Going somewhere? Start with a Map!

Today is the second day of January 2015. Nearly a full year ago, I received a grant for a special project, mentioned in this blog. Much has happened since, and in the next few posts I am going to show you some of the developments.

Just to recap: my new textile art project is inspired by recent scientific research on how trees share resources and communicate through their roots, with the help of mycorrhizal fungi. This amazing root/fungus system is important for most plants on the planet, but trees are especially dependent on this symbiotic relationship. In fact, without these fungi, trees would quickly die of thirst and starvation. Moreover, fungi not only help plants draw water, they also facilitate the transfer of nutrients amongst trees, and, even more amazingly, they actually deliver messages, even to other species (more about this later). It’s fascinating stuff, and the more I find out about it, the more inspiring it becomes.

The mycorrhizal network http://www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/potd/2010/03/mycorrhizal_networks.php

The mycorrhizal network

I am treating this project as a journey. It began the moment I first saw Prof. Suzanne Simard’s short video about her research. The ideas presented in this talk so aroused my curiosity that I couldn’t get it off my mind: MUST do something with this! With OAC grant in hand (or, more specifically, in bank) I could proceed with my itinerary.

How does one begin a journey? Why, with a map of course! Mine is a unique map, the product of several years of research by Prof Simard and associates. Using multi-locus microsatellite DNA analysis, they studied how two fungal species connected a group of Douglas Fir in a 30 m section of forest. The green fuzzy dots represent trees, and the lines connecting them are the fungal paths. Even without much technical knowledge, it’s easy to see that the system is extensive and intricately woven. One tree was found to connect to 47 other trees (see arrow)! I wanted to see this for myself.

From: Architecture of the Wood Wide Web New Phytologist (2010) 185: 543–553 www.newphytologist.org Reprinted with permission of the authors.

From: Architecture of the Wood Wide Web New Phytologist (2010) 185: 543–553 www.newphytologist.org Reprinted with permission of the authors.

So, in May, I headed out to BC to meet Prof Simard and to spend four days with her and her generous grad students. Wielding a shovel and gear, we drove through the mountains to locate and examine some of their research sites.

Us and 'Rob Ford', our trusty SUV.

Us and ‘Rob Ford’, our trusty SUV. Julia, Prof Simard, Deon, me and Melissa.

It was an eye-opening experience – far from the shelter of the cozy lab, we encountered all the elements the mountains could throw at us, except for bears and bugs who were waiting in the wings for summer.

End of May. Really.

End of May. Really.

Undaunted, we dug up some fascinating root/fungal structures.

The white fungal strands connect one set of tree roots with another.

The white fungal strands connect one set of tree roots with another.

We also spent time in the lab (more about this in a future post). When I got home I had plenty of material to ponder. For the past ten months I experimented with lots of crazy ideas and materials, came up with a plan, and in November began to approach public galleries with the proposal. In the next few blogs, I will share some of the ups and downs and images of the process. Every journey implies a destination, and mine is a touring exhibition in 2017 called Woven Woods.

OAC 2014

Below is my first interpretation of the Schematic map of the Douglas Fir research site. In it I stitched as many words I could find that meant ‘connection’. My initial intent was to make a very large version of this piece as part of the exhibition, but this idea did not make the cut. Perhaps for a future project?

Tree Chatter 12x12" 2014 Machine collage and embroidery on printed and plain fabrics

Tree Chatter 12×12″ 2014
Machine collage and embroidery on printed and plain fabrics


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12 Responses to “Going somewhere? Start with a Map!”

  1. Teresa Porter says:

    I love trees and I am fascinated by the way they are connected to each other and to all the abundant life in a forest. A wonderful book on this subject – Forest Primeval, by Chris Maser, opened my eyes to this as it follows the growth of a Douglas Fir in an ancient forest from its birth in 988 to present times. It is heart-breaking to see the way that forests are thoughtlessly destroyed in search of fossil fuels.
    I hope that your art project will bring much needed attention to the beauty and worth of forests.
    Thank you!

    • Lorraine says:

      Thank you for taking time to respond, Teresa. As part of a larger movement, individual voices can make a difference, with persistence and patience! I will look for the book you suggested. L

  2. Catherine Woodley says:

    Thanks Lorraine, I ‘get it’. I guess I also wonder when your ideas for this work started… right away? or do you live with the information and concepts and let the ideas for the visuals emerge over time. Forgive all these questions, but the creative process always fascinates me. I recall reading about Judy Chicago’s experience [for the Birth Project] when she went through a period of what might be called ‘a little madness’ in trying to bring ‘Earth Birth’ into being. That is to say, the creative process can involve a period of great tension before ‘things’ come together. Undoubtedly one’s ideas change over time too…but I am interested in that ‘creative tension’ and how different artists experience it and/or use it. Cheers again! Catherine

    • Lorraine says:

      I am interested in other artists’ creative process too, and have nothing but admiration for those who can clearly express theirs in words. In a way, I will be attempting this monumental (for me) task in the next blogs. It probably won’t be very neat and concise, but it’s the only way I could envision teasing out those tangled threads and sharing them, even with myself, without overthinking. So – this blog is part of the journey too! Thanks for your comment, Catherine… I am hoping that there will be plenty more discussion as it helps me refine my thoughts and words.

  3. Sue F. says:

    I love trees and am inspired by your work. thanks for starting this blog!

  4. Soooo enjoyed this read Lorraine. And look forward to many more!

  5. marie payne says:

    This is fascinating & holds so much information to translate into your textile work. It should be a most intriguing journey.

  6. Jessie Schut says:

    I am looking forward to where you are going with this. Working in a series is so stimulating, I find. The whole concept of communication networks is fascinating: tiny, microscopic ones beneath the soil, human-sized ones here on earth, and who knows what happens in the heavens? We are all connected somehow.

  7. Hennie Aikman says:

    Great launch Lorraine. Good luck and I look forward to future posts.

  8. Catherine Woodley says:

    Wow, this is fascinating, thanks for sharing your journey. Look forward to the next installment. I’m curious to know how you can predict your timeline [i.e for a 2016-17 show]. Are you going by experience (and know that it takes ‘so long’) or are you imposing your own deadline so that it keeps you focused?
    Cheers, Catherine

    • Lorraine says:

      Hi Catherine! The timeline is based on my discussions with art galleries, who have an extremely long timeline for bookings. The earliest date will be some time in 2016! In any case, this exhibition will be extremely labour intensive to produce, but if I started now and had nothing else to do, it could be ready late this year.

  9. sherrie tj says:

    Thanks Lorraine
    How fascinating, can’t wait to see the next blog.
    Cheers sherrie tj aussie

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