The Crystal World

By Martin Howse and Jonathan Kemp , 26 September 2012

Jonathan Kemp and Martin Howse, contributors to The Crystal World exhibition, recently reviewed on Metamute, sift through some organic, inorganic and literary materials related to the project


The universe is a gigantic crystal, all whose atoms and laminae lie in uninterrupted order and with unbroken unity, but cold and still. What seems an individual and a will, is none. There is an immense chain of intermediation, extending from centre to extremes, which bereaves every agency of all freedom and character. The universe […] suffers under a magnetic sleep, and only reflects the mind of the magnetizer. Ralph Waldo Emerson1


I want you to bear in mind the trend of the ground, for some time, sooner or later, we shall do well to have it in our mind's eye when we are considering the ancient traditions and superstitions, and are trying to find the RATIONALE of them. Bram Stoker2


All images The Crystal World installation views, The White Building London, 2012


This work (of language, of entropic, driven code accruing on the Morlock command line), accreting, scattered across the floor, growing upright, taped, being swept up, re-arranged, erased, compost writing; tiny curled paper strips witness the remaindered packaging from a transformer or other component, clustered burnt veined softwood fragments, stuck clay mud, slow wormed cables, opened plugs and punctured saucepans. It's a beginning, a slow and sticky pantheistic adherence of geological language, scraping away the earth works and words. A mud slide of diamonds for 'The Mind of Clay' (Robert Smithson); the slow thuds of grey sludge, pulled down accretions sluicing the eroded Jurassic cliff face, witnessed on the beach by Black Ven. Twinned geologies, on the one side Llull-esque layers and sediments, unseen, barely touched categories of the machinery used to write this work, descending in a bell to the discarded leachate, the holy substrate, incantations of the mess and lab, and in the other direction a healthy, stumbling Poe-geology writing and interring itself, to be dug out, a blind forensics, making sense where there is no sense to be made. And these are not building blocks, abstract units strapped together, application conduits always summoning factories of code, but rather writing this enclosed place of a singular needle or trap; a site of potential execution.


And not only was the rich soil required to furnish corn and due sustenance, but men even descended into the entrails of the earth, and they dug up riches, those incentives to vice, which the earth had hidden and had removed to the Stygian shades. Then destructive iron came forth, and gold, more destructive than iron; then war came forth.3



Where black flint lies coagulated in splits in the earth, the antler pick strikes and spins out a flake; immediately theocratic, utilitarian, or wasted; and as the alchemist's metals are similarly inscribed in mountain veins fed by the sun, then, just as the maturing roots of a plant allows it to blossom forth, knots of lead and iron are favourably erupted into the shiny amalgams of power and knowledge, silver and gold.


The earth is a material chemical thing, a noisy playground of bonds breaking and forming, extending from a crust deep into a central core of immiscible molten metal. Multicellular Neolithic people lived around the softer downy chalks for a shallow and cool access to their flints, whereas contemporary extractions are marked by vast lineaments marking the overcoming of heat in the deepest mining ever.


An earth cockaigned as a fulsome store of secretive morasses is compulsively parallaxed in sovereign versioning unto the contemporary short circuited décollage. Digging and extracting recrystallise a psychopathological necessity to bridge the discreteness of materials and us. Geological time and space specificities are wormholed in suitably fast tracked narratives (the connecting of all things), driven through this morass of materials to subtend all human structures. Yet the effect of ancient griddings and clockings (Stonehenge computer) skew an aperiodicity, where all is local and promiscuous, so that evermore facets are cut and extended aggregating their destructive error in a subterranean cataclysm of metaphysics.


The earth does not conceal and remove from our eyes those things which are useful and necessary to mankind, but on the contrary, like a beneficent and kindly mother she yields in large abundance from her bounty and brings into the light of day the herbs, vegetables, grains, and fruits, and the trees. The minerals on the other hand she buries far beneath in the depth of the ground; therefore, they should not be sought. But they are dug out by wicked men who, as the poets say, are the products of the Iron Age.4



The crystal world is now underground, a fizzing fairy cavern of paradise and leisure, yet blocked from above by a large, grey stone which merges in form and colour with the floor of the functional gallery space, The White Building, a rather more solid double for the cardboard, stage-set words of Ballard's White Hotel description (The Crystal World).


An imagined or possible entrance to this empty well or mine shaft, the simple manhole or drain cover, close to the (now) former location of the earth computer, does not lead anywhere, only a few feet into the ground. There is no hidden passage, no well for a bloody white worm descending these imperial layers of abstraction. The crystal world is well hidden, announcing through such monuments, the everyday granite and limestone, concrete blocking the entrance to the enchanted underground garden, its absolute state of being hidden in the world, any progress or descent becoming both pointless and impossible. Nothing is revealed of this world.


An expanding block, defined as that landscape itself, nothing other than a future geology, a definition and an enclosure expanding beyond Hackney Wick; an active circuit board which is precisely this landscape, wide copper traces on both sides of the board, punching through the bachelor machine, simple auto-routing from The Griddlers to Fun Times, and in the distance a huge enclosure, domes and walls heralding the appearance of the central processing unit, ringed by old boundaries, walked and marched through the ages, an enclosure designed solely to reproduce itself and its own mechanisms.


Snaking copper traces, streets etched, emerging from sheaths of acid, connecting chunks of Hackney transistor geologies, are rendered active and open to determined logic and language, to particular wormy instruction sets, through the action of street lights, electromotive forces, and lightning. Leaving the city, the circuit of self reproduction snakes beyond Ballard's Mont Royal (The Crystal World), wraps itself leisurely around Stoker's Doom Tower ('situated on an eminence high up in the Peak'), and begins slowly to outpace a given world of abstractions, breaking with plague language and with plague containment, squeezing the castle walls, promoting feminine snake promiscuity against dreamt-of serpent ecologies (synthesis: 'The serpent that announces...') and loopy cybernetics, finally declaring, in a poisonous snake-entwined coat-of-arms, an insignia etched on the earth, a negative ecology which is nothing other than pure, pure animism. 'Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth.'5


For the universe, with the common structures and fabrics of the creatures, is the face of matter, not under constraint, or as the flock wrought upon and tortured by human means. But if any skilful minister of nature shall apply force to matter, and by design torture and vex it, in order to its annihilation, it, on the contrary, being brought under this necessity, changes and transforms itself into a strange variety of shapes and appearances; for nothing but the power of the Creator can annihilate, or truly destroy it; so that at length, running through the whole circle of transformations, and completing its period, it in some degree restores itself, if the force be continued. And that method of binding, torturing, or detaining, will prove the most effectual and expeditious, which makes use of manacles and fetters; that is, lays hold and works upon matter in the extremest degrees.6



A single image on the conveyor is shunted into focus; the dream of undamaged nature, an aquaponic Dutch-style pseudo-pastoral (Hyde-like the lab with its intermediate bulk containers, scattered duckweed of canal water mixed with acid, harshly contrasted with a hydroponic Jekyll paradise). Passing fields, foregrounded leisure-time and human figures. On a Sunday afternoon, a girl and a man (Mimi and Adam, or Mina and Jonathan), both pairs of feet and legs in time circling, shining in the sunlight, pedal the tandem slowly towards the well, passing at the edge of the fiery, glowing field of corn. Mechanically, the single image is replaced now with that of an aesthetic garden of ruins, the same sunshine, scattered castle-like outcroppings of abandoned mill towers and tall mine shafts, monuments thankfully obscuring the past. In the distance, following the track of the Serpent ley, the snake line, lies St Michael's mount, for a worshipped slain-dragon, a trading stop for tin and copper. A Serpent Mount, the Laidly Worm coiled and basking around the rock, announcing a geological cycle, a doubled rainbow, mined from within the earth for heavenly abstraction (Van Helsing), and returning into the earth (as waste and pollution raining down); a plague cycle with the dragon now as comet announcing and bringing down an equally geophysical curse, a plague rain, extraterrestrial acids and leachate from royally minted meteor coins doubly destroying the bodies of certain victims of technology and the plague (East Smithfield).


The Serpent that announces, 'The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning,' is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle.7


Well, not quite. Always another system, half of the rainbow's and earth season's cycles, from the worm underground (Mittelbau Dora in the Harz) to the worm comet and descending plague. But now this worm is chopped, ground up and sifted in favour of an alien soup kitchen dragon, dishing out close-to-unending supplies to the alcoholic ex-miners.


But the presence of so many soldiers and military vehicles, and the wan-faced townsfolk evacuating their homes, ensured that the little enclave of the transfigured forest – by comparison the remainder of the Everglades basin seemed a drab accumulation of peat, muck and marls – would soon be obliterated, the crystal trees dismembered and carried away to a hundred antiseptic laboratories.8



Chasing a heat trail of mixed magnesium and sand, flashing and popping before being dumped into an acidic burst of flame; ten thousand volt arced across solute dopings, lightning trees into wood and stone; acids left to leak out into an electrolytic mud of Hackney Wick silt, pipe clay, Rendlesham UFO sand, and purified silicon (the pre-eminent human mineral); recastings of copper, zinc, and ferrite left to stew in a porous ceramic vessel lavished with recovered silver solution; violent reactions from a boiled zinc carbonised at red hot heat fills a room with fumes and flames, before solidifying into a pale green glow.


The bizarre creation of the crystalline is always extruded from sludge terrains; the will to falsity, the creation of a bestiary of caricatures, the force of humans that remainders a still moving poo (psychogeophysics as a two way street). Substances are characterised by their abilities to bond or repulse and crystals create top down power structures. Its repulsed poo-sludge is wantonly unsymbolic. Both are brutal in their productions and devoid of shared possession. They are distinct and highly situational. They reflect the structures from which they are made: the endless shuttling between the magnetising earth and a magnetising brain, a brain that hides any cracks in its millisecond reboots of feedbacking information. In this fever of matter sludge gets remaindered as the liminal trimmings.


Running strong subroutines of Lysenkoism in the monological, making explicit elements of current psychopathologies through playing off sensations against alphabets of disjunctive reasoning. Entanglements with the technological intuitively executed using ill-kempt recipes to provoke unfamiliar material, matter, thought. Everything highly embedded, forensically played across their formation; alternative images and co-ordinates appear to force themselves through the texture of narrative in an expression of the completely quantified and discontinuous flux of events taking place on both sides of six billion brains.


Experiments and experiences suture a same magnetics of thinking, with its attractors of morphogenesis and induction explicit in triangulations since the move from intuitively digging rounded pits holes to the squared and industrialised shafting of the earth. Whatever the rational superstition, falsification tends to indifference towards the truth of inscription, so long as they represent well formed enough concordances of a plebiscite reality. Such forces are absent from experience, from the magnetised magnetiser, and thus any minor aristocratic appreciation of sludge is insufficient to undo cognitive consonance: to expect the production of politics over the production of new metaphors.


The shapes of the chasms themselves become 'verbal roots' that spell out the difference between darkness and light. Poe ends his mental maze with the sentence – 'I have graven it within the hills and my vengeance upon the dust within the rock'.9



The existence hinted at by The Crystal World, Ballard's immersive dystopia, a map and mirror of the psyche as an external landscape, a series of fictions elaborating the world, is nothing but a conspiracy coded in the earth itself and executed on the flesh. A conspiracy unveiled as electromagnetic and geophysical in the nineteenth century, cryptovolcanic faultlines literally coding the exposure of both a Time Machine, and a writing machine (named Bram Stoker). Dracula's less-than-divine earth substrate announcing computational technology for a future Morlockian OS (operating system); Stoker coded Persinger-style by Whitby's geopsychedelics as he reveals years later in The Lair of the White Worm, a shakey narrative driving the plague-bearing comet or dragon back underground; a state transition into a fine well-poured, lair-poured sand becoming now silicon substrate. A conspiracy initiated when the blood ores (such as haematite) of the very first metallic veins were explored and exploited; a conspiracy commemorated by the radon-rich standing stones, circles, qouits and chambers scattered across a now desolate, mined and exhumed landscape. And finally a conspiracy founding and exacerbating technology as an alien-descendant CPU, an earth computer, a crystal world, a grinding block of language to turn bodies into dust or sand.



Martin Howse <m AT> has worked collaboratively within ap, xxxxx and more recently micro-research, a mobile platform for psychogeophysical research with ongoing projects in Berlin, London, Suffolk and Peenemuende. Over the last ten years he has workshopped, performed, lectured and exhibited worldwide


Jonathan Kemp <j AT> has a long history of organising and collaborating on speculative and situational events. With others he has elaborated DIY material processing laboratories, environmental installations, interdisciplinary symposia, and social software events executed in international festivals and venues throughout Europe, the US, and Brazil



The Crystal World Exhibition by Martin Howse, Ryan Jordan and Jonathan Kemp took place at The White Building 28 August to 1 September 2012. The Crystal World Open Laboratory took place at the White Building 17 July to 21 July 2012. The Crystal World was made possible through the award of a Permacultures residency by SPACE, London. More information about The Crystal World project can be found at




1Ralph Waldo Emerson, Swedenborg; or, the Mystic, Representative Men: Seven Lectures, Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Company, 1850, p.133.

2Bram Stoker, Lair of the White Worm, London: Rider and Son, 1911, p.169.

3Ovid, Metamorphoses, A.D.8, I., 137 to 143, in Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica, 1556, Book I,(Trans. H & L Hoover), New York: Dover, 1950, p. 7.

4De Re Metallica, ibid., pp. 6-7.

5Thomas Pynchon. The Crying of Lot 49, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966, p.125.

6Francis Bacon, De Sapientia Veterum Liber, 1609, Of the Wisdom of the Ancients, Book XIII, Fable of Proteus, London: Longman, 1857–1870, p.118.

7Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, New York: Viking, 1973, p.412.

8J.G. Ballard, 'The Illuminated Man', in The Terminal Beach, London: Phoenix, (1964) 1992, p.81.

9Robert Smithson, 'A Sedimentation of the Mind' in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, Berkeley: University of California Press, p.108.