In response to the question, ‘What would you most like to plant? Where would you plant it and why?’, my mother answered that she would like to ‘restore former habitats with all their indigenous species’ to re-create an ecological balance. She feels that ‘nature has no need of us and is better off without us, and yet is a spiritual source for us.’
Birches are the most common of the native trees in Scotland and I’ve always felt a natural affinity with them. Their bark appears fragile and yet is exceptionally strong, and difficult to destroy. The birch has traditionally been used for wound healing, roofing, boat building, furniture making, weaving, manuscripts, sustenance, insect repellent, shampoo, and is excellent for fire lighting. Mythologically, birch is known as the ‘lady of the woods’ and as such she symbolises renewal, regeneration and new beginnings. The image at the top of this page is a drawing I made of an ancient birch tree I found during a walk in Knoydart – her roots have wrapped themselves around exposed rocks in the hillside.
I soaked some birch seeds and placed them in the fridge for twenty days in a bag. I planted them a couple of weeks ago and they have just started sprouting, which is exciting.
One of the Matryoshka dolls is about planting. The drawing I’ve used is based on a black and white photograph I took of birch woods in Perthshire a few years ago. I cut off the top of the doll last week so I can either plant a birch sapling inside, or display birch twigs.
The original title of the exhibition was unashamedly taken from Virginia Woolf’s quote in ‘A Room of One’s Own’, ‘We think back through our mothers if we are women.’ In this context, Woolf was alluding to women writers thinking back through the generations. We have simplified the title to ‘We think back through our mothers…’ as we didn’t want to exclude men from the work. I tend to think of my family history through my maternal side, but my mother doesn’t, so we added in the question, ‘Or do we?’.
I’ve been wondering why I think back through my mother’s side of the family. They were predominantly from Northumbria, County Durham, Scotland and Ireland. My gran was born and brought up in Belfast and went between there and Scotland throughout her childhood as her father was an artist and travelled between the two places for work. I’ve always felt drawn to this northern UK link. But maybe I don’t feel so connected to my father’s side of the family purely because we don’t know so much about it; my great-grandfather was an orphan and so our family history stops with him. As part of this project, I’ve begun some research into tracing his birth mother and have found a lead – in Ireland.