Jelly babies

I found some interesting species of jelly fungi in the wood yesterday, so I picked a few specimens to take away and draw in my studio. The first that I came across was Exidia Glandulosa otherwise known as Black Brain Fungus. It was growing on a branch of a beech tree, and was in reach, so I gently picked off a few pieces. IMG_8930Exidia Glandulosa or Black Brain Fungus

I find these jelly fungi really intriguing – on the one hand they are repulsive, brain-like, as if from another planet, but at the same time I think they are amazing and I am really excited when I find them.

IMG_9227I decided to make a study of this one, as it looked really strange…I also used a magnifying glass to try to get as many details in as possible.



Neobulgaria pura var. foliacea Beech Jelly Fungus 


 The same beech jelly fungus in a more shrivelled up state the next day


Auricula Judae or Jew’s Ear Fungus


Another Jew’s ear, but a bit less like an ear than the sample above


I have kept some of the samples that I collected, as apparently they dry out, and can be revived again when moist. I’m going to experiment with this to see if I can revive them so that they also might be used in a cloche as part of my installation.



Cultivating Oysters

Birnam Wood is ripe with fungi most times of the year, and i never cease to be amazed at all the different varieties growing there. Within the space of 48 hours, fungi can appear, then dry up, with only a few small traces of it ever existing. Some of the most impressive fungi was the Common Oyster, Pleurotus Ostreatus, which I found growing on a large log  just inside the entrance to the wood. This particular log has been host to a wide variety of fungi, and its occupants seem to change on a daily basis. For my show, I want to  try to bring some of the species growing in the wood into the gallery, so I managed to source an Oyster Mushroom growing kit online.


I soaked a bag overnight (which was filled with recycled coffee grounds and compost) and left it for a few days. The surface of the compost started to become very white, and small textured bobbles and stumps started to appear after a few days. IMG_7374

After a couple of days of being soaked, small white bobbles appeared on the surface
IMG_7791Tiny baby “oysters” started to form


Within hours, the babies grew into much larger mushrooms, just like the ones I had seen in Birnam Wood


IMG_7874 1

I was so amazed that these mushrooms were actually growing in my kitchen! Although edible, I really didn’t fancy trying them, so I kept them there for a couple of weeks and then I harvested them. I laid them on a plate to dry, in hope that I might be able to use the dried mushrooms for something too.

The kit is able to grow a second batch too, so I soaked it again, and this time I have cut the grow bag down so that it fits under a glass cloche, as I want to see how the mushrooms look when pressed against glass.





I need to find or make a suitable base for the cloche, but just wanted to try this out to see how it would look. I really hope the mushrooms grow, despite being taken out of their dark cardboard box and their grow bag. I have covered the cloche with a tea towel to darken their environment a little, so hopefully that might help.

If they continue to grow, and the experiment works, I will buy another kit and try this out for  part of an installation in my show. If this works I think it will be an interesting exhibit, especially if it appears that the mushrooms are pressed against the glass, trying to escape. I might even see if I could form a small hole in the glass and allow them to burst out, leaving the broken glass beside the cloche on a bench.


Through the Looking Glass

Over the past year, a common theme has been emerging within my work, which I have become increasingly aware of, especially over the last couple of months. The common denominator – glass….gazing at nature through glass, be it a type of lens (camera, microscope, microscopic video, iPhone, sunglasses), a glass petri dish, a glass cloche or a computer or phone screen.

This has been a helpful realisation in the context of my research, as it has helped me to narrow down my field of enquiry into Romantic and Neo-Romantic art (which is a potentially HUGE area) much more easily.

I feel that my work has rotated 360degrees – having dabbled with video projection in the Frame Form and Fracture project in first year of the course I have arrived back at it, this time with a more solid context and a sense of direction which I lacked back then.

Throughout the Romantic and Neo-Romantic eras, evidence can be found of artists looking at the landscape through glass in an attempt to capture the picturesque or sublime vision of their surroundings. I recently purchased a very interesting book ;’The Claude Glass. Use and Meaning of the Black Mirror in Western Art’ by Arnaud Maillet, which is a fascinating gem of a book, containing very interesting and informative information about Claude mirrors also known as Claude glasses ; devices used by 18th and 19th century artists to create an effect similar to the paintings of Claude Lorraine.


The mirror was generally a small, black convex piece of glass which altered the tonal values in the landscape, its shape giving a slightly distorted view which nevertheless allowed more of the landscape into a single focal point. Some Claude Glasses were made of glass with coloured tints such as blue or grey, which could give the illusion of a moonlit evening, sometimes multicoloured tints, to give a kind of filtered effect, allowing the viewer to see a “luminous” landscape.


An instagram picture I took in Birnam Wood – notice how the filter blurs the edges and brings the central point into focus, whilst also giving a soft, warm light – effects which were achieved by using a Claude Glass in the 18th and 19th centuries.  

 I suppose it could be considered as an equivalent to an image adjusting app which we might use on our smartphone today, such as instagram or Hipstamatic, so if you think about it in that context, it was a really clever little avante-garde invention. It also bears a curious resemblance to the obsidian scrying mirror of Dr John Dee, which I mentioned in this blog a few months ago.

In 2006, artist Alex McKay and historian CS Matheson created a claude mirror installation by placing a webcam opposite a 40-inch Claude mirror that was reflecting the Tintern Abbey. The streaming/IP service was interrupted in November 2007, but the camera went back online in May 2008. Unfortunately the webcam is offline now, but the gallery of pictures captured by the camera at different times of day and in different lighting situations really shows off the qualities of the mirror and the fact that, in many cases, the glass really does make a scene look like it’s had an Instagram filter applied. You can see more about this project here:

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 21.15.55

A view of Tintern Abbey through the Claude mirror

I recently ordered an antique convex clock glass, which I hope to use to make my own Claude Glass. I want to see how it changes my perception of Birnam Wood and also try to make some photographs of the reflections within it. I will post my making of it and images when my glass arrives.

Are you ready for this jelly?

I came across a few blobs of what appeared to be clear jelly growing on an unidentified fallen log in an open area within Birnam Wood a few weeks ago. I assumed that they were some kind of fungus, so I took a sample home with me to see what might happen if I grew it in the lab.



I later found out it is Exidia nucleata or crystal brain fungus, a translucent/opaque jelly cell-like formation, which is quite tough and rubberyI took it into the lab last week, and as it was quite hard, I held it with a pair of tweezers and rubbed it around on the agar jelly, before sealing it up to incubate.


I decided to try a new approach in photographing the growth; instead of taking the picture in the lab, or at the window, I went into the wood near to where I had found the specimen, wedged the petri dish between a small branch and tree trunk, and photographed the result with a bit of light behind it.


I cropped and sharpened the image and altered the brightness and contrast to give the result below.


I’m really excited by this result, and feel it is a great way of photographing the hidden aspects of a particular part of the landscape. I used the same approach in photographing another less vigorous result which I had grown this week also, again from a jelly like fungus, Tremella Mesenterica or Yellow Brain Fungus.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 23.10.54

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 23.33.38

Above :Tremella Mesenterica or Yellow Brain Fungus.

I really love the photo of the first growth that I took, as it is more abstract and less obvious. I want to experiment more with this approach and need to get back into the lab as soon as it is free so that I can cultivate some more growths.

Romanticism, re-enchantment and retail therapy

Having a real interest in landscape, nature, folklore and mythology are great, however when it comes to narrowing down what I wanted to do for my MA I was finding that I had lost direction a bit, and had began to focus too much on the “magic and art” thread, and in doing so had lost my real passion which was in nature and the landscape around me.  A tutorial with Michele Whiting really helped me get back into the swing of what I felt was where I should be going with my final project, by bringing landscape back into it, and advising me to look at a number of books and artists, such as Mark Dion, Tania Kovats, Caspar David Friedrich and the writing of Simon Schama and Goethe amongst others.


A Walk at Dusk By Caspar David Friedrich (Getty Museum).

I had already been reading a book called The Dark Monarch which was a catalogue for an exhibition which was held in 2009 at Tate St. Ives, and the mention of Friedrich got me thinking about the 20th century artists who were inspired by him and other Romantics such as William Blake and Samuel Palmer.  Artists such as Paul Nash, Eric Ravillious, Graeme Sutherland and others who were known as the Neo-Romantics.

RAV33031 The Long Man of Wilmington or, The Wilmington Giant, 1939 (w/c on paper) by Ravilious, Eric (1903-42); 44.2x54.5 cm; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; English,  it is possible that some works by this artist may be protected by third party rights in some territories possible copyright restrictions apply, consult national copyright laws

The Long Man of Wilmington or The Wilmington Giant Eric Ravilious. Ravillious is an artist whose work really epitomises the beauty and mysticism of the British Landscape, choosing charming and alluring subject matter

These words by Michael Bracewell, from a chapter in The Dark Monarch really sums up what I am trying to show in my work:

“The Neo-Romantic sensibility is at one with the lowering sky and the unnaturally protracted sunset…it admits to the presences of magic as live spirits contained within nature, or as psychic vapour, colouring those hidden places just re-discovered.” (2009:15)

I took deliver of a really useful book which I ordered on Amazon last week called This Enchanted Isle by Peter Woodcock, which gives loads of information about the British Neo-Romantics, so I have begun getting stuck into it and find it easy to read, yet very informative.


I have also ordered The Spirit Of Place. Nine Neo-Romantic artists and Their Times by Malcolm Yorke, so if it’s in the same league as This Enchanted Isle I will be delighted.


Although I share the Neo-Romantic idea of portraying the genius loci (or spirit of place) of the landscape, my own interest in the landscape is more with the micro than the macro, so I have been considering the hidden, unseen, overlooked and unnoticed details and specimens and how I can present nature’s own works of art as exhibits. Having also been doing experiments in the lab and using scientific equipment has led me to consider the wunderkammern or cabinets of curiousity of the 17th century. I couldn’t resist buying a few books about these to feast my eyes upon!


Above and below: These two gorgeous books arrived on Friday with loads of weird and wonderful displays inside


These books have inspired me to make my own Cabinet of Curiousity to capture the genius loci of Birnam Wood. I’m thinking that this may feature as show case for all of my work and research throughout the final project, including specimens, photos and sketchbooks. Designing such a cabinet would also let me take into account some of the sensory elements that I want to include in my show, for example sound and smell, as these could be concealed within.

SILK seminar – Exploring Cultural Values and the potential for a more-than -usual-approach in landscape management

Last Friday I attend ended a seminar by Amy Woolvin, a research assistant at the Centre for Mountain studies at Perth College UHI.  Amy’s PhD research explored the multiple ways that people value landscapes using walking interviews, arts-based methods and key-informant interviews (with local and national landscape managers) . Within minutes of her talk, she had revealed some beautiful paintings that she had completed on location in her two sites of study, Assynt and Applecross. Although she is a geographer, she is also accomplished painter, and her paintings had a real charm to them with appealing use of colour, composition and the way she captured the light in the landscape. I found it interesting that she tries to capture her experience in the landscape through the medium of painting, just as the Romantics and Neo-Romantics had done, giving the paintings a more textural and descriptive feel to them, paying attention to the overlooked details, the way that the wind affected the heather or trees.  She is not just merely painting a pretty picture or an obvious scene but instead opting to capture locations off the beaten track in the middle of nowhere, giving me the feeling that I wanted to walk through the canvas and place myself in these wild surroundings. She mentioned how through art we are able to capture the memory of a particularly walk or time in the landscape, whether through drawn, painting, photography or collecting souvenirs. The landscape is constantly evolving with the changes in weather and growth/decay – the only constants are day and night.

amyholden-paintingMuch of what she said resounded with my interests, for instance how we consider landscape, do we look at the micro or the macro. Where do we look when we go for a walk? Straight ahead at eye level, or do we look down at the details or the ground under our feet? Are we gazing at the landscape as spectators, or are we embodied within it, experiencing the smell, sounds and the haptic sensory experience of walking or moving through the terrain? We also need to take into account our emotional response to the landscape. Does it hold particular memories, or trigger emotions as we make a new discovery or see a familiar sight?  Is there more of an interconnected way of seeing landscape, by joining up the elements such as land as sea or land and sky?

Amy’s work investigated some of the productivity aspects of landscape and whether old practices such as crofting should be revived, or perhaps landscape needs to be rethought and new sustainable ways of using it such as bee-keeping and hydro schemes might be considered.  She worked with people from the two communities and went on walking interviews with them, used artspace methods to encourage them to use their creativity to express their relationship to the landscape around them, and she ask conducted key informant interviews with stakeholders such as landowners, councils and the local landscape partnership schemes.

Another interesting aspect which came out of her research was that the locals felt like a second wave of “highland clearances” was taking place, where people weren’t allowed to use their land due to very strict conservation issues, which seem perhaps to be counterproductive in some ways.

I managed to have a quick chat with Amy after the seminar, and have since spoken with her via email. I’m hoping that sometime in the near future (after my MA is completed) we might be able to do a collaborative research project or exhibition together concerning landscape. I’m very pleased to have made her acquaintance and found her work very interesting.

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.