Why do I make cyanotypes with seaweeds?
The cyanotype blue and all its shades echoes the sentiment expressed in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:
“ (he) takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature”
Today more than ever, we need to be aware of how we affect that deep soul of our planet: not just what we see, smell, feel and eat above the soil but also the soil itself, the oceans and what lies beneath them: flora and minerals that nourish them and us not just physically but emotionally and intellectually.
The seaweeds reflect my ignorance of what lies beneath the waves: tall majestic plants that normally form backdrops for documentaries looking at creatures and coral under threat of extinction. I never knew that these flora existed and I only became aware of them when they were washed up on the beach after storms at sea.
Having found seagrasses entwined in the seaweed, fishing lines and other detritus, I recently discovered that meadows of them are being planted all along the south west coasts of Devon and Cornwall, and was astounded to discover that they flower below the waves.
Initially I took photographs of the seaweeds that had washed up on the beach after a storm, but realised that that does not tell me about their size and that they differ so much one from another, nor does it tell me that they have a symbiotic relationship with other seaweeds, mollusks and other living creatures.
These cyanotypes, 2 on paper and 1 on silk, are on exhibition at the Artisan Gallery, Fleet Street, Torquay, UK, until April 10th 2022.
Inspired by the recent focus on climate change and sustainability, I have developed my interest in what links science, nature and art.
My latest expression covers seaweeds in 2021 in Devon and more specifically, in Torbay, where I live. The flora are what I have found washed up on the beach after a storm – I have neither uprooted nor detached them from their habitat. This artwork offers visitors to the bay something different to take away with them as a souvenir of their visit, while local people have an opportunity to revive and, for some, deepen their relationship to their surroundings.
The photographic images of local seaweeds and lichens are printed on vellum and mounted in trifold cards. The vellum accentuates the fragility of the flora along the coast and gives an impression of the transparency and translucency of the medium in which the seaweeds are found. The images are also available printed on A4 vellum.
The cyanotypes are a 1:1 exposure of the seaweed and are unique – the piece cannot be reproduced as it is because the seaweed breaks up when it is taken off the paper / silk after it has been exposed to UV rays.
Meghan Riepenhoff’s work Litoral, and Anna Atkins’ Sun Gardens, have influenced how I see and represent the South Devon coast.
The effects of the sea salt on the cyanotype chemicals gives that brown effect which will increasingly play a part in my prints.