An itinerary for the edge

By Hannah Jenkins

 

 

1.        4.508 billion years

 

We set out to the edge to meet ourselves in a new form.

 

Guided along peripheries, we follow ice flows and coasts towards the place where we might stand—humans face-to-face with eternity. To where we might hold a hand up to the mirror of air and feel a presence push back on our palms.

 

Is this spirituality? To venture here and make contact with ourselves, surrounded by mountains and melancholia, and to acknowledge that, despite our self-awareness, we are ultimately alone?

 

 

2.        729 million years

 

Landforms crash into each other. Symmetries and dichotomies erupt all at once as we observe accretion and erosion always already happening. Like Hutton, we discover “no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end” out here—only the balance of all possibilities on a thousand flattened fields.

 

Cliff faces kissing, legs parting.

 

Sun going down, sun turning to coal.

 

Lithosphere steaming, fog sinking.

 

 

3.        31,700 years

 

Venturing inland, we traverse a thousand plateaus hugged by a thousand cliff faces. We develop a new language to understand the edge. 

 

It’s all possible now. Across the equatorial bulge, the Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet tenderly. This new language lets us anthropomorphise geology—it gives shape and agency to ourselves in a new form and allows us to place ourselves along many meridians and parallels at once.

 

Nomadic rocks. Mountains that resist chronology and classification. An upper crust with no beginning, middle, or end. An island impossible to map because it is itself its own map. 

 

We stand in many forms at infinite sites across epochs.

  

 

4.        372 days

 

Before now, before then, we prepared this itinerary as intrepid researchers. 

 

Enchanted by twin islands—we read about shared industries of mining, shared histories of whaling, shared success with hydro-electricity, shared challenges of submarine fibre-optic cables. Spiritual antipodes with shared outpost populations, shared isolation, shared peripheral mentalities. We read about microfossils discovered in both places, straining to see the poetry in a shared biostratigraphy from over 700 million years ago.

 

We booted up Google Earth in a metropolitan apartment to enter the longitude and latitude of an arctic island on the other side of the planet. Could seeing the edge from satellite images help us prepare for the voyage?

 

“No street view data is available here.”

 

 

5.        23 hours

 

Time is slanted.

 

Days stretch out when we move away from the centre. The climate creates more than weather phenomena—we become ephemeral, fog becomes solid, it passes through us. Sunlight pierces through in equal parts intimate and aggressive.

 

We can only observe now. These sites cannot be mastered, cannot be extracted, cannot be touched. Our looking is a caress to the island, our having-been-there is the only way to respond.

 

A highly-controlled experiment, we watch the rocks to see if they’ll move, knowing we wouldn’t even be here to wonder about their sentience if the earth had descended into magma or wallowed in permafrost.

 

 

6.        0.0084 seconds

 

Understanding the edge is a matter of perspective. After all, truth is just fusing different vantage points together, a thousand subjective experiences palm to palm.

 

The split-second of the shutter. Years of research and observation. A new epoch called the Anthropocene.

 

A word to an image. Us to a satellite. Earth to the infinite.

 

We have always belonged to isolation, but there are fleeting moments in nature, a casual brush in an eternal landscape, where we might find a spiritual connection.

 

Where we can meet ourselves in a new form.

 

                        

 

                                 In response to Ellen Dahl’s Field Notes from the Edge, Peacock Gallery 2020