may, which serves as a warning for a society heading for the apocalypse. This is a story which is shared amongst the indigenous First Nations of America. The story tells us of the ‘Wendigo’ a crazed hirsute cannibal who haunts the landscape in search of its next victim but the more it devours the deeper the desire for more flesh grows. The Wendigo is insatiable and its footsteps ravage the villages and render the landscape void of life. The Wendigo was said to once be a man who was cast out of the tribe as punishment for his greed and the moral of this tale served to warn children of the wrongs of taking too much and overstepping one’s mark.

However, I find that the Wendigo mythos also serves as a good analogy for today’s society of decadence; combating our ideas of perpetual growth. We can witness the Wendigo’s footsteps in the oil fields, polluted lakes, dredges, oceans, and felled forests as well as the sprawling carparks adjacent to shopping malls. Each of these scars on the landscape are a direct consequence of today’s free market which actually promotes consumption and glorifies greed.

You can follow Laurence on Instagram at lucid_ham or alternatively purchase his artwork via his Artfinder:

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