Branching into the Anthropocene & Prayer Sticks

Variety of carved and peeled tree stems and branches, 2011 - 2016

This body of work emerged from the Paper Landscape project.

I started to imagine ways to contrast the rough grey bark with that vulnerable pale inner wood of the willow. I selected a small branch and started to carve a pattern in it with an X-acto knife, creating small meandering strips that I could pull off the branch.

“It would be interesting to carve an artificial wood pattern into the branch, artificially mimicking Nature. Thus, the branch became a metaphor of the Anthropocene; the emerging epoch of human imprint. Imagine an arborescent trajectory, in which the lower, uncarved branch represents the past stages of nature, undisturbed by human impact, to which we cannot return. Which route will we follow towards the forking top branches? Continue the Anthropocene in a somewhat managed manner, without too much disturbance, or create large changes and the last flecks of nature will disappear which leaves us with a bare branch?”

It is clear, that the materiality influences the message of the artwork. Hand cutting in wood translates very differently than similar markings made in Styrofoam or cutting into plexiglass. The patterns carved in the natural material of the branches created a certain ‘tribal’ feel. I discovered that carved, ceremonial, sticks were extensively used by native peoples. The Ainu in Japan carve and peel exquisite prayer sticks, some are frocked with long, dense curls of layered, thinly shaved, wood. The Navajo people made prayer sticks from Chokecherry, which they regarded as a sacred plant.

“In the past two weeks, I have been peeling the outer bark from willow branches with a vegetable peeler to expose the soft inner bark. This pale green bark can be pulled off the inner wood in strips, leaving the branches blank and bare, as if you are exposing the bones of the tree. The wood is still soft and moist and every detail of the wood texture is beautifully visible. The tissue is still so alive, that I am fascinated and horrified at the same time, as if I am stripping living flesh. It is a good thing these branches are from a willow shrub that was taken down in our garden anyway. The strips of inner bark are a lovely pale green. When the bare wood is dry, it has a lovely fragrance, which reminds me of old-fashioned, tart apples.”

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