The third piece of work in this 'summer' series is titled 'Hortus Domesticus" (Domestic Garden). It continues in a similar manner to Mr Treen's Botany Book. The content is once again inspired from observations in my garden. the work is partially bound - each signature consists of two pages of drawings or text which is inserted between pressed plant specimens. These fifteen signatures are wrapped in a vellum-like paper cover. The completed work is then contained within a dark ivy- clad box.
The restrictions of the summer have highlighted the importance of our domestic surroundings, and the role nature plays in maintaining our well being. while it has had its difficult moments, shielding has created an opportunity to explore what Robert McFarlane describes as 'the undiscovered country of the nearby". It has provided an opportunity to focus closely on the same small area over a period of time, thereby revealing details often by-passed for more distant horizons.
The plant specimens vary and are a mixture of commonly found weeds which seed themselves everywhere. Taking time to look at their structures shapes and textures reveals intricate root systems and finely threaded veins. As well as plants, an array of insect and animal life has visited the garden. Sadly not many small birds but I think this is in part due to the abundance of magpies - at times I have counted seven or eight all jostling for position in the neighbouring conifer. I observe a strict hierarchy within the conifer - crows dominate the top branches, under them the magpies cackle, while pigeons skulk in the lower branches.
As the flowers fade, and butterflies disappear we move into what Keats calls "The season of mist and mellow fruitfulness". Berries replace fruits and the garden is taken over by golden orb spiders constantly spinning fine webs across the the space. Perhaps this is the beginning of another book?
This wonderful book cover was found inside a set of very old encyclopaedias I bought. several years ago. I have been waiting to do something creative with it and this summer provided the opportunity to finally make use of it. I had initially thought about drawing on the cover but remained hesitant about changing its charm and character. I finally settled on retaining the original cover but making a new insert.
My attempts to find out about Mr Treen have been difficult - he remains elusive. The closest link was to a head gardener in Liverpool called William Treen. while the time line was accurate, there was not enough information to confirm if the two gentleman were related.
It is fascinating to think this simple brown cover has survived for over a hundred and fifty years. By way of an introduction I began with an imaginative letter addressed to Mr Treen inquiring about plans he may have held for the start of the a new year in 1878. Taking my cue from his title - Botany Book, I have created a new insert. The internal pages comprise of a mixture of drawings and plant specimens gathered from my own garden during the period of national lockdown March - June 2020.
While tidying the garden, I am constantly pulling up unwanted seedlings either weeds or various self sown plants 'growing in the wrong place'. Having noticed their delicate root systems, I started to remove them more carefully. Close inspection reveals the beauty of their structures. Therefore rather than discard them, I decided to preserve them. I appreciate there is nothing new in this - plant collecting has a long well documented history. However, it set me wondering about how and why others had felt the compulsion to gather pressed flowers.
My own purpose for saving specimens was initiated by aesthetics and curiosity. When examined closely each plant becomes a 'miracle of nature'. I found a new respect for these 'everyday' plants in their ability to grow in the most barren places for example in the cracks between concrete paving slabs.
Approaching the experience of being in lockdown with a mindset of opportunity rather than restriction has sparked several ideas for new work. The first "Herbarium' brings together inspiration gained from a visit to The Old Operating Theatre, and Herb Garrett at St.Thomas Hospital, London earlier in the year.
Having learnt John Keats once worked at St Thomas Hospital, and was a qualified apothecary, I wanted to make a piece of work which celebrates the connection between nature and healing. Keats made a decision to give up surgical training to concentrate fully on writing and poetry. He turned away from what must have been a brutal profession in the early 1800's, to find solace, and meaning in the natural world. His poems explore themes of life, death and transience.
I feel this idea of looking for something more meaningful resonates with our currently situation - with national lockdowns and self isolation due to Covid -19. Being confined to our homes has provoked many to reflect on the benefits we gain from nature, and to question what is really important in our lives.
'Herbarium" pays homage to Keats. It consists of two unique books contained in a paper cover. The first book uses a Concertina structure. One side of the book depicts the outline of various shaped apothecary jars. Each of the eight bottles contain fragments from 'Ode to A Nightingale. While the reverse of the book is filled with with silhouettes of 'Love-in-a-Mist'.
The second book comprises 15 unbound pages. They are taken from a one hundred year old edition of Palgraves Golden Treasury. Pressed pants found in my garden during Lockdown have been placed alongside Keats poems. Attached using beeswax, this has the added bonus of making the paper translucent Text form the reverse page seeps through giving the impression of several voices on one page. It is akin to a process of becoming, or of uncertainty, echoing the sentiment that life is transient - sometimes we can only partially glimpse meaning.
This work is one of several responses to the visit by the group Bookscapes. Others members of Bookscapes work can be seen here.
I am also part of Bookscapes Collective.
Bookscapes is a group of six artists that have developed a group practice specialising in site specific interventions and exhibitions.