I’ve been digging into the past to get out my own archive materials to help me think about #tagscape. I realised I should dig because the project keeps pulling me towards woodland and I have dealt in small ways with this landscape type before. Dave of Cotna (an Eco Retreat) who teaches Tree Identification, said we have this deep need to go back to the woods. I thought about my work, and actually yes, in the past I have tried to ‘return’ to the forest.
I grew up on a coast of heather, and that’s still where I feel most at home, however, it seems I have this need to hang out with Woodlanders as well as ocean people. For a start, my dad was a taxidermist and as a child I was surrounded by woodland and sea animals on walls, tables, floors and in freezers. Key owls still stare down at me, alongside them are big fat Pufferfish. Botanical items are staged in between.
I helped stuff the animals. When I was small, he took me out into the landscape where they had come from but when it came to woodland, we only had a few copses near to us. After this, it was travel, trains and theatre that shaped my arts career and I studied and worked in cities for a bit. This childhood of stuffed animals, accompanied by hours on the beach (and weekly church attendance) had shaped me though. My dad was a vicar, hiker and canoeist as well as a painter/maker; I liked presenting stuff, sports, lifesaving as well as model-making – all of these things, along with the taxidermic, are theatrical stages.
After an arts foundation, I studied theatre design. The plays, operas and musicals that I had to design still stick in my mind. The Cunning Little Vixen was a woodland and political study. I went to Czechoslovakia just after it was ‘free’ and stayed with art students who battled acid rain. The forest was my stage for three months. Now I realise I loved it. Before the Cunning Little Vixen, I studied the just as dark Into the Woods. Since then I’ve clambered at woods via train windows, visited them via stories, and swum in the direct experience of them when travelling near rivers, such as swimming in a Redwood forest in California.
During theatre design weeks, I would hang out in the Natural history museum and study Imaginations mixed display of quiet anarchy – poised hares are staged next to Pacboy-like computer interfaces, plants radiate beams of light alongside giant sculptures that are cellular in shape. (Although these are old displays now, some of them are still more creative than the exhibition design and its interactivity of the past two decades)
It was exhibition design that started to fuel my career after the theatre design course, and when studying museology, I worked abroad and in Cornwall on a few projects that were connected to trees and management. I also had a window to learn to snowboard in dense trees away from hoards of tourists.
Years later, I am living by several woods, and although I spend time in them, it’s not nearly enough. The forays from the past have been short and now I need to learn about woodland in a deeper way. It’s definitely time to pull out my own forest resources, and to research new resources. I need spend time working with people to learn, share and communicate how to manage and protect them. It is time to build a WOODLAND TAGSCAPE.