Friday, 24 April 2015

time to sit back and do nothing

Spring time gardening seems to be all about taking it easy. I’m spending more and more time as a resident artist at Stave Hill Ecological Park not doing anything else than observing the amazing transformation that is taking place there.

Remember the piece woven with willow rods from a pollarded hedge to create something of a knot garden? If not take a look at this previous post and compare photos taken then with those illustrated here. My thoughts at the time were to grow different herbs in the various sections created by the network of willow rods. Since then so many plants have come out of the ground there is no need for this - garlic mustard, purple nettles, goose grass, wild strawberry and dandelion to name but a few have colonised the place. I’ll ask Rebecca Clark when I next visit to help me identify more of these. With twenty six years experience working in the park there are very few I know she won’t be able to identify!

garlic mustard
more garlic mustard
purple nettles and dandelion
grass, an unwanted weed

All I’ve got to do now is enjoy the verdoyant sights and to do nothing, except maybe a little weeding to uproot the invasive grass. In a few weeks time I’ll be able to  harvest the edible plants and reap the rewards of my inactivity. Could life be any sweeter?

goose grass and wild strawberry
a mix of all above and tree saplings

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Endless Ball (and Bulgarian fish traps)

I made the most of the sunny day last weekend and took myself to Stave Hill Ecological Park to complete a piece for Sculptural, an exhibition at Coombe Trenchard, which I’ve also mentioned  in the previous post.

I wasn’t the only one with the idea to make the most of the day in the park and while weaving brambles, many walkers came to enquire as to what I was doing. One woman told me how it reminded her of the lampshades she used to make in her village in Bulgaria using string and homemade glue (a mix of flour and water) over an inflated ball. These were then left to dry in the sun before deflating the ball and piercing a hole to insert the light fitting.

I knew about these and you probably do too, but I was surprised when she also told me about the fish traps she made with her dad using reeds and the same interlacing technique (see Practical Basketry Techniques for more practical tips on this). The skill is to gage the size of the fish you will be catching in the pond, then weave a ball with holes big enough to allow the fish to go in, using bread as bait, but small enough not to allow it to turn around and escape. The top hole, floating just above the level of the water, allows you to get the fish out when it is caught. How about that for ingenious and economical design!  

I’ll have to do a little research on these traps but through a little foraging and making at Stave Hill and this chance encounter I have a pretty good idea of what these might look like already.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Endless Columns

‘Thinking is one of the great pleasures of working outdoors’ – Roger Deakin

Two weeks ago now seems like a whole season away. Looking at pictures I took then while working on an outdoor sculpture for a forthcoming exhibition at Coombe Trenchard, I’m struck by how wintery the woodland now appears.  We’ve since then experienced some kind of heat wave and I imagine the trees there are now in leaf which will greatly change the appearance of the work. I very much look forward to seeing it again in a couple of weeks at the opening of the exhibition.

the site, before and during clearing 

Making the piece involved clearing brambles which are abundant throughout the upper woodland and then using these to weave a number a number of stackable structures. The plan was to install these as columns rising from pools of water in the gardens and woodlands at Coombe Trenchard. Inspired by Brancusi’s Endless Column, I’ve written about the idea for this piece in sketches for spring(s) and more sketches for spring(s) on this blog, as well as an earlier post about a similar piece created for one of the ponds at Stave Hill Ecological Park.

outdoor studio

Working outdoors in this way is a time consuming process and allows for much thinking. While cutting back and weaving brambles over several days, I reconsidered the location where the work would be installed; the site where the brambles were cleared seemed the obvious setting for the work. I would be resurrecting the brambles there but in a different form - three columns winding themselves around an alder tree allowing brambles to do what they do best, but in this case, without the vine putting the host tree at risk.

Scale became an important consideration when producing the work; outdoor pieces can often be thwarted by their location. The shape and height of the sculpture was largely dictated by the the tree itself and the configuration and number of branches growing from its trunk that would support the woven brambles. My intention was to cause as minimal disturbance to the natural surroundings so to allow the visitors to come across the piece almost by chance as they walk around the pond and woodland. Just how discreet the piece now is amongst the new canopy of leaves, I’ll find out when I next visit. 

work in progress

How long will the piece last? Not forever, but then again what objects do? The beauty of working with wood is that it more or less lives and dies in human time scale, at least if we compare it with stone (another thought borrowed from Roger Deakin from Wildwood, also quoted above). The piece will last a few years and in this time, the living brambles might have reclaimed the area in which the piece is installed. It will be then be time to add to or remake the piece. The sculpture will be given a new lease of life, making us think about pattern of growth, life cycles and their enduring nature.

On a more practical note you might wonder whether this piece is for sale. It is. If you have grounds with the invasive plant pest and a desire for a sculptural intervention, I'll happily come along with my pair of leather gloves and secateurs and be a resident artist creating new site specific works.

more work in progress

Friday, 10 April 2015

mapping the weave

Bathed in spring sunshine and overlooking the city, pictured here are some of the looms that I and a couple of volunteers recently set up recently in the YMCA garden in Darlington. Inspired by a loom created for Stave Hill Ecological Park, these are part of part of an ongoing project, started a few months ago, which I’ve contributed to and written about in a number of previous posts on his blog.

The looms were installed to allow visitor to the garden to weave with natural materials and create tapestries illustrating their responses to the site and findings within it. My interest when choosing where to place these was to complement the fedges recently created in the garden as part of the same project (see flying fedges post) and also have them interact with the site as 'interruptions' or ‘punctuation marks’, drawing the visitors' gaze over the city skyline.

chemically treated japanese knotweed on site

Since installing the looms, Sally Reckert who runs the project has been experimenting with various recipes to create coloured bio plastics that can be used to coat plant material and be used as wefts. Some of these have already been woven into the warps and I am due to go back to Darlington next month to add to this, working with community groups, so expect more pictures to come.

weaving with the left over weed