The comment I refer to was – ‘I’ve had a willow tree come down in one of my fields, do you want any?’ Well I had to at least take a look. I brought home a branch covered in catkins which I stuck in a jar of water in our conservatory. The tree was of the Salix Caprea (Great Sallow) variety. By morning there had been a mass dehiscence of seeds into what is a fairly small space, causing much amusement. In photographing and recording what had happened I started to look closer at the catkins. I collected some of the seeds in a glass vase and was taken with their translucent qualities- I started to think about them in relation to the theme of absence. It was like they were something, but nothing. They contain all the information to grow into a willow tree, and yet are not a willow tree. They filled the space, and yet their mass is tiny. The light shining through gave them an ethereal quality. Then when I magnified some of the photos I had taken I was very struck by the shapes and forms in the catkins, and realised this is what some of the diagrams in my ecology of the willow books where showing that had previously baffled me. I found myself quite excited by the possibilities within the small catkin.
I started to wonder if it might be possible to make a piece of work by collecting a much larger amount of seeds, and containing them in a much larger vessel. So I returned and collected several bags of catkins, I sourced a glass vase that was 68cm tall. While I was there I took some more photos and short pieces of video- it is almost as if it is snowing, the ground covered in a thin layer of fluff. As I looked back at these films my mind turned to what I had been talking about in relation to emptying the tin of charcoal- the emptying of a vessel, creating a void. Each catkin has possibly 50 pods- vessels, and each may contain up to 10 seeds- there are 1000’s of catkins on each tree! It occurred to me that I was witnessing a mass ‘emptying of vessels’.
I put the seeds in big plastic boxes with space for the seeds as they emerged, left for a day in the green house. I then decanted them in to the tall glass tube. Its funny how the enthusiasm disappeared- it didn’t look quite how I imagined. The larger tube meant there was a greater depth and they had become opaque- a look that didn’t have the same ethereal quality. I tried shining a light through, but it still didn’t have the same effect. After another day, they had settled by about 5cms, looking more dense.
Although not a wholly successful project I have recorded it here because there are elements which I think have a lot of potential for further exploration. I might try and find or construct some sort of vessel that would achieve what is in my minds eye.
Another piece of information that added to the relevance the ideas I have spoken about is that I discovered that ‘in any one catkin the seeds are numerous, but remain alive only for a few days as they do not contain food reserves. They can not lie dormant until the occurrence of conditions suitable for germination but must land in a favourable environment during their brief period of viability’. This led me to think about all the seeds I have collected, several days ago, have in effect become absent seeds over that time.
Brendell, Theresa (1985) Willows of the British Isles. Shire Publications Ltd, Bucks.