January arrived like a fire with the wind, after 2 years that I can hardly believe, when all of our plans just slipped through our hands. Like paper boats washed out to sea, with us hoping that the things that went missing would come back when you need them.
It’s my birthday and my next chapter is Selenium in the periodic table.
Selenium, the element that is named after Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon. The image is of a crescent moon against a cratered surface. Something that’s been battered & bruised, but still manages to reflectively shine light given from the sun, stable & reliable. The cratered moon has double the power of the sun when it comes to powering tides of waves and water on earth.
When I think of craters, I think to a few years ago, whilst in Rome, I saw a painting of the Virgin Mary who I saw curiously, had rock under her feet that seemed to have craters on its surface. It didn’t take me long to find out that the fresco had been painted by Lodovico Cigoli around 1610-11. Mary could have been depicted in any old way, but how to do her dominion? Unsure, Cigoli looked to his friend, Galileo, for assistance. Galileo told him about his very recent discovery of the craters on the Moon, so Cigoli painted a ‘queen of heavens’ standing on a Moon-rock whose surface was full of craters.
It’s nice that Selenium falls on this year, from it’s back story of the moon – reminds me that art involves a great deal of observation (some would argue that art is observation); and science excels at systematic observation. Therein lies a meeting point between two very different modes of representing the world. But both are needed.
The biggest use of selenium is as an additive to glass. Some selenium compounds decolourise glass, while others give a deep red colour. Selenium can also be used to reduce the transmission of sunlight in architectural glass, and is used to make pigments for ceramics, paint and plastics.
It both has a photovoltaic action (converts light to electricity) and a photoconductive action (electrical resistance decreases with increased illumination). It is therefore useful in photocells, solar cells and photocopiers. It can also convert AC electricity to DC electricity, so is extensively used in rectifiers.
After a year of the element arsenic (& it did have some poisonous bits in there), it is a warm welcome to have a year that is about connection, energy and action. This elemental year for me is happening behind the back drop of when the Westminster government has no policy for looking after those affected by Covid-19 (in all senses). There’s no home for heroes after this war ends.
It is this power, connectivity and community that will drive my next year. There is dark and light in all of us, and in all of our lives. But if selenium can remind us that we can take kindness, light, hope and convert it into energy… action… for others! This collective resistance can go up against dark things that drain us, or try and take from us. Try and tell us that we don’t care about people (friends & strangers), our communities, the earth, and justice. But if we take note from selenium, we can be resistant to those negative headlines, and in doing so – we can increase our illumination. Light up some of the darkest spaces, to help light up some of the shadows that have engulfed us through this collective grief that we have all experienced over the past 2 years.
And taking note from selenium, I will try to be better with my sustainability. I will ride my bike more, run a bit more, eat more veggies, recycle everything properly. Buy less shit off Amazon.
Selenium is an essential trace element for some species, including humans. Our bodies contain about 14 milligrams, and every cell in a human body contains more than a million selenium atoms. This reminds me that I am still alive. In a few weeks time, it will be 10 years since my whole life changed. When I was sat in Site Gallery doing an artist residency, moaning about how poorly I felt. Like a flu that was never-ending. I can still see myself, talking to Abi (my amazing artist friend & collaborator at the time), in the Site Cafe. Chalking it all up to the affects of not drinking Coca-Cola any more.
It is since then that I never know what to say about my birthday. I think it’s the reason I run off on it (pre covid). I’ll admit, it still sneaks up on me. But I’m still here. Even after the last 2 years of a pandemic (I’m surprised too).
The miracle of science that pulled my dying body through the labyrinth of disease into a figurative and, in many ways, a literal rebirth. Losing loved ones, & dear friends far too early, over the last weeks, months, years reminds me that our days are not guaranteed. They are granted…by the good fortune of the dedication of doctors, nurses, a myriad of incredible allied healthcare professionals, community workers and the revolutionary scientists who dared to imagine that a nearly extinguished life could be restored by the blood of another & many medicines – often made from trees and other plants. And also by the unfair advantage I was given by being born in a country that has free at the point of access universal healthcare. And being friends with people in America who also worked in Healthcare & were also incredibly generous.
So many of you have sent me your kindness and well wishes today. I ask you for one more favor, though you owe me nothing. Think about the science, the research, the ingenuity, the collaboration & the friendships that made this life of mine possible and the many before me who took a chance and broke the ground for all of us who might one day be saved by their bravery and sacrifice. This extends into everything. Not just illness, but public health, and protesting, all of the creative arts, people who help others every single day, in whatever way.
These are the people who need us now. Tune yourself to the frequency of their peace and regeneration. I think everyone is moving through something. Sometimes it’s manageable and you can go it alone. Other times it’s not and the most subtle act of kindness or understanding is exactly what you need to slow down, get your bearings and find your way through. I guess that is what I am looking for in this year of Selenium.
Selenium is like this, as it is used as an additive to make stainless steel. This means, it takes out the toxicity of lead and the likes, and makes steel stronger, more agile, more useful, less toxic, it helps other things. I am hoping this next year is more of this stronger, agile, light & hope and connectivity.
Wherever this post finds you in life, whether you feel inclined to skip it or read it, I send it on with the sincere hope that whatever hardships and beauty you’ve encountered this past year. you find half the hardship and twice as much beauty in the next.
At least that’s what I am hoping for. To sweet Selenium.