Pseudo-superstition, symbols and supernatural snapshots

This morning was lovely and sunny, so I decided to go to Birnam Wood to attempt to make some rubbings from the trees, rocks, and anything else of interest. Unfortunately, once I arrived at Birnam (which is about 5 miles from where I live), the temperature had dropped and the sun didn’t seem to be shining in the village. The trees in the wood were really wet, so my attempts at making rubbings were a complete waste of time. I did take a few photos of the Birnam Oak, which had an even larger pool of water around it then the last time I visited.



When looking into the pool, I began thinking about superstitions and sayings and that I could invent one about Birnam Wood and a flood…

“If Birnam Wood, e’re doth flood….

it won’t do man nor beast no good

the spirit will then change its mood

for forty days you’ll need a hood “

Just a nonsense rhyme, but probably not any worse some of these superstitious rhymes that already exist.

When I came home, I was playing around with the photos on my laptop, and I noticed when I rotated the “mirror image” photo of the Birnam Oak, a few unexpected “guests” appeared…


I say what I can only describe as a tree sprite down the centre of the image, with a grotesque beaked head near the bottom centre of the picture. I played around with a few filters to try to enhance the image, until I ended up with the result below.


I think this image looks really evil, and I noticed what looked like symbols drawn at the bottom of the page. Its amazing what you can find in a simple landscape shot when you learn to look in different ways.

I copied the symbols and enhanced them a bit using photoshop. They look like alchemical symbols, although the first one reminds me of the head of a wildcat with a figure standing above it, maybe it could represent a witch and her familiar.



I might try building these symbols from twigs and natural objects and perhaps hanging them in Birnam Wood.


To see the World in a grain of sand…

In William Blake’s paradoxical poem  Auguries of Innocence, his opening line is “To see the World in a grain of sand, and Heaven in a wild flower.” This line often comes to mind when I am out walking, and looking at the minute wonders around me, especially when I see maplike patterns almost everywhere. I don’t know if I have some kind of mapping radar, or maybe its just a bit of an obsession, but `I see them in tree trunks, on stones, in icy puddles, and even in river foam. micro16

These lichens found on a gravestone look like an aerial map with textured terrain resembling forests, mountains and desert. A very convincing micro-geography!


These look like a cluster of islands; from lush to volcanic and rocky

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Rock roads….street map striations and cartographic cracks


Tessellated trunks have a wealth of patterns if you take time to look…(below)


Rotten holes, broken bark, lichens and mosses make an interesting combination


Mottled bark looks like miniature islands


Ephemeral ice maps…melting landscape like the Arctic




This almost looks like a flipped map of the UK.


Even the parts of the tree that would be normally unseen have their own magical maps. A cross section through a large tree trunk shows some beautiful patterns.


Routes within roots…

20130821_203047I continue to look for these imaginary maps all around me, and have begun to collect the  in a scrapbook, saving them for a rainy day to make some creative cartography.

World Wide Web

I took some shots of amazing spiderwebs earlier on a walk around Scot’s Wood.

20141121_091750 I couldn’t help but wonder if spiders actually admire their own webs, or if they have secret competitions with each other, as they are just so amazingly beautiful…and that’s coming from someone who is terrified of them!20141121_091947 20141121_092254Wow…what a complicated route this little creature must have walked to create such an intricate movement map.
20141121_092706This one looks like a street map of a city, with a few large green belts/parks in the centre.

I wondered if anyone else had considered spiderwebs to be maps, and after a bit of Googling (Spider web artist) , I came across Nina Katchadourian, a contemporary artist who makes awesome maps amongst other things, and also enjoys repairing spiderwebs!


 Mended Spiderweb #19 (Laundry Line)


Her Mended Spiderweb series consisted of broken spiderwebs which she repaired meticulously using red sewing thread. Interestingly, the spiders  rejected the mended webs, choosing to do their own repairs instead, and throwing the threads down to the ground!  The repairs which were glued retained their shape, and were photographed at the site.

I think Nina’s web repairs are a stroke of genius, and wish I had thought of this. I still think that the webs look like maps though, so may explore other ways of showing the imaginary geographies which lie within them.

Observations from Stories of Art and The Neo Avant Garde

Having read Stories of Art  by James Elkins, and watched the Neo Avant Garde lecture, we were asked to note down some observations we have made and/or questions.

Stories of Art : Some thoughts…

So to sum up the book, Stories of Art, art history is thought of in predominantly Western terms, but over the years, there have been a few attempts to add in other non-Western chapters, and in our recent attempts to be “multicultural” and with the advent of the World Wide Web we are in a dilemma, because the world seems more connected, yet we would not have the time or the resources to teach a complete international history of art, or write it into one complete publication. So in the Western world, we consider the stories of art which are most relevant to our culture, and we are not about to change our habits it would seem.

The maps Elkins shows us at the beginning of the book fly in the face of conventional art history, almost making a mockery of what has gone before, inviting us to rethink art history in our own self-indulgent way. He makes the subject feel much more lighthearted, and gives us the green light  to focus on the parts that we want to or feel affect our practice the most.

It seems to me anyone’s map of at history would change over time, especially when studying, as personally at present I am discovering artists and important facts on a weekly basis.  It’s a bit like the ancient explorers discovering new lands, charting new territories, sailing into unknown waters. Those undiscovered remain unmapped, but with the world at the touch of a button, it is more likely that they will be discovered than they would have been twenty years or more ago.

Maps have changed over the ages; parts of the earth have been lost to the seas and natural disasters, landscapes have changed due to man’s intervention. In other words, the map of the earth has evolved over time, and will continue to do so forever, as will our own personal maps of the history of art.  Should you plot parts of your map which were once historically important to you, or should you draw a map of where your practice is at now? Is there a wrong or a right answer?

My Story of Art (as posted previously)


The Neo Avant Garde

Yves Klein, Niki de Saint- Phalle, Piero Manzoni, and John Latham… Selling out or not? Its a bit of a dilemma, creating art that is anti institution yet showing it in Galleries and Museums around the world. But if it was not in galleries or museums there was no internet in thsoe days, so maybe the art would not have had a wide enough audience. Also maybe the artist secretly was being subversive, appearing to have sold out to everything he stood against because he was trying to mock the establishment by being inside it and still making a statement, or maybe he was wanting to prick the conscience of a middle class audience that may not have otherwise seen his work.

My Story of Art

I decided to take Elkins up on his challenge, to create a map of my own story of art, in other words a history of art that is relevant and personal to me.  I liked the simplicity of the maps that Elkins had shown in his book, and the fact that they had a pictorial element, rather than just being diagrammatic. I wanted to create a map that was not only an accurate representation of how I view my own story of art, but also one that had an aesthetic quality to it. The design of the map needed to reflect my own work, which is slanted towards natural history, ecology and the environment. I had two ideas; firstly to make a tree because:

  • I live in the Big Tree County and I encounter many varieties of beautiful trees on a daily basis
  • trees symbolise ecology and the environment and they have inspired my work on countless occasions
  • trees can also symbolise growth, the growth of my knowledge or practice, from the roots up to the tree tops, with many branches which connect and then veer off into twigs

secondly, I thought of an octopus because;

  • I have always had a love and fascination for these creatures and other cephalopods
  • I love the sea and have concerns over its pollution levels
  • The octopus is a shape shifter, it can change its shape and appearance to suit certain situations, so it could be used as a metaphor for the changing shape of art history
  • The octopus has illustrative potential (like the tree) because of its head/body with tentacles attached, and smaller suction cups within the tentacles, where informations, artists name etc might be featured.

After pondering my choices, I decided that I would go for a tree on this occasion, as it would probably be a bit easier to use for mapping purposes due to shape and height. I started off at the roots of art history because I felt that I wanted to pay homage to the prehistoric cave painters and artists of the ancient civilisations. I did not include all the ancient civilisations, the 3 main ones: Egyptian, Greek and Roman were written in bold, with Norse, Celtic and Pictish also featuring, as I have an interest in Pagan Mythology, Druids etc. Mythology and Religion are mentioned above, as the ancient civilisations worshipped some weird and wonderful “Gods”, but religion also represents the Christian art which featured widely in Western Pre-Modern Art.  From Pre-Modern Art, I climbed up the tree to Modern Art and felt that I should mention Clement Greenburg .I then marked in the Neo-Avant-Garde, who can also be considered Modernist, although they don’t always fit the definition which Greenburg considered of being pure to one medium.


Further up the tree we meet Post-Modernism and Globalisation. I could have branched out from any of these previous movements, and did attempt to do so from Modern Art, leading to Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, post-Impressionism etc. I felt, however, that this looked a bit ugly aesthetically, and although all ” isms” were important in shaping art history, they don’t specifically relate to my work, so I kept them hidden under the mega periods of Pre-Modern, Modern and Post-Modern Art.

The first major branches I added to the tree were the socio-political impacts which influence much of the contemporary art today. To the left, I branched off with race, gender, sexuality, politics (with war branching off it)and consumerism. To the right, I branched off to Science and Environmental Art, which is relevant to my own interests and practice.From here I mapped smaller branches with categories of Bio Art, Kinetics and Robotics and Eco Art, mentioning some of the artists I can remember who work in these fields, namely Laura Gurton, Eduardo Kac and Liz Douglas (Bio Art), Michelle Lougee, Aurora Robson and Curious Collaboration (Eco Art).

In the centre of the tree branches I placed MY ART, with the idea of looking at media which I use and also artists who I recall who work in these various media. Above Science and Environmental art, I added the branch of LAND ART, as this is probably something which I will endeavour to try, as a site specific installation in a local wooded area.  Mentioned here were “veterans” of Land art : Dennis Oppenheim and Richard Long, with also more contemporary artists Charles Jencks (whose work I saw at Jupiter Artland),Cornelia Konrads, husband and wife team Martin Hill and Philippa Jones and last but certainly not least, Andy Goldsworthy.


Above LAND ART I added another major branch – INSTALLATION. Here I reeled off the names of some of (but not all!) my favourite installation artists:

  • Katja Loher
  • Mark Dion
  • Peter Gentenaar
  • Ernesto Neto  
  • Yayoi Kusama

In the centre of the trunk I wrote 3D & SCULPTURE, an area which I am also very interested in. Most of the artists which I included here could be classed as INSTALLATION OR 3D & SCULPTURE, so I felt that they had been well positioned on the map. These artists were;

  • Abraham Cruzvillegas
  • Anthony Gormley
  • Mark Quinn
  • David Kefford
  • Cedric le Borgne
  • Kaori Umeda

Now I was half way around the tree canopy, and I still had quite a few media to fit in. I  placed PRINTMAKING at -45degrees as it is one of my most regular media within my work. I listed a diverse range of sub-branches under PRINTMAKING :

  • Japanese Woodcuts
  • Thomas Bewick
  • Kaori Maki
  • Clare Nash
  • Sister Corita Kent (whose work I saw recently at the DCA)
  • Rauschenburg, and
  • Warhol


I could have probably devoted a whole tree to printmaking techniques, historical developments and other printmakers who I know of or who inspire me, but maybe thats a task for another day?!

Above PRINTMAKING I managed to squash PAINTING and above that DRAWING. Around drawing I named:

  • Russell Crotty
  • Elizabeth Couloigner ( I really love the drawings in her handmade artists books)
  • Jennifer Pastor, and
  • Ugo Rondinone

The latter two work their drawings into INSTALLATION or SCULPTURE, so again these two were placed between two categories which fit their description (almost!).

There was not a lot of room adjacent to PAINTING, which is actually such a huge area, and a medium which I do enjoy (but only when painting in abstract). I added Robert Ryman because I’m very fond of his white paintings and his minimalism and “whiteness” has inspired a great deal of my recent work. I had space for one other in between PAINTING and PRINTMAKING, and, glancing up at the living room wall I saw my answer…Vladimir Tretchikoff, an icon of kitsch and a regular on grandmothers’ walls  in decades past. I have a few of his original prints.. Miss Wong, Chinese Girl and Balinese Girl, taking pride of place with some very eclectic accessories in my small living room. Why? Well, because I find a certain comfort in his work, his ladies look very serene and content, they suit my colour scheme and fit in well with the retro feel to the room. And I love the nostalgia that goes with them.

Underneath PRINTMAKING, I fitted i the final branch of PHOTOGRAPHY & DIGITAL ART, with VIDEO heading towards MY ART . I didn’t really have any room to fit in notable artists, photographers or filmmakers, although I probably would have put Werner Herzog, Cindy Sherman in there given a few inches more, also a Scottish artist Ruth Ewan who makes witty but often disturbing photomontages. It was important for me to include AUGMENTED REALITY on my map, and the Internet; with regards to the latter, I don’t know how I ever managed without it! Augmented Reality is a fairly recent technological advancement which I am keen to try to incorporate into my work at some stage.

So here ends my map of my Story of Art. I hope you have enjoyed it. I’m guessing that not all the artists I have mentioned will be known to you, but they are mostly (contemporary) artists who I find very inspiring, and I would recommend anyone to take a few minutes to look them up.


I’m actually quite pleased with what I have achieved here…I think that my goal to produce an aesthetically pleasing map has worked, and I think anyone would recognise that it is a tree, which will hopefully give them the idea at a quick glance that my work is based on natural history. I also feel happy with the content, which I suppose was the main reason to the exercise. I think I managed to include all the artists who I feel are important to me at the moment, but I’m sure by next week there will be a few more to add to the list….

Now there’s a thought…maybe i should have written the names on paper leaves, which can be stuck on and removed when I feel the need. Those out of favour, could be stuck down at the base of the tree, as if they’ve fallen from grace!

Trees with plugs

I had this idea, just sort of imagined doing an installation in woodland using plugs fixed onto tree trunks as if they were tapping into some kind of natural energy. More than often, when I get an idea, I usually find out that someone has already had the same idea, so as usual I googled (trees with plugs) to see if anyone had already thought of this.  Great…no pics of plugs into trees, but I did find this article, which makes my idea almost a reality!

Sacred seeds

I’ve been collecting a lot of seeds/fruits of nature lately and am amazed and curious as to why nature protects some species much more carefully than others?…Take the Horse Chestnut for instance…The conkers are encased in very hard shells covered with nasty little spikes, and as if that’s not protective enough, they’re hung high up on their trees, not within easy reach of picking. It’s almost as if they instinctively know that come Autumn, children (or adults, in my case!) will be pillaging their branches for these precious gems.


I found some extremely fruitful trees at Balnaguard, but they were adjacent to the narrow windy road, so I couldn’t park for long to collect these treasures. I had better luck a few weeks later near my parents’ house at Walnut Grove, just outside Perth, where the conkers had all dropped to the ground, littering the quiet suburban road, allowing me to gather as many as I could carry.


About a week later, I chanced upon a pile of branches at the side of the road near Aberfeldy. I pulled over to take a closer look and noticed that these were Sweet Chestnut, complete with the fruits attached. These are even more spiky, and I was well wounded by the time I had gathered a small stash of them!



These are examples of nature’s armour, prepared to defend itself against human and animal foes, and doing a pretty effective job!
Some ideas…
  • Could I make a kind of suit of armour using some of these natural materials? Or perhaps one that replicates them on a larger scale?
  • On the other hand, should I perhaps be consider making a layer of protection for myself against the more jagged side of nature?
  • Could I make an alternative shell to encase these fruits and protect them?
  • Why are they being protected?…So that they can scatter and grow into trees, keeping their species in existence for many years to come.
  • Could I help by finding a method to sow the seeds, by use of a device I might make, or by audience participation?
  • Could I elevate their status by displaying them as baubles, as if they were decorating a Christmas tree, but perhaps finding multiple species of seed pods and hanging them (by invisible thread) from one unrelated tree where they can be seen in public and examined more closely by the public? Perhaps I could invite them to take a “gift” and plant it somewhere safely?
  • Could I make pinatas filled with seeds which the participants might whack to scatter the seeds randomly?