Rosa Abbott for Totally Dublin Magazine.
– The theme of WUD is a walk in the fictional woods. Are there any particular fictional woodlands you engaged with – any specific fairy tales, folk tales, or mythologies you reference in the collection?
The WUD collection was put together by Michael Curran (Director of Tangarine Press) and Johnathan Illingsworth (one of the artists). They drew together four artists who work with woodland, inspired by the book Ridley Walker by Russell Hoban.
– My work engages with the notion of woodland derived from a number of sources including fairy tales and folk tales. Marina Warner’s modern fairy tales were influential to the atmosphere I was trying to create during the making of the ‘Come with Me’ and ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ series’, particularly ‘The Erl King’ and ‘The Company of Wolves’ from her collection ‘The Bloody Chamber’.
Also, Junichiro Tanizaki’s ‘In Praise of Shadows’.
– There’s a very eery quality to some of your images – I guess because human presence is implied, but it’s all very still and quiet, and often dark, playing upon that fairytale idea of the woods being a place where bad things might happen. But it’s very beautiful and enchanting at the same time. Is it that darker aspect of the fairytale that appeals to you?
Most definitely, because this is that this is how I feel when I stand in a forest, and this is what i want my images to transmit to the viewer.
– The publishers were also inspired by Russell Hoban’s classic science fiction novel Riddley Walker – did you engage with the text much for these works?
The text was used as a premise for the WUD book project, it was a curatorial standpoint under which the four artists were brought together. My images were not made under this brief but the text binds the WUD artists together.
– Did you get to collaborate on ideas with the other three participating photographers much, or were you all working very much seperately?
For the same reason my work was made seperately, but the WUD book project brought our work together.
– Your photographs depict woodland areas, but with some form of human intervention – intervention that wouldn’t necessarily be immediately obvious, but shapes the aesthetic of the photographs. Can you talk us through some of the installations you’ve created for the works?
I began working on installations in the woods in 2009. I had made a lot of sculpture in the past and I wanted to incorporate this way of working back into my practice. The Smoke and Mirrors series was the first of these. My artist’s statement outlines my thinking behind these bodies of work…
I have been working in UK forests for the past six years, making a number of bodies of work which explore the complex interrelationship between the landscape and the individual. Our understanding of landscape can be seen as a construction in which layers of meaning that reflect our own cultural preoccupations and anxieties obscure the reality of the land, veiling it, and transforming the natural world into an idealization.
UK forests have been shaped by human processes over thousands of years and include ancient woodlands and timber plantations. As such, the forest represents the confluence of nature and culture, of natural landscape and human activity. Forests are potent symbols in folklore, fairy tale and myth, places of enchantment and magic as well as of danger and mystery. In recent cultural history they have come to be associated with psychological states relating to the unconscious.
Against this cultural backdrop my work explores the fabricated nature of landscape by making a variety of temporary and non-invasive interventions in the forest, which place the viewer in the gap between reality and fantasy. Creating this space encourages the viewer to re-evaluate the way in which their relationship with the landscape is formed, and the extent to which it is a product of cultural heritage or personal experience.
The forest becomes a studio, forming a backdrop to contextualize the work, so that each piece draws on its location, a golden tree introduced into a thicket shimmers in the darkness, painted paths snake through the undergrowth, and strands of wool are woven between trees mirroring colours and formal elements within the space.
These altered landscapes operate on a number of levels. They are a reflection of my personal relationship with the forest, a meditation on universal themes relating to the psyche, and call into question the concept of landscape as a social and cultural construct.
– Some of the images remind me of the Land Art created by people like Andy Goldsworthy, and Richard Long. Would you consider those artists an influence?
It is impossible not to feel the heritage of the Land Artists when working in the woods in the UK, but my work feels very personal and I stay true to my own vision and my intention to work from my own relationship with the woodland.
– What happens to your installations once the photographs have been taken?
I completely remove any trace of my work once I have finished photographing. I usually make one work in a day so I very rarely have to leave work to come back another day. I use a ‘leave no trace’ approach. The exception to this is the Dwellings series where I used natural materials gathered from the surrounding area. The longevity of these Dwellings was central to the work because I wanted to leave them for a period of time, and photograph them on my return in order to explore my changing relationship to them.
– You’re based in London, which makes me wonder where you travel to to take the pictures! Do you go on trips away to specific forests for your work? And do you have a favourite forest or woodland to visit and photograph?
I grew up in the New Forest in the South of England. This is my favorite place to work because I know the forest well, but I also work in Dorset’s Puddleton Forest, on Dartmoor and in North Wales.
– WUD is now held in the National Art Library and the V&A Museum. You must be pretty thrilled to see your work in such institutions!
I am thrilled! The work was recommended to the collection by Martin Barnes of the V and A.
– What are you working on at the moment?
I now have a 10 month old boy so life is very full but I am working on a new series. It is about half completed and explores the idea of coming across something strange and peculiar in the woods. This possibility is often on my mind as I walk in the woods.
– Finally, there are four editions of the book, in different colours. Do you have a favourite?
The ‘Lymantria’ edition was amazing, it was bound in deep brown fabric and the cover slipcase was bound in Japanese Awagami paper that looked like wood, and was printed and embossed to imitate a lacquered grain effect – just fabulous! Unfortunately this edition has sold out but there are three more editions bound in a variety of beautiful fabric colours and embossings. I feel very lucky to have been involved in such a project!