Ghost Acres 2022

Forthcoming exhibition: Are You Seeing What I’m Seeing an exhibition featuring artwork developed through collaborations between artists and scientists.

16 – 25 June 2022

Art + Design Gallery, University of Hertfordshire

Ghost Acres: Cropland, Pastureland, Other land, Woodland
oil on canvas, miniature light bulb, electrical transformer, 167 x 482.44 cm

GHOST ACRES

Collaboration between Alison Dalwood and Dr Keith G Davies FLS FRSB, Associate Professor and Applied Nematologist, School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire.

Around 1950 the proportion of the global population living an urban existence was around 30 percent, 70 percent being rural. This rose to around 50: 50 by 2011, and by 2050 it is estimated the proportions will have reversed. The concept of ghost acres refers to the fact that the urban population relies on agricultural production systems that originate far from their urban dwelling place and from which they are disconnected. Keith Davies who regularly visited New Delhi and other large conurbations to discuss food security through crop protection, became increasingly conscious of the rural/urban divide.  In a conversation about the interactions between art and science the term ghost acres came up and it became apparent that the word ghost was very different between the scientific and artistic imaginations. This collaboration grew out of that discussion.

The concept of Ghost Acres is referred to by Garrett Hardin in Living Within Limits; Ecology, Economics and Population Taboos, published by OUP 1993: “Since most of the acreage the average citizen “occupies” is out of sight and out of mind, the agricultural geographer Georg Borgstrom suggested in 1961 that we call it “ghost acreage.” The essential life of an educated urban dweller, from birth to death, is lived out on ghost acreage.”

Cropland           1.9 acres

Pastureland       2.4 acres

Woodland         2.6 acres

Other land        2.2 acres

Dweller of Urban Manhattan: 435 square feet

This project aims to make ghost acreage tangible and visible and lead to appreciation of the full scale of the city dweller’s dependency on acres of land in the world beyond the city: “Since he is deficient in meaningful experiences with the sources of his being”. P123 Garrett Hardin, Living Within Limits.

Four locations are represented in Ghost Acres charting the statistical acreage in relation to each category. Each of the series of four paintings assimilates visual aspects of one of the environments listed in allusions to space. These works are optical, perceptual interpretations of visual attributes of these habitats but the pigment itself is very clearly two-dimensional colour on a surface. The paintings appear to focus on light, and light transitioning from day to night and from the twilight of Other land to the darkness of Woodland. The board expanses of colour darken from left to right as if the light is fading and the different formats of each work suggest intervals of time. Layers are intended to give depth and perspective, while turning flat and fixed areas of colour into something unsettling – a wall of colour. For each subject I have worked with combinations of layers of almost the same colour, which has the potential to create depth and particular effects of light at different times of day. The pin-prick of light given out by the tiny light bulb set against the blue twilight painting: Other land, represents the urban dweller.

Leading up to the final paintings I made a series of oil studies, inspired by the idea of camouflage. Camouflage assimilates visual aspects of an environment in the will to disguise. It it is an optical, perceptual representation of visual attributes of habitats and a means of concealment against the surrounding environment. Camouflage hides the object or animal and makes it invisible and this has parallels with the concept of the invisible ghost acreage. 

Four locations are represented in the analysis of Ghost Acres and for these initial studies I experimented with camouflage appropriate to each environment. As the work moved forward, the idea of camouflage became less important.

In these studies patterns, layers and spaces refer to natural phenomena – for example: light, shadow, growth, decay, emergence, solution and the process of formation and transformation; elements emerging out of darkness and dissolving.

Ghost Acres: Other land
oil on canvas, miniature light bulb, electrical transformer, 167 x 115 cm
Ghost Acres: Pastureland
oil on canvas, 167 x 126 cm
Ghost Acres: Cropland
oil on canvas, 167 x 100 cm
Ghost Acres: Woodland
oil on canvas, 167 x 137 cm