On 15th May, the moment after requesting of Sally Reaper, Director of the Look-Again Festival and RGU Arts & Heritage team, the opportunity to exhibit at the Concourse Gallery in the Sir Ian Wood Building at Robert Gordons University, my Master's dissertation was put on hold in order to concentrate on the solo exhibition SPHAGNUM. Elements of which, will also be shown at my final Masters Degree Show in August.
The show took six weeks to plan from start to finish with help from collections assistant George Cheyne, a seasoned expert in the set up of the Concourse Gallery events, although, in reality, the show was a year in the making prior to that.
The exhibition depicts an overview of my visual research in Sphagnum moss including; the wet and dry Sphagnum moss macro photographs shot with a digital camera in the photographic studio at Gray's School of Art, with assistance from Technician Services Officer (TSO), Fergus Connor. A selection of the microscopic images showing the intricate structures and patterns within Sphagnum moss was photographed using the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences laboratory microscopes with assistance from TSO, Emily Hunter.
As mentioned in earlier posts within this blog (1) (2) (3) (4) (5), I have been investigating the Sphagnum moss gathered and processed in the North East of Scotland during the era of the First World War, which is depicted by an infographic map that shows some of the moss locations, the towns and the communities involved in this vital activity.
In more recent years up to 2019, looking at what is happening now with regards to Sphagnum moss in the North East of Scotland, there is conservation underway to reclaim many of the drained or depleted Sphagnum moss bogs or peat bogs. One I recently visited is the Red Moss of Netherley, Stonehaven, where evidence is seen of barriers installed approximately a decade ago in order to rewet the bog. The surrounding area now has lush green pools filled with recovered Sphagnum.
As Masters students, we are encouraged to continually evolve and refine our practice. During the process, we present our progress through regular expositions. Shown here is my final exposition on display this week at Grays School of Art.
Oil and photographs printed on muslin, mounted within roller frames
The multiple panels here form part of a conceptual polyptych work, the inspiration of which comes from my master's project topic of ‘Emotive ethnobotany in the North East of Scotland during the First World War and the interwar years’.
Sphagnum moss utilised during the first world war for bandages and wound dressings can soak up to 20 times its weight in liquid. The moss also has antiseptic properties. Through my research I have found that throughout the North East of Scotland communities gathered moss which they deposited in their local depots where it was dried and then sent to the regional headquarters in Aberdeen to be made into wound dressings. The display cabinet shows artefacts and ephemera including a wooden bandage roller, the design of which I have mimicked for my frames.
Below are current photos taken of my busy studio space at Gray's School of Art.
Today my search continued to discover Sphagnum moss sites in the North East of Scotland.
Many of the Sphagnum moss areas, identified from the past, have been drained on the whole to build new housing estates, used for farmland or to establish commercial forests.
Located west of Peterhead, I visited Rora moss a largely forested wood with pine trees and a small area of birch holding pillows of the elusive Sphagnum moss. The land was quite sodden, but not enough to deter me. There appeared to be four types of sphagnum in the area, but on closer inspection only two types in different stages of growth.
Through searching for Sphagnum moss in local bogs, thoughts of the practice of collector in wartime come to play a large part in the experience, where cold and dull overcast days didn't deter the hardy souls looking to collect the correct Sphagnum moss. This would be sent off from the local depot and forwarded on to the depot in Aberdeen, headquarters of the North East of Scotland.
It will be cleaned, sorted and made into medical dressings and bandages, and would then be bundled up and sent on to the battlefields where it was to be used to stem the flow of blood on the injured or to the war hospitals here in Britain to help the recovery of the returning wounded soldiers. The moss can soak up to 20 times its weight in liquid and is antiseptic, making it ideal for use in a medical dressing.
Thank you Murray, for joining me on all the mossy adventures.
Further investigation into mono printing has included painting with oil paint onto an acrylic sheet. The oil paint is worked into an image using a palette knife. The outcome gives the impression of a matrix of spaces inside the moss.
Very pleased with the progress so far.
The next step is to print with oil paint onto the canvas before adding to stretchers.
The depth of field was challenging when photographing Sphagnum moss under the microscope today.
The top row of the image below is a selection of photographs captured with varying depths of field. Using Adobe Photoshop's 'clone' tool, the larger, totally in-focus rendition was created.
The image above gives an honest representation of the Sphagnum moss. Yet, the stacked and layered glasslike interpretation below is more realistic. The majority of the plant is out of focus, true to life and impressing of moss filled with liquid, gathered from the moss bog. In comparison, the image above has the appearance of empty chambers.
Today with the help of technical services officer Emily Hunter at RGU's Botanical and Life Sciences school I watched as the tiniest of plant parts and patterns came into focus on the digital microscope. Here are some of the images taken.
A good start to see the mechanism that Sphagnum moss has which makes it draw up 20 times its weight in liquid. A mechanism that helped save many lives during the First World War when this antiseptic moss was used in bandages and wound dressings to stanch bleeding and stop infection.
The structure will be explored further through painting.
2019 is welcomed by producing a unique set of monoprints.
Working to produce individual prints on paper, linen, jute and hessian, as Paul Klee would have done, later to be worked further with the addition of oil paint.
The set follows on from sketches and studies made in the past year on the topic of the 'Rose', intentionally adding composition lines as part of the print.
WASPS Studios, Aberdeen hosted its annual open weekend, with a collection of artists from Eagle House and Langstane studios exhibiting and opening their studios. As a change from the norm, this year Lorraine Taylor, Wilma Dunbar and Mel Russell put forward the idea for each artist in the studios to collectively display an exhibition of small unframed works with a limited dimension, giving the public an opportunity to buy affordable art.
Over the two days of the WASPS Studios, Aberdeen Open Studios and small works exhibition visitors from all walks of life came to view and connect with the artists and makers and sometimes purchase a small piece of work. On my part...many collaborative seeds were sown to follow up in the coming months.
Fiona Swapp lives and works in Aberdeen. She has over 30 years experience as a graphic designer and botanical artist.
© 2019 Fiona Swapp
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