Lost in Execution: Fishing in Smoke in the Highwoods

In the Highwoods we dig up and burn the rhododendron. It is an invasive species not welcome in the woodland. The work is carried out by a team of volunteers; the bonfire must be placed under a clearing in the tree canopy and away from any roads. The smoke produced is thick and substantial.

As well as photographically recording this process I want to capture something physical, a track that marks the passing of an ephemeral state. I devise a process with steps, tools and outcomes to capture something of this act of woodland management.


I hang artboards into the smoke of the burning rhododendron, fishing for marks that simultaneously fulfil and challenge my preconceptions. Like chasing smoke in mist, I follow the process not knowing what I will find but knowing I am attracted by the thoughts it triggers and what I see. The smoke is thick. A combination of carbon and an amber, tar-like, substance with enough adhesion to hold the rising ash.

The series of artboards inhabited the studio with their pungent aroma requiring open windows and time to pass. I take digital photographs and interweave the images to emphasise the echoes of the smoke and the tracks of the ash. The amber tar was unexpected and wonderful both in its colour and its ability to hold the ash.

Smoke on art-board


Art-board with stencil

Fishing for Smoke

Fishing for Smoke with Leaves

Lost in Execution: Dancing Trees

Dancing Trees is a short-term, time restricted artwork.

Within the woodland, there is a coppiced tree where two new tree trunks have grown close together.  A branch links them and it looks like they are holding each other.  The trees are embracing and dancing together.

Dancing Trees Sketchbook


Digital Tree


By collecting and using the woodland debris from around the tree, I create a `drawn shadow’.  This emphasises the illusion of the dancing partners twirling in the woodland.

This artwork and the shadow illusion will only last a short time.  Its continued existence will depend on the weather, the wind strength and any human and animal traffic through the area.

We have a tendency to anthropomorphise objects and impose upon them human features and feelings. We seek a connection and I want to use this artwork to emphasise this connection. The fleeting nature of this work is part of the statement about how fragile the natural environment can be and the nature of our imaginative flights of fancy.

The fleeting nature of this work is part of our imaginative flights of fancy.

The nature of visualisation is constantly changing.

Lost in Execution: Pond 02

When I looked again at my idea for Pond 01 the level of intervention suggested was too great.  My next idea is to look at the possibility of creating some tensile structures.

I want to create sculptural forms utilising Sweet Chestnut that is coppiced in the wood. I want to explore the balance required for a healthy bio-diverse environment and this must be a balance between the desire to encourage biodiversity in and around the pond and the dogs that are walked in the woodland. The artwork produced must seek a stable balance.

Tensile Structures

Tensegrity, tensional integrity or floating compression is a structural principle based on the use of isolated componenets in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially (definition for Wikipedia)

Tensional Integrity Maquette 1


Tensile structures allow two opposing forces in balance to create something strong and stable. A balanced system that is largely self-correcting. Tensional integrity is compressive and tensional forces in balance makes the structure strong but it looks fragile.  It is often difficult to see how the structure holds together. 

Tensional Integrity Maquette 2

I have previously worked with tensile structures to create environmental sculpture, based upon work inspired by  Kenneth Snelson a sculptor and photographer and the architect Buckminster Fuller

Tensile Structure - The Pond (2) Tree-like structure


I made some maquettes of `trees’ that would overreach the pond (creating reflections in the water). The `tree’ structures will be around the edge of the pond with a low, woven, structure linking the base of the `trees’. The barrier would both link and protect the structures and also restrict direct access to the pond. The structure will not surround the whole pond but will allow area regeneration to take place in controlled sections.

Tensile Structure - The Pond (2) Tree-like structure

Tensile Materials

I intend to use materials that are available in the woodland, in a manner that is sympathetic to those materials. Green woodwork will change shape, shrink and expand in response to the weather. The material is dynamic and part of a system of change.

The next step is to carry out some experiments with the green wood to investigate the cutting and drilling techniques most suitable for creating the posts.  There is also the issue of how to tie the structures. Will hemp rope provide the required strength and elasticity? 

Lost in Execution: The Pond

A muddy pond in the woodland. It is one of a number of ponds that are maintained to encourage wildlife.  However, this particular pond has become a bathing pool for dogs.  The damage incurred by this encourages only mud, not the desired biodiversity of plant and pond life.

My idea is to enclose part of the pond and this will reduce the disturbance of the water. This will prevent easy access to the water by dogs and so encourage plant growth.  The plant life will then attract insect life and perhaps amphibians and birds.  Any structure must allow the pond and any emerging plant life to be seen by visitors to the wood.

The Pond (1)

My first idea.  This uses stake fencing cut to create shapes and curves.  I will use coppiced Sweet Chestnut which is produced as part of the management of this ancient coppiced woodland. It will surround part of the pond and show it is more than just a barrier, a fence. The structure would be around and over part of the pond.  This would encourage and protect wildlife and plant growth on the edges of the pond.  It will make an unexpected line on the landscape. 

Perhaps visitors will pause and look more closely at the pond and consider the need to protect the area from the family pet.   The muddy mess will be protected, plants can establish roots near the stakes and while the plant life takes hold, the sculptural nature of the barrier will be a point of interest in the woodland.

It will be functional within the environment but also question the viewer about the other lines we impose upon the natural woodland.

Lost in Execution: Why Woodland Sculpture?

I often work indoors but all of my major art projects take me outdoors – where I would rather be.  Anyone who follows my work knows that I spend hours photographing the groyne fields of Bexhill beach (Intervention).  However, I also work with a group of volunteers to maintain the pre-industrial heritage of the Highwoods.  This work allows me to contemplate broader issues about the environment and climate change.  It also provides a sense of connection with past generations who worked and lived in the woodland.

Woodland Fire

In this work, I want to consider the complexity of our natural and man-made environment. In my previous work – The Woven Path – a spiral was created in an area of bracken. By beating back the bracken new plant life has a chance to grow.  Woven Path involved the imposition of a spiral, a line. on an area of bracken.  This caused me to look again at other lines that we create in the landscape and question our current relationship with the woodland. As Bexhill’s population grows perhaps more people will seek to find a connection with nature by visiting this woodland and so build a relationship with the area in which they have chosen to live.

Artistic Influences

My new work is influenced by the environmental work of Paul Nash, British surrealist painter and war artists; one of the most important landscape artists of the first half of the twentieth century, Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and photographer producing site-specific sculpture and land art situated in natural and urban settings and Keith A Pettit  a Sussex based wood engraver, sculptor and bonfire sculpture builder.