Folkloric traditions of signification, symbol-making and codification have always existed in the built environment as buildings, inscriptions and adornments, arrangements and rituals. Since folklore is created by layers of human behaviour and belief it is not static but also exists as a thread linking current culture with its historic origins, often across borders.
As I consider the role of an activist-architect working in a time of climate chaos, I have been seeking to identify and propose folkloric symbols that might emerge from or be applied to activist spatial practice. I would like this research to use folkloric methods of meaning-making to inform place-making.
I suggest that the folklore of inhabitation is a necessary part of human living patterns: the rituals and symbols of home are grounding and provide meaning to us in the form of stories. These stories might be personal, familial, geographic or cultural but they have a power over atmosphere and place which is sometimes overlooked.
This installation is transposition of the cloutie or wishing tree from Celtic folkloric onto the landscape of the South Downs. The practice of adorning a tree, usually one growing above a well or spring, with colourful ribbons and tributes carrying wishes is recalled here in construction barrier tape. The hi-vis material has been chosen for its association with warnings and the contrast between rurality and the visual language of modern infrastructure. Most importantly, it attempts to fuse a traditional mythology of landscape with the (folkloric) practice of territory marking which accompanies sites of environmental activism such as Greenham Common Peace Camp and the currently inhabited and disputed Anti-HS2 Tree Protection Camps – this is the living tip of landscape-embedded folklore as I see it today.
Objects of ritual magic include popular and religious items such as a pressed four-leaf clover or vial of holy water as well as more esoteric and specialised devices. Often such objects are created by combining components holding individual symbolism into a bricolage of intention. One such assemblage is the Maypole, a ceremonial centrepiece to mayday celebrations invoking health and a bountiful growing season as part of a festival honouring the earth. There are many variants on maypoles from different places but at it’s core it is usually a wooden pole or branch, often decorated with wreaths or ribbons and adorned with amulets and charms. This hi-vis wrapped branch of hawthorn has a ritual significance of its own.
This research has been informed by sources including the symbols of European witchcraft, environmental protection camps, way-markers, Celtic mythology, road sign graphics and neolithic structures. From these influences, I created a series of twelve speculative objects which could exist as amulets, map symbols, building elements or objects in a landscape.
The amulets were cast in beeswax, a common material of amulets historically made by cunning women and hidden in houses for protection.
This collage embeds the speculative amulet forms into the landscape of the South Downs, here represented by “Floods at Lewes” 1935, watercolour by Eric Ravillious.
In this drawing I studied the dwelling as object in a landscape, looking specifically into villa typology and the different attitudes dwellings can take to the landscape they inhabit. To this end I drew a hybrid plan of Erik Gunnar Asplund’s Villa Snellman (1918), replacing it’s single-storey east wing with the plan of a Bronze-Age Hall House from about 1000 BCE.