The Ash Looks Back

While the school sessions are postponed and some activities have gone online, I’ve been quietly working away, researching and developing my own artwork ready for the exhibition (now scheduled for October instead of July). The Ash Looks Back is the title I’ve come up with to describe this body of work.

I decided when I was invited to take part in the One Ash project that I wanted to start making work about the perspective of the Ash tree itself, working in collaboration with the tree and the community of organisms that it is part of and supports, and I’ve continued that into my Ash Tree Stream work too.

I’m interested how changing our orientation to a tree changes how we think about and behave towards it. If we assume that the tree is sentient, that it can sense what is happening around it, that it is part of a wider community, not only of trees, but funghi, plants, birds and animals, how does that change the artwork that I feel drawn to make about or with that tree?

I started by attaching my camera trap to the One Ash tree on the Englefield Estate, and didn’t quite get the results I was after. The tree wasn’t on an obvious animal path and there had been a lot of disturbance in the area when other trees around it had been felled or coppiced. So I didn’t get any photos of the deer or other animals that lived there, but I did get one image of Wendy, the Andover Trees United Director.

In the end it was an important photo. We too are animals and our lives are as intertwined with trees as any other. So Wendy became the first animal to be recorded by an Ash tree… or recorded unwittingly by herself, and since then I’ve become open to the idea of people being included in the artwork too.

Recently I’ve been focusing on the Ash trees that I can reach by walking or cycling from my home in the Pewsey Vale in Wiltshire. With the Covid-19 lockdown I have my boy home from school, so he has been joining me on expeditions to locate suitable trees on our allotted daily walk/ride. We take the camera out one weekend, set it up in a promising place, and collect it again a week later.

Sometimes there’s just a couple of videos of waving branches, or a blurry badger bum disappearing out of the frame, but other times there’s 20 or 30 images or videos to look through.

Brown Hare

I’m developing new pieces out of layering different photographs together, and I’m working on a new film too. It’s a slow process, that’s in part led by the trees and animals themselves, as I have to work with what they give me. It can be frustrating and exciting and gives me a precious insight into a world that I don’t usually have access to.

I’ve shared a few examples here of work in progress, the finished film and images won’t be ready for a while, but hopefully it helps to expand people’s understanding of the value of Ash trees for biodiversity, and what we stand to lose when they’ve gone.

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

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