HAPPENSTANCE - a fusion of happen and chance circumstance, is a new exhibition of mixed media art and immersive soundwork at Brantwood, Coniston by Ambleside artist Russell Mills with musician Mike Fearon, writes JANE RENOUF. The creation of Happenstance celebrates the bicentenary of John Ruskin, philanthropist, environmentalist, social thinker, artist and art critic who spent the latter years of his life at Brantwood. His prophetic series of lectures, The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century, reflected the industrial revolution’s darkening skies and polluted storm clouds that he witnessed, with fears as prescient and relevant as ever, given the increasingly urgent dangers of climate change.

Set against this, Happenstance reminds us of the ceaseless flux of generative nature and the process of order and chaos in the natural world. Organic and traditional materials are used in admixture with volatile chemicals and unstable solutions which set off indeterminate and transformational processes - in other words, everything is contingent and continually shifting, metamorphosising into new images, as nature itself.

The exhibition celebrates the phenomenal weave of order and chaos in the natural world, and man’s abiding obsession to control and exploit both its human and natural resources. However, if we only focus on what we can measure, we will create a future shaped by an extrapolated past: we will not change. To avoid becoming prisoners of our past, Happenstance says we still need imagination and creativity.

In seeking to transform Ruskin’s world into the sonic, Happenstance's soundwork uses Brantwood and its immediate environs as its source, from the everyday noises of the household to breezes in the trees outside, or waves along the Coniston shoreline and their drag and pull on the stones beneath Ruskin’s jetty. These sounds are augmented by notes derived from the prelude to Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius oratorio, played on pianos in the house. Sounds make and un-make as they re-order and re-work in an infinite and ceaselessly changing mix, with no one combination of sounds ever repeating, mirroring many of the underlying concerns of the mixed media works.

"Anything can happen", Russell said. "The uncertainty of our past and the unpredictability of our future, caused by contingency - the cornerstone of reality, the nature of nature - is what makes this such a challenging idea, particularly in these increasingly anxious times."

Happenstance is open daily from 10.30am-5pm at the Severn Studio, Brantwood until November 6. For further information go online at www.brantwood.org.uk.