Reflections on the recent BoW assessment

 

This is the ‘feed forward’ I received for my BoW submission for the July assessment 508597 Anna Goodchild PH6BOW marksheet.

I was very pleased with the mark awarded considering the contents of the Overall Comments and Feed Forward:

“Reading through the letters in the book offered an insight in to a world that many of us are not familiar with and that is at odds with the kind of representation of prison spaces that you are attempting to critique. However, the three elements that you have included, the photographs, plant samples and letters do not quite gel together as a completely resolved piece of work. We were left looking for clues as to how these things connect, perhaps something in the letters or an element within an image.”

Taking them one sentence at a time:

However, the three elements that you have included, the photographs, plant samples and letters do not quite gel together as a completely resolved piece of work.

As part of the submission, I had to provide an introduction to the BoW in which I had explained what the leaves (plant samples) represented but the comments now lead me to ask the question: What can I do to make the leaves signify what I thought they signified and which will lead the viewer to make the connections I thought I had made?

Since the BoW is titled “One Year” because my friend had spent that amount of time behind bars, I thought that the leaves would evoke that sense of a passage of time and, subsequently, its effects on time spent in prison.  Since the metaphorical reference did not come through I have since thought of two ways which could help me achieve that end: I would change how I represented that natural cycle still using leaves, which now seems quite obvious:  I would pick leaves right through the year, starting now.   In that way I could represent the passage of time by presenting images of leaves in their different states:  forming (Spring), developed & abundant (Summer), seed pods and/or browning leaves  (Autumn), absent (Winter).

The tree I used in the original work was the Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata).  It is so called because its flowers have 2 white bracts (leaf-like petals) which look just like  white handkerchiefs.   The idea of the handkerchief was significant – either as a symbol of submission / surrender to a judgement, or of the sorrow of being separated from family and friends.    After having dried & pressed the bracts and the leaves, I could not distinguish between them which made me think of prisoners as people: given 2 random people, we cannot say if they have been in prison or not, so that became an extension to the leaf metaphor.

I am too late to collect bracts for this year but I will be able to get some and photograph them next June – just in time to complete the natural cycle for my exhibition in July.

Handkerchief tree leaf cluster 150818 1500px DSC00447.png
A cluster of strong, summer leaves of the Handkerchief tree taken on 15th August 2018.

 

Green seed pod 150818 1500px  DSC00449.png
A green seed pod of the Handkerchief tree taken on 15th August, 2018.

 

What I have also decided to do is to collect and photograph leaves throughout the year from a tree outside HMP Dartmoor where Ian was held.  There are no trees inside the prison but they are there immediately outside flanking the entrance, continuing the symmetrical appearance of the prison exterior.  unlike the Handkerchief Tree, these leaves have no significance other than as a metaphor of the passage of time outside the prison.  In one of his letters, Ian mentions that on one of his brother’s visits, he had mentioned that he (Ian) was concerned about the changes that had happened in the outside world  in the time he had spent in prison.  His brother needed to be convinced that there had been any changes.  People on the outside absorb the changes which take place but to those inside prison, those changes indicate a different world into which they need to be absorbed.

Combined cross sections of seedpod 1500px .png
Cross-sections of a dropped seed pod. Collected 15th August 2018.

Fellow student, Gesa Helms, has suggested that I use slow and fast shutter speeds to indicated the state of the leaves & I shall explore that too.  Gesa also asked “what happens when they are on the ground?”  When I went to pick my leaves & pick up the seed pods, I noticed not only that there were leaves on the ground already but also that people had trampled them down = a neat extension to my leaf metaphor! Thanks, Gesa!  this, however, brings in a different aspect of the project as it assumes an interpretative element rather than a recorded element – something I will have to resolve.

 

“We were left looking for clues as to how these things connect, perhaps something in the letters or an element within an image.”

I agree 100% that the letters are too long to present in their entirety because they would not sustain the gaze of a viewer for too long.  I therefore have decided to extract those elements from the letters which appear most often and link them to unusually seen but relevant images in a prison like the kitchens, the visitors’ spaces, the weather and nature.  the pages would, therefore, hold images of leaves, extracts from the letters and images of physical prisons.

Field maple front  7th August  1500px DSC00328.png
A Field Maple leaf taken from a tree outside the entrance to HMP Dartmoor on 7th August, 2018.

 

In my tutor feedback after SYP Assignment 1, one of the things Helen asked was what was the significance of using a leaf as opposed to a flower or a weed?

I came across the handkerchief tree in flower in June 2017, at a time when I was thinking about my BoW project asleep and awake – everything revolved around the question of how I was going to represent this record of a prison experience to which I and nobody else had access.

So it was to a flower and its leaf-like petals that I ascribed this metaphor – even I fell for its leaf-like structure; even I could not tell the difference even though I thought I knew both well.  So, in this project, I should be referring to a flower and not to a leaf but it was a flower which beguiled me initially!  Will I be prejudiced when I see an ex / prisoner again and not ascribe a certain humanity to him / her?

At a recent study week-end ‘Art and the Environment’, we were given a photocopy of an article written in 1912  titled ‘The weed garden’.  G.G.Desmond, in this article of Saturday, July 20, 1912, states: “In the garden of weeds they (the weeds) are planted as guests in the best soil that they can desire, and they do royal justice to entertainment. … the inheritance of the sweet pea has gone to the far more imperial purple vetch.  The newcomers or the returned natives have drunk as deeply and orderly as the others of the food of the gods with which a well-kept garden is always sprinkled, and they flourish as exceedingly that it is hard to know them for the weeds they are.” (Desmond)

Desmond’s tender personification of the weeds in the South London Botanical Institute might not be how gardeners today would refer to weeds.  Monty Don’s take in The Guardian 19th June, 2005, for example, shows a different regard for certain weeds:

” The orache can become a thuggish weed – and I have often written about it on these pages – but for a few weeks at the end of May and first half of June while the plum-coloured leaves are still tender, it is a delicious component in any salad. So we try and weed it from the border almost straight to the plate. The inevitable result of this is that a thicket of the stuff gets indulged like a fond parent gazing adoringly on the appalling child and quickly becomes the invasive thug that it is always trying to be. It then gets pulled up by the barrowload, whereas a little sterner weeding early on would have been a lot easier.”(1)

How we regard weeds and therefore other plant material, depends on our attachment to them.  Flowers are far more transient than leaves are: the leaf-like petals of the Davidia flower last only a month, whereas their leaves are there for 10.  I should, therefore be using the bracts rather than the leaves to reference a transience.  But their state ranges from green to white and then to brown in their dried state.

Interesting facts about the bracts of the tree:

“The tree’s common names—dove tree or handkerchief tree—refer to the two white,

paperlike bracts that surround the base of each flower head (capitulum). The bracts initially are small and green, resembling leaves, but increase in size and turn white as the flowers mature. The change in bract color from green to white is associated with the bracts becoming UV (ultraviolet)-light-absorbing (Burr and Barthlott 1993). The anthers are even more strongly UV- light-absorbing. This trait is associated with attracting pollinating insects that see UV light, and the species has therefore been classified as entomophilous (insect pollinated) (Burr and Barthlott 1993), although the pollination of Davidia involucrata had not been previously studied in the field. We are particularly interested in the questions “What is the function of the white bracts? Do the dove tree’s bracts play a role in attracting pollinators?”(2)

“Dove trees generally flower from mid-April to mid-May, a period which is within the rainy season of the subtropical region where they occur. Since the pollen grains of dove tree readily burst in water, it is probable that the rooflike bracts function as an umbrella to reduce rain damage to the anthers and pollen.” (2)

Should I,therefore, be focusing on the leaves or the bracts?  The flower or the leaf? If I consider that the flower has a  one month lifespan while the leaf covers the tree 10 months of the year and my friend was in prison 12 months, then the leaf would seem more apt.  However, that one year was a very small part of his lifetime … Hmmm.  Quandary.

 

References:

Desmond, G.G.: 1912.  The weed garden: A living museum of strange visitors. The Daily News and Leader.

  1.  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2005/jun/19/gardens
  2.  http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/2011-68-3-white-bracts-of-the-dove-tree-davidia-involucrata-umbrella-and-pollinator-lure.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Reflections on the recent BoW assessment

  1. I still don’t understand why the assessors had difficulty in seeing a connection!

    Really interesting comment re change and how different people perceive it according to their circumstances. I think it’s such a good idea to use leaves as an ‘external’ indication. Your photographs are so clear that your subject looks almost alive.

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    1. Neither do I, which is a problem: let’s hope that I do a better job of it this time! My new camera has this wonderful manual focus control that I have not seen in other cameras & at last I am happy with the images. I agree, they look very 3D with this method I am using. Gesa has suggested using long & short exposure times which I should try but it will produce very different results – but, I will try! thanks for your comments. How was the study day?

      Like

  2. Do you mean the paper making session? If so, it was great and I very much enjoyed it – I wrote a blog post about it. Am planning to go on a course at West Dean in January – which reminds me, I must book!

    Like

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