Land of Confusion

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After a while of not posting, I feel ready again to let the world know what I’ve been working on. Since completing my MA in Fine Art, my work has taken a slight change of direction. My primary interest and focus throughout my MA had been on the natural world, and the way that I perceive it – through both its fragility and beauty, to its darker (and even on occasions terrifying) aspects. The Romantic notion of the Sublime was a big influence on my studies, and I was fascinated by the ways that viewing apparatus such as the Claude Glass and Claude Mirrors were used to create a certain view of nature that was deemed to be appealing.  I, myself, became fascinated with ways to view nature through different lenses; the camera, the mirror, using a microscope and also through scientific equipment such as petri dishes full of site specific bacteria.

After completing the 3 years of study, I decided I needed a break from this theme, and I couldn’t even bring myself to venture back into Birnam Wood, the location that I visited at least 5 times a week over my period of study.  I turned my studio into a bit of a retreat, filling it with memorabilia from the 1980s, and objects that made me feel happy. I bought a record player, and brought out a lot of my old vinyl which started to really inspire my work.

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Along with the music from the 80s, another influence has been the graphic illustrations of Patrick Nagel, which portray strong, fashionable and glamorous women in a simplified almost Art deco style. Nagel designed the album cover of Rio by Duran Duran. Inspired by the shapes and curves and flat colours in his work, I began to create some abstract pieces using the computer, which I then translated to paint on canvas.  I started off small scale, and happy with the results, I  decided to tackle something bigger.

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I wanted to revisit my interest in nature, so I decided to combine the abstract 80s inspired design with organic forms to create a kind of abstract, junglesque environment. I added in pixel -like shapes which represent our digital dependancy and the tensions and divisions it creates between humans and the natural world.  I named the piece “Land of Confusion”, a nod to the 80s hit by Genesis, but also because I feel we are living in a land of confusion in many aspects.

The completed piece will be exhibited from the 23rd March at Scottish Natural Heritage, Battleby House, Perthshire, as part of the PLATFORM 2018 festival.

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“Land of Confusion” Oil and Acrylic on Canvas 100cm x100cm

Scrying with Agar

When I returned to check on the gel plates, I saw some interesting results, varying from obvious spread marks and  feathery swirls to beautiful fantasy landscapes.

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Above: Lycoperdon Perlatum (Common Puffball) sample

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Above: Pleurotus Ostreatus (Common Oyster Mushroom)

The Common Oyster Mushroom gave a fluffy, cloudy pattern, and with the combination of the sample in gel, looked like a bird of some sort, with a brown eye.

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Above : Sample of Mycena Galericulata (Common Bonnet)

The most beautiful were from the samples of liquified Boletus Subtomentosus. One sample had been spread over jelly, the other sample had been mixed with “broth”, a protein additive to feed the bacteria.

IMG_3136Above and below: Boletus Subtomentosus (without protein broth) – Looks like a snowy landscape on a moonlit nightdunsinanecircle1

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Above: Boletus Subtomentosus sample with added protein “broth”

What I believe gave these samples (and the Common Oyster samples) an advantage over the others is the fact that they were spread using a glass rod spreader, as if one were making a crepe. This is the method I will use in future when I try out any more samples, as it covers the whole dish as opposed to a few spots here and there.

I’m in awe of these beautiful pieces of nature’s art, which appear as if drawn in pencil on off-white paper. To me, they are an imaginary landscape, where distant towers or tall buildings balance precariously on a steep hill within a rugged hilly landscape. What is even more remarkable is that both plates resemble a similar landscape, but the latter looks as if it is further into the distance. The moon lights the scene, casting magical moonbeams over the kingdom….or perhaps we are looking at the scene through falling snow, the white spots giving a sense of perspective with their variations in size. Perhaps this is a picture of Dunsinane Hill, and the Hill fort where Macbeth lies waiting, anticipating his future, and the spots are the foot soldiers heading towards him to seal his fate. These landscapes certainly have a magical, even supernatural quality, and makes me feel that something special has grown from a small sample found in Birnam Wood.

I almost feel as if these gel plates could be used as a sort of divination method, a bit like the ancient art of scrying, where the past, present or future could be told using such tools as crystals,glass, mirrors, water, fire, or smoke. Such images are likely products of our imagination or subconscious, although some believe that they come from spirits, gods or demons. According to http://witchesofthecraft.com the symbol of the bird in scrying means ascension, good news, or bird headed beings. Although I couldn’t find hills, I found mountains which means obstacles or a specific area (Dunsinane Hill perhaps?) This element of foreseeing the future also ties in with the prophecies in Macbeth. I feel that this experiment links to my theme in a few ways – the site-specific gathering of the fungi, the images they have produced, and the unpredictability of the images, shapes and patterns, which may be interpreted by my imagination or that of others.

Mushroom Magic!

Recently I came across a method (online) of making paper from mushrooms. Apparently the cell walls of fungi consist of a biological polymer called chitin, similar to cellulose—which just happens to be the key ingredient in plant-based paper.   I found a few pages detailing how it can be done, and also a YouTube video. I decided to give the technique a go, as I thought it might be an interesting way to use some of the plants and fungi I have been finding…and perhaps I could then make the handmade paper into a sculpture to art form of some sort.

The information advised the use of Birch Polypores and also Tinder (Hoof) Fungus, and luckily I knew of a few places where I could source these. After a few hours I had gathered an impressive selection, so headed home to begin the experiments.

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Above: A birch tree bearing fresh Birch Polypores

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A substantial harvest! 

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Above: Tinder or Hoof Fungus (Fomes Fomentares)

The next stage was to soak the fungus overnight. The “hooves” were so hard, I realised that they needed to be soaked for a longer period of time, so I stuck to the polypores on this occasion.

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I began by putting the softest pieces of polypore into a blender with a small amount of water, before liquidising the mixture. In the first experiment, I also added a small amount of shredded paper, and some dried Himalayan Balsam petals.

Initially I tried to follow the YouTube video, but realised that it was literally impossible. Either the maker had added a secret ingredient which made the pulp really strong and bonded it together, or he had edited the video and waited a few days until the piece was almost dry.

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Above: My first attempt – a DIY disaster!

It was impossible to flip the mixture over onto a cloth without it sticking to the mesh or the cloth I was putting it onto. So I decided it might take a bit longer, and that I would resign myself to leaving the paper on top of the mesh for a few days, to dry naturally before I attempted to remove it.

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 Ingredients added were elderberries and himalayan balsam petals

The second experiment was pure mushroom pulp (without any shredded paper) with dried nettle leaves. the mixture looked like homemade mushroom soup and was much more gloopy than the first.

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I also added a few larger pieces of nettle into half of the mixture, and lichen into the other half…

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I fear that I may have poured this a bit to thickly, but I will leave it and see what happens!

My final experiment was to see if I could shape the pulp over a mask form. If this works, I would be a potentially great way of making a human form from foraged woodland materials.

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Mushroom Mask!

Having left all three experiments to dry for a couple of days, so far only one of them is dry enough to remove – the first one. Here it is below:

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The paper is a shade of light grey and has a translucent quality in parts

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Above: Note the translucent areas at the top of the paper

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Elderberries have left their red stains in places

The other two pieces are still not dry. The mask is looking more promising, but I have left them both outside today in an attempt to “bake” them in the sun. The jury is still out  on whether they will work or not, but alt least it is another technique explored which may be of use to join my natural materials together.

Conclusion:

If the two experiments made solely from mushroom pulp don’t work, I may resort to adding in the paper again, and perhaps to keep the integrity and concept of the piece going, I will shred the lines from Macbeth and add these into it. I especially like the translucent areas in the paper (which were created by a very thin layer of the mixture), as I am always drawn to the illumination of sculptural pieces.

Hoof Prints

Having experimented recently with painting from mud, soils and ash, I wanted to try making marks which involved walking, and I came up with the idea of attaching paper to the soles of my shoes, hoping that it would capture some traces and impressions of my walk.

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I used an old pair of sandals with thick soles, and found a pack of Khadi paper, and set about fixing it to the shoes using drawing pins.

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It seemed like perfect weather to try this, wet and rainy, so there would be plenty of mud I reckoned. I drove to Birnam, and headed up the Inchewan path, one of my favourite places to walk.

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I took a few photos of the rain on the delicate foliage on the way up…

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The wall on the way up the path is like a mossy carpet…in fact the whole walk is probably the mossiest I have every been on.

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Delicate young ferns covered in raindrops

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     A really wet, lush, green environment…with the sound of a fast flowing stream and lots of very fresh air…just beautiful

I walked up the path until I reached a decent patch of mud, and proceeded to swap my crocs for the paper-soled sandals, which I wore to squelch through very wet mud.

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My first attempt was a bit over zealous…I completely ruined the paper, tearing a big hole into it, and realised that I had walked too far for the paper to survive. My next attempt was a bit better, the paper had a slight rip in it, but was still useable. Some of the mud that I stepped in was so wet that the prints showed very little colour, although the patterns on the soles of my sandal created a nice embossing on the paper. I also tried walking over moss a few times, but it barely showed, instead I seemed to gather fragments of leaves and bark.

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A few walkers passed me on route, stopping to watch what I was doing. I felt like I was doing a performance, and realised that I should have “killed two birds with one stone”.

Further up the path, there was slate from the nearby hill which had slid down and was lying in piles in reddish looking puddles. The soil here seemed different, in colour certainly, and this might have something to do with the minerals I am guessing.  The soil here printed a very different colour, a light red/brown, and I felt excited about the contrast that this would give against the previous prints.

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A strong result…and a much lighter, redder soil

I also walked down toward the stream, where the terrain was gravel and sand, and this also gave a similar red/brown colour.

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As I changed the papers on my shoes, the removed papers were left at the side of the path, to be collected on my way down. I met a few walkers on the way, and told them that the papers weren’t litter, just incase they felt it their duty to remove them.

I made my way down the hill, and luckily all of the prints were still where I left them. On my walk back to the car, I came across some fallen tree trunks, and noticed the same black, wiry fibres I had seen growing inside a piece of bark a few months ago. I stopped to peel a few from the trunk, sure that I might be able to use them for something interesting.

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Interesting string-like fibres attached to the fallen bark of a tree…what I now know to be rhizomorphs of Armillaria, a type of fungus.

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I’m already seeing mapping possibilities in this amazing natural fibre…

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I headed home to dry them (and myself) off, apprehensive to see the results of my walking/prints.

Once back in the studio, I used the hairdryer to dry the papers, and also removed some of the larger chunks of soil which has been stuck next to the drawing pins.

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Some of the marks are really quite beautiful, although they are a bit paler since they have dried. I am still considering how best to use these, although I have a feeling that they will end up as a book.

I’m also keen to try a few experiments with the Armillaria, and am especially excited by the fact that it might have bioluminescent qualities!

Tumulus

The words ‘cairn’ and ‘tumulus’ refer to mounds of earth or stones which cover over prehistoric burial grounds or tombs. Whilst a cairn is a pile of loose rocks and stones, which tends to cover over a single burial, a tumulus is more of an earthwork- a larger scale grassy mound which can often contain large tombs or multiple burials, and can date as far back as the late Neolithic period. TUMULUS  On the OS map of Comrie, around the River Ruchil area where I had been walking, I saw markings of a couple of tumuli, and they aroused my curiosity. I wondered who (or what) might be buried there, and I began to think of artefacts and bones which might be buried deep below these mounds. This is another hidden layer of the landscape- without the aid of markings on a map, and a bit of knowledge about burial mounds, an earthwork such as this would be easily overlooked, despite the fact that it had been constructed as a monument to mark the importance of someone’s life. I was thinking of layers, and burying, and wondering how I could bury fragments or words yet still allow them to be partly visible. I had a bag of wax beads in the studio, and decided to try a little experiment with them. When melted, I poured the hot wax onto paper, playing with it by allowing it to dry a little, then adding more on top. I love the semi-translucence of the wax – it allows you to see a glimpse of what is inside, yet obscures at the same time. I had some earth which I dug up in Comrie, and small stones from the banks of the Ruchil. I decided to put these into the melting pot, and mix them in to the molten wax.

IMG_5565Molten wax with earth mixed in

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I also mixed in some of the river gravel which I had collected 

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 The mixture was then poured onto canvas, left to dry, before more layers were poured on topIMG_5556

I was trying to create my own little burial mound on canvas

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The wax feels gorgeous to touch…a really beautiful medium to work with

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It now resembles the contours of an earthwork, although not quite as precise as those of Charles Jencks!

I left the wax mound for a few days, but realised that it would not be a piece which would last long, as the wax had cracked on one of the edges. Wanting to retain the translucent qualities of the wax, yet preserve the contours that it had created, I covered the piece with one layer of tissue paper and PVA glue.

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When dried, the wax was still visible through the tissue, as were the contours.

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The background was painted white, to give a contrast between the opacity of the canvas and the glassy appearance of the mound.  I think that the result is interesting, and I like the fact that the earth and stones are buried inside the wax, sealed in but still visible through the layers of this translucent tumulus.

Playing with shadows (Lichen)

Following on from my last experiment with shadows and fictitious wire maps, I decided to make a map from lichen – this time in the shape of the Braan path and the Hermitage at Dunkeld, where I gathered all the windfall lichen a few months back.

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When the map was complete, I hung it from the ceiling in my studio and tried a few different types of lighting on it.

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Above and below : Soft lighting using an anglepoise lamp 

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Using the torch on the iPhone

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Beautifully dark lacy shadows, but jagged and a bit sinister too

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Huge shadows which swamp the wall…would make a very dramatic installation if I had the right space for it

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These shadows are very powerful, although they don’t have the 3-Dimensional effect that the wire shadows have.  I will also have a go at videoing the map rotating, as it would be interesting to see how the shadows work with movement.

Playing with Shadows (wire drawings)

I’ve been experimenting lately with the use of shadows in my work, using “drawings” that i have made from wire and lichen – materials which allow light to stream through their negative spaces to create interesting effects.

Traditionally, the shadow can symbolise many things…darkness, evil, a ghost, a doppelgänger, an alter ego, or a false sense of reality.

In Plato’s Allegory of the cave, the people who are chained up and are forced to look at the wall, away from the light, perceive shadows to represent reality; as they have never seen the objects which cause the shadows.  To the viewer of the wall, all of reality is represented by shadows – a very skewed sense of reality.

Plato likens himself (as a philosopher) to a freed prisoner, who has “seen the light” of reality. He speaks of being blinded by the sun when he leaves the cave – this refers to the reaction of some when their beliefs are challenged or proved wrong…preferring instead to retreat back to their “prison” of what they knew before rather than to accept their new found knowledge or enlightenment.

Personally, this story raises mixed emotions – when wandering through familiar landscapes memories come flooding back. I think of how sometimes I would like to retreat back into the past…to happy, carefree times with no responsibilities, when my parents were younger and healthier, when I felt attractive and excited about what the future might hold. But the flip-side to this is the reality, the enlightenment, the ageing process, and the realisation of mortality.  For this reason, I feel that working with shadows is important to my practice – their ephemeral qualities also relates to some (but not all) of the materials I use, such as the lichen, ice and plants.

The first experiment of shadow maps I made was using the wire drawings of details in the landscape, which were grouped together and hung up before a torch was shone at them.

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One of the wire drawings which made up my part of my fictitious map

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First attempt at illuminating the wire using a small torch

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 Using the torch on an iphone…the shadows become much stronger

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   The shadows seem like they are engulfing the small space, blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality

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The shadows are definitely more dominant than the wire and when the torch is moved they seem as if they are a living and breathing entity

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The ephemerality of the shadows also resounds with the fact that these maps are purely fictional, although they have been created from existing features on the walks that I sketched. They echo the landscape which is transient and ever evolving through erosion, development, the forces of nature and the events which have shaped it and are continuing to do so.

See some footage of the moving shadow to get an idea of just how 3-dimensional they appear, as if they are coming out of the wall towards you:

Waxing Lyrical

I’ve been having a bit of a dilemma on how best to present my poetry as art…I have decided that I want to omit the photos I have taken, not that I dislike them really, but just think that the words work better speaking for themselves.  I was thinking about the possibility of combining my interests of map making with poetry and making some kind of poetry map. I saw a map by Nina Katchadourian which, at a glance, appeared to be made from shredded paper, but on closer inspection I saw that it was made from a map of Austria which she had dissected, and was shaped like a heart, as Austria is known as the heart of Europe.

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Austria (1997) Dissected paper road map , Nina Katchdourian

This started me thinking that I would like to make my poetry into a sculpture, whether or not it looked like a map. I was a bit wary about the paper tearing easily, so I thought I’d try a little experiment with some wax.

waxingpaper1 I printed out my poem about the Water of Ruchil and cut it into strips, which I then dipped into wax. The wax gave the paper a much more appealing look, more transparent, and it felt really smooth to touch.

waxingpaper2Next I considered how to fix the strips together to form a 3D sculptural piece. I decided to let the materials dictate how i did this, by using what would normally be used to fix printed sheets together – a stapler…which would allow the work to have more of a raw and honest feel to it, rather than covertly fixing it with glue.

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I added the lines of poetry quite randomly, as I wanted it to have an abstract feel to it. The strips were stapled in a sort of loop formation, and then loops which were furthest apart were folded in and fixed together to bulk the sculpture up.

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Above and below : The “ball” of poetry

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I decided to take some closer shots of the poetry sculpture, as I imagined it might be good for showing depth of field and make quite abstract images.

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poetry-blur5These shots remind me of vague memories….repeating words in your head over and over…kind of hypnotic and dreamlike…

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I prefer the photographs to the sculpture itself, as they describe my feelings of wandering through the landscape and remembering my childhood – dreamlike, surreal, vivid and vague. I’m also surprised at how in an attempt to move away from photography, I have come back to in a more abstract and less obvious way.

I also had a go at filming the poetry moving, but think I will try this again with proper editing software so that i can crop into the images more.  You can see the video Poetry in Motion below…

http://youtu.be/cIjjmhXpJj8

Mysterious Paths

Having made sketches of a walk along the River Ruchil where I played as a child, I noticed similarities in these drawings to aerial views of maps, which weren’t unlike islands, edges and boundaries between land and water, and pathways and pools. I also researched the area around my walk in EDINA’s Statistical accounts of the Parish of Comrie, I learned that there were remains of Druidic places of worship, which really intrigued me as I have an interest in megalithic monuments and Druids groves. Taking inspiration from this, I decided to make an abstract map which hinted at this mysterious layer of the landscape. I chose the 16 squares which I thought most suitable and began to paint in the shapes, using a limited colour palette of white, off white, a tint of cobalt blue/grey and also leaving some areas of the linen canvas unpainted. IMG_4596Although the result was quite pleasing, it was only a means to an end of what I had in mind. The map I had created was bold and graphic, and although abstract it did look like a map. This was important as next I planned to obscure the details by spraying the map white, leaving only a very subtle impression of what lay below. IMG_4603 Once they were all sprayed white, I reassembled the squares until I was happy with the layout. IMG_4612 Next I got out the stash of items I had gathered on my walks- stones, twigs, roots, snail shells, feathers etc as I wanted to add these into the maps to give a sense of the physical elements present in this landscape. I also sprayed the found objects white, as I wanted to emphasize the textures and shapes of them rather than the colours. IMG_4907 I am quite pleased with the final result, although I had toyed with the idea of adding thread stretched between pins to create paths over the boards linking them together. I think the subtlety of the maps works well to describe the hidden or overlooked parts of the landscape which I initially used as my inspiration. The natural objects are reminiscent of standing stones which can be found in a few locations near my walk, and the twigs represent the ancient groves where Druids once worshipped. The thorns and bark (above) do resemble antlers, and have a distinctly pagan look to them, although this was not actually intended. hidden_landscapes Mysterious Paths (15 10×10 panels with acrylic and found objects on MDF board 62cm x 62cm)

Roman Stone

Wanting to source an old OS map, and also find out any historic information about the site around the River Ruchil in Comrie, I visited the library in Perth and went to the reference and archives department.  I was directed to a very helpful lady who showed me some maps and photocopied a couple which were of interest to me. I was then advised to look at few websites, such as EDINA: Statistical Accounts of Scotland and Scotland’s Places (which has many OS maps in its digital archive). When I arrived home, I went straight to these websites, and found some fascinating info about the area around the Ruchil, as well as other interesting facts about the village of Comrie, where I lived since the age of three until I was in my mid-twenties. I found that a Roman General named Agricola had built a fort and a “Marching Camp” at Comrie, near the Ruchil, where he clashed with the army of the Caledonians, headed by Galgacus, in 79AD. Looking at the OS map, I found some areas marked where the Roman camp and Roman Fort had existed. There was also a standing stone adjacent to the camp, which was called the Roman Stone. As the area of the camp was quite a stretch, and the coordinates would have varied considerably between different areas, I decided to use the coordinates (WGS84) of the Roman Stone to make a piece of work. I had been thinking about making a piece which consisted solely of coordinates, and had toyed with perhaps using plants or other natural materials to make them. The fact that I was mapping a Roman Stone, gave me the idea of making a mosaic (in keeping with Roman tradition), using stone which I found nearby at the Ruchil. I also thought it would be more interesting to write the coordinates in Roman numerals so:

56 21′:65.46″N    3 59′: 06.17 W translated as:  LVI XXI LXV. XLVI N  III LIX  OVI. XVII  W

IMG_3700I collected some small peebles from the river’s edge in a bucket, and took them home to clean them. PREPARINGSTONES2Once washed, I used the barbecue and an old set of bellows to speed up the drying process.makingmosaic6I projected and traced the numerals onto a small canvas. Rather than using the the stones to fill the numerals, I decide to work into the negative space as this gives the numerals a recessed appearance as if they were carved or set into stone. It also leaves the numerals as empty space, signifying that the Romans are no longer there, just ghosts within the landscape.makingmosaic5A few hours later the mosaic was beginning to take shape. I stuck the stones down using PVA glue.makingmosaic2makingmosaic4

 makingmosaic3From this angle, the piece itself looks not unlike a road or track

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 The finished stonework…I preferred to spray the piece with a very thin coat of white to make it slightly more subtle and ghostlike.

whitemosaicdetail whitemosaicThe finished piece… I’m quite happy with the result, and I think conceptually it works as a site inspired piece, with the use of the Roman Numerals, and the mosaic technique using stone found near the site. Also the WGS84 coordinates tie in with the walking theme, as does the fact that there was a “marching” camp nearby.