The Light drawing projected onto Thirsk Hall is from a series of studies made by the artist of wheat shoots growing in the controlled environment glasshouses at the Rothamsted Research, the world’s longest running agricultural science laboratory, with which Dalton has been collaborating for over nine years. The installation is part of a body of work exhibited in the Greek and Roman Galleries at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and can be seen in his recent seven meter high carved stone sculpture for Native Land.
The projected light forms are redolent of Dalton’s elegant and sinuous drawing for which he is well known: They make the primal requirement to feed ourselves visible, the projected lines are essentially the shape of the future.
The work depicts individual three-week-old wheat plants, or lines, being grown to discover which is more tolerant to drought, able withstand heavier rain and capable of increasing yields. Out of thousands of tiny shoots grown at Rothamsted some are selected and grown on. This constant quest began with the earliest farmers, in the eastern Mediterranean from 10,000 BC and also is what occupied the Bell Family who lived at the Hall from 1720.
Wheat is the staple food for around 3 billion people of whom more than a third are among the poorest, and it provides about one fifth of the calories and protein of the human diet. Global demand for wheat has been incessant and growing and is expected to increase 60% by 2050. Economic and reliable wheat production is essential for the world’s food security and political stability. Direct links can be found between such events as the Arab Spring and wheat shortages and more recently the impact of the war in Ukraine.
Dalton’s projected light drawing artwork mediates between past and present and future. His work references the works of Robert Mangold, Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Irwin but complicates a direct reading by using a building such as Thirsk Hall as canvas. In so doing the artist reframes concepts of the romantic English Country house and the Pastoral within a Global sublime.