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.

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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

IMG_7498Small plants growing on the mossy wall

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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!

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:

Scratching the Surface – Exhibition up!

On Monday I installed the Scratching The Surface Exhibition at Scottish Natural Heritage Battleby, Redgorton. The exhibition was put together as an assignment for my MA in Fine Art course. The brief – to put together an exhibition in a public place. The deadline – 5 weeks, which isn’t a great deal of time when you’re working and have family commitments!

Given the nature of my work, I decided to contact Scottish Natural Heritage, as this is an organisation that I would like to develop links with, either as part of collaborative research/art projects, or perhaps one day as an artist in residence.

My main interest at the moment is invasive and injurious plants, and after a few ideas, I decided that Scratching the Surface would be a suitable title. Through a bit of research,  I also found out that the site was used as a “hospital” for soldiers to convalesce after the First World War. Given that the plants which I was planning to use for the exhibition had either injurious or healing properties, I felt that this gave my work a site-specific connection, which I aimed to portray within some of my pieces.

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The poster which I designed to advertise the event, using a detail of the painting ‘Hostile Invasion’

The work I produced over the 5 weeks was:

  • Masking the Pain : a mask made from nettles, Ivy and other plants

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  • PRICK : A word made from thorns on canvas, sprayed with white acrylic

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  • Forbidden Fruit : A 3D piece mounted onto canvas, made with polyustyrene, papier mache nails and elastoplast

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  • Hostile Invasion : A painting of a hostile, overgrown landscape

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  • The Exotic Seed Company : An Installation of fictitious seed packets

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  • No way out : Wire and thorns coming out a of canvas
  • Off side : A painting of a Butterbur Leaf, in the style of stained glass
  • From Scratch : A stylized painting of a bramble stalk

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  • Sleeping with the enemy : A bed made from Giant Hogweed, Butterbur, Nettles and Thorns

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  • A sign for Poison Ivy’s Cocktail Bar

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  • A fanzine called Invasion of the Body Scratchers

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I also made a few more pieces which I did not exhibit, as it was felt that they weren’t strong enough, or devalued other pieces .

I spent all day Monday installing the exhibition, and had a few challenges along the way…covering the picture hanging system to give the exhibtion a more contemporary feel was probably the biggest, so I decided to use canvases to hang over the rods, onto which I then fixed my work.

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A contrast with lighting gives the exhibition a more dramatic feel (below) but I found it difficult to photograph my work under these conditions

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I have to say that I’m quite pleased with the result of my work, and its great to see it all up together as an exhibition. On Friday, between 12 noon and 1pm I am hosting a tasting session to sample some of the materials I used to create the artwork, e.g.. Nettle, bramble and rose hip wines, bramble crumble etc. and dandelion and nettle teas. I will be serving the wines as spritzers from Poison Ivy’s Cocktail Bar, and will set up my sign advertising this.

If anyone wants to visit, this exhibition will be on until 2pm Friday, when the 3D works will have to be dismantled due to other events taking place, but the 2d works should be up for possibly another week.