Reflecting on the BoW assessment outcome

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.

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A cluster of strong, summer leaves of the Handkerchief tree taken on 15th August 2018.
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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.

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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.

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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

So what can I change in my BoW?

On reflecting on my feed forward, I was suddenly aware that I could change some aspects of my project but I had a lot of questions which I included in a letter to my tutor: How much of my BoW can I change?  I know you said I could cut down on the letters & I 100% agree with that.     Can I change the leaves?  For example, I have started to collect leaves from the trees growing outside HMP Dartmoor (2 reasons: 1 – I can’t go inside the prison walls legitimately; 2 – there are no trees inside the walls except small ones in their small, tended garden) and I intend to collect leaves every month for a year (July ’18 – June ’19) and use them to mark the One Year theme of the work which is substantiated by Ian’s constant references to the flight of time in his letters.  Would I be allowed to do that?   I can justify the inclusion of the ‘land nature’ aspect of the project because Ian refers to nature in at least one of his letters implying (but never stating) his longing for and apprehension about being released.  He spoke to me about the work the prisoners are doing in HMP Dartmoor after he had come out when we invited him and his wife over – would that be enough reason to include taking images in the LandWorks gardens which are made in a disused quarry in the extended BoW ?   And this is the superbly comprehensive response Helen sent:   BoW:

I think it would be interesting to see how the new collection of leaves compare with your original initial selection of bracts and leaves. Will you be digitising them in the same way as before? Them being outside of the walls in the direct perimeter/vicinity could strengthen a metaphor for the passage of time on the outside of the prison, you should record the date the leaves were picked throughout the year, incase you find it strong to link the leaves with the chronology in the letters or extracts of letters, might be too literal but is just an idea. Any new adaptations to BoW in parallel with our discussions, I’m sure will be seen positively, in that you are deepening your investigations and responding to feedback in the BoW assessment – you need to acknowledge and reflect on your progression with the different ideas/strands, in order to make sense to SYP assessors and to show your new additions or approaches are not merely knee-jerk reactions. If that makes sense. I wouldn’t think you need to reproduce a new book either, as your BoW piece was impressive and so well made, I would say with SYP its perhaps more about creating that PDF folio and your 2019 exhibition using a further refined output. (pretty much as you were planning when we first started talking!).   New work:

You might see it differently, which is fine, but from what I’ve seen so far and our discussions, I personally see the quarries and fault lines as the beginnings of a separate series at this early stage. I encourage you to keep working on it alongside your refinements of BoW. Due to the links between the two subjects, in time they could sit side by side, be amalgamated or potentially be exhibited together in the 2019 show, but I think it would still need further rationalisation in order to work as successfully as possible…for example…would the new images/digital art works fit under the ‘One Year’ title clearly and succinctly? Is it of value to the ‘One Year’ project to introduce potentially 2-3 more new types of images/sources/sites/material in addition to what you have already? If so, how do you imagine them working? These are questions you can start to ask as you build up more images, digital artworks and research related the LandWorks site and as you continue to develop your ideas. What do you think of giving yourself another assignment/part of the course to explore the new work further, get some shoots under your belt and continue to play – and then we can revisit at your next tutorial? Is that helpful? I don’t want you to feel hindered by all of these exciting (yet difficult) creative challenges – you have done so well and achieved so much, I would encourage you to keep going…do you have to make hard and final decisions right away?   There are 3 main points that I want to address here:   (a) Them being outside of the walls in the direct perimeter/vicinity could strengthen a metaphor for the passage of time on the outside of the prison, In one of his letters, Ian talks about the difference in perception of time passing between him (in prison) and his brother (visiting him).  In a discussion near the end of his sentence, Ian is aware of how much things will have changed on the outside and has to convince his brother who does not think that is the case.  SO the inside – outside concept supports my leaf metaphor which is excellent!   (b) would the new images/digital art works fit under the ‘One Year’ title clearly and succinctly? Because my intention is to record the changes in the crops, colours, harvesting and practices at different times of the year at LandWorks, yes it will fit into the One Year concept, hopefully clearly, while the succinctly will be determined by how I show the work, I think.

😰

  (c) What do you think of giving yourself another assignment/part of the course to explore the new work further, I would love to do that because I see the aspects of nature and human nature running in parallel and occasionally intersecting / intertwining.  I love working with natural matter more than anything else.    The decisions I have to make now concern the seasons: if I do engage with the re-photographing, I have to do so right away as the seasons are slipping by.  I went back to my Handkerchief tree today & picked another leaf & have photographed it green – there were also leaves on the ground turning brown & have taken one and photographed it too.  What I couldn’t have seen when I picked the bracts and leaves 14 months ago was that the tree has seed pods – of course, 14 months ago it had the flowers!  I have picked one off the ground and one off the tree & will plant them to see what happens.  I thought of buying my own but they are £100 so that won’t be happening!   

My first visit to LandWorks

18th June, 2018.

“LandWorks is a supported route back into employment and the community for those in prison or at risk of going to prison”

The charity has over 1000 registered supporters who help the organisation to provide a working day structure using woodworking, veg growing, arts and crafts, construction and landscaping.  Over and above building the skills sets, it focuses on building self-esteem and encourages self-responsibility.

Its statistics are very encouraging for everybody concerned: 93% of the day release prisoners find employment and the re-offending rate for those participating in the scheme is 4%.

Manager Chris Parsons took me round the complex this morning as we discussed what I could and could not do on the site.  I explained that I would like to take photographs of the plantings, of hands working the soil and handling the plants and that I did not want to do any portraits.  I also mentioned my proposed cyanotype quilt project using the images I make of the site.

An astounding coincidence was that the site is built on a former quarry.  The experiments I have been trying using my quarry images and stretched pixels this last week seem a prescient example of the work I hope to be involved in.

I hope to experiment with daylight flash photography as well as trying black & white shots which could work well given the millions of greens evident in the plantings as well as the volumes of the areas under seedlings.

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LandWorks, Dartington.  Copyright Google Earth 2018.

The beauty of it is that the site is so complex as it has developed over time, starting back in 2005.