Intervention: Micrographia Samples

In March, I attended a weekend event organised by CitiZan (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeology Network). It began on the beach at Pett Levels, East Sussex.

I joined the group working with Lara, Scott and Stephanie of CitiZan investigating and recording the wooden structures in the intertidal zone. We uncovered pieces of woody material which we measured, bagged and labelled.

The next day samples of the collected materials were sliced thinly and precisely and viewed under the microscope. The observed organic patterns identified the specific wood type from which the sample was taken.

Using similar technologies to those of the English scientist Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703). He coined the term cell for describing biological organisms. His book `Micrographia’ in 1665 described his observations using microscopes. Many people challenged his drawings as they could not believe what they saw. I was looking again at a familiar material (wood) but I saw a greater level of pattern and intricacy than is possible without a microscope.

The following week …

Woven Groyne near Herbrand Walk

Taking my new-learned skills, I revisited a structure that I had previously photographed on Cooden beach near Herbrand Walk.

There is a set of posts that are unusual when compared to the more `traditional’ groyne sets that I photograph. This set runs parallel to the shoreline and consist of stumps of worn wood – faggots – put together to form a barrier of sorts in the intertidal zone. They stand towards the sea side of the beach and appear at a point where the current groyne field ends.

Woven Groyne on Herbrand Walk

“Low-cost beach stabilisation, using faggoting, i.e. installing lines of brushwood stakes “dug” into
the beach was in wide usage on the south-east coast of the UK some forty to fifty years ago….
Plate 1, taken in 1983, shows how faggoting was used to stabilise a shingle “storm beach” at Cooden, East Sussex, on a semi-urban coastline that was vulnerable to flooding, but where major coast protection works could not be justified. Here, the faggotting had been installed to prevent a breach forming at an erosion “hot spot” in the centre of an embayment. Here, the faggoting consisted of bundles of timber pilings driven into the beach substratum inshore parallel and shore perpendicular rows. The palings were of a restricted height above general beach level and designed to prevent beach levels from falling, by preventing shingle from washing out seawards. It has been observed that while this type of construction did indeed trap shingle, the increased turbulence tended to prevent sandy sediments from settling out.”

Herbrand Walk 1983

Faggoting at Cooden shingle beach, Pevensey Bay, 1983


From `Understanding the lowering of beaches in front of coastal defence structures, Phase 2 Mitigation methods’, Defra, TN CBS0726/08 6 Rev 4.0 pp5-7






Samples from the wooden faggots …

With my new-found knowledge of sampling and preparing slides, I surveyed the wooden posts measuring and recording the length and width and then taking six samples. Each sample was a one-centimetre cube which I bagged and labelled.

Back in the studio I carefully sliced and prepared slides from three of the six samples collected:
Transversal sample – a cross section 90 degrees to the grain
Tangential sample – runs parallel to the grain but at a tangent to the growth rings
Radial sample – runs in a line from the centre point of the growth rings to the bark edge.

I backlit the samples and photographed them using a mobile phone with a macro lens (24x) attachment: `21st Century Micrographia’


Samples with ink added

Amazing images. I used transversal slides from Samples 2 and 6 and added ink to increase the visibility of the structural elements of the visible cells. The coloured elements in the ink adhered readily to selective parts of the structures and I then used cotton wool and paper to draw away the excess ink so that I could photograph the resulting image.

It is intriguing to look at the pattern and structure of the samples that are unseen without a microscope or macro-photography. Organic patterns, structures forming patterns and the beauty of the natural world that goes unseen.

Discovering the origin of the wooden faggots by looking closely at the characteristics of the tree that is now lost in the waves raised more questions. I am interested in the networks built between people and their environment – where did the wood come from? Who built the structure? When was it built? I am looking at links between the intertidal zone and the local woodland, natural and imposed processes and viewing the functional against the aesthetic.

I sent some samples to Dr Scott Timpany, Programme Leader of Undergraduate Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands, who kindly offered to see if they could be identified. I await results and to see where this will take me … I think it could be moving towards some green wood sculpture …

Intervention: Distracted by Rust

Groyne posts, waveworn, and the April sunshine draws me back to the beach and my photographic odyssey for 2018 as I photograph the ever-changing groyne post tops of the groyne field of Bexhill beach.

I am distracted by the rust patterns – I think that I may be developing a new addiction.

Groyne posts expose rusty remnants and the soft worn quality of the metal and the sharp talon-like qualities of shadows. The saltwater oxidises the metal, the oxide stains the wood and slowly bonds the metal object to the wood. The de-laminating ferrule creates a landscape of red rust and yellow lichen.

Intervention: Waveworn 3 – 23 March 2018

Waveworn open from 3 – 23 March 2018

Waveworn at Martyrs Gallery, Lewes presents a selection of work that I carried out over the past 15 years under the working title of Intervention. Please check the gallery website for opening times.

Waveworn documents weathering and erosion on the Sussex coast through the medium of film and still photography, catalogued by location and date to build up a complete and beautiful archive of change over the decades. Waveworn explores pressing issues of environmental instability, but also timeless human themes of change, impermanence and desire for (the illusion of) control.

An interview with Alex Leith for `Viva Lewes’ (March 2018 edition)


And it is always good to get feedback … please Tweet @Clifffart if you visit the exhibition.

















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.



Intervention: The Project So Far

Intervention 2002 to 2017

Intervention is about the groynes on Bexhill beach that run to Groyne 121 and I have photographed them since 2002, both fascinated and amazed by their change over time.

This work forms the primary source for a solo exhibition `WAVEWORN‘ to be held at Martyrs Gallery, Lewes, from Saturday 3 March to Friday 23 March 2018.

Intervention 2018 will see me back on the beach, finding and recording what has changed and rediscovering what remains. The work on this project continues, photographs are being taken, notebooks and charts filled in, files organised and backed up.

This video summarises the work so far.

Lost in Execution: Woodland Sculpture

Lost in Execution is about the importance of process and this exploration continues into 2017. A plan is just one element of a process: a movement from an idea sketched on paper to that which is physical. However, the item produced from the plan is never final or finished. It changes over time as it is extended, altered or decays.

I am working on an idea for some sculptural work in Highwoods, a local woodland.  A woodland is a dynamic, natural, system with a human process imposed upon it. It is neither natural nor wild in its wider sense – it is man-made. This woodland is the product of earlier pre-industrial use.  The form and shape of the woodland are managed by human intervention and with determined outcomes for that intervention, such as coppicing for wood. It is our use of the landscape that creates our idea of a `natural’ environment. Current management of the woodland is to support and encourage biodiversity

Woodland Lines

A recurring theme in my work in the woodland has been `lines in the landscape’: the lines that mark the edge of the woodland, the paths through the wood,  the power lines that force a clearing through the wood. In 2016 I produced work that involved making marks in the landscape that had both a functional and artistic purpose.

The Woven Path

The Woven Path – September 2016


The Woven Path

Woodland Time

Time is a recurring theme in my work.  As I reflect upon the growth cycles of the different trees, all of which have to been coppiced at different times for best yield, I think about how different pieces I could produce will have different time frames – hours, weeks, months, seasons. Seasons seem to be most apt when thinking of this growing and changing environment.

Woodland Intervention

My previous intervention in the ecosystem of the woodland has been part of woodland management to encourage biodiversity. The trampling of the bracken to form a spiral was part of an essential cutting back of the bracken to allow a wider diversity of plant life to take hold in an area that was being overwhelmed. However, the spiral mark was consumed by the natural environment as the seasons changed.

The Woven Path

The Woven Path (digitally enhanced)


In this new work, I want to involve material and processes that form an integral part of managing the woodland.  I want to do this in such a way that the work itself integrates into the natural processes of the woodland. Some of the artwork may only last for hours, others may last for weeks,  months or seasons.