Sight | Unseen

Courtyard Gallery, National Botanic Garden of Wales, June – August 2014
Round Tower, Black Swan Arts, Frome, 12 September – 1 October 2016
Too often we fail to observe what is around us; we look but we don’t see. This exhibition seeks to challenge our unfocused gaze, both aesthetically and politically. The natural world is in peril, and so are we and all our fellow creatures. If we don’t see, then we won’t notice as it vanishes before our very eyes.
Sight|Unseen focuses on trees. Trees are important to all of us. Forests are the most important repositories of biological biodiversity, housing up to 90 per cent of all known species. Trees remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and they play a central role in many ecosystems. We rely on trees for fuel, timber, food and medicines, and on a personal level trees impact on our mood by boosting our sense of happiness and well-being. But our trees are dying. The 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that the world’s forests are showing increasing signs of climate stress. Widespread tree deaths are predicted as a result of droughts, heat waves, wildfires, storms and fatal attacks by pests and diseases. For how much longer can we look the other way?
Some of these pen-and-ink drawings are anatomical portraits of native British trees. They feature the familiar leaves and bark as well as the less familiar internal structure of cells, tissues and fibres. The layout of the ‘bars’ in these drawings is a visualisation of the patterns found in the DNA code sequence of each species. Other drawings show wounded nature – trees scarred by the violence of barbed wire fencing. Others celebrate the unexpected life that flourishes in our afflicted towns and countryside – the neglected but beautiful world of weeds that so often goes unnoticed.
Many of the ‘barcode’ drawings were inspired by photomicrographs of wood anatomy created by botanists working in this area, particularly from the wonderful website InsideWood. I have also been influenced by the Barcode UK project: teams at the National Botanic Garden of Wales and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh are DNA barcoding the UK’s flowering plants. Every plant is being sequenced to generate a unique identifier which will help researchers to identify unknown plants from samples such as pollen, seeds or wood.