D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1 . . . R e e v e S t , C l a y f i e l d
I hope the year that's closing has been good to you and a chance to relax is now on your horizon.
I've had a most engrossing time putting together this newsletter which I pushed myself to get started a week after arriving back from the UK. Worried the memories would fade quickly I was certainly mistaken. The process took days longer than expected as each place I began to recount led to additional research, fact checking, further contemplation ... in no time at all I was writing a book! After some serious editing here it is.
There's no lack of images, so you can always go for the visual overview! Remember: view this in the browser if its not reading well in email format.
T h e f i n a l e - n e w s b u l l e t i n f o r 2 0 1 1
In this latest installment you can read about:
++ Left sidebar: upcoming workshops, events etc
Preparations for a unique undertaking
London to Cornwall and back - The Eden Project
The Millennium Seedbank - who, what, when, where, how and why.
Two weeks in London - Kew Gardens, Natural History Museum, Linnean Society, John Innes Centre - Norwich, Further explorations.
Reflections on a memorable trip
++ Right sidebar: weblinks + news
If you think of someone who may wish to read this bulletin certainly pass it on via email or social media if you wish!
1. Preparations for a Special Trip
In the Spring E-news the lead up to the UK TRIP was reported at length... as was the lively ART WEEKEND at my Clayfield home in early September. The journalling/painting Demo at the Art Shed in West End went off well, an excellent turn out with some keen to sign on for workshops coming soon. My desk-top computer crashed in the midst of the frantic planning and communication blitz so I came to know the good people at the Apple Store quite well around then. Emails were flying off to the UK firming up plans... with way too many late nights! Upsizing my travel bag was a smart move at the last minute as I certainly lugged lots of books, papers and art materials home from the UK!
Sept 28th to Seoul, Korea for an overnight stopover.
Sept 29th arrived London
Oct 1st departed London for St Ives, Cornwall
Oct 2nd arrived St Austell for a week at the Eden Project
Oct 8th train to London
Oct 10th train to Heywards Heath, arriving Millennium Seedbank for 3 weeks.
Oct 31st train to London for two weeks
Nov 6th, 7th Paris
Nov 14th departing London for Seoul.
Nov 18th departing Seoul for Brisbane (arrival 19th)
3. London to Cornwall and back
Given it's 23 years since London had been my temporary home I was utterly charmed to be again in this wonderful city. A Blogger friend from LA kindly put me onto ideal accomodation through an excellent agency At Home in London... a most suitable option, excellent accomodation and value! Based around Hammersmith/Chiswick in London's west the three places I stayed were all very close to Kew Gardens and never far from places like Sth Kensington and Victoria Station + with great local restaurants!
After a long flight this home, kitchen pictured above, was the perfect base. My hosts were wonderful... Suzanne kindly helping me in my jetlagged state with various crucial things. Her involvement in Theatre is a plus for anyone wanting to navigate this rich seam of London life. Artist's note: this was the kind of place that made you want to capture it in watercolour sketches... utterly charming, with traces of the family's former years in Rome! Two days was not long enough here but I had a midday Saturday train from Paddington to St Ives, Cornwall to catch. Curiously I'd arrived into an Indian Summer so the south west coast was the ideal destination. I blogged here about the weekend visit to St Ives. One of the highlights was Barbara Hepworth's Garden Studio ...
Also meeting a fellow blogger/artist Carolyn Saxby for a few hours to exchange notes was a great way to learn more... this post from my studio blog might interest you on the charm of St Ives and local artist/blogger Carolyn. Sunday Night I made my way to St Austell in readiness for the week at the Eden Project.
These extraordinary biomes on site at the Eden Project , a once abandoned chalk mine, are a major attraction at this now a hugely popular and unique visitors centre. If only more abandoned mines looked like this... with a Tropical Rainforest Biome, pond below, waterfalls and much more. Queenslanders would likely feel at home in the tropical biome... whereas the mediterranean Biome is popular with many for its milder atmosphere. Read about the amazing food on offer here.
Read the impressions of my first day at the Eden Project here and the following post - Seed at the Core - which tells of this sculpture and its significance for the project..
My contacts were based with the Creative Team at the Foundation Building. Here I met exceedingly busy Hilary Garnham, Richard Good and co, all variously engaged with orchestrating a program of lively yet very diverse cultural and artistic projects interpreting the centre's vision, features and weighty themes. They introduced me to aspects of their work and Richard kindly pointed me in the right direction to be able to explore the centre as a whole. Given every aspect of this facility has a highly complex and topical process behind it I felt quite saturated in new information. Each single item used in the building construction had a rationale and story... so much so that I ceased to know if I was suffering jet lag or information overload. So much there was to think about! When I said this was a dense and complex project I was not jesting!
However, visitors can come for the day and simply enjoy walking through the different areas, appreciating the abundant sensual pleasures from endless artfully designed gardens and displays, taking in a memorable lunch in the huge new Eden Bakery Cafe where demonstrations of bread-making take place and fresh produce arrives on the tables continually to the milling crowd's delight. Devonshire cream teas or healthy kitchen-garden dishes satisfy many a visitor for lunch here. There's a lavish abundance about this enterprise that so contrasts with what is was!
Even with a week to wander there was plenty more still to discover. I was delighted to meet Maureen Newton, Seed Store Supervisor at the Eden Project Nursery on Watering Lane, who thoughtfully linked me to the British Heritage Seed Library, also filling me in on her time in residence at the MSB. If you are yet to have the opportunity to visit in Cornwall I recommend Eden Project as a uniquely on-off, exciting destination... the density of vision and effort being made by so many to realise this briliant project has to be seen to be grasped. At the end of this fascinating week I relished the train trip back to London for the chance to reflect. By evening I was settled in the Borough of Chiswick where my host Felicity, a former Mayor still currently on council, painted an excellent picture of the area from her wonderful local knowledge... past and present. I was thanking my friend Mlle Paradis for her great tip-off every time I settled into one of these wonderful London homes!
breakfast room at Felicity's
From this comfortable base I ran around to Art Stores and fitted in a trip to Portobello Rd and Soho ... discovering Princi, my new favourite in London to rest feet, get warm and eat something delicious. (note: due to popularity one needs persistance to secure a seat. It was worth it!)
4. The Millennium Seed Bank
Monday Oct 10th I left Victoria Station by train for Kew Garden's Millennium Seedbank at Wakehurst Place, Ardlingly... 188 hectares (465 acres) of country estate in West Sussex with ornamental gardens, temperate woodlands and an Elizabethan Mansion its the National Trust’s most visited property. Open throughout the year, Wakehurst is the country estate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. See Wiki for a historical outline.
The Elizabethan Mansion - first home to the Seed Bank
Sculptures at the front of the new Millennium Seedbank Building which opened in 2000
The Visitors centre is in the centre of this building... sitting over the underground seed bank, with windows facing into labs and workrooms so various activities can be observed.
This design, which helps demystify the scientist's workplace, has proved influential and since been replicated in different forms elsewhere.
Text from Kew Website: Did you know?
Where possible, collections of seeds stored at Wakehurst are duplicated in seed banks in the country from which they were collected.
Britain is the first country to have harvested and preserved its botanical heritage.
This is what the Millennium Seedbank Project is enabling other countries around the globe to do for their own heritage.
Courtyard between rooms for Residents at the MSB
The projects going on at any one time here are enormously varied being home to a global web of partnerships with 50 or so countries, as well as around 60 staff and a changing parade of residents and visitors. Many staff-members travel out across regions near and far, and in return people are coming in from those same regions for vital research, training and exchange. This was a highly stimulating place to be stationed for several weeks and I was incredibly appreciative of the fact that I could settle in and make myself at home here. The building having been designed by award winning architects and opened in 2000 meant facilities were top notch and my room easily adapted as a small temporary studio. Watercolours and inks were my main materials, working mostly on paper or in my journal when not busy focusing on research, dialogue, documentation, and photographing which all took me away from the studio. A wall that was all window allowed light into the room ...brilliant for producing artwork in the daytime.
My three weeks were typical of the panorama of changing residents. From day one there was Shalyn from Iowa-based Seedsavers.org spending a very busy few days in meetings with staff. Gisele, from Brazil, and Guiseppe, from Sicily, were well-established with their respective three or four month stints on Phd projects. A week later Efisio arrived for his tenth visit from Sardinia, along with a post-grad student Marco doing research. Geangelo came later... returning from Brazil for the third time to continue his work, then Shahid from Pakistan commenced several months research. The day I left someone was arriving from France for a couple of weeks and so it went on. The rec room contained a huge world map where everyone pencilled in their name next to the location they were from. Brisbane was rather well represented I must note! Phil Cameron ... I spotted your name up there!
Fellow residents on my last night viewing artwork -
from left: Marco Porceddu, Geangelo Petene Calvi, Shahid
Hahidali, Efisiio Mattana, Gisele Saes Batista.
With the work and living arrangements for residents all in one location, and quite a way from town and distractions, shared meals and conversation were part of daily life... as were long hours in the small library often working side by side. Being the only artist, the others pursuing academic research during my stay, conversations took off on many tangents, adding considerably to my thinking about seeds and circumstances around the world. This was a critically useful part of being in residence... the opportunity to further understanding of other regions and values people were coming from.
I heard from a few people how Australia was perceived in terms of stepping up for, or even leading the way with aspects of Ecological Restoration work... particularly involvement of volunteers in land-care and environmental projects of various kinds. Over dinner one night several residents made the comment that seeing Australia's unique flora and habitat was high on their wish list. However, it was keenly noted, the Italian cuisine was by far the most popular cooking in the resident's kitchen ...easy dishes and delicious!. Good Italian coffee was up there as well ...but not to forget Brazilian chocolates with exotic fruit fillings supplied by Geangelo.
the library ... shelves dedicated to biodiversity
in the greenhouse
Above the resident's wing and library was the greenhouse where I photographed this healthy specimen ( a rare South African species if I recall rightly) that had been cultivated from a packet of 200 year old seeds found in a drawer in a museum, having belonged to a renown adventurer who'd sailed to South Africa all those years before. Thanks to John Dickie, my excellent tour-guide on this occasion, I got to discover much more of the facility including the underground Seedbank vaults. His involvement goes back to when the Mansion was home to Seedbank so there were a lot more stories up his sleeve I'm sure. Wonderful stories were a constant during my stay ...getting to recall them, or record them at the right moment was more difficult. I soon learned to be very grateful for the quietness of this somewhat monastic exisitance that was the resident's life here. Without it I'd never have gleaned and documented as much as I did. At times I was overwhelmed thinking about lack of time to accomplish all that was planned so resorted to some artful self-mentoring to keep focused.
Every day more layers were revealed. Not only is the MSBP a complex web of global associations and traffic in real time and virtual but the site itself consists of so many branches of research - from the grounds of Wakehurst Place's diverse gardens and habitats... to the nurseries and greenhouses with their multiple projects... down to the Millennium Seedbank Building itself with its designated areas of endeavour. Staff involvements were certainly broad-ranging... beyond my capacity to take it all in in a few weeks.
One person I was pleased to get a chance to converse with was Vanessa Suttcliffe, a training and technology specialist who outlined her involvements at the MSBP for me ... stories covering the Caucausus, China, Africa, the UK seed heritage and Post-Mining restoration work. She mentioned the example of Rio Tinto staff involved in Land Stewardship for a Mining site in Guinea, Africa undertaking a training intensive to be able to set up seed-conservation pre commencement of mining and explained the kind of challenges that arise post-mining with restoration work. Three week training intensives have brought people together at the MSBP Residence from all around the world ... and when and where possible training is sometimes conducted in the region to save on costs for attendees. As her stories took us around the globe Vanessa explained the ways small steps in changing habits or processes can over time come to have significant impact. She commented on the Australian involvements and the partnerships that had gone from strength to strength after the intial training and financial support and were seeing brilliant results.
One of the projects she discussed was Kew's Difficult Seeds Project which works with crop gene banks and farmers to conserve plants used for food and agriculture in Africa.The website Vanessa put together features this List which is a revelation when you notice how many commonly known food plants are on that difficult seeds list... barley, rice, corn, avocado and sweet potato. Makes one aware of why a good knowledge base can make a pronounced difference. Sincere thanks to Vanessa for her a wonderful introduction to her work.
Kew Publication: the story of the MSBP
The welcome extended as I got around the site assured a tremendously rewarding few weeks. Where was my notebook when a passing exchange would deliver up pertinent info or remarks. One day someone emphasised the critical foundation of sharing that this entire project and field of enterprise is built on... an apt comment I came to fully appreciate during my time.
It struck me that what so many of us love about seeds... (perhaps not always consciously!) ...is the regenerative power within the seed... the fact a pod may scatter hundreds of seeds to the wind... a symbol both fertile and generous. The plant shares its progeny... the seed collectors have long shared their harvest and globally the seed banks of many organisations put sharing at the top of their priorities... certainly the Millennium Seedbank does and its many partners, organisations from around the globe, keen to sustain the exchange. Here's just one example, one of 420 Kew Projects I found listed, of a project of co-operation between Kew MSB and Brazil.
From Kew.org website: Interactive map - explore the state of the world's plant life.
At this point in the newsletter four days ago I found myself writing not just sentences but paragraphs... long, wordy paragraphs which I culled tonight and saved elsewhere. I'd got to the point where, no matter what I wrote, deleted, changed, added ... the words were trying to speak to something elusive that just refused to arrive. I spent all of Sunday at the State Library trying to complete it. I was reminded to think like a painter who trusts this irrepressable flow of thought... and concerntrates on emptying one's mind on paper, in drawings... whatever it takes... coming back later to find what has emerged or become clear.
Wrestling with words today...words that wanted to keep coming... how to speak to this uttlerly layered, concentrated 6 or so weeks... to those three weeks in residence that are living with me still in a way that surprises. So much stimulus and so little time to work with it and absorb everything... but absorb I did. The atmosphere of the Seedbank... of Wakehurst... so very unique. I think I could paint it better than say it. I'll have to see...
Back to the story... Harvesting... thats a good point to come back to!
This image shows Gardeners harvesting seed from this tree to send across to the Seedbank for processing. Collaborations happen on so many levels in this work. I met Vicki out in the garden harvesting this day...she'd recently moved from Kew to work on the new UK Native Seed Hub initiative. It was an interesting story she told me of being a Graphic Designer in London, changing careers to Horticulture, gaining work at Kew Gardens, then somehow ending up designing ooks for several Kew publications on the side ...and now winding up working on a fascinating new project at Wakehurst. Vicki led me to meet Jo Wenham, Plant Propagation and Conservation Manager who had great tales of travels in Tasmania and also Chile, gathering seeds from the monkey puzzle tree. I was sorry to have such a short time for chatting with them over at the Nursery. Also there I met Carol Hart with whom I had a great talk with about her time in the States visiting old established East Coast Botanic Gardens for work-research purposes. Chris from the Garden I must also thank... he pointed out where to find special trees in the Gardens that were in seed!
On another day in the Seed Cleaning Lab I came upon volunteers helping staff process seeds from Plymouth Pear trees just harvested in the town of Plymouth, one of only two known places this species still exists. From the Plymouth Council Website: The Plymouth Pear is part of English Nature's Species Recovery Programme at the Royal Botanic Gardens, where three specimens have been planted outside Queen's Cottage in the hope of ensuring the long-term survival of this rare tree.
If one could tell a story for every seed saved here it would be quite extraordinary I'm sure. I had the pleasure of observing and drawing species that had been set aside for show and tell purposes in a room where the public could look through large windows and those on-site like myself were free to come and explore. A box labelled 'seeds for artists' I was able to take to my make-do studio after recording it in the log-book.
from the seed collections ... these two speceis were used for show and tell.
The following images are a few pages from my journal started at the MSB. My prefernce is for square journals when drawing seeds and I found the perfect size whilst in London... a 20 cm square hard cover book which wasn't too heavy to carry around with my laptop.
This Jacaranda seed was so delicate...I was working with the highly magnified image of the seed under the microscope whilst drawing in the lab.
This illustration i did of a fossil featured an early seed form ... a cupule which contained the seeds... found in the Devonian period. Whilst at Wakehurst i was prompted to contemplate time constantly... one can investigate seeds from so many viewpoints yet constantly time was a feature... whether looking at fossil seeds, archival material from explorers and plant hunters of the 18th and 19th century, listening to gardeners discuss methods and processes in relation to particular species, those doing biomolecular research, germination trials or such ... time always plays a part, observation is crucial as is patience to stand back and wait if needs be or act if something emerges unexpectedly. This element of developing a feeling for the unique timing of a particular thing struck me as quite strongly poetic in a way and very much a core experience of participating in the realm of seed and plants... something gardeners have long appreciated but we push hard against in contemporary life.
acorn seed caps found on a walk in the gardens
signage in the Storeroom
Seeds finally processed, through many stages, and packaged into small bottles packed inside a large glass jar ready for cold storage in the underground seedbank vault.
This sign reminded me of a certain similarity between lab and studio... works in progress...certainly the experimentation. One difference is order perhaps ... but some artists have that in spades. The MSB was far from a sterile environment, with visual communication material on walls, work desks and shelves housing interesting collections... and some curious plants lining a sunny wall. Every corner you turned there was something interesting to see... someone working on something you wanted to know about.
Fellow resident, Giuseppe Puglia, working on seed
germination trials for his Phd research
seed drawing on recycled seed research paper
Wolfgang Stuppy - my contact person at the MSB
Mention must of course be made to Wolfgang Stuppy. (nb: link to bio) who was the contact person for my stay. Talented photographer, writer and seed morphologist his books are well known, like the epic 'SEEDS' produced with Rob Kessler in 2007. He was very welcoming, showing me around, offering the resources that were available for me to use for drawing.
I was extremely pleased to have access to work on an excellent Microscope used for photographing seeds. This was to prove far more difficult than I first imagined thought. I drew the jacaranda seed and another one I adored the shape of and realised how exacting and time-consuming this approach to drawing would be and consequently found myself alarmed at the prospect of having no time for anything else. I then abandoned the microscope plan...which was not helped by the head cold either. 3 weeks was just too short a time for that kind of intense daily routine. I had plans t draw the entire collection of seeds in the Artist Box Wolfgang had leant me... and to fill the pages of my new journal. I did managed to photogrpah every seed and pod in that box... that was an epic in itself...and I spent a few days of solid drawing and painting in my journal on the collection itself. There was no lack of stimulus!
This is special: open this link to Wolfgang discussing seeds on a BBC news website and watch a stunning 5 minute slideshow which he narrates. It is very charming. Reminds me very much of the magic of seeds so do take a look!
Working at my desk with a copy open of Wolfgang's book 'Seeds' for inspiration ...along with acorns and autumn leaves collected on the grounds. I'm sure there will be another publications form Wolfgang to watch out for at some point. If you are ever in Austrlai doing your Seed presentation Wolfganf please let us know... I'm sure I will find a few keen to catch that! My warmest thanks, once again!
These items are from archival material found in the Seedbank .The note was saved with details of an annual herb species from Kenya. I was very delighted when Nicola (fingers crossed I got your name right!) told me about some of this archival material and took me especially to view it all.
Small brass containers found in the archival material
As I close these thoughts on Wakehurst Place and the MSBP I extend my grateful thanks to the Director Paul Smith who offered this wonderful opportunity in the first place, and gave precious time during my stay for an exchange on the Project at large. Reading the Kew Science Directory the other day led me to so many of the staff I saw at work during my stay... some who've kindly offered to answer queries as I follow up on things. Thanks to Rachael Davies for the images of x-ray seeds, and to Gemma Tooth also for her time. please do forgive me not naming all who took time to say hello or show me around. I'll blame my head cold or late night painting sessions for my bad memory!
A very special thankyou goes to Diana Rawlinson who was the wonderful organiser/fixer or all things for the Residents! Gisele, Giuseppe and Geangelo are keeping me posted on the weather over there at the moment... so do keep well all of you and have a really lovely festive season! Maybe a white Xmas?
Anyone interested to read more on the MSBP might like to go to Samara, the International Newsletter of the partners of the Millennium Seedbank Partnership to read the latest volume online - Issue 21- on the theme of Forestry. Also, Sydney Morning Herald readers ... the November 12th Good Weekend article The Constant Gardener on Tim Entwistle, an Australian playing a key role at Kew Gardens, may be of interest for several reasons ...not the least of which is a reference to the MSBP.
5. Two weeks in London:
From the calm, relatively 'monastic' life of Wakehurst Place to the buzz and noise of London it was a different pace altogether. Fighting the chest infection again didn't help... however my accomodations just off Chiswick High St were perfect. I looked out onto a wonderful large garden from my window ... Kenneth and Dominie were lovely hosts, I was 5 mins from the District Line and from buses 8 mins ...so I soon settled and set the pace for my two weeks of research in London. There were a couple of days when I hadn't realised rest was badly needed and I would wonder why plans werent working out and give in to meandering and discovering things. This was how I discovered Slow Food International had set up a store at Neals Yard, Covent Garden where I got to chat about their UK project and goals. I also stumbled on a designer who's fabrics were really distinctive and original, and got to see the downstairs studios and places where weaving, sewing and workshops take place. Its always good to make room for the unexpected.
Kew Gardens archives :
Wolfgang kindly set up contacts at Kew Gardens Art and Archives for my London stint, and Kew being only a short bus ride from where I was staying, I relished the chance to fit in these quiet days ...the first day was spent with Lyn Parker going through various works from the collection of botanical illustrations, illuminated manuscripts and early botanical journals. It was fascinating to have her discussing each of the works as shetook me through the material, explaining characteristics of works produced in different eras.
Lyn organised a day with Michele Losse in Archives the following week, and a visit to the exhibition just opening on the life and work of Joseph Hooker the day I was leaving. With thanks to Lyn, Michele and other staff who offered valuable imput to faciliate this being a really rewarding visit.
Early manuscript from 1370 - Ortis Sanitatis
German origin - written in Latin
Journal - 1610 Sebastian Scheded Calendarium
My notes are quite separate to my photographs so I will have to call on Lyn to let me know if I have correctly attributed this. Ive noted drawings in this journal were produced for Hortus Eystettensis - a book in 2 volumes compiled and written by Basilius Besler in 1613.
I was quite taken with it ... it had obviously not been in archival storage its whole life and pages were worn, unfinished, childrens markings were evident on some of the pages... even some paintings thought to have been done by someone young. It certainly reminded me of not-always-seen studio material with imperfections and incomplete work.
Autumn in the garden - November, strolling through Kew Gardens
I had a very fascinating day in the Archives the following week... focused on searching through early Australian documents of the first plant and seed collectors. I became quite engrossed in the life of the early explorer in Australia... Alan Cunningham...trying to imagine his voyages and overland travels. Read more here at my homage to the Seed blog.
Natural History Museum :
This museum was absolutely packed and noisy the day I visited ... so making my way to the rear of the building to the fabulous new Darwin Centre was a treat. Here in this new wing I walked through the public displays on Biodiversity around the wonderful giant (6 floor) Cocoon, then encouraged by a staff member, I was shown to the Angela Marmont Centre and introduced to Luanne Faulknall, Earth Sciences Identification and Advisory Officer, to investigate the fossil drawers to see what could be found on seed fossils.
A quick photo of contents of a drawer of fossil plants ..with my small camera a challenge!
Several books were located that dealt in particular with fossil seeds, whereas the drawers contained plant fossils which were fascinating to view and I was keen of draw.
I used my journal from the MSB residency for quick sketches and notes whilst in London. Given the cold November weather we were experiencing it was interesting to consider time past when London was hot, humid and tropical. 'Fossil plants of the London Clay' referred back millions of years with palms featured on the cover. During my brief afternoon here it was obvious, if time permitted, how much there was to pursue. The fossil curator from the museum I'd definitely like to have met, also to see if one could view actual seed fossils.
Thanks go to Luanne for her time and excellent introduction to the collections!
Linnean Society :
The day I made my way to the Linnean Society and Museum I was unsure what to expect, however Deputy Librarian Elaine Charwat's email response to my queries had been most promising and I was not to be disappointed. The history of Burlington House in Piccadilly is colourful and now it is home to the Linnean Society, on the left at the imposing entrance, as well as the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Geologcial Society, the Astronomical Society and the Society of Antiquaries of London all of which you can read about here.
Elaine was from Germany and had spent some years in a Dublin Library in Special Collections so I was treated to a wonderful introduction to the life of Carl Linneas as she took me through the wonderfull preserved collections of his life's work in a vaulted room in the basement. Here were shelves of his personal journals, notes, published book of his material and that of many others he'd collected, specimens in drawers and sealed envelopes of plant material, shells, fish, butterflies and more, the large published folios of his most important works and tomes like this important one below.
I should have come with a recorder (I thought that many times on this trip) as Elaine's commentary was so engaging, detailed yet accessible. It struck me that it was a godsend I'd read a good Linneas biography early on in my Brisbane Residency in 2010 as that provided a small but useful skeleton of knowledge for a day at this Museum. Elaine explained how the system of classifying plants Linneas developed enabled people to feel they ould be part of it ...specialists interpreted but many came on board ...many lay people that is.
I adored looking over the Folio: Systema Natura, his most important work. It has such a modern look about it, was around 45 x 60 cm, and the type and page layout were so well designed.
Table of the Animal Kingdom (Regnum Animale) from Carolus Linnaeus's first edition (1735) of Systema Naturae (wiki commons)
I spent several hours in the library as well and left delighted at conversations shared and the unexpectedly rich layer the day had added to my research. My gratitude to Elaine for her eloquent presentation and allowing me to feel so at home.
Update: From Linnean Society on Facebook
The Linnean Society of London
I noticed this debate was held on November 17th, just a few days after I left London. An old, respected institution hosting an important contemporary debate at which attendees were invited to vote... I imagine there'd have been some well-articulated views on both sides of the debate. My experience of the English way of engaging with ideas leads me to think that a certain detachment from emotion can allow points of view to be more fully expressed, put up in a manner where the audience is better able to follow lines of thinking. I'd have been curious to attended this evening to see how it unfolded, what the range of arguments were and to gauge the atmosphere!
John Innes Centre, Norwich :
From an earlier date on the Linnean Society Calendar: 2011 Darwin Lecture podcast is now available - Sir David Attenborough OBE FRS HonFLS speaking on 'Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise'. Such an interesting and broad-ranging public program runs year round here and at many of the other venues I visited.
One Sunday, whilst at the MSBP, I took my lunch into the TV room and turned onto a BBC2 program
'The great British Food Revival" and was duly captivated. The chef Ainsley Harriot was doing a segment on peas.
Well...i like peas despite not loving that australian/anglo habit of simply boiling them, then plonking them on the plate with meat and veg. In later years I've readdressed their potential with glee as I love their colour on my plate for starters and think they have a great taste to boot! I've taken note of other cultures that do clever things with peas and on this show I was in for a real treat.
Ainsley visited Prince Charles' Highgrove Garden (above) for a look at the organic garden paradise that it is, cooked up a couple of fab dishes back in London and took us on a journey to a Plant Science institute in Norwich called the John Innes Centre. Well... we got to see their collection of 3.500 varieties of peas stored in an onsite seed bank and I was transfixed. I should go there I thought so I popped into the library after the show and sent off an email to the centre to organise a visit... as you do!
the humble pea - subject for many breeding trials
So, weeks later, here was I taking photos of the Pea Collection which has international status given it holds a lot of variable materials and wild stock. The centre also holds the UK Cereal collection for wheat, barley, oats. Being shown around by the engaging Mike Ambrose (below) translated to another conversation that should have been taped for all the mportant threads presented... threads covering debates around plant science and how this Institute is connecting with the public and the burgeoning issues of feeding the world, retaining heritage plants and traditions, wild plant species, best practices.
I have included the list below from a display at the Centre because it notes several unique things about this Institution.... particularly the last point. I was fascinated by the commitment to UK's agricultural heritage here.
Further explorations :
The John Innes Centre, on the fringe of the local University in Norwich, engages with the community through Open days, public dialogue programs, Art-Science collaborations and Exhibitions. They look out for visuals and stories to capture the public's attention through cultivated networks, like the BBC which jumped on the offer to feature the science of peas in the TV show I saw. That got me wondering whether we're in the practice in Australia of putting science into our food programs. The Science community and Govt created a community dialogue initiative in UK around Plant Science and GM technology a few years back Mike explained ...they wanted to address community concern directly, remarking that "people can't be pushed to think in any particular way but you have an obigation to talk about what's going on and include them in the discussion". He talked also of the Institute's obligation to share their collections and knowledge across Britain and beyond.
A Digression: Whilst on residency in 2010 at the Seed Lab at Mt Coot-tha (a MSBP partnership) I'd been helping out where I could on the conservation of Queensland's wild habitat seeds, a process of slow, careful steps ...separating seeds from pods, cleaning,sorting, checking for viability, preparing for storage....very hands on, even "organic". I was surprised then to be under attack ...by green-leaning individuals ...claiming seedbanks were seriously misguided, also an angry comment on my 'homage to the Seed' blog that we should be "growing things in our back yards" not using seed banks because they were so wrong. I started asking questions of the staff at that point: "Which part of this process exactly is 'problematic", "how is it wrong?" and "What am I not seeing that you are doing?" The differences between working in the field: in-situ as opposed to in the lab: ex-situ were explained at length... out in the field presented as the ideal for certain reasons...but often in-situ conservation work is simply not possible for a whole complex of reasons. 18 months after those comments pushed me to ask more questions Ive noticed a huge expansion in commentary as to why Ex-situ work is increasingly necessary around the planet. This really brought home to me fear and lack of knowledge can cast even straigthforward scientific processes in a bad light.
We discussed news of Swedish Scientists who had just united to make a stand in regard to GM technology, with some surprising points being made ... read here if you are interested. We have parallel organisations in Australia to the JIC in Norwich... the Waite Research Institute - Agriculture for the future, at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, and CSIRO also is involved in similar research on wheat. My lack of formal scientific knowledge and subsequent difficulty navigating the complexities of plant science made it very easy to understand others in the community being all at sea. I was gaining an appreciation though, of how important it is not to simply take on the opinions that fly around from whichever side of an argument, but rather to attempt independent thinking and careful deliberation of information.
This visit was the last of my formal research appointments and a fitting finale to 6 weeks exploring how plants and seeds are cast in the 21st century - the approaches being initiated, debated over, fostered and sustained in contemporary times around the globe. I've come home with many more questions that I started out with, but inspired after getting to see so much and meet people highly motivated in their respective fields of endeavor and eager to share and offer ideas.
I appreciate the doors that were opened for me to come in, discuss, and learn at my own pace ...without need to subscribe to a certain viewpoint or be in possession of particular qualifications. Years ago I took to heart valuable lessons in 'suspending judgement in order to enter a new space'... thus 'allowing room for things to present themselves without my interference'. Each of the Institutions and Projects I 'entered' in the UK appeared to have a unique sensibility, philosophy and mission or intention. It was fascinating to 'enter' each one and begin to absorb the atmosphere and reflect on values driving it over time. With an Insititution as long-established as a place like Kew Gardens for example, one can read about very distinct eras, the formative ideas of the time, and see the larger unfolding story in retrospect. History helps us remember these driving forces and outcomes in a full palette of splendour and harshness.
A few images from my time in London...
The British Museum
is of course an enormous treasure house extending back in time. It was great to go back and visit after so many years.I am very interested in the art and artifacts from the Fertile Crescent ... and Ancient Egypt.
Viewing the ancient Egyptian room featuring wonderful scenes from "Nebamun's garden' - Nebamun being the accountant in charge of grain at the great Temple of Amun at Thebes - revealed the harvest (above top) as an important image. Nebamun (shown in 2nd image above) was a grain counter in the grain stores and a very amusing account of his life is given in a Guardian article explaining how, given his lowly position he could have had these amazing masterpieces created 3,500 years ago.
Clay tablets from Mesopotamia c 3300 BC containing the oldest known examples of writing also took my attention... developed largely for accountants once again to keep track of trade and payments. With the earliest cuniform tablets mostly lists and admin records you can be sure grains and seeds featured on those lists.
‘Clay tablet; record of barley; barley appears four times on this tablet represented by a single stalk with ears at the top; three different types of numerical symbol are used.’ Uruk, Mesopotamia, 3300BC-3100BC (via British Museum)
Getting to see galleries was less of a priority on this trip, although I did still wander in and out of each small gallery I came across, and did find time for a few of the large Institutions. This work below was photogrphed at the entrance of the Tate Modern.
The words behind the green vertical lights read
"IT IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE THAT WE REPEAT OUR MISTAKES AS A REMINDER TO FUTURE GENERATIONS OF THE DEPTHS OF OUR STUPIDITY"
- above that is the text 'I decided not to save the world"
Market highlights in London:
Borough - French flavour
Columbia Rd flower Market
Brick Lane - international market cuisine
A few Eating out tips:
Ottolenghi - have had the book for ages ... enjoyed getting to try the food!
Providores - Peter Gordon ... Kiwi fusion... v. good!
Princi - to-die-for everyday italian bakery + more, with attitude!
Susan, Doug and Pippa's place at Cleveland Square - fabulous home cooking!
Borough market - braised duck on bread rolls had a huge line up - not my choice!
Bricklane market - I went Moroccan here...endless cuisine choices... and so lively!
How to develop an appetite:
Eden Project - fresh as!
Cornwall produce - local and artisanal!
6. Two days in Paris :
do the freezing walk to the closest village pub, in the moonlight, through dew-laden fields, near Wakehurst Place. Is it snowing yet guys?
With so much to do in London it was a case of getting to Paris for 2 days or forget it. How could I forget this? 8.30am Eurostar from St Pancras International ... 2hrs 15 mins later Nord du Gard. The trip was relaxing... an easy Sunday morning journey ... by afternoon I was at this wonderful museum below I'd long been curious to see.
Musee du Quai Branly was my first destination... easy to find due to its proxmity to the Eiffel tower. Featuring indigenous art, cultures and civilizations from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas ... the website is also amazing...so many research trails to pursue here. As part of my interest in seeds I have been enjoying seeking out objects from different cultures that employ seeds in various ways. Many contemporary artists and crafts people are looking closely at these wide-ranging origins of design and the cultural relevance of these objects.
Paris offered me a chance to look at things through a slightly different lens. Sunday night I found myself in the queue to the Pompidou Centre talking to a young Korean Pastry chef working in Paris. I didnt realise till I was in the building that I was in the queue for the library. Why not visit the library I thought ... I was met with the sight of hundreds of young Parisians at long tables with head down reading, writing, tapping away on computers... all around this vast space. At 8pm this really was quite a sight! I'm convinced the State Library here should look into opening to 10pm everynight... and the galleries and associated eating places. Why should the Fortitude Valley entertainment precinct be the only thing happening at night?
Monday in Paris I crammed in walks in various quarters, exploring art supply shops and book shops. I found small galleries and charming unique shops for everything. I was sad to get on the 9.30pm train and head back to London... but appreciated the order of the London underground on arrival back I must admit. I still had another 7 days in London in front of me after the Paris diversion and I certainly filled those days well!
7. Three days in Seoul, Korea :
I left London on November 14th, arriving next day in bustling Seoul.The impression this city made on me in a few days was of a country forging ahead with great change but holding strong attachment to many traditions of deep value and importance. People were delightful helping me find my way, my hotel comfortable and the pace of the city intriguing....so alive at night! I took refuge in a wonderful old tea house late one afternoon sipping on this heavenly ginger and cinnamon tea... and a nearby Herbal Medicine shop tantalized me with its likeness to a botanical museum... if only someone could have relayed to me what was what.
Two faces of Seoul ... A Buddhist temple and the burgeoning Contemporary Art Scene. The temple was close by a tradiitional cultural precinct called Insadong, filled with old buildings, houses, traditional crafts, restaurants and shops... but also bursting with galleries respresenting Korea's prolific numbers of very good contemporary artists. On the evening when I visited most of the galleries were celebrating opening night of their shows... so there were huge bouquets of flowers at the doors and crowds gathering everywhere.
I ran out of time for visiting the Botanic Gardens, choosing to spend the last day on a bus tour of the city instead. We drove by the Gardens which I was then told were closed for winter ... I can recommend this way to see the city... actually ideal for the first day! My all too brief trip to this city of contrasts was without doubt captivating.
8. Reflections on a memorable trip :
Those long weeks away were incredibly dense, leaving me with an extensive list to follow-up tasks and ideas to consider. For anyone who took the time to dip into the stories I shared here ... I thank you. As a non-science person it may have been easy to feel out of my depth on my travels, but no-one gave me the hint of a reason to feel that!
S o w h a t d o I r e a l l y t h i n k a f t e r t h i s t r i p ?
I am convinced that curiosity and energy to approach the new and meet the unexpected will serve us well.
That we need to be dilligent when seeking out and weighing up the best sources of knowledge.
That we must keep learning.
That fear keeps us stuck - unable to even contemplate a way outside what we know.
My love of the ancient and eternal is as strong as ever ... but my curiosity lies also in the thought of things not yet discovered, or dreamed of.
I really liked the level of collaboration and sharing I saw, being around people who were extending themselves on projects that have long-term vision, with other people's futures at heart. I'm so grateful to have had this oportunity to establish vivid connections to people behind the kinds of ideas which will feed into the next stage of my project - producing a book based on a range of stories around Seeds and Biodiversity.
Over the months ahead my time will be divided between continuing to paint, developing related art projects on the side, maintaining an online dialogue, teaching wherever possible and giving shape to a new book. 2012 is indeed looking interesting! I'll be sending out a brief e-bulletin before long on proposed classes for the coming months... note: check the left column below for what's coming!!
To all who offered support and encouragement this year I sincerely thank you. May you enjoy a restful or enlivening festive season, whichever is your preference... and be ready to make 2012 a year to remember!
My warmest thanks goes to all the great people at KEW Millennium Seed Bank Partnership for providing what has been a truly remarkable opportunity for engagement, learning and enrichment of the Homage to the Seed Project. In-kind sponsorship in the form of on-site accomodation I chose to honour with the gift of a 1sq mt art work titled "Counting the Inheritance II".
This trip became a reality through the support of a great many people and in the coming weeks I will be updating my website and paying tribute to all supporters. I'd like to conclude this E-newsletter by offering my sincere thanks to the Australian Business Arts Foundation and the Australian Cultural Fund for kindly fostering Homage to the Seed in their program this year. Particular thanks go to Melinda Martin and Melanie Pitt at AbaF, and Fiona Maxwell at the Australian Arts Council for fine encouragement and guidance through 2011.
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Love the colour of these amazing seeds - images above by Wolfgang Stuppy.
wishing you abundant good things for this festive season & may you prosper in 2012
A SEED themed xmas in 2011?
My friend Marilena gave me this thoughtful gift on the weekend... spice mixes she'd made, a spicy tomato jam, her own Massala chai tea, a seed necklace she'd found and brightened up with some polish, a small spice set from Egypt with accompanying book, and seeds packaged from her own garden in small sewn envelopes.
FINAL WISH FOR THIS YEAR:
To see the 'Seeds for Life' Project at Mt Coot-tha continue the critical work conducted there since 2004!
Set up in conjunction with the UK's Millennium Seedbank Partnership, the Seed Lab facility based at Brisbane Botanic Gardens looks uncertain as to its future operations. A number of staff and key people associated with the project were naturally keen to see new developments that might pave the way for continuation of operations. Having understood much more about this global project and how it fosters local connections and international exchange I would gladly welcome circumstances that allow it to prosper well into the future. It has attracted a strong and willing volunteer base, post grad students undertaking research, and at least one artist-in-residence ... quite a community of people from diverse backgrounds and interests have really enjoyed connecting and learning alongside staff.
Homage to the Seed book:
Available for $35 + postage