Parsemage


The densely wooded paths of rural Surrey, a seemingly primeval pastoral landscape, are ordered with industrial intent. Protected from Tudor times these inter-connected plantations were a vital source of charcoal for Crown gunpowder production. The expansion of empire to the darkest corners of the globe was dependent on the alchemical craft of charcoal burning, a craft that combined wood, earth, air, water and time. Gunpowder itself as an invention was stumbled upon by Chinese alchemists searching for an immortality elixer. On another level ancient woodlands were reservoirs of older language, customs and knowledge and Oaks are still emblems of England. The overlay of distinct patterns and orders is now barely perceptible. John Berger has suggested that to understand forests is to “propose a coexistance of various times surrounded in some way by the timeless.” He understands woods as places of waiting, hiding, places of losing oneself. Indeed the sometimes bewildering web of paths and territories have, like their maritime equivalents, their own measures of cords, chains and cables, yet depth seems always uncertain.

The Berlin Conference of 1884 established the principle of Effective Occupation, if a country had the bare minimum claim of control of a territory it could be theirs, this formalised Hinterland theory, allowing european powers to claim unexplored inland territories due to their slender claim on the coast, and thus Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Parsemage is a surrealist and automatic method in the visual arts invented by Ithell Colquhoun in which dust from charcoal or colored chalk is scattered on the surface of water and then skimmed off by passing a stiff paper or cardboard just under the water’s surface.

The pictures in this series were made using infra-red film, recording light at the edge of the visible spectrum.

Exhibited at 'Describing Architecture 2013'