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Casting the Flowers of the Field

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

My own understanding of landscapes starts from the ground up, from the geology beneath which influences the topography and micro climates, the soils and waters, the plants that grow, the animals that inhabit and the human cultures that subsequently have shaped and have been shaped by millennia of co-existence and entanglement in/with a place. One of my passions is plant life, its subtle or dramatic changes in different landscapes that I visit and inhabit and the stories this tells. I love the unconscious deep-rootedness of plants in human culture and memory, the uses we have put them too, how they a have influenced our lives and us theirs. Our ancestors knew the importance of this reciprocal relationship. We have succoured each other, brought balm and healed, brought death and destruction, crossed-continents and made music together. Plants clothe us, feed us, give us shelter. They actively work on all of our senses. They mark the passing of time. They suggest continuity in place in the growth of giants in trees, some of which we come to know and treasure as individuals on a personal and/or cultural level, and slow growth of symbiotic lichens over centuries, whilst simultaneously flagging-up the changes of the seasons and climatic conditions. They form vast networks of sentient communities alongside Mycorrhizal fungal networks and chemical signals to other plants and animals, including us. They improve our wellbeing, as particularly came to be understood and valued during the pandemic lockdowns. Now, in the knowledge of climate crisis we understand (remember), hopefully not too late, the importance of how much more they give us – cleaning the air, regulating temperature, creating healthy soils so we can grow food, decreasing flooding, holding the very soil and rocks in place and supporting a diversity of life that is needed to sustain human and non-human life equally. Plants cast long shadows through the language, place-names, folklore, stories, practices, traditions, tastes and personal and collective memories particular to place and landscape. They surround us with beauty, joy and wonder when we take the time to get to really notice and get to know them, the minutiae of their structures, the touch and scent of them.

Landscapes and nature always induce a strong creative impulse in me. As part of my personal interaction with the landscapes of the ecomuseums, I am creating a series of castings of the plants that characterise the areas. Using only natural, non-toxic materials and collecting specimens consciously and sustainably. The resulting castings create a sculptural close-study representation of landscape/place that combines the matter of the local earth, waters, plants with intangible heritage of language, stories and memories.

Below are some photographs from the first casting made during my visit to Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum. The plants used came from the battle site itself. As part of the creation of the ecomuseum, access was improved up Branxton Hill, on which the Flodden memorial is sited. As part of this, the hillside surrounding the pathway was taken out of agricultural use and a wildflower meadow created. Field-paths allowing access around the battlefield are also maintained with hedgerows and a field margin of wildflowers and grasses. It is from this meadow and field margins that the plants I used came from, along with field gleanings of malt barley and oats, two of the main crops surrounding the site.

At Flodden, casting the flowers of the field held a particular resonance because of the song ‘The Floo’ers o’the Forest’ which was written as a lament for the Scots killed in the battle. First recorded in c.1615 it is thought to have been composed earlier. The tune is usually only played at funerals by a lone-piper (as at Prince Philip’s earlier this year) and commemorations. Alongside the photos plays a recording of a solo piper playing the tune during the annual commemoration service on 09/09/21. The lyrics are in Scots and given below the photos. The term 'casting' also has resonance with the Flodden story as remembered by one of the Border towns. Selkirk’s Casting of the Colours commemorates the return of a single surviving soldier after the battle, Fletcher, as part of the towns annual Common Riding (a horse-backed boundary marking festival), His 79 comrades were all slain and on his return to the town with a banner captured from the English, his is said to have cast it to the ground in his despair and exhaustion.

The casting process is very trail and error on a large piece and my first attempt fractured into many pieces. The second attempt also fractured but less so and I have decided that I will incorporate the repaired fractures as part of the final work to reflect the work of the ecomuseum project in bringing together communities in the spirit of peace and reconciliation over a past pain that still leaves it mark on contemporary culture. In an idea similar to the Japanese philosophy of kintsugi, which highlights ware and breakages on pottery with precious metal as a metaphor for acknowledgements of events in life and how it affects us, remembering yet moving forward together. This on-going art project will be developed over the course of my research.

The Floo’ers o’the Forest

I’ve heard them lilting, at our yowe-milking, Lasses a-lilting afore the dawn o’ day; Noo they are moaning on ilka green loaning; “The Floo’ers o’ the Forest are a’ wede away.

As buchts, in the morning, nae blythe lads are scorning; The lasses are lonely and dowie and wae. Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’, but sighing and sobbing, Ilk ane lifts her leglen, and hies her away.

In hairst, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering, The bandsters are lyart, and runkled and grey. At fair or at preaching, nae wooing, nae fleeching, The Floo’ers o’ the Forest are a’ wede away.

At e’en, in the gloaming, nae stossies are roaming, ‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play. But ilk ane sits drearie, lamenting her dearie, The Floo’ers o’ the Forest are a’ wede away.

Dule and wae for the order sent our lads to the border; The English, for ance, by guile wan the day: The Floo’ers of the Forest, that foucht aye the foremost, The prime o’ our land are cauld in the clay.

We’ll hae nae mair lilting, at the yowe-milking, Women and bairns are dowie and wae. Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning, The Floo’ers of the forest are all wede away.

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