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Unity of Time, work made using the materials of the Outwoods

Looking to the future and the past while being firmly rooted in the present. Working with natural materials from the wood as part of my residency. I spent a day with poet Tonia, talking about my work and ideas, she puts beautifully into words what I hope to convey visually.

Unity of Time

Janus-like he spans the forest
Looking back
Knowing, gnarled
And bounding to the future
To new reality
Eyes open, hopeful
Rooted yet free.
At the core
Hazel twists her magic
Almost touching,
Almost linking
What is past and what may be.
Under this loop,
Sinuous and fragile
Is now, the moment
When everything exists
That ever was.
In the dappled heart of Albion
Janus-like he spans the forest
The Unity of Time.

Tonia Sorrell

Unity of Time has been an ongoing idea I have been working on for several years. Having explored the idea through both paperpulp and clay it was great to be able to create a large scale piece at our Sculpture week in the Outwoods last year. The one last year had only one arch, so to have the time to work on this one has helped develop the idea further. Time spent in residence meant I could find the perfect site to start building.

Using the first day as a skill-share in working with natural materials, a group of us collected interesting looking branches and twigs from around the woods. We found decaying rotting wood to use to symbolise looking to the past. There were lichen covered branches from a beech tree that had recently fallen and been cut into logs by the rangers. These were various sizes and along with willow I had already and twisted hazel we had a fine array of materials on hand. We mapped out the ‘serpent’ and with a skeleton in place could start working on the form.

Tying on with string created a surprisingly strong structure and worked well for the 6 week trail. I would like to learn more permanent joining techniques using only natural materials….a project for the future. Using twisted hazel I made the first head, looking to the future. We put hazard tape up to stop people exploring before the piece was finished. I had a continuous stream of visitors on the main path stop and watch and ask questions. It was good to be able to have this interaction, talk to people about the Sculpture Trail and get feedback. Everyone was very positive, and enjoyed watching the work progress over the week.

Transforming as the woods around filled out with green. I was very happy with how it turned out, and taking away the hazard tape and clearing away the leftover branches visitors were at last allowed to walk between the arches.

It was sad to take the whole piece down at the end of the trail. I wanted the materials from the wood to remain there as a shadow. I created a wall of branches, more hidden around the edge of the original site. It was good to leave this to decay back into the Earth, becoming part of the cycle of decay and renewal as new ecosystems inhabit the remains.

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Aspire- rooted on the earth, reaching for the stars

Creating work in the Outwoods during my time as Artist in residence..

Joined the rangers and volunteers at the Beacon Country Park in February to harvest some willow. Planted a few years ago the different varieties of willow had become overgrown, and the plan was to cut it back, then harvest more usable willow every year. I didn’t have any particular plans for the willow, but seeing the size of the willow I thought they would be perfect to make large scale spires.

I made a wedding arch last year and had the use of a tripod ladder. Knowing that it would be invaluable for the Outwoods I now have one of my own and despite hating working at height I have felt very safe and happy up there. It has 3 adjustable legs, so perfect for the outwoods.

With lots of help from Tony we worked as a team to get the initial structure in place. Compared to the smaller ones I had made it was quite an undertaking, but we got there in the end, making 3 tall spires to compliment the 4 smaller ones I had made at home.

Having spent time walking round the woods I chose an area behind the charcoal burner to site this work. There was a clearing that seemed perfect for spires that symbolically connected the earth to the sky. The scale of the site dwarfed even the biggest spire, and in the end the smaller ones worked much better neared the path.

To start with the clearing seemed a bit of a wasteland with piles of decaying logs, and I liked the way the spires grew out of this, reaching for the stars. This made it even more special when the whole area became covered with bluebells, followed by a sea of pink, then foxgloves before the bracken took hold.

When I first started on these I imagined them being viewed from a distance, but the path we made when we built them led people to and around the spires, opening up an area that would have remained unnoticed as people walked past the charcoal burner. Although I had a vision when I first thought about siting this piece, it took on a life of its own with the changing landscape, becoming an integral part of the space while it was there.

I wasn’t sure I would be able to take the work away without dismantling the bigger spires, but with help managed to carry them out of the woods.

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Into the outwoods residency…..day 6

19th March. After working in quiet areas off the main routes I started working in an area that will be part of the Sculpture Trail. It was important to have that quiet thinking time to become more in tune with the rhythms of the woods. I started looking to see what materials I could use, and all around was a covering of fine twigs. As I collected them they seemed a perfect material to see what was possible. Initially I wanted to make a circle or nest, but I found that I could hang the ‘rope’ of twigs from a branch, leading me to follow the contours of the moss covered tree.

There was a variety of colours in the oak leaves on the ground, some were particularly pale, and I used these to contrast with the dark twigs.

It was tricky to suspend the twigs without the whole strand falling apart, but it was possible. I liked the circle of leaves, and the way there are lots of different possibilities as I photographed the work.

Joining the strands into circles and then a sphere, this worked well small, but became more unmanageable as I tried to to make anything bigger. It would be good to use natural materials from the wood to make work that echoes the willow work that I will exhibit on the Trail, ephemeral pieces to exist for a short time alongside the more permanent exhibits.

Balancing on the fine branches of the beech, and eventually joining to what I had made earlier. This whole piece lasted far longer than I thought it would in a very busy part of the woods.

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Into the Outwoods Residency….Day 5

11th March…today my starting point was the fragments of decaying tree trunk, fragments marking the timescale of a long forgotten tree.

In the past I made this piece ‘Out of Time’ . On the clock faces were the words “Make Time, Save Time, While Time Lasts, All Time is no Time, When Time is Past’ These words I saw on a sun dial at Staunton Country Park in Havent near Southampton while I was doing an Artist Residency there.

Out of Time

Circles become ripples of time….the marking of the lifetime of a tree……I found an area of pine cones and in a meditative state created circle after circle. each one taking longer with increasing perspectives on the woodland around me. Creating order out of chaos but aware that in time all will be returned to as it was. I hope to be able to repeat this during the 6 weeks of the trail, maybe reordering and adding circles over time.

Putting white oak leaves in the fragile tree stump to give a sense of returning back to the earth…of the blurring of boundaries between inner and outer, of what was and what will be. As I work I have many thoughts and ideas, many of them beyond my words.

A line marked on the ground with a stick……I liked it, but is it imposing too much of human activity on nature? I don’t know why but it felt more like that then rearranging in other ways, maybe because it is very much like writing…….I don’t really know.

I painted this several years ago, and walking in the woods I had seen a dead tree to make a willow one round. I had planned to do that as part of my residency. Walking today it wasn’t there, only a hole in the ground……do I leave that idea on hold, or find another place to make it?

Making circles on the ground on a steep path, echoing and thinking about what I had planned to make, as well as echoing the space where a tree had once stood tall.

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Into the Outwoods residency…Day 4

March 8th..Walking into the woods without a clear idea of what I was going to make, but open to ideas. After the wind there were a lot of fallen branches and twigs, many of them had been turned a beautiful green by lichen. The vivid green caught my eye, and that became my starting point. Back to where I had been working before, and I started on a larger clock without hands…time un-fragmented, allowing stillness to descend, everything that wasn’t in the woods forgotten.

I like the way ‘time’ emerges from the forest floor, a little bit of order, something is maybe lost when it is complete, but also something is gained….and with time it will all be returned to nature, no trace left.

Found some burned wood from the remains of a small fire close by, I like the idea of using these charred remains, but it seemed the time wasn’t right for this idea, but something to work on in the future.

Far more interesting were the rotten pieces of wood, with their fragmenting texture, and a huge variety of colours. I was surprised by just how different the colours were when placed together…a reminder of each trees different history leading to this point.

Finding lots of thin twigs that are symbolically like roots, a very different texture. I’d like to do more with them.

On an earlier walk in the woods I found a deflated helium ballon, a gold star. I am collecting things I find, but also getting ideas from them. I had some ideas of ways to use stars as part of the Sculpture trail, again another thing that doesn’t feel right to develop just at the moment. I cut out a green star from a rhododendron leaf, it was too green, too un-natural just as their trees are in this mostly native woodland.

Pieces of rhododendron leaf made into a circle, an interesting material, but just not in these woods, I cut out circles, again interesting……

Sawdust from cutting branches, cut leaves on a beautiful piece of bark. I had a real sense of wanting to only use the materials of the Outwoods, with as little change being made by me as possible. I will be making work for the trail using willow, but I will continue making ephemeral work and hopefully some pieces that will last longer that become part of the Sculpture Trail.

Walking in the woods and becoming increasingly aware of the tree roots, how they really are holding the Earth together, of just how important woodlands are.

I found a mossy, hollowed out tree stump, the remains of a tree, fragile now, and not long before it becomes earth again. Made me realise how the woods are continually changing, how different it would have been 10, 20 or 50 years ago……

I had to leave the woods as I was meeting friends to watch DVDs of ceramic artists. Lee Kang-Hyo is an onggi master, a creator of huge storage containers….making and glazing them was a very powerful process, a meditative ritual and incredible to watch.

I certainly had a lot to think about…….

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into the outwoods residency… Day 3

4th March. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make, but was drawn to this piece of wood to use as a starting point. I brushed away the pine needles and leaves. It was surrounded by fallen oak leaves, and that seemed the right material to start with, again I worked with lines before moving on to circles. It was a windy day so this was a very temporary piece as it was changed by the wind, until no traces of order remained.

I found a stone close by to use for my circle of oak leaves. I had to clear away some brambles that were getting in the way. I used the cut stalks on the leaves, randomly at first, then they became a clockface with out hands. I didn’t plan that initially, but I have made clocks without hands in the past. I like the way ideas come full circle.

I brushed away the leaves and started a clock face with just bramble stalks… started thinking about time, about the cycles of the seasons, time in the woods becomes timeless compared to time being fragmented by minutes….it is very meditative working in this way.

‘Ephemeral art Bramble marks passing seasons Oak stands eternal’ Written by Tonia, who I will be meeting at the end of March to think about ways we can work together.

Back to my infinity tree with new ideas, I could use the holly twigs that I had cut the leaves from, and cut more to use. It was less fiddly and prickly than the bramble, but needed more balancing on the uneven surface. Thought more about time, how the decaying tree trunks are like cogs in the wheel of time.

I spent some time walking, looking and writing in my sketchbook. Thinking about making big sculptural cogs, starting as a series of arches to possibly be able to walk under. I made a couple of small ephemeral pieces while I had all these thoughts in my mind, using what was on the forest floor.

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Into the outwoods residency… day 2

26th Feb. The hottest February day on record at over 20 degrees. I enjoyed the warmth despite grave concerns about climate change. I found an old hollow tree stump and lots of dead wood. The dead wood became like new shoots growing from the bones of the old. I placed them next to a moss covered stump…..the remains of a tree that was barely recognisable. Adding more they become like a row of standing stones, a row of fragments.

As I worked the tree remains became became a circle, an echo of the tree that was, the 2 circles becoming like the infinity sign, the continuous cycle of decay and renewal. Half still rooted in the earth, the other half became like a sacred space to enter and feel at peace.

I didn’t notice the single holly leaf in the circle until I photographed the circle. The piece itself, with the meditative quality of making in the woods is separate to that different way of looking to take a photograph. Photography can add to the piece and is essential but it is a separate activity.

A holly tree had been cut down nearby, and I could use the leaves to create another circle. Cutting leaves off and letting them fall into the circle became a meditative process. The materials I found close by determined the direction of the work. The green added a new dimension and I like the ambiguity that is starting to develop.

Beautiful piece of wood…..found a charred branch from the ashes of a small fire, I’ve seen other charred remains around the woods and they may be a good material to work with.

I saw a moss covered log looking almost like a discarded water trough, I cleared away the fallen leaves…….noticed pine cones all around and used them to echo the forms of eroding tree trunks, there is beauty in the cycle of decay and renewal. Like the holly added green I added green to this one with pine needles, echoing the return of spring.

I placed willow rings to see how that would work. Just at the moment it seems better to use the materials from the woods, although I will be making and adding willow work for the sculpture trail.

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Into the Outwoods residency… day 1

20th February. I have been walking round the woods for many months thinking about what work I would like to put in the Sculpture trail in April. This focussed time making ephemeral work in the woods has been very valuable. I would like these pieces to feed into my ideas, so my work for the trail will be inspired by the Outwoods as well as being informed by my previous work.

I have made work from leaves before, and it was good to work in that way again. I had thought about creating a spiral, but circles seemed right for the space, like the rings of a tree, ripples of time expanding out….. 2 kids appeared and carefully trod over the leaves and walked round each circle, it was good to see this interaction. Hopefully I can make more to appear and disappear during the trail when there are more people around.

Managed a few experiments with twigs, walking, looking and thinking, seeing more and more and working with what I saw and found. It was good to use what was already there. I hope I can make work that will draw attention to different spaces and encourage people to see the woods in a new way.

After being in the woods I spent some time working in clay. I have had ideas of making lots of small pieces that people could carry round the woods, like pebbles, but as I made them they became more like small ‘Cracked Earth’s, symbolic of the damage being done to the Earth. I thought it would be good if people could contemplate as they held a small sphere and walked round the wood. Someone pointed out that they might get thrown as much as carried around, so I’ll put that on hold for now! I might just take them to the woods to photograph, and contemplate their meaning.

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