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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Dugout: Transportation From Transpiration to Exhumation

Dugout K Howell Pastel on Paper 21 cm x 14 cm
This tree trunk has all the potential to be transporting; lying on the forest floor, a waiting vessel.

The life of a tree depends on the journey of water through its vascular system. A tree trunk consists mostly of dead xylem tissue. (Botanists may want to look away now.) Xylem cells are alive when initially produced by the meristematic cambium, but when they  become functioning water-conducting cells, they lose their cell contents and become hollow, microscopic tubes with woody walls. Water is primarily pulled upward due to the cohesion of water molecules through the plant's vascular system from roots to leaves. As water molecules move out through the stomata (tiny pores) into the atmosphere, they are replaced by new molecules entering the roots from the soil. More or less.

When a tree trunk is dug out, most of the vascular tissue is removed, and the tree itself becomes a vessel for all kinds of journeys. Dugout boats are the oldest boats archeologists have found, probably because they preserve well, being constructed from a single tree. The Iron Age Poole log boat is a fine example. Early Bronze Age 'ship' burials (the Gristhorpe Man) prepared the departee with weapons and food for the trip, encased within a hollowed-out tree trunk. According to Gerald of Wales (Liber de Principis instructione c.1193), the body of the elusive King Arthur was discovered 'hidden deep in the earth in a hollowed-out oak bole' in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.

 In Norse mythology Ask and Embla , the first humans, are brought forth from trees. From womb to tomb, there is growth and journey. Touch Wood.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

A Centaur in the Compost?

Eroding Centaur K Howell Pastel on Paper 21 cm x 14 cm
     Transforming organic material into rich, useful compost takes layers and time. In the depths of the dark bin, the hourglass cores of apples, the coils of orange peel and the revolting string-and-seed guts of squash start to smell. Fungi and worms get very interested. A little warmth, a little water (or urine, for those with a dedication to superior nitrate-rich results), a lot of stirring things up and giving it Time, and there are Results. A substance which smells fresh with possibility,  quite suitable for sustaining lovely new plants. Such as - oh, pick one at random, say, purple basil. The metamorphosis from the sordid to the sublime makes the compost bin an interesting place to investigate.
     I tend to think we perceive the world based on the compost of our lives. Which isn't a limitation, we're constantly adding new things. And while you can't control what everybody else throws in, at least it's variety.
     So here's to aerobic bacteria, and the transformation of the mundane.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Stairs: A Case Study

Rise K Howell Acrylic on Board 92 cm x 122 cm
     I've been cleaning this painting up, preparing it for a new home, and stairs have been on my mind. 
     Stairways are the spinal column of our living space. They embody the ups and downs of our everyday existence, a constant reminder that every endeavour is made up of incremental efforts. The stairs seem to provoke a strop in the resident four-year-old, and I can only conclude that between the hours of 4 and 6 p.m., they seem insurmountable. Some days, I quite concur.
     Rise was informed by a visit to a garden-in-progress, and seeing the raw, stacked material for the stairs in place, it seemed an expression of longing and determination, a plan for the creation of a small paradise.
     Stairs are all about aspiration and challenge.
  It's a flight for a reason.
     Building the staircase was what Mircea Eliade would call an Ascension rite, a consecrating and determining activity that sublimates a profane space into a sacred one. (I'm hoping you feel a garden is a sacred space, and you stay with me on this one.) 
     Stairs, Jung says, symbolize the process of psychic transformation in which the contents of the unconscious are brought into conscious awareness. The stairs are an expression of the paradoxical wish to achieve an ideal form within the framework of human existence. Of course, the stairs also mean people can reach the top of the garden. 
     Shamanic traditions hold the tree as the ladder to the heavens. So there it is. Even when I try to digress, it always comes back to trees.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Portals for Mortals

The World From Inside K Howell Acrylic on Paper 21 cm x 14 cm
     The way in is the way out. What's not to love about a chamber tomb? A curious place of passage; empty, but full of Continuity. Neolithic Long Barrows are very accommodating.
      Inside, the air is separate; in May, it's obviously colder. A Barrow is essentially an artificial cave, carefully made to shelter the dead, to provide a resting point on the journey. Part of the landscape, a place of reincorporation with the earth.
     From the inside, the stillness and the careful rhythm of stone shape a window to the world. From the outside, the structure is built and marked as a ritual place, distinct and sacred. A swell in the land, a gateway.
     So much more than a Dead End.
     Five millennia later, the work of  James Turrell  draws on this tradition of creating resonant space and shaping a portal to the outside world. The Deer Shelter "Skyspace" at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a fine example of his work. Not quite a Long Barrow, but the next best thing.