When you look across at a forest, distant on the horizon, the mass of trees is painted with a shroud of blue; an indigo haze that whispers in the space between those trees and where you stand. This mysterious blue then, is not a substance that exists in the realm of the forest. It occurs only when there is a gap between there and here– only when, as Rebecca Solnit writes “the light does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost and gives us the beauty of the world.”(1) This phenomena is a result of light particles gone astray on their course between object and eye. Where might these particles be caught, found, or recovered?
In 1843, Anna Atkins made a series of botanical images using the newly discovered cyanotype method. By placing specimens of algae on photosensitive paper and exposing the arrangement to a light source, the image of the plant is fixed, bright white organism against Prussian blue. The algae fronds appear to glow as though lit from within. However, it is the reaction of light on the space around the plant matter that produces the image, luminosity recorded in inverse. As with a blue landscape, then, the cyanotype produces an image through absence.
Briana Jamieson’s series of painted works in The Harvest exist in the same gossamer language. Though the medium is not light anymore, but oil paint on board, the plants that Jamieson records have a similarly indexical and ghostly tone to them. At the edges of leaves in Silvery, there is a soft quivering before the branch recedes into the darkness of its background. While the nightstar is the only resident in the sky, it is the most lucent.
A walnut tree requires a cold stratification to germinate, a process which breaks the dormancy of the seed. When I awake to a world glimmering with the slick of dew, there are small shoots beneath the earth waking too. Plant cultivation has never come naturally to me, but I am a good observer. The undergrowth hardens and hibernates as the days get cooler, the final seedheads browning in the June mist.
A bunch of lilies purchased from the market are left in their vase too long. Their yellow gullets open wider and wider with each passing day, until vivid pollen starts to fall from their stamens and onto a silk handkerchief accidentally forgotten beneath them. The pollen stains the fabric, leaving an indelible mark of the existence of the flower, by now rotting in the green waste. In conversation with artist Srijon Chowdhury, Paul Maziar observes “the flower is delicate and yet it remains.”(2) In spite of its own ephemerality, or perhaps bound to it, there is a resilience to plants and flowers. At the point of their own decay, they shed their seed and insist that they will return in the Springtime.
The Plantscapes that Gianna Christella Hayes hand-dyes, large pieces of fibres coloured with pigments from different herbs and trees, hang from their corners in the space. Like perianth parachutes, their forms drift downward. Like Angel’s Trumpets, brugmansia, a bell of organic alchemy. In Thunder, nettles, walnut, eucalyptus and iron dyes produce an inclement wash on the textile.
Around the hills near my home, there are many pigments to be gathered. Gathered, as in: noted, observed, mentally catalogued as a glossary of sage green and umber lichen after heavy rainfall, of the yellow gorse allowed to flourish as protective cover for native seedlings, the hostile violet of a storm arriving, as a pocket of tall acacia at the foot of a dirt track or verdant tuft of perfect green moss clinging to rock.
Gendou and Hina Sawamura write toward a future where people and grasses might be close again. They call this philosophy wildflower activities, where the natural world is our axis, and we are just sharing the space for a short time.(3) How do we participate in wildflower activities? Perhaps a harvest does not always mean a bounty to store for a season of scarcity, but it can take place as a recalibration. For every gaze beyond the plain to a band of blue, there is an equal gaze returned; the line of the trees and mountains looking back toward us must also generate the blue of distance. For them, it is us that inhabit the cyan ether, for a while, at least.