Bog Blog 1 // Artist in Residence for Peatland Connections (a Crichton Carbon Centre project)
Into the unknown…
I was absolutely delighted to be offered an Artist in Residency with Crichton Carbon Centre this year. I’ve been taking my time, learning about the natural and traditional processes of dyeing cloth using plants and eco-printing with leaves and flowers since 2018.
Experimentation is key to this process - I would say it’s all one big experiment! So there’s no wrong or right for me, just endless variables and infinite possibilities. I will be discovering new things on this subject all my life which keeps my interest piqued and my curiosity satisfied. Having the opportunity to apply this newfound knowledge specifically to Dumfries and Galloway peatlands is a real pleasure.
After various meetings and some initial basic research, the first point of action was to visit a local peatland with Peatland Connections Officer and Artist at Crichton Carbon Centre, Dr Kerry Morrison.
We chose Knowetop Loch which is being actively regenerated and has Nature Reserve status. It was easily accessible for us both. Boardwalks have been created to aid accessibility and we were the only people (and a dog) there, on a Friday afternoon in April.
The sun shone down as we navigated the bog and Kerry pointed out various plants, mosses and grasses that thrive there: bog myrtle, heather, sphagnum moss, lichens, cotton grasses…I was immediately struck by its understated beauty and how close inspection brought visual rewards. Colour has always been the cornerstone of everything I do. The properties of colour go deep: in addition to affecting / enhancing a person’s emotional well-being, colour has spiritual attributes; social purpose; and the effect of the light on the landscape, and the colours this produces has been well documented by artists for centuries. A ready-made colour palette in the landscape of the bog and surrounding area stared me right in the face.
I was immediately drawn to the orangey-pinks, limes, red and yellows of the sphagnum moss mounds and the minty greens of lichens. I was also struck by an authentic streak inside of me which spoke to being true to the plants: allowing them to be what they are and show what colours are natural to them. I’m able to modify colours in the natural dyeing procedure. However, I heard a strong message on that first encounter with the peatland and surrounding area: keep modifications to a minimum; let the plants speak for themselves. Nature is my collaborator on this project and I’m led by its intense beauty. It’s important to me as an artist to honour this relationship with nature in a respectful way.
These plants and the bog itself are rightly protected and removal is discouraged, so I took photographs instead. Kerry left, and I proceeded to sit at various parts within the landscape and drink in the beautiful atmosphere. It’s difficult to explain in words, but I felt an instant connection. My dog Shanti seemed to agree. She’s a Portuguese water dog and the moist, peaty environment made her grin from ear to ear.
As I sat still in the natural environment, ideas for the forthcoming project swirled around and interjected with moments of pure blissed out joy. I decided I was in the right place at the right time and felt excitement for what the following months on residency could bring.
I wandered around and found fascination in the surrounding area of the bog as well as the bog itself. Sightings of birch trees, willow, bracken and broom reminded me of important knowledge from my trusted dye book: ‘Wild Colour’ by Jenny Dean. These plants are all mentioned as good sources for dyeing cloth. And so the idea of ‘OUTSKIRT’ was born. I would create kilted and circle skirt garments by dyeing hemp and organic cotton with these plants to evoke olives, yellows, greens and browns as observed in the natural landscape. The periphery of the bog seemed important and interesting, and therefore worthy of a place in my project.
Morag's artist in residency is funded by Peatland Connections (a Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded project) and Creative Scotland.