Saturday, 22 June 2013

go green, go fresh, go wild!

Hop tops, delicious steamed with a little butter! 

Unusually cold weather has meant spring was delayed this year with opportunities for picking seasonal wild food being somehow prolonged. Not a bad thing all in all...

A few weeks ago the young shoots of alexanders found in local parks near me could be picked, steamed and eaten much like asparagus. Now they are far too woody. You can still taste their amazing aroma, but only after chewing the pith as you would with a stick of licorice, so it’s hardly worth the trouble.  Apparently if you peel and fry them, they tenderise, and the flowers can be eaten too, but I haven't tried this yet. The wild garlic has all but gone now, but I managed to find some three-cornered garlic the other day, though very much on its last legs. The leaves are delicious, and the flowers are great in a vase!

Wild garlic
Three cornered garlic

Hops are on the attack at the moment, creeping over whatever they can in competition with the bindweed.  The are tasty with butter and pepper after a little steaming.  Don’t be tempted to cut more than 10” from the end though, as you’ll have the same problem as with the Alexanders. The garlic mustard (or Jack-by-the-hedge) is blooming at the moment and ripe for picking, as is the ground elder. 

Garlic mustard

More foraging and culinary tips can be found in Roger Phillips’ Wild Food book, which is has been my bible when out and about looking for lunch. Richard Mabey’s Food for Free publication is great too, and pocket sized which is helpful.  I never leave home without it these days.

Nettle pith and twined bark

Off to pick some nettles now, which turn out to be most useful of plants: use the top leaves to make soup or pesto (using almonds instead of pine nuts), the older leaves to make blue/green dye, and use the bark and pith for cordage and basket weaving.  The plant is a good diuretic and also combats the symptoms of hay fever. Not sure what to do with the roots yet, but will get back to you as soon as I know.

See you are what you weave, make bindweed a bonus and sycamore is for curiosity for more info on edible plants and hedgerow basketry.

Monday, 17 June 2013

studio surfing

If process is everything, then where better to see work than in the artist studio. Paying a visit last week to Helen Carnac and David Gates in both their work spaces, I was once again impressed to see how the combination of materials, tools and works in progress make such a cohesive and aesthetic whole. It reveals something fundamental about their practice; I only wish I could say the same about my own studio!

Occupying adjoining spaces in an old manufacturing building in south-east London, their studios are full of stuff in a state of productive messiness, seemingly random arrangements of things making you question whether they’ve been placed with specific intent or not. I know of course that details here are all important, and it's fascinating to see how these ad-hoc juxtapositions, these accidental montages, end up finding their way into the work they each produce.  

There is some kind of ‘cross-pollination’ happening between the two studios, a conversational exchange between one space and the other. Having worked with Helen and David on a number of projects, I am familiar with much of what I see here. What I’ve photographed however is also resonant with ideas addressed in my own work; I have captured what I know and recognise in my own practice. Could these photographs be evidence some kind of melding all of our work?

I've often wondered what the outcome would be if artists swapped studios for a period of time. In this case I would use David’s woodworking tools, David try his hand at enameling, and Helen work with my secateurs, lace bobbins and crochet hooks. I can't imagine David trusting me to go anywhere near his hand tools, so we'll never know the outcome of this, but these pictures, showing detailed views of both David and Helen work spaces, go some way I think in giving me a sense of what would happen with this imagined 'studio surfing' scheme.

Friday, 14 June 2013

lost in lace

Inspiration lies only round the corner. While in the process of developing my forthcoming installation at the Nottingham Castle Museum (see previous post), I now see now lace patterns everywhere! Here are some examples, alongside actual lace patterns.

This project is truly taking me on a new path of discovery, but might it also drive me round the bend?  No matter, I'm loving being lost in lace in the meanwhile!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

knots for Notts

I spent two glorious days in the sun the week before last in the grounds of Nottingham Castle, overlooking the city and rehearsing the making of my next installation for the museum’s forthcoming exhibition Make Believe: re-imagining history and landscape.

The city’s history and connection with lace making informed my contribution to the exhibition: a large scale lace installation created on the lawn around the castle using fencing pins and rope. Helped by three assistants and a group of enthusiastic volunteers, we rehearsed the making of the piece by using our fingers and hands to stitch between trees. We then proceeded to do something close to formation dancing, acting as human bobbins, holding lengths of yarn and winding these around the (metal fencing) pins as you would on a lace pillow. Click here for footage of the rehearsal on the Fermynwoods Contemporary Art website.

Many possibilities and challenges were revealed as we worked and talked about what we were doing and at the end of the two days, I came away from from the activity with a head full of ideas which I’m now processing. I’ve now ordered nearly two hundred fencing pins and can’t wait for the next time I am up there with this lovely group.

Thanks so much to all the volunteers who helped rehearsing the piece, and to my assistants Jess, Sarah and Rossella.  You were all great!