Age of Crinoids

step in stone has been totally absorbing me – not only in my role as curator and manager of the project, but also as a featured artist.

Having always been interested in the way life forms so often repeat themselves throughout the macro and micro natural world, from tiny microbes to nervous and planetary systems, I was interested to recently discover the term ‘convergent evolution’.  This describes the independent evolution of similar features in different species – structures that have a similar form or function.  The ability, over time, of insects, birds, reptiles and some mammals to fly is one example.  David Attenborough’s “Conquest of the Skies” series illustrates this beautifully.

Rugose Coral sketchRugose Coral fossilErnst Haeckel's illustration of Rugose Coral

Delving into the quarries theme for the project, I’ve learnt that the earlier part of the Carboniferous period (Mississipian) has been coined the Age of Crinoids.  Locally, in the Mendips, the most dominant rock is carboniferous limestone, which is full of fossiled skeletons, particularly crinoids (sea lilies) and corals (e.g. rugose).  Both marine creatures, they are from completely different families, yet have strong similarities, as do diatoms (marine micro-organisms). Over 350 million years ago the Mendips were submerged under a warm, swampy sea, the Mendip Hills hadn’t yet formed into a range of mountains – now substantially eroded back –  and animal life comprised mainly of primitive reptiles, giant insects like dragonflies the size of seagulls, and a myriad of sea creatures such as echinoderms and corals.  Crinoids were abundant in thousands of varieties, showing huge morphological diversity.  These fascinating ancient creatures look like exotic plant forms and many varieties still exist today.  They cling to the bottom of the sea bed by long spiny stems, others are unstalked, have tentacle legs or long arms which enable them to drag themeselves along.

Crinoid and Coral sketchesIMG_9949

It’s a strange concept that old seabeds are often now vertical.  Fossils found in limestone rocks exposed in the quarries brings into question our origin, distant past and future.  Captivated, I have been imagining these other worlds.  My step in stone work is inspired by crinoids and other similar forms as visual metaphors of complex primal systems in nature, universal forms which echo others, and the interconnectedness of all things.

Tumbleweed/neuron/crinoid ideaTentacles

Ideas include tumbleweed-like spheres with branching ‘cirri’ (tentacles, tendrils, hairy filaments..) – examples of fractal geometry.

Each time I visit the quarries I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of what they represent: the geology; how far back time goes; what extraordinary life forms exist now and in the past; how incredibly tenacious nature is; how we are all linked; how insignificant we are as individuals in the greater scheme, yet how we each impact on everything around us…

Quarry at Stoke St. MichaelScarlett Elf Cup fungi

Last week Nick Weaver and I set up a stand for step in stone at Frome Town Council’s AGM.  Having been funded by them we were asked to present our project to attendees.  It was a full house – the energy in Frome seems infectious!  This Wednesday (8th April) I’ll be taking part as a speaker in a public discussion at Wells Museum about Public Art (7.30pm if you’re interested in coming!).  I will be showing our step in stone film and discussing the project.

Fiona Campbell  7/4/15

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