Where are you likely to find a rehabilitation centre? In a 19th century gun battery? Not the most obvious place! And not the most obvious kind of rehabilitation! But that is the wonderful vision of the artist Leni Dothan for her work Portland Stone Rehabilitation Centre. It is one of the exhibits in the b-side art project on the Isle of Portland, Dorset,
If you look carefully on the photo you can see three lines of oblong-shaped stones. Entering this site from the top it takes a while to see where you go and what the art work is. When you see the stones, then you are drawn down to see what is on them.
On each one is the image of a shouting child’s face, with large hands cupping the face – the Mother’s? Further down, the images of the faces get paler, until they can’t be seen on the stone.
Instead of ink, Dothan has used chemical material that mimics air pollution – that has so dirtied the stone buildings of cities such as London – which fades when it is exposed to sunlight. So it is that these stones, exposed to the sunlight and fresh air on Portland, start reverting back to their original colour, in and from the very environment from which they were extracted. The positioning of these stones in a gun battery associates them with war. What kind of warfare? The survival of children in any war-torn area, but also the ‘warfare’ and destruction caused to all people, not least children, in cities due to air pollution. It gives us the opportunity to think how little humans consider the consequences of certain human activities and the impact they have, that we would heedlessly poison the very air we breathe as if it were nothing. It also brings to mind the inheritance one generation bequeaths another: the damage done by one generation – certainly as far as pollution is concerned – is visited on the next generation who had no choice about the cars or planes that so infected the air they breathe.
But this is a story of redemption. The stones revert back to their original nature – clean, creamy-white stone – when brought back to an environment of fresh air and sunlight. The big expanse of the seaside skies and the every-changing wind patterns that refresh or douse with rain, give good air to breathe and a sense of connection and wholeness.
Like all good art, this work can act as a mirror, revealing certain aspects of human existence that often we blank out, or lose sight of. If we have the courage and take the time to pause a while and consider, we too might find some aspects of redemption and think about a different vision of living well.