A Trace of a temperate forest
Last week, as Active Ingredient’s exhibition private view commenced, I set off into the forest to the spot where I had set up port only a few hours earlier. From a bird’s eye view, this was a tiny white cross point on the green landscape.

Port was constructed with two very light collapsible frames crossed over one another to support two equal lengths of white muslin and nylon – the latter is parachute material. I would have tried building with silk, were it not so precious. These materials formed a temporary satellite space, symbolic of my collaboration with the group. This workspace was an open invitation to observe and draw directly onto the interior of the structure, this forest surrounding us. An attempt to capture the forms, the light, colours and movement that danced continuously over us and which I would be able to pack away and take back to Brazil with me. A trace of a temperate forest, an experiment, tackling some of the questions that came up in working with the group from a long-distance, and with people who had never been in a forest, let alone one, ten thousand kilometres away. How do you communicate it? how do you experience it? Port is as much about a meeting place as anything else. A space very slightly defined as something other than the natural elements we were immersed in.

I had several of the exhibition’s public walk over and participate. All of whom seemed to engage very easily with the situation they encountered. Good conversations took place, exchange of ideas and experiences of forests. One person was quite taken by the simple experience of just sitting, having had always been on the move in such outdoor spaces; either walking, running, cycling, but never just sitting. She quietly looked all around her and listened, her senses alert. It did not take much for me to persuade her to begin drawing. Infact, she quickly noted that some of the green that had been applied on the muslin by another, was not quite the right green for a temperate forest, and she had to make it more yellow!

All the lights, sounds and smells were then very clear, however momentary, in the present, all-encompassing. So people came and talked, some drew, all observed. We were engaging physically with the forest that surrounded us and were encouraged to stop and just think about it. Port provided a number of coloured soft pastels and compressed charcoals, as well as two seats accompanied by the blue leather suitcase that had many more materials to experiment with inside it. It was also quite good just sitting on the floor, which was covered by a see-through and wet-proof ground sheet. Handy to keep us from getting burnt by the stinging nettles, and you could see the ground which we were on. This base is also integral to holding the whole structure up, like a tent, not in any way genius. Just some basic engineering, a dose of common sense and a little help from dear friends. Port is familiar and inviting.

Another activity you could occupy yourself with in this space, or at least reflect upon was; how would you construct your own portable studio? You could begin by creating a maquette using some card, thin malleable wire, muslin and/or nylon fabric, assisted by the simplest of tools to shape and handle them. One of the first visitors, Charlotte, spoke about the ease and appropriateness of using willow from the forest for such a structure, whilst the other visitor, Kenny, also present in this conversation, informed us of the best time to cut the willow, which is between Halloween and Easter. Berries, also Charlotte mentioned, can be crushed with some salt and used as a natural pigment. We had fun looking for natural materials to use for rubbings, which we applied directly onto the delicate white fabric. There were obviously pieces of barks, twigs and leaves scattered everywhere we looked, and so we borrowed them briefly and returned them to their site.

I also brought some natural glue, which I did not get to use this time, but if anyone wishes to make some, all you need to do is mix some sugar, vinegar, flour and water. The bees came straight at this, the smell drew them. So I placed the small jars back in the case until it might be necessary.”

Silvia Leal, London 19th May 2011.

PORT was a temporary satellite space installed at Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts in Rockingham Forest. Northamptonshire, as an annex to the exhibition ‘A conversation between trees’ by Active Ingredient. May 2011. For more info: http://hello-tree.com