Sourced from the Dorset County Museum’s archives, the fossils (found objects twice over) become a physical form of quotation in the prints, a way of re-presenting the past that finds a parallel in the work of Walter Benjamin. “I needn’t say anything. Merely show” 2, he wrote in The Arcades Project, his unfinished found-text montage. Like Benjamin, Gardiner shows us the past: embodied in fossils, its solid presence provides a markedly different visual experience to the provisional, expressive lines with which Gardiner sketches the present. Significantly, though, these fossils recall the past as something recorded, categorised and archived by previous generations.
The ghostly hands of Victorian collectors thus serve as a reminder that our access to the history of a place, and even to the landscape itself, is not direct but mediated by the labours of others. The sense of a reconstructed past also permeates his prints, long strips evoke panoramas, the immersive, circular landscape paintings which were a popular form of entertainment in the early 19th century. Each print uses copperplate engravings of stains, smudges and blotches to convey an atmosphere of antiquity, whilst the etchings of fossils are presented in formal detail, as in a scientific illustration.
Yet where panoramas aimed for an illusion of depth and realism, Gardiner and Rafdal’s prints draw the viewer back to the surface via a repeated motif of strong vertical lines. Derived from the patterns of stratigraphic records, these narrow bands break the fictitious panoramic sweep into many discrete moments of looking, thus turning something static into a dynamic experience of time passing. When Gardiner’s sketches of the landscape do appear, surrounded by the aura of antiquity, their abstracted lines and geometric forms evoke a style that will one day appear just as historical. But these prints are not an exercise in naïve antiquarianism: by superimposing the visual signatures of different eras and disciplines, Gardiner builds up a fragmented, many-layered vision of the coast.