Code Clay, Data Dirt 
Firstsite, Colchester. 2019.

“Lilah Fowler uses sculpture, weaving and video to explore the ways we have come to understand our relationship to our environments, both natural and manmade. Influenced by Roman philosopher Cicero’s conception of ‘second nature’—which he defined as the landscape of agriculture and cities—she is interested in exploring the contradictory position in which we find ourselves, between virtual and physical states and spaces. With ‘agriculture’ expanding to encompass wind, data and food ‘farms’ and large-scale hidden and visible infrastructures, technology is now inherently part of nature, a state Lilah refers to as ‘nth nature’.

The title of the exhibition is derived from media theorist Shannon Mattern’s book Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media, which suggests that clay and code are connected in similarly advancing the technologies of their equivalent time periods. Taking the Roman pot as an example of ancient technology, Lilah looks at how both analogue and digital technologies are shaped by the natural environment—the clay pot being literally built out of it, and digital technologies relying on rare earth minerals and data centres that pump out huge quantities of heat and power. Another starting point to the exhibition was the Berryfield Mosaic, which is permanently installed in the Living Room space at the centre of Firstsite—themosaic tile being an analogue precursor to the digital pixel.

Featured in the exhibition are original Roman artefacts from Colchester and Ipswich Museums as well as replica pots designed by the artist. Based on original Roman pots, these replicas have been made to mirror the flaws and imperfections of the originals. They highlight Lilah’s interest in authenticity and provenance, as well as what makes objects meaningful.

Further linking old and new technologies are two new series of work: textile pieces made from fabric dyed with algae and petri dishes containing algae and pieces of fabric dyed with azo dye—a type of synthetic dye. The works point to algae as a future technology—it is currently being tested as a method of cleansing toxins from certain textile dyes, as a future food source and as a biofuel.

Many of the works in the exhibition are derived from a custom-built computer programme that uses changing, arbitrary data points to make unlimited digital patterns. Transformed into a variety of media—such as brightly coloured ceramics or hand and digitally woven textiles—they ask how we might make data materially visible and tangible. The textiles also touch on the close relationship of the Jacquard Loom to the origins of computing.The sound for the video was made in collaboration with CLIP, a Colchester-based experimental music group, who converted the colour wavelengths of the patterns and the architectural resonance of their playback in the gallery into audio waves.”

Work produced in collaboration with:
Sound: CLIP
Algae: Dept of Biochemical Engineering, UCL: Dr Brenda Parker and Greta Csalane Besenyei. Dept of Environmental Studies, University of Delhi: Deepak Rawat
Support in kind: Rochester Square and Plykea
Photography: Ollie Harrop


Plinth 1:
a. Found stone. Shingle beach. Dungeness, Kent, UK
b. Found stone. Man-made beach. Granada, Spain.
c. Found flint tool. Field, Norfolk, East Anglia, UK
d. Obsidian shard. Natural volcanic glass. California, USA
e. Roman beaker. Colchester.
f. Replica Roman beaker. Ceramic.
g. Roman beaker. Colchester.
h. Roman mosaic tiles. Colchester.
i.  Roman Samian ware bowl small. Colchester.
j. Roman urn. Colchester.
k. Roman Samian ware bowl. Colchester.Plinth 2:
a. Marble fragment. Colchester.
b. Replica Roman urn. 2019. Ceramic.
c. Roman beaker. Colchester.
d. Roman beaker. Colchester.
e. Roman urn large. Colchester.
f. Roman beaker. Colchester.

Roman pots and marble loaned by Colchester and Ipswich Museums.


System.5.4, 2019. Aluminium, acrylic, polycarbonate.
a. 16167, 2019. Wool.
b. 14668, 2019. Cotton.

2. 3791, 2019. Cotton.


a. Replica Roman pot. Circa 43 – 476 AD.Colchester.2019. Ceramic.
b. Glass petrie dish 150mm, silk, Methyl Orange azo dye, agar solution, algae (Chlorella vulgaris var. viridis.).
c. Bird’s foot-trefoil. London, UK.
d. Tuff, California, USA. Natural glass from combustion metamorphism of shale, California, USA.

1. System.9.3, 2018. Aluminium, acrylic, polycarbonate.
a. 3841, 2019. Wool.
b.14900, 2019. Wool, cotton.
c. 0827, 2019. Wool, cotton.
d. Concrete, pigment. 2016. Driftwood, Dungeness, Kent, UK. Moss, Epping Forest, Essex, UK. Ceramic Insulator.
e. 4086, 2017. Wool.

2. 3791, 2019. Cotton.

System.3.3, 2019. Steel

a. Quartz-mica schist. South Dakota, USA. Silk, Napthol Blue Black and Methyl Orange azo dye. Thin section. 2015. Jesmonite.
b. Royal Purple leaf, Epping Forest, Essex, UK.
c. Glass petri dish 200mm, silk, Napthol Blue Black and Methyl Orange azo dye, agar solution, algae (Chlorella vulgaris var. viridis.).
d. Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) Britain’s Wild Flowers card no.11. Silk, Napthol Blue Black and Methyl Orange azo dye.
e. Red ochre dust, Utah, USA.
f. Found stone, Dungeness, Kent, UK.
g. 3841, 2019, ceramic.
h. Silk, Napthol Blue Black and Methyl Orange azo dye. Nettle, London, UK.
i. 3841, 2019, ceramic.
j. Thin section. 2015. Resin, solar cell. Kaolinte- kaolin clay. California, USA.
k. 4086, 2019, ceramic.
l. Solar cells, wood, lichen. Dungeness, Kent, UK.
m. Pressed Gorse, Epping Forest, London, UK.
n. Silk, Napthol Blue Black azo dye, agar solution, algae (Chlorella vulgaris var. iridis.).
o. Glass petrie dish 44mm, silk, Methyl Orange azo dye, agar solution, algae (Chlorella vulgaris var. viridis.).
p. Replica Roman beaker. Colchester. Ceramic.
q. Geode, California, USA.
r. Conglomerate of metamorphic rocks. California, USA.
s. Concrete, pigment. 2016.
t. Stick, lichen. Dungeness, Kent, UK
u. 14414, 2019. Cotton. Ironstone, Surrey, UK


1. System.5.4, 2019. Aluminium, polycarbonate.
a. 0297.0724.14326. Moving image and sound. 2019. (Sound produced in collaboration with CLIP.)
b. 3770.3771.3773.3774.3780.3782.3783.3784.3786.3788.3789.3790, 2018. Cotton.
c. 17940, 2017. Cotton.
d. 14198.14202.3839, 2019. Silk, dye, algae (Chlorella sorokiniana) as dye.