This spatial sketch is intended to act as a visual representation of the botanical networks present in Nova Scotia. This interwoven web endeavours to speak of patterns of vegetal movement and to the complex interactions between plant species. Each thread present in the structure was dyed with a different plant harvested from Nova Scotia, the complete list of which (in common name) can be seen below:
Alder / Apple / Red Ash / Mountain Ash / Trembling Aspen / Calico Aster / Flat-topped White Aster / Purple Aster / Dark Purple Aster / Balsam Fir / Balsam Poplar / Bayberry / Beach Pea / Beech / Bedstraw Beggartick / Grey Birch / White Birch / Yellow Birch / Birdsfoot Trefoil Blackberry (leaf) / Blueberry (leaf) / Common Buckthorn / Bunchberry Butternut / Eastern White Cedar / Black Cherry / Pin Cherry / Blue Chicory / Red Clover / Yellow Clover / Coltsfoot / Cranberry / Crowberry / Daisy Fleabane / Dock / Spreading Dogbane / Elm Evening Primrose / Common Eyebright / Fireweed / Herb-Robert Geranium / Goldenrod (5 species) / Gold-thread / Hawthorn / Heather / Hemlock / Honeysuckle / Horsetail / Jack Pine / Japanese Barberry / Jerusalem Artichoke / Spotted Jewelweed / Spotted Joe-Pye Weed / Common Juniper / Creeping Juniper / Labrador Tea / Lasallia Papulosa / Sheep Laurel / Linden / Lion's Paw / Lobaria pulmonaria / Purple Loosestrife / Yellow Loosestrife / Golden Lungwort / Norway Maple / Red Maple / Striped Maple / Sugar Maple / Meadow-sweet / English Oak / Red Oak / Wild Parsnip / Pearly Everlasting / Peppergrass / White Poplar Queen Anne's Lace / Common Ragweed / Northern Raisin / Raspberry (leaf) / Rose / Tansy / Tansy Ragwort / Sarsaparilla / Scotch Pine / Sheep Sorrel / Smartweed / Red Spruce / Black Spruce / St. John's Wort / Strawberry (leaf) / Sumac / Sweet Fern / Sweet Gale / Tamarack Eastern Teaberry / Canada Thistle / Willow / Yarrow.
Fibres used: alpaca, wool, silk, rayon, cotton and linen. (10'x15'x30').
Tinctorial Cartographies: An Exhibition
The impetus for this body of work emerged from the desire to undertake a focused study of Canadian natural dye plants. Given the geographical expanse of the country, building a vocabulary of Nova Scotian dyestuffs, a regional lexicon, seemed a viable place to begin. A selection of indigenous, naturalized and invasive plants from across the province were harvested and extracted over a twelve-month period beginning in January 2015. The process began by identifying candidate dye plants and acquainting myself with their ecological and cultural significance. Over time, the project grew to involve a more intuitive approach, wherein fieldwork would reveal significant plants within a given area and their dye-bearing potential would be discovered upon extraction in the pot. The act of walking and looking brought with it a highly embodied way of experiencing place, as each harvesting venture was shaped according to my encounters with vegetal life. Over the course of the year, I came to realize that the landscape itself was a repository of knowledge and that the presence and absence of various plant species offered insight into the ecological and social complexities of the province. It was the politics of land seen through a verdant lens, all but invisible to the untrained eye.
The swatches were handwoven using cotton, linen, rayon, silk and wool (in both warp and weft). Each fibre is represented using three mordanting variables (ferrous sulphate, potassium aluminum sulphate and no mordant). The dyed swatches become a complex chemical record as each fibre and mordant interacts with the dyestuff in a unique manner, thus creating a colour field of reactions and relations. Marking harvesting site and season, they are also cartographies of time and place.
The graph-like arrangement of the swatches intends to reference a common depiction of abstract data, as the graph is often used to visually articulate intangible information. Deployed in this context, the organization of the swatches seeks to imply the presence of the invisible aspects of the work. It gestures towards the actions of walking, looking and harvesting as the presence of the site is privileged in this arrangement: the graph is based upon the notion of a timeline or a map, a representation of the unseen.
The presence of the ‘take away’ document attempts to bridge this gap by building connections between swatch, plant, season and place. It endeavors to presence each botanical through multiple representations, using image and word to illustrate elements of its perceivable essence. The document references the familiar field guide, as it is a tool of identification used to unlock the language of the swatch. Once removed from the exhibition it becomes something else altogether, speaking for itself rather than the swatch.
Wall text: In the inert realm of the pressed specimen, the taxonomic object, there is a thing that speaks of another thing that is and was. As the classification process renders the physicality of the plant present, it leaves the complex whole of its being unseen. If the plant is fractured by the system, then the taxonomic word builds a new entity of knowledge with its fragments, making visible only some small element of the original, as the breadth of the plant's self can never be grasped by the limited gesture of the word.
Patterns of growth are a repository of knowledge, as they reflect the contemporary and historical circumstances of place. The presence and absence of plant species speak to the complexities of land, told from a verdant perspective, all but invisible to the untrained eye. Then there are weeds, the feral ones. Freed from cultivation and instrumentalization, they are self-determined, driven to travel the vegetal desire paths. These are the plants that follow the route of human action, revitalizing sites of disturbance and disregard, exercising agency through their very adaptability and proliferation.
Tinctorial Cartographies: An Archive
The swatches were handwoven using cotton, linen, rayon, silk and wool (in both warp and weft). Each fibre is represented using three mordanting variables (ferrous sulphate, potassium aluminum sulphate and no mordant).
Through a process that feels nearly alchemical, each plant is transmuted into a viable source of colour. The dyed swatches become a complex chemical record as every fibre and mordant interacts with the dyestuff in a unique manner, thus creating a colour field of reactions and relations.
The swatches also serve to map my journey through the province. Marking harvesting site and season, they are cartographies of time and place.
All dye baths were utilized at 200% W.O.F. (weight of fibre) with a few noted exceptions.
*Iron: Ferrous Sulphate
*Alum: Potassium Aluminum Sulphate
*N.M.: No Mordant
Filling spaces of temporary neglect,
they follow the path of disturbance,
rebuilding that which has been dismantled.
Weeds of subversion.
Each speck of dirt scraped away,
not a seed left behind.
Such small deaths.
Significant in their insignificance.
During the period between the demolition of St. Joseph’s Church and the excavation of the site (2009–2015), plant life inserted itself actively within the space. The site became host to a variety of early successional, native, naturalized and invasive species, including the escaped babies of ornamental plants and trees. These common ‘spaces of temporary neglect’ speak of our current and historical circumstances of globalization, colonization and migration, as well as of the continual reverberations of capitalism - as vegetal life inevitably follows the path of human action, revitalizing spaces of disturbance and disregard.
The development of a single lot is a banal occurrence in our cities, an everyday thing. And yet, as I watched the excavators dig deep into the ground I was struck by the fact that these actions were revealing geological formations that have not seen light for thousands or perhaps millions of years. Each speck of dirt removed, all vestiges of vegetal life gone. Therefore, this work is in a sense a monument, or memorial, for the insignificant vegetal beings that share our urban spaces. And for the profound yet everyday interventions which humans enact upon the world. As the body of each plant is literally etched into the cloth, a textile impression of its being remains.
Handwoven with wool and silk, and dyed with colour extracted from four plants/lichen (goldenrod, American elm, staghorn sumac and hammered shield lichen). All were harvested from the former St. Joseph's Church site on Gottingen Street, Halifax, in 2015.
This work marks the beginning of an investigation into land ownership in the context of my familial settler history in Canada. It references the vegetal present, as seen on my parents' property on Denman Island (BC), land which was logged multiple times over the past century, most recently in the 1990's. Across the property, remnants of each cut remain, illustrated by the stumps of ancient trees, which stand as monuments to the past and speak of colonization, European-style economics and environmental policy.
Denman Island is the traditional territory of the Pentlatch people, whose language is no longer held in human memory. Given that language is the gateway to knowledge, with this loss comes the death of a way of knowing and seeing place, an understanding which evolved over thousands of years. The gap held in the centre of the piece attempts to acknowledge this absence and loss.
Materials: Red Alder (bark & leaves), Salal, Cudweed and Western Hemlock on wool, silk rayon, cotton and linen. (48"x108").