NORTH ADAMS -- Ceramics artist Geoffrey Booras isn't content to wait until the future for our industrial debris to become fossils, so he's busy creating examples right now.
Booras' work is on display at the Branch Gallery until July 21.
A Boston native, Booras' work elicits the future detritus of a bygone society where items, like water valve covers, natural gas pipeline maps and other items, are now relics resembling industrial fossils. It all began with an unusual dual study at Skidmore College of geology and ceramics, which began with a focus on the former, but soon changed.
"At some point toward the end of my time there, things shifted toward the two being equal," Booras said, "and now I feel like art was my main way of expressing myself and expressing these ideas, but they're coming from a scientific background."
One of Booras' earliest and on-going projects has been a collection of ceramic drill bits that has evolved over the years.
"I was sort of making work that was drill-like or spiral helix-like, and that went from being very obvious, very straight-forward, to very abstract," he said. "At some point, I was making drill bits that were just the helix part of the drill. As I got more invested in the message I wanted to convey, the research and the ideas I wanted to share, I became more invested in the specific drill bit that the oil and gas industry use."
It was fracking that captured Booras' attention and found its way into the form of the drill bits he produced, mixing with his own imagination.
"The drill bits are my own interpretation, especially in the way that they are deteriorated and used," said Booras, "but they're definitely modeled after a specific type of drill bit and that is the bit that has become the work horse of the hydraulic fracturing industry."
"Because this is the specific drill bit that's encrusted, the little piece on each flange, they're encrusted with diamonds -- not on my drill bits, but in industry --they just tear through rock," Booras said, "and they can also do something which is quite new in the field of petroleum exploration, and that's drilling at an angle and also becoming horizontal to the ground. They can drill basically horizontally. They're pretty interesting things."
When Booras examines mining, drilling, energy infrastructure, he's doing more than raising awareness or adding to the protest. Part of his concern involves placing this human-created additions to the landscape within the geological record of the earth, of which it is clearly a part as much as an gun injury, say, is part of a person's medical history.
"The biggest thing I've learned from studying geology was having a perspective that was broader than the typical person sees," said Booras. "I see not only in the past, but maybe into the future what our strata would look like to future generations or whoever can understand it from the future whether we're here or not."
Booras has lived in New Paltz, N.Y., the last couple years, which has focused his interest on the issues for that state and its relationship to the places around it that require its resources to exist.
"It has such a huge population in New York City, and with New Jersey and Philadelphia, all the fresh water they get is from the area I was living in the Catskills," he said. "Just driving around and being in the Hudson Valley, you see a lot of anti-fracking signs. I was really intrigued in the local politics and industry. I've been thinking about how applicable it is to every region."
Booras is fascinated with the concept of the anthropocene, a recent designation in geology circles meant to classify our current era on the earth.
"The anthropocene characterizes our geologic era by the mark of humans on the landscape, the surface," Booras said. "I'm really interested in that idea and more specifically in the maps and also in the gas and water valve covers, those are like my studies of the surface of the earth. A far out perspective, and one from a close-up, almost personal one."
As part of that examination, Booras shows a fascination with the technology and even an impartial view of it in his presentation of the wider scope of the earth and its place in that. The technology that caused the wounds will also make up some aspect of the geological history of Earth, and are wonders of technology even as they are monsters of it.
"As I'm reading all this information on hydraulic fracturing, I realize that while the costs are huge, at the same time it's just incredible that humans have the capability to do this," said Booras. "I'm in awe of the technological progress that we've made, but at the same time I'm pretty horrified by not only the instruments themselves -- the objects horrify me -- but also the costs."
"You can make a lot of parallels to any kind of industry, mining, any kind of resource use, it all comes back to us, what we're doing, the choices we make and their impact on the planet."
As Booras continues his work, he sees that it has become a hybrid form of science and the arts in which data is examined in order to inform perspective that is personal.
"I didn't set out to do any scientific research," he said. "This was more research into science for my use in making a point and expressing something through ceramics. The more I've been thinking about that, the more I've realized that art is my interpretation of the world, but also science, in a lot of ways, is a personal interpretation of the world as well."
Booras views science as a discipline that relies on the individual to interpret the data and what that means. In the scientific world, that means an informed person using replicable data, but it still involves a good bit of creativity and cunning, just like any segment of the arts.
"In the end they get results and they interpret them themselves and it's their own expression of the situations," Booras said. "Two people can look at the same data, the same results of an experiment, and have a different interpretation. That's something I'm thinking more and more about in my work. This is just one person's interpretation of a set experience that humans are making."
Booras is leaving for Colorado in the fall, for a residency at the Anderson Ranch Art Center in Snowmass Village. He won't be abandoning the focus of his creative work when he does that, but instead expanding it.
"I'm very excited to go to Colorado and dive into their mining history and future," he said. "There's a lot of natural gas, gas shale out there, and the oil and mining industries, so I'm sure I'll be affected. I'm not sure what kind of work I'll be making, but I'm pretty excited to continue this body of work."
Booras can be found online at geoffbooras.com.