Dune Cradle: Encounter and Enchantment
A response to a sculpture by Hannah Imlach
10th June 2017
The dune cradle exists in my mind as an idea. An impossibility, and possibility.
A dune cradle
A dune is ephemeral – it’s an assemblage of drifted sand on a sea-coast. But like foam or a soap bubble it is a structure, and we call it ‘dune’ to acknowledge its existence, however temporary that may be.
The dune cradle exists on my computer, as a digital asset exchange file that Hannah sent me. It’s an image that I can move around on my screen, so if I wanted to – and I did – I can twirl and spin it under my cursor like a gleeful sputnik. It will probably never freewheel like this in real life.
A dune cradle
A cradle, like a dune, has a sense of the ephemeral – as a structure it nurtures and protects, but there is an implication that this is provisional. A cradle is a temporary home or shelter before we can weather things out ourselves. When a boat is being repaired it rests on a framework called a cradle.
1944: A. Holmes writes in Principle Physical Geology, ‘One of the most remarkable features of dunes is their apparent power of collecting all the sand in their neighbourhood.’i
I like Holmes’s idea, that a dune isn’t the name of a random accumulation of sand, but a will that brings a community of sand together. It’s as if Holmes believes that even where there is no dune, there is one, like a thought or a melody that’s adrift in the ether, before before we grasp it and hold it in our minds.
The dune cradle sets about a process of play and association, but one that’s moored to its specific shape and its materials. For me it suggests itself as a tool, an object that has use. It intends to cradle a dune, to suspend it. But the wind can still play on the dune; the wind can still make the sand collect and disperse.
Is the cradle a place for storing? Or a place of mending? I find Dune Cradle to be strange, like an object from a past we never had, or from a future we may have. In this estrangement, I tentatively make my own reading, or meaning, which goes beyond the signs offered by the object.
The philosopher Gilles Deleuze said:
Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter. . . . It may be grasped in a range of affective tones: wonder, love, hatred, suffering. In whichever tone, its primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed.ii
I wrote this text at a desk, over a series of days after getting home from work. The space that I had to sense and wonder Hannah’s sculpture, and your listening to my wonder, is a deep privilege. This past week has been a particularly bad one for wonder. But for for political theorist Jane Bennett, wonder is not a privilege but a necessary condition of life. She writes,
I give voice to the minor chords of enchantment and seek to amplify what the more insistent sounds of suffering might mask. I see this task as worthy. The more aware of wonder one is – and the more one learns to cultivate it – the more one might be able to respond gracefully and generously to the painful challenges posed by our condition as finite beings in a turbulent and unjust world.iii
i "dune, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.
ii Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. London: The Athlone Press, 1994, p.139.
iii Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, p. 160