With the aid of a children’s chemistry set and a selection of household chemicals, Jessica Ramm presents a series of prints, that evidence everyday magic, produced on a residency at Edinburgh Printmakers in 2019.
Ramm’s chemical and physical experiments propose alternative ways of navigating humanity’s symbiotic relationship with the material environment while paying particular attention to the extravagance of human aspiration. Experiment number 7 in the chemistry set requires a mixture of salt and ammonium chloride to be heated over a flame. When a material turns straight from a solid to a gas, this process is called sublimation. When the ammonium chloride gas cools it regains solid form as a dusty white powder; a process called deposition. In this way the salt and ammonium chloride can be purified or reclaimed. Beyond this experiment, compounds and interacting substances are not always so easily separated, whether animal mineral or vegetable. There are credit-card particles gathering inside fish and radiocaesium particles flowing through ground water and mercury from energy efficient light bulbs filtering through the oceans.
In contrast to the heavy, sticky and dusty materials Ramm encounters when making sculpture, her printed images focus on material relationships that are normally too fleeting to be noticed. Through print she proposes visions of surreal spaces in which elemental forces are held at bay. Like pristine images of beaches and blue skies found in travel brochures, they present spaces and relationships laid out for the appreciation of the camera’s eye. In addition to physical forces, chemical compositions, metabolic reactions and contaminations, Ramm is curious about the narratives that inform civilisation’s ordering of nature.
The title Speculative Bubbles is influenced by Charles MacKay’s ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’ first published in 1841, in which he scathingly debunks a range of ‘peculiar delusions’ and ‘follies’ that have captured popular imagination throughout history, such as Tulip Mania, the search for the philosophers stone and the art of the Mineral Magnetisers among others. His sensationalist opinions were a product of their time, as the editors of Ramm’s copy of the book (2008 edition) are careful to point out. In accordance with his reputation, which was founded upon judging others, MacKay must now take his turn in the ring and be judged by today’s supercilious spectators. Narrative and metabolism are strange bedfellows, but they share a voracious appetite. Since the publication of MacKay’s account of 17th century Tulipmania, a cascade of bubbles have expanded and burst, including the dot-com bubble, uranium bubble, and numerous housing bubbles. In 2017 economists pronounced the arrival of ‘the everything bubble.’ When this bubble finally bursts, phantom speculative wealth and fictitious capital will be stripped from the financial system and excessive monetary liquidity will leak down the plughole. For the time being, consumption and desire continue to be propelled forward by waves of incurable and pernicious optimism, and it is likely that the enormity of our dilemma will only become visible on the horizon when it’s too late.
"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." Charles MacKay