“Stockpiling” - Sculpture in concrete and wire with collected seed heads & plastic wrap.
30 x 30 x 10cm
What do we value, prize and treasure? What do we hoard in times of crisis?
Imagine a world where nature was hoarded. People flooding to garden centres to get the very best soil. Bird seeds are a high value commodity. The earths precious bounty is treasured and prized above all else. Locked in vaults for safe keeping. Itemised and counted.
The concept for this wall hanging sculpture has been influenced by my research into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. An amazing underground structure (once a coal mine) where they are meticulously collecting and categorising ever seed on the planet. The seeds are stored underground in bunkers surrounded by permafrost in sealed three-ply foil packages and then placed into plastic tote containers on metal shelving. A feasibility study prior to construction determined that the vault could preserve seeds for hundreds of years. Some, including those of important grains, could potentially remain viable for thousands of years. They regularly accept donations of important seeds from all over the globe. Even as the surrounding ice caps melt the seeds will stay safe within the vault 130 metres above sea level, secure in their icy tomb.
It’s so easy in our modern world to forget how intrinsically we are tied to the natural world. Medicines from plant origins, power from fossil fuels and ecological sources. Food from the land, pollinated by insects. Without them, there is no Us.
For this artwork I created small hand built wire framed houses containing seed heads (each personally gathered locally in Central Scotland) including Bullrush, Bog Cotton, Honesty, Knapweed and Hydrangea. The middle trio are plastic wrapped and heat sealed to emphasise humanities great love of packaging and containment. They are then sunk into and set in white concrete which is hand waxed with beeswax and polished to a high sheen, alluding to a glacier. Man made materials have been purposely selected for this sculpture. The wire frames are made from off the shelf garden centre mesh. And the concrete comes from commercial produced builders merchants. These materials have become more commonplace and recognisable than the seedheads they house. All the seeds are contained in small wire houses, caged. I find cages a fascinating concept and enjoy exploring them a lot in my art. As a society we use cages for safety. To either protect what they contain or to protect those outside the cage. Zoos used to cage animals for us to view, as a commodity. We now keep animals in “enclosures” and facilitate breeding programs for ecological reasons. But the animals are still behind wire fences, do they know the difference? Other cages that come to mind include prisons, immigration detention centres, even mouse traps. My seeds are in a house shaped structure. Houses should be a place of safely and sanctuary. But again there is a lot of political ideology around home ownership. My children draw this stylised house shape even thought we live in an apartment. We are trained to understand this shape almost more as a symbol for “Home” rather than an accurate depiction of our individual circumstances. The seeds are safely caged in a homelike space, held in place with concrete, just as our new build home are in the landscape. The seeds are tightly packed into each house. More is always better when we are collecting and collating. But visually it was important to me to make the cages look stuffed. We are tactile creatures and I wanted to capture all the different surface qualities of each seed. Some are incredibly soft and fluffy, others are fine and delicate to fly far in the wind. Some are rough and heavy, designed to roll, bounce and travel in search of a new location to grow. The structure and colour of the seeds is as important to the overall design aesthetic as the wire and concrete. They are the real stars of the artwork. The main focus and priority.
With concrete we can now build rocks, even manmade mountains if we desired. 7 billion tonnes of concrete were used globally last year which is an incredible number. Over 70% of the world’s population live in a structure containing concrete. All the plastic produced over the past 60 years amounts to 8 billion tonnes. The cement industry pumps out more than that every two years. But though the problem is bigger than plastic, it is generally less severe. Concrete is not derived from fossil fuels. It is not being found in the stomachs of whales and seagulls. Doctors aren’t discovering traces of it in our blood. Nor do we see it tangled in oak trees or contributing to subterranean fatbergs. We know where we are with concrete. Or to be more precise, we know where it is going: nowhere. It is an instantly recognisable building material we all see ever day. Conversely a 2019 UK study revealed 83% of children can’t identify a bumblebee. When 1,000 children were shown pictures of native plants and animals, 82% did not recognise an oak leaf and nearly five out of 10 failed to spot a bluebell.
The process of creating this hanging sculpture allowed to me investigate indigenous plants commonly considered weeds. Knapweed for example has one of the highest concentrations of both pollen and nectar per flower in the world. It may be small and humble but it is a super plant. Sadly it’s systematically pulled out, bulldozed for land and undervalued. It is not beautiful but it is absolutely vital for the survival of many insects and our ecosystem as a whole.
We must rethink our priorities. We must start to treasure the implicit value of the natural world. Green belt land is not just beautiful, it is the lungs of our world. It’s the home to millions of species of plants, animals, fungi, insects and bacteria. Each one precariously balanced in harmony for now. But for how long? We must work together to preserve biodiversity, to fight against deforestation and the undervaluing of our wild landscapes. We look out of our car windows at scrubland and perceive it as empty, ripe for development. But it is already occupied. It already has an important role. It is our responsibility to reverse the damage done to the Earth for our future generations.