Anne-Mie Melis – Free but Valuable

Unlike any other woodland where the focus is on life at the surface, a visit to the Dukes wood site and its oil museum makes one wonder and dwell on the geology of the earth, right under your feet. It triggers awareness to the current status of the planet and our quite unique experience of 200 years of oil-powered economics, an era, which is predicted to come to an end in the next 50 years. Oil has provided us with new materials and a very convenient and accessible source of energy. During this era, we will have released vast quantities of atoms stored in fossil crude oil locked away for the last 160 to 60 millions of years. Clearly there are different time-scales involved. Our bodies only store molecules for about 70 to 80 years.  In the next 160 millions of years our planet will look completely different due to the activity of living creatures and physical processes, it is impossible to predict how long human life will sustain in the time scale of the future, yet not indefinite, life of the planet.

In my research for the project I came across the Pitch Drop Experiment at the University of Queensland (See Fig. 1).  The extremely slow movement of the drop under the forces of gravity depicts in a minimal way the slowness of the physical processes of our universe, including its development of matter and life. In contrast, humans value the planets resources, which they now control by economics. Economies are based on relatively short-term processes and display irrational behaviour.  Why are diamonds more valuable than water? We can use diamonds to cut other materials and in jewellery, but without water we cannot survive. Why is gold a standard for wealth? Who owns oil?  The people who happen to live on top of it? Or those who discovered it?

It is fascinating how after 47 years nature has already reclaimed this site of oil exploration and industrial activity. We now have to focus on the ways, in which we have to adapt ourselves to our changing environment, depleted resources and increased population, and how we will support human and non -human life on our planet.

For Dukes Wood Project I intend to create an installation, an incongruous artificial environment in which we nurture forestry growth. It has the working title ‘Nurturing, prototype 2’. I currently intend to experiment with the idea of tending to a part of the wood by first sheltering from direct sunlight, and then providing it, at the discretion of the viewer, with artificial light for growth. The sheltering sheets that will cover the undergrowth and the daylight light bulbs will be Corrugated Bitumen Black Roof Sheets; this will be installed at relatively low level above the ground as to be able to assist the growing of the plants, shrubs and woodland. Now, decisions have to be made on how to realize this: install it in several small shelters, make parallel rows, to cover up a single larger area? Which configuration?  What would be most beneficial to the woodland? I will install a light switch which enables the public to switch on the lights again as they are under control of a timer. This way the audience can assist in influencing and nurturing this precious section of woodland.



Fig 1: Begun in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell, this experiment was meant to reveal the surprising properties of an everyday material: pitch. Pitch is the name of a number of hard tar-like substances and in this case bitumen was used. Though at room temperature pitch appears to be a solid and can be shattered by a hammer, it is in fact a very high-viscosity liquid, and Professor Parnell wanted to prove it.

(University of Queensland Brisbane, Australia, ref:


By Anne-Mie Melis


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