During lockdown, I walked the streets of Eastbourne counting elm trees in the throes of death. The latest victims, bark freshly stripped bare, limbs sliced back to the trunk with flesh still warm, orange almost breathing, and the grey stumps that stand as a reminder of what has passed, markers of time.
The ‘girdling’ reveals anthropomorphic skin. Pores, blemishes, scars of a life lived long enough to hold the memory of past epidemics. My reaction is visceral, I know that this has to be done to prevent the disease from spreading but staring each death in the face – the sudden catastrophic end of a tree struggling to survive stands as a harbinger of our times.
As my thoughts transitioned from counting trees to trying to comprehend the daily covid statistics, images of the vulnerable people I knew and had photographed in happier times fell into my head and became inextricably linked with the trees.
In the images, it becomes hard to differentiate between the heartwood laid bare and the human skin, drawing attention to our shared cellular physiology and the interconnected nature of our existence in life and death.
This work continues my exploration of how we react to life-changing events, the split second – the breath – between life and death. Controlling chaos, coping with emergencies, keeping hold of memories, and letting go. This pandemic has been all about that breath, focusing our minds as never before on the mechanisms that keep us alive.
Tutt's Barn, 2020 - present
Closed for 13 years, this nursery has fallen deep into dereliction. Unable to bear the pressure of keeping the business afloat the owner locked the gate and walked away. The extended lockdown has released nature to climb, twist and grip the buildings in a stranglehold of bindweed, bramble and ivy. Creatures scurry in the undergrowth and new ecosystems have developed to support rare species.
The impenetrable guard of nature has, over the years, provided a sanctuary for wildlife but has also shielded a continuous trade in drugs culminating earlier this year in the discovery of a hidden cannabis farm.
In response to the need for truly local food production and the environmental challenges we face, I am working in the nursery with a group of volunteers to gently reclaim the glasshouses while safeguarding the wildness. We are working to rebuild the nursery as an area of 'common land' questioning the traditional idea of ownership.