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Carbon Black

This site reflects some of Caroline Rothwell’s projects created from the emissions of industry, technology and nature.

Caroline Rothwell, Carbon emission 1, 2019, Digital animation, edition of 8 +1AP
low resolution clip

“In Carbon emission 1, (2019), Rothwell animates a baroque cartouche, as one of her gas emission paintings softly breathes; its curvilinear tendrils mimicking shells and fronds of exotic plants. A corporeal energy exudes from it as a furling leaf exhales from the top and a seething body-like branch twists and turns at its base.” Victoria Scott, exhibition text excerpt, Splice, 2019

Caroline Rothwell, Carbon emission 2, 2019, Digital animation, edition of 8 +1AP

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“Most people consider the soot from car tailpipes waste or pollution. But for British artist Caroline Rothwell carbon emissions are her medium of choice.”

Temple News, Philadelphia, October 2015

Habit, Temple Contemporary, Philadelphia

Caroline Rothwell, Habit, 2015, emission on wall, photo S Brandenberg/Temple University

“I come from a family of scientists and industrial chemists, so I have always approached materiality from a slightly unusual starting point” Rothwell said. Through a recent collaboration with Temple Contemporary and the Office of Sustainability, Rothwell has created an exterior wall drawing using carbon soot emitted from one of the smokestacks located at Temple University.  

Robert Blackson, director of exhibitions and public programs for Temple Contemporary, met Rothwell in New York during studio visits through a residency program. He was immediately intrigued by the messages and concepts used in her artwork and wanted to bring the idea of using carbon emissions to Temple.

Kathleen Grady, Temple’s director of sustainability, took deep interest in the goal of the mural. “We really think it helps frame the dialogue of carbon as a building block of life but also as this force that we’re dealing with in terms of climate change.”

The image Rothwell created using soot is of a threatened Philadelphian plant species known as the Juncus alpinus. The smoke stack emission soot was mixed with water so, as Blackson says, “I believe it will only have a lifespan of just a few months. The intention is that it will go away—it’s that sense of a cycle…”

Temple News, Philadelphia, October 2015

Caroline Rothwell, Habit, 2015, emission on wall, photo S Brandenberg/Temple University

Habit at Temple Contemporary, Philadelphia, from September 2015. In conjunction with ARTCOP21 Global Climate Art Festival, September-December 2015

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Shepparton Art Museum

“…Rothwell’s idiosyncratic approach to mapping sites finds a different manifestation in the Murray/Darling drawings and the Murray/Darling Vista 2012. These works identify localities by a dual strategy of medium and content.

Invited by Shepparton Art Museum to create a work for its DRAWING WALL, Rothwell asked local community members to collect the accumulations of carbon residue from their car exhausts.  These she mixed with a binder to produce specimen drawings of Murray-Darling endangered species.”

Anne Loxely, Borderlands, 2012

Murray/Darling Vista is a banner and series of drawings created using car exhaust fume residue. The residue was collected from the exhaust pipes of local vehicles in and around Shepparton, including a tractor in daily use on a dairy farm, a prized 1969 Monaro displayed at Shepparton Motor Museum and a family Commodore. After being scraped from the exhaust pipe, the powdered residue was mixed with a binding agent to become fluid, the resulting ‘pigment’ varying from vehicle-to-vehicle, from rich black to slightly brown-coloured as a result of rust.

Elise Routledge, curator, 2012

curator and volunteer collecting vehicle emissions

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New York Summer Weeds

New York summer weeds, 2014, Vehicle emissions, acrylic binder medium, primed polyester canvas, test-tube

Exhibited at: Art Omi International Arts Center, New York, 2014;
Quo Vadis: the last drawing show, 2014 UNSW Galleries, curated by David McNeil;
Tipping Points: Artists Address the Climate Crises, Gallery Bergen, New Jersey, 2015 curated by Amy Lipton, in conjunction with the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21

“Artists use their skills and imagination to take on the issue of climate change. In Tipping Points they use a variety of mediums… Some have been partnering with scientists and environmental organizations. Others take a more poetic and imaginative approach to confront the single biggest challenge of our time.” curator Amy Lipton

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Weather Maker

Climate Machines, 2014, copper and vehicle exhaust emission on paper

“The subject of these works is technology… What is documented here is a nascent industry: weather modification and climate control. Devices that Caroline Rothwell has studied include Artificial Trees, Cloud Whiteners, the mysteriously named Mission 2013 Air Scrubber and SPICE: Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering. All these technologies are the serious subject of research and development. Seeing that the atmosphere does not respect national borders, the potential market for such devices is by definition global. The hubris behind such projects—that only technology can solve technology’s problems—is familiar.

The artist can’t do much in response to this hubris other than set an example, bringing their production of materials back to a domestic scale… producing her own inks. Lamp black, for instance, is a pigment produced from the incomplete combustion of what, in a 1920s American Encyclopedia, were poetically called “the dead oils”, or what we call ‘fossil fuels’. It is a fine pigment, lightly carcinogenic in rats and with a tendency to stain. A common ingredient from Renaissance painting to 19th century printing, it can be produced by carefully burning oil cold pressed from the kernels of peaches, or scraped from the exhaust of a typical family car, which is where Rothwell gets her supply from. Contemporary climate modification technologies are usually presented with high-techno-triumphalism; Rothwell shows them as perverse 19th century fantasies, products of an juvenile industrial revolution in a state of hormonal disarray…

SPICE: Stratospheric Particle Injector for Climate Engineering, 2014
Copper leaf, vehicle exhaust emission, acrylic binder on Arches hot pressed archival paper, 80.5 x 61.5cm (framed)

“Rothwell’s work makes it impossible to ever look at Duchamp’s the bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even in the same way—all of a sudden Duchamp’s masterpiece of sexual innuendo becomes retrospectively transformed into a giant weather station, a hot and heavy harbinger of the anthropocene.

This is the fertile stress at the heart of Caroline Rothwell’s practice. A meticulous researcher, she produces work that looks artisanal and figurative, but is ultimately conceptual and process driven.”

Adam Jasper is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at ETH Zurich, where he is also the editor of gta Files. He contributes regularly to Cabinet and Artforum.

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10 degrees east, 2011, installation view, showing Moth, 2011

Ideas within Carbon Black began with thoughts about the evolutionary changes wrought on the Peppered Moth during England’s Industrial Revolution* and developed into projects that use that same media of our carbon economy to depict the threatened state.

*During the 19th century, pollution killed off lichens and soot deposits caused tree’s bark to appear darker. Light-coloured Peppered Moths were no longer camouflaged and were eaten by birds. The dark moths had better camouflage and improved chance of survival. As a result, dark moths had a greater chance of reproducing and passing on the DNA sequences that coded for more melanin. This led to a gradual increase in the frequency of these DNA sequences and so increased the proportion of dark moths until light moths became very rare in industrial areas.

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