Our artist in residence, Jo, has been spending time observing the changes happening in the landscape as we begin to chop down our Ash tree population due to Ash Dieback disease . We asked Jo to tell us all about the ‘ashes to ashes’ project , and her invitation for you to join in.
I know there are many of us who visit or walk through Arnos Vale on a regular basis, and have become so familiar with particular trees that they have become like old friends. Over the years I have got to know certain trees really well. As an artist I have started collecting fallen leaves, ash keys and buds to create a series of projected images. I will be writing more about this and my approach to remembering the Ash tree in a blog soon.
When I first moved to Bristol five years ago I was just completing a 6 month project researching and celebrating the heritage, value and myths around the Ash. This project happened against the backdrop of the spread of Dieback throughout the UK. During my first trip to the cemetery I instantly fell in love with this unique cemetery and was excited by how prevalent the Ash was. I was also aware of the sad inevitability that at some point in time it was likely that these trees too would be affected by the air-born disease. Then for safety reasons, they would need to be felled. So it seems fitting that the beginning of my residency here, with a brief around the subject of grief, that this coincides with the subsequent felling.
I’m encouraging anyone, even if you wouldn’t usually draw, to get out and take time to draw. Have a go in the next few weeks before the trees are felled and sit with ‘your’ Ash tree(s). Sometimes I sit with my back to the trunk for a while or just observe and connect with the personality of the tree before drawing. Then, when I begin making marks on the paper I’m more likely to translate the energy of the tree into the marks I make rather than become overly concerned with getting separate elements ‘perfect’. At the end of the day, I like to look back at the drawing and remember the connection I felt at the time. I can see what the shapes and lines that dance across the page say about how this tree communicated with the surrounding ecosystem. So far, the Ash I’ve drawn have seemed like strong, life-giving old women who’ve heralded the woodland into being. I’d love to know what you see?’
The Ash trees that are to be felled in Arnos Vale have large yellow or white painted dots marked on them so they are generally easy to spot. Ash trees are usually quite smooth, with black buds. When they get older, they develop ridges.
As you can see, I work in charcoal as it’s quick -especially on a cold day! It also feels more connected to work in a medium that’s comes from the local environment or is related to it. I’m a social practice (performance-based) artist and haven’t really spent time drawing in nature for a long time. So this has been a really powerful and meaningful process for me.
My project is not just a documentation project, I am also interested in turning our love for these trees into ‘marks on paper’. This goes some way in helping to process the grief associated with the loss of the tree or any other loss.
Feel free to write poems, stories or perform your thoughts and memories of these trees if you prefer. Don’t forget to children to join in too and send their work.
You can email your work to Joanna@chalkblack.com and I will share it on social media. Don’t forget to add your name if you would like it credited. Please title the email ‘My response – Ashes to Ashes’. Then just add me to your address book so my return email doesn’t end up in your junk. I will not use your email for anything other than this project. After the project completion, your email will be deleted. If there is a good response the images you share we will host an installation online, or even in real life in the cemetery, in the spring.
I would also like to encourage people who are more experienced artists (including photographers) to document the Ash here. I know many have already done this throughout the years anyway. These don’t need to be shared but you are welcome to. This part of the project is about making sure there is documentation of the trees locally before we loose them.
I’ll be leaving the Ashes to Ashes images you create in digital format for the cemetery’s records. So the end date for emailing images/videos of poetry etc is 29/02/21.
There is some good news although the Ash population is not going to be with us much longer here. Hopefully our lost trees will be naturally replaced by other vegetation and other tree species self-seeding. This will then encourage wild life and insects to flourish as the local eco-system adapts. The trunks of the larger trees will be left as tall monoliths. The smaller ones will be laid on the woodland floor and piled as bug hotels. Then insects, especially beetles, and other wildlife will make their home in the decaying wood. They will also be an impressive reminders of the life of the tree. There’s some evidence that the Ash in the UK may be more resilient in some cases than first thought. So there is some hope that we may not entirely loose the Ash tree from the ecosystem.
The pandemic has shown us just how important it is to have access to tranquil green spaces in the city; many people are finding comfort in beautiful places. Now you can help as we slowly re-open and rebuild. All donations will make a difference, no matter their size. Support Arnos Vale and help us bring comfort and joy to keep this historic gem open for the community