Sunday, April 04, 2010

Totem for Spring

Totem for Spring, originally uploaded by escher....

We went back to Middlewood in Roeburndale today (not Bottom Wood or Top Wood
but the one in the middle, obviously) for the first time since mid autumn. The wood
drops deeply into a gorge cut by the river and with the trees still without leaf, we could see right through the dense woodland to the other side.

We visited for the first time late last summer and so we hadn't seen the trees without leaves and the atmosphere was very different. But like a coiled spring the new season is champing at the bit to get growing, and the first signs of it were thinly carpeting the forest floor.

New buds adorned the branches and small green shoots of forest floor plants were starting to peep through the leaf litter. As we approached the river we could see the rich green of wild garlic covering the opposite bank.

Wild garlic is one of the first things to grow in spring and whilst the canopy is skeletal they take full advantage, quickly covering every space and filling the air with its distinctive, pungent aroma.

For a few years I have wanted to make something with fresh and new garlic leaves but hadn't gotten around to it. But today should be the day. I crossed the river, carefully as it was slippery and also because falling in is embarrassing when someone is watching, to collect garlic leaves as they were very few on this side.

I made a ball of mud and planned to cover it with the leaves. They have a gentle curve and I thought they lent themselves well to make a sphere. But in order to take advantage of the curved shape the ball would need to be quite large, unfortunately, though, once a mud ball gets over a certain size it begins to sag and become misshapen. I would need to think of something else. I tried sticking brown leaves to the ball but that just seemed to be doing something for the sake of it.

The whole plan of what I wanted to depict was the beginning of spring and how the very first shoots of green were just coming and I wanted to mark the day, and the beginning of the season with a sculpture that connected with these new signs of life.

My train of thought had left the station and on its way it showed me some aspects of the cycle of life. Just under the leaf litter the earth is black where the leaves had broken down into a rich soil. It was this that those new plants were feasting on as they strained upwards towards the sun. The fallen leaves of past autumns had decayed to become the food for new life. So the three materials I had looked at already: fresh, green wild garlic leaves; brown, dessicated beech leaves and the dark, dank mud of decayed leaves seemed to me to be all connected. All stages in the cycle of life as one thing thrives and dies and becomes sustenance for the next.

So I thought I would make something that brought these three things together to mark the start of spring.

I went looking for a flat rock and found the stone that I made the Wych Elm Leaf Colour sculpture on, and despite it being a really good slab of rock it would be apt in more ways too.

That autumn sculpture was all about the end of the deciduous cycle and how the leaves fade and decay and return back to the earth. I made it the last time I was at Middlewood and so now I would show the energy coming from those decayed leaves and the start of spring. The two sculptures, even though they are many months apart are intimately connected, both physically and in concept. Just like autumn and spring in reality are.

I erected the slab upright, with a little bit of a struggle (It's about four foot high) and set about smearing it with mud from the woodland floor. I chose deeper earth that isn't as dark and then placed the fresh garlic leaves at the top, last autumn's beech leaves in the middle and finally a black, bracken root at the bottom. I sealed them all in with the darkest earth I could find, which was in a very thin layer between the decaying leaves and the lighter soil beneath. The richest, darkest soli, that which the garlic was feeding upon.

I decided to resuse my Leaf Lightning design as it occurred to me that it alluded to the fading autumn leaves returning to the earth (although I hadn't considered that symbolism at the time I made it) and now the flow of energy in this symbol will be in reverse as the root draws energy from the dark earth to create new life, seeking sustanence from the sun.

Just as each season leads to the next, the end of one cycle signals the beginning of another. Life and death are intimately connected.

My two last trips to Middlewood and the sculptures I made are intricately intertwined just as we and all life are intertwined with all the processes of mother nature.

I didn't go out with these concepts in my head, nor with any plan of depicting them. I feel sometimes that if you have to explain the concept then maybe you are missing the point. But, today, these are the things that I discovered and thought about as I worked. And I am grateful that I am given the opportunities to uncover these wonders.

I am always saying that land art is about the doing. By making sculptures the door is left ajar so that one may see more clearly into the wonder of nature, her cycles and processes. You are presented with an opporunity to discover how we fit and sit within those cycles and processes, how they change us and make us what we are.

Through this I am able to foster a closer relationship with Mother nature and with myself.

No comments: