In 1859 the Greenwich Natural History Society made a record of fauna on Blackheath. The animal species recorded included natterjack toads, hares, common lizards, bats, quail, ring ouzel and nightingales. Today the bats are the only regular inhabitants on that list. Otherworld, my exhibition opening on March 1st is on Hare and Billet Road very close to the Hare and Billet Pub. Opposite is the Hare and Billet Pond which has the most natural wildlife of the three ponds on Blackheath. There are many residents and local experts who work hard to protect the wildlife that we have left on Blackheath which is in both the boroughs of Lewisham (which has a designated Ecology Officer) and Greenwich (which does not). It is acid grassland, a site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (see the record from Lewisham Council) with an impressive number of bees, wasps and ants species recorded, the most recent study is by David Notton of The Natural History Museum. It is also used regularly by humans for fairs and festivals such as On Blackheath and the fireworks on or around Guy Fawkes day, sports, kite flying, dog walking and picnics. At over 200 acres it is one of the largest areas of common land in Greater London. The Blackheath Joint Working Party, Greenwich Wildlife Action Group and The Blackheath Society are among local amenity groups which help protect it and educate residents and councillors about it.
My point of view as an artist is to honour it by evoking a different type of world, one which is lost not just to the Heath but to most of Western Society. This is a world in which respect of and connection to nature is imagined through or symbolised by nature spirits. Last year before a visit to The Outer Hebrides I read Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies 500 AD to the Present by Simon Young and Ceri Houlbrook. It is a scholarly history of fairy sightings, which amazingly enough do continue in the UK. There is still a remnant of belief in these goblins, elves, dryads and fairies of our old stories which screamed when trees were cut down, punished when sacred places were violated or caused mayhem when certain animals were killed without due care and respect. If we all had these superstitions (respect for which were written into the Icelandic statutes in 1990) perhaps the destruction of natural habitats would be far less prevalent, climate change not such a threat, and we’d even still have brown hares running around on Blackheath. For Otherworld I have discovered (in my dreams and imagination) some creatures whose job it is to haunt and protect the Heath through fear or favour.
Otherworld is at The White Box Gallery, 4 Hare and Billet Road Blackheath SE3 0RB from March 1st to 10th.
Open Day March 1st 11-8pm with music by Blanc Sceol at 7pm by The Hare and Billet Pond. Open Friday to Sunday 11 – 6pm and by appointment: email [email protected]