“Take the actual surface coating of earth, dust, sand, mud, stone, pebbles, snow, grass or whatever. Hold it in the shape it was in on the site. Fix it. Make it permanent.” (Mark Boyle, Journey to the Surface of the Earth – Mark Boyle’s Atlas and Manual, 1970)
In 1968, Mark Boyle (b.1934 Glasgow, d.2005 London) and Joan Hills (b.1931 Edinburgh) invited friends to a party at their flat in London. A map of the world – the largest which could be found – was hung in the upper room. Their children, Sebastian (b.1962 London) and Georgia (b.1963 London) Boyle led blindfolded guests to this upper room where they threw darts. The points where the darts landed, all over the map on dry land and sea, become the sites for the Boyle Family’s World Series, a significant undertaking where elements from randomly selected sites across the world, from a forest at Skarberget in Norway, to a pavement in New York City, and the Negev Desert in Israel, were recorded, represented and made permanent. The Barra Project forms one of the World Series, developed on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Recently on view at the exhibition What You See Is Where You’re At: Part 3 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, The Barra Project is the outcome of 18 years’ of work, and is the first British island the Boyle Family completed.
The works of the Boyle Family arise from a desire to study and present the world as truthfully as possible, eliminating the employment of personal preferences, judgments, hierarchy, or styles, and using, in essence, reality as a medium. In addition to objects from their environment, they have also enlarged microscopic views of their hairs, exhibited as towering prints. While visually presenting parallels in textures and forms with other plant and earth materials, the choice in drawing from an extension of themselves acknowledge their impact and interaction with the site.
This philosophy of drawing material from life was shaped from the initial forays of Mark Boyle and Joan Hills into making art. From their constructions of junk assembled from pieces of bicycles and twisted metal on wooden boards to their staging of live art events which dismantled barriers between the art, performer and audience, core to their practice was an interest in pursuing objectivity through a documentary approach. The commitment to include anything to represent has resulted in subjects spanning the elements of earth, air, fire and water, to human beings and societies. Behind the extreme visual accuracy of their works lie the complexities of traveling to, surveying the site, data collection, and a labor-intensive process in creating the works.
While initially marketed under Mark Boyle’s name until 1985 when works were presented under the Boyle Family, the concept, research and making of their works have been underpinned by a collaborative endeavor beginning with Mark Boyle and Joan Hills after they met in 1957, and later when Sebastian and Georgia Boyle arrived. Boyle Family works are currently presented in London at the Modern British Sculpture (22 January to 11 April, 2011) at the Royal Academy of Arts and at the Boyle Family’s project space, construction.