There are many ancient trees in and around the Weald of Kent. Like the Oak Tree at Badsell Park Farm, some are isolated within a farmed field. I began an ongoing project in 2013, which to date has produced photographic, mixed media and sculptural studies. The project sets out to interpret the effects of factors like light, weather and time on the life and death of the tree.
At the start of the Symmetree project, there was no end game, there wasn’t even the idea of a journey. Just a small wish, to try and capture some of its magnificence and portray a sense of the landscape the Badsell Oak tree sat in.
The tree was a stunning piece of nature that had emerged from the ground and over centuries grown into maturity, then thanks to Storm Katie it was toppled by a combination of its own aged structure and an angry north easterly wind.
In a time when our finite resources should be cherished, the idea of just ending the project felt wrong. For a start there was the amount of wood the tree had produced. As I discovered, the wood had over the years, decayed at different rates. A combination of insects, microbes, bacteria and a warm damp environment, produced in places a red ochre like pigment.
It’s not unlike Punkwood (used as tinder to start fires). When dried it’s just like powder paint! I have used this pigment in the latest two Symmetrees by embedding it in the darker recesses of the frames. It gives the black and white photographs a subtle glow, like the last leaves of Autumn caught by the low sunlight.
With the help of chainsaw carver Les Langley I now have different cuts, planks and branches seasoning and soon ready to use for the next stage of the project. I’m hoping to involve a Japanese wood preservation process called Shou Sugi Ban. This chars the outer surfaces providing a seal for the green inner parts. As ever, making it up as I go along and continuing to inject creativity, I’m attempting to reveal parts of the clean wood through it’s blackened skin. It’s a ‘hands on’ DIY process that may give some parts of the tree the opportunity to escape the inevitable degeneration into pulp or being chopped for firewood.
Find Mark here: www.markwelland.co.uk