Earthday in the Forest

Forest Studio

Moss sponge :)

Moss sponge :)

Oak gall ink in its natural form as well as with iron sulphate which turns it black

Oak gall ink in its natural form as well as with iron sulphate which turns it black

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I stopped drawing for a bit and looked at the ground. I realised the entire floor was covered in skeletons of leaves from Summers gone by. How many summers? I’d have thought these would have decomposed into humus over the winter but I guess all the nutrients have and what is left is just the bare bones.

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The Trees are Watching

My current theme of research is around how plants and trees communicate. Via mycelial networks, scent trails and electromagnetic messaging trees communicate and function as a community when in a forest, sharing food and resources and warning each other of dangers.

I can’t help but anthropomorphise these eyes - which would actually be where the tree has attempted to grow a new, lower branch in an effort to get more food. Lower branches don’t get light so quickly become redundant and these eyes are left.

Rubbings

Rubbings

Forest Studio

16/2/18 - I spent my first full day quietly making work at the park. I found a quite corner amongst the trees and made some observational drawings, rubbings and sketches. I’m trying to fight the pressure to create something ‘good’ and remain in an experimental research phase, and it was so liberating not to worry about outcome. I set myself up with a washing line and pegs and made a little forest studio. Bliss.

Oak Gall Ink study - Ivy and Cow Parsley

Oak Gall Ink study - Ivy and Cow Parsley

Guilty Gardener Syndrome

As I wrote about in the previous blog I have this dilemma about using nature’s bounties. I believe that one should tread carefully and thoughtfully through our world and try and be as conscious of the impact those footsteps may make.

A huge part of my life now is food growing and gardening. I think that is possibly one of the best ways to feel connected to nature whilst gaining a small portion of control over my consumption. Most of all though, I get extraordinary pleasure from the garden and I’m not sure I would survive London without these days.

But all of this is incredibly egocentric. In order to make my South-facing vegetable patch I destroyed a huge corner of bramble bush. That’s an entire ecosystem, home and food to many many more creatures that I ripped out to make room for my straight lines of carrots and beetroots. And that is me getting ‘more in touch with nature’?!

Our garden was abandoned for years and over run by ivy, bramble, goosegrass, nettles, comfrey etc. Every time we have tried to gain control (argghhh) over a corner of the garden this dilemma has been huge for me and led me into a project about weeds and the hierarchies man has imposed on nature, going right back to Aristotle’s Scala Naturae or Great Chain of Being, which puts man (then woman) at the top, second only to God.

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from  Didacus Valades ,  Rhetorica Christiana

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus ValadesRhetorica Christiana

So the exhibition I had, Forage, was to venerate the humble weed. This case of ‘guilty gardener syndrome’ had me categorising the weeds I uprooted, collecting and binding them. They formed these chrysalises, cocooning the weeds. As they went through their metamorphosis the weight changed, the binding became looser and began to unravel. They were a real homage to both the weeds and nature’s cycles.

The cocoons were a basis from which to explore wider issues – the history of binding and women, bondage, the mythology or folklore of a particular plant, whilst also being a practical deweeding exercise!

Oak Gall Ink pt.2

My oak galls have been infusing into water for 3 weeks and at this point I’m supposed to add iron sulphate which turns it black and makes it long-lasting. I’ve not found any locally and am impatient to use it so whilst I wait for my iron sulphate to arrive in the post I am going to use a small portion of it as it is.

The natural colour is gorgeous. I’ve added Gum Arabic as my binder and will spend the day in the park doing some drawing with it - yay!

As with most of my projects over the last few years, even including my veg patch, I have the dilemma of whether using nature’s bounties for my own benefit is destructive for other species or habitats. Generally you can see a hole in the oak gall which signifies that the larvae inside has hatched and moved out - but one sorry critter was in there and I feel really bad about that.

Forest Funghi

Over the last couple of years I’ve been exploring the world of fungus and have discovered the mycelial network. My piece - Tonghus was reflecting on language after a period spent in Rome without my mother tongue. This piece explores ideas of language, communication and identity. La Lingua, meaning both language and tongue, makes its way across the surface of it's host, a tree skeleton, multiplying and spreading in fungus-like formations. Tonghus became a metaphor for humankind, linked by La Lingua that both connects, divides, creates and destroys. This led to my discovery and research of mycelium and the incredible world of fungus.

Alkanet

Ken, the park’s manager for 17 years, told me that the root of Alkanet is used as a reddish purple dye and that the flowers are edible. Luckily for me they grow rampantly at the park so I’m allowed to dig a load up!

Alkanna Tinctoria plants have huge tap roots

Alkanna Tinctoria plants have huge tap roots

My good friend, plant dye extraordinaire, Sophie Mason, advised this one wants to be soaked in alcohol to draw the best colour from it. It’s been used across the Mediterranean to dye material red since antiquity, to enhance the red colour of wine and in India, Ratan Jot is often used as a food colouring.

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I PROMISE this isn’t going to become a blog with pics of food - unless they’ve been foraged from the park and look as pretty as this! Lunch that day - mushrooms (co-op’s) and wild garlic with Alkanet flowers foraged from the park.

Oak Gall Ink

I may be slow off the block about this one but I just discovered the mystery of the Oak Gall and its maker, the Gall Wasp! The wasp has developed in sync with the oak and can re-programme the acorn gene to develop these amazing growths, providing its larvae with a ready-made nest.

We humans discovered that they make a incredibly long-lasting ink and most our surviving written/drawn history was done in Oak Gall ink.

I foraged these just outside Rome this weekend and will be attempting to make my own ink with them :)

My first ever Sonnet..

..was written as part of the Nature and Poetry course run by Nelson Brook, the Poet in Residence of 2018 which was the path to my Artist in Residence position so big thanks to Michelle Lindson and Nature and Us for organising that.

2019 has been a bit of an odd year so far with a couple of sad family losses. A beautiful friend read me an excerpt from the book, Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes about Woman’s meditation on her garden and the cycles of nature. It was comforting to think of death with this philosophy and my first ever (rough and unedited) sonnet was based on that.

Do I follow a religion? I have been asked

And I have answered the religion of the Garden

Where the truest of self is allowed to unmask

Where one has no need for pardon


Hands deep in the sweet smelling soil 

A place of soul and psyche 

Attempts at uprooting, an endless toil 

Lucifer's bramble; forever spiky 

But fear not the cyclical wild 

And the Winters' mourning 

Instead stay watch for the return of Springs' Child 

For new life will be dawning 


A forever cycle of death and life 

Nature's meditation that  need not bring you strife 

Wildflowers and Woodlands

I am SO EXCITED to announce that I will be working as Artist in Residence at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park for the next twelve months! I’ve spent a lot of time amongst the moss covered gravestones, ancient woodland and wildflowers in the park and can’t wait to spend a year observing and responding to my discoveries.

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“Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park offers everyone a breathing space in the heart of East London. This woodland cemetery is a unique place of transformation: a people's cemetery, a place for remembrance, a sanctuary for humans as well as nature, a place for festivals, field studies and forest schools. Always changing with the seasons it is rooted in the history of the East End, a place of rich heritage that is full of possibilities and freedom for all.” https://www.fothcp.org/about

The team, Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, have an amazing programme of events, heritage trails and foraging workshops that I will be tapping into along the way. Throughout the year I will be researching the incredible heritage aspects of the cemetery, as well as observing the plant and wildlife, conservation and forest management and will be working with the local community and volunteers through various art workshops. I want to develop a long-lasting relationship between the park and the arts by involving local artists and arts organisations.

So exciting!

P.S. Bare with me on the blog thing - I’m a newbie