One Drop of Water Contains as Much Electricity as Would Make a Thunderstorm


8 drawings, 14 rock samples, 1 book containing 11 essays

This work is based on the travel journals of Jessica Duncan (1812–1896) who, in 1847, moved from rural Aberdeenshire to Edinburgh to study geology under Alexander Rose (who’d founded the Edinburgh Geology Society four years earlier). Over the ensuing seven years, Duncan kept notebooks containing transcriptions of Rose’s forty-three lectures, diagrams of strata and fossils, translations of essays by European geologists, fieldwork schematics, and notes on local and national excursions. In 1855 she married the astronomer, Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819–1900), and became his de facto assistant, placing her scientific knowledge in his service rather than her own.

The final entry in her geology notebooks documents an ambitious excursion from Dieppe to Florence that she undertook over several weeks in 1854. She travelled by train and boat, stopping off at key geological sites throughout France, Switzerland and Italy in order to carry out field trips by foot. Many of these sites remain remote and arduos today, so would likely have been especially taxing in the mid-nineteenth century. In 2016 I undertook the same excursion over ten days, moving between the sites by camper van. Instead of thinking about the sites geologically, I focussed on incidents from art and cultural history that had occurred in the interim 164 years. Much like Duncan’s experience is represented by her travel journal, I produced a book of essays based on the places that appear along her route. Taken as a set, my essays draw parallels between undertaking an excursion and visiting an exhibition, and connect ways of looking/thinking geologically with ways of looking/thinking curatorially.

One Drop of Water Contains as Much Electricity as Would Make a Thunderstorm consists of the book, a set of rock samples collected en-route, and a drawing of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s sculpture Dietro-Front (1981-84), which is located at the city-gates of Florence, the furthest-most point on the excursion. I drew Pistoletto’s sculpture from eight different angles, and when One Drop of Water… is exhibited the drawings are shown one at a time, such that image appears to rotate like a clock slowly counting-down to the end of the exhibition.

This work was made possible by Collective (Edinburgh), The Glasgow School of Art, Outset Scotland and The Bothy Project.

Exhibited in:

Rumours of a New Planet

Collective, Edinburgh (24 Nov 2018 → 31 Mar 2019)


The Tetley, Leeds (24 Sept 2019 → 19 Jan 2020)