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.
When the map was complete, I hung it from the ceiling in my studio and tried a few different types of lighting on it.
Above and below : Soft lighting using an anglepoise lamp
Using the torch on the iPhone
Beautifully dark lacy shadows, but jagged and a bit sinister too
Huge shadows which swamp the wall…would make a very dramatic installation if I had the right space for it
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.
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.
One of the wire drawings which made up my part of my fictitious map
First attempt at illuminating the wire using a small torch
Using the torch on an iphone…the shadows become much stronger
The shadows seem like they are engulfing the small space, blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality
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
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:
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. Although 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. Once they were all sprayed white, I reassembled the squares until I was happy with the layout. 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. 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. Mysterious Paths (15 10×10 panels with acrylic and found objects on MDF board 62cm x 62cm)
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
I collected some small peebles from the river’s edge in a bucket, and took them home to clean them. Once washed, I used the barbecue and an old set of bellows to speed up the drying process.I 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.A few hours later the mosaic was beginning to take shape. I stuck the stones down using PVA glue.
From this angle, the piece itself looks not unlike a road or track
The finished stonework…I preferred to spray the piece with a very thin coat of white to make it slightly more subtle and ghostlike.
The 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.