View of “Rachel Pimm,” 2017. Photo: Charlie Littlewood.

View of “Rachel Pimm,” 2017. Photo: Charlie Littlewood.

Rachel Pimm

View of “Rachel Pimm,” 2017. Photo: Charlie Littlewood.

Rachel Pimm roots her practice in an awareness that we exist in the age of the Anthropocene—the new geological epoch, so named in the 1980s by ecologist and biologist Eugene F. Stoermer—in which human activity has become the most significant force affecting geological and atmospheric systems. Pimm’s work often deals with the relationship between nature and human-made products, and for this show, “Resistant Materials,” she focused on the curved tiles desigwned and produced since 2010 by the Netherlands-based company DTile.

On its website, the company makes an unsettling claim: “If it was up to us, the world would be completely tiled.” This assertion recalls the failed utopian and totalitarian projects of the modernist past, but sounds worryingly possible in an age of global trade. As Pimm points out in the show’s press release, one could see a parallel between this fanciful business plan for world domination and a 1969 proposal by the radical Italian architecture firm Superstudio for a “gridded superstructure cladding the entire surface of the planet.”

In the selection of works on view, Pimm investigates the process by which the tiles are produced, beginning with the extraction of clay in southwest England and ending with the application of finishing touches. All those stages are captured in the video Resistant Materials Part I (all works 2017). An enlarged photo of a pile of discarded tiles served as wallpaper covering one of the temporary walls of the gallery, while the installation of three digital photographs, Sticklepath—Lustleigh Fault, showed aerial views (taken from Google Earth) of a mineral-rich fault line in Bovey Basin, Devon, from which clay supplying DTile is sourced.

In the latter work, one could see that the extraction of the clay creates rectilinear shapes, which contrast with the natural, smooth lines of the surrounding landscape shaped by water. This distinction works as a metaphor for the production of the curved tiles. It’s said that there are no straight lines in nature; curvature is much more readily found there. It’s also achievable in clay. The effect of a flat surface, characteristic of tiles, requires technological intervention. Clay, in order to be flat and even, has to be kept in check until it dries and then again during firing. Consequently, DTile tiles, both flat and curved, nod toward the natural properties of clay even as they reflect the aim of subordinating nature. Next to the photograph, on shelves, the artist exhibited Luxury Cladding (1–3), consisting of her own bootleg versions of the tiles. The wobbliness of these objects highlights the distance between technological production and the quality possible to achieve via traditional sculptural techniques. The artist here acts as an intermediary between her material and its industrial exploitation. Through her case study of DTile, Pimm draws attention to a much bigger picture: how our dream of superseding nature is transforming the environment.

Sylwia Serafinowicz