Raksha Patel has been artist in residence in Walpole Park, around Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, London for the past year. I’ve got to know Raksha as we’ve both been working on another project, called SpaceMakers, at Kettle’s Yard. In spare moments, we’ve chatted a bit about our mutual interest in trees and plants. She talked about the work that was being carried out to the cedar trees in Walpole Park and showed me her knotty barky people drawings.
This residency is now concluding with an exhibition called Forget-Me-Knot. This features drawings of people, derived from forms of trees and knotty bark. There’s also a beautiful piece of wallpaper called WormWood, which connects with the decorative history of the John Soane’s designed manor house. It creates beauty out of the effects of woodworm and mildew eating into paper.
In general Raksha’s work explores the human body and its relation to the landscape. She often uses natural materials to explore ideas such as time, beauty and memento mori (Latin for ‘reminder of death’). This residency allowed more in-depth visual exploration of trees, plants and reflection on change over time.
Here is a shortish film by Raksha, which has emerged from the residency. It builds slowly, at first appearing like a moonscape but it starts to make sense so stick with it to listen to a poem or words about a cedar tree.
Jesc Bunyard of Rooms Magazine interviewed her and this is an extract (go to the interview for more illustrations and fuller replies).
Jesc asked: “How has the residency affected your practice?” Raksha responded that “A lot of the time during the residency was spent walking around the grounds, sitting on park benches, and reflecting…By doing this I began to notice details…that I would otherwise would have neglected; for example I found myself being intrigued by old cobwebs that had been spun into the crevice of an old wall and the autumn leaves that had gathered on top of them, and the luminous yellow fungi that I spotted growing on the side of the Cedar Tree, I felt as if I were seeing the world through fresh eyes. It was this excitement and energy that paved the way to explore new ways of making.”
Jesc then asked how she uses materials to examine Memento Mori. Raksha said “I’ve always been interested in death and the nature of passing time…when we look at history paintings we get a sense of time; our presence in relation to things past, and the awareness of things passing through, including ourselves – which is a frightening thought. I’ve tried to capture that without being too obvious, so rather than reflect on the human body and the decay of it, I use other things which ask us to reflect on time such as worm-eaten mildewed paper, which is more palatable then an image of decaying flesh.”
We’re going to be seeing a lot of trees lost from the effects of climate change, from drought, fire, pests and diseases. So, it will be interesting to consider how trees will be part of a narrative of loss and memory in years unfolding. At the end of November, Beuysterous will be encouraging acts of memorial for trees lost and damaged, more details to come by the end of August.