Roots and Branches at Focal Point Gallery, Southend on Sea

Over the last few months I’ve been working with Focal Point Gallery in Southend on Sea on ‘Roots and Branches’, a large scale charcoal artwork for the ‘Tip of the Iceberg’ multi-artist show opening this weekend. This exhibition “explores the relationship between art and alternative growing practices, which are increasingly coming together in pursuit of climate action and social justice. New and recent works by local and international artists explore three key themes: the notion of the ‘commons’, i.e. our common right to the earth’s natural resources (air, water, soil, land); how plants can be considered as both witnesses and agents across history, and how local hidden economies can act as catalysts for wider change.”

From the exhibition web site; “Presented as a poster and as a wall piece within the exhibition, Southend-based artist and permaculture practitioner, Graham Burnett has created a new drawing, Roots and Branches, a Psychogeographical Mind Map using the metaphor of a tree to represent the ecosystem of connections between people, projects, spaces and actions that operate ‘below the surface’ of Southend-on-Sea, working towards a resilient local future in times of climate change, energy descent, financial instability and post-pandemic uncertainty.  The central tree structure of the mind map was drawn using charcoal made from willow harvested from Burnett’s allotment, then pyrolised in a mini-kiln in his home wood burner, representing direct connections with the landscape and place of Southend. The drawing is also a ‘tip of the iceberg’, as it can only represent a sample of what is going on in Southend.”

photo courtesy of Linda Pullen

Also participating are local and international artists Shaun C. Badham, Becky Beasley, Kathrin Böhm, Graham Burnett, Gabriella Hirst with Warren Harper, Anna Lukala, Mary Mattingly, Uriel Orlow, Rachel Pimm, Alida Rodrigues and Zheng Bo.

‘Roots and Branches – a Psychogeographic Mindmap’ original artwork by Graham Burnett, charcoal drawing, hand lettered using GIMP image editing software.

Why local charcoal? As a nation, we use some 60,000 tonnes of charcoal annually, up to 95% of which is imported from places like South America, Southern Europe, South East Asia or South Africa. It’s worth considering the environmental and ethical impacts of such imports – Not only does long distance transportation generate a carbon footprint of some 440kg CO2 per tonne, but much of this charcoal comes from unsustainable sources, including felling threatened habitat such as Indonesian mangrove swamps and rainforests, or from Spanish eucalyptus plantations that are fast replacing native forests and wildlife habitat. Methods of production are also often inefficient, so that only some 60% of the charcoal is likely to be carbon: it is the other 40% – still wood – (plus the chemicals from acclerants needed to add to get to light…) which produces the clouds of smoke that choke all your guests while waiting for the flames to die down! Properly made English charcoal, by contrast is of higher quality, with a carbon content of up to 90%, making it easier to light and less polluting and smoky. Choosing UK manufactured charcoal can be environmentally and economically regenerative, restoring neglected woodland and providing local employment, plus opportunities for farmers and other landowners to find value in otherwise low grade woodland products. Bringing coppice woodlands back into production encourages a greater diversity of flora and fauna as periodically cutting back and managing growth opens up woodland understorey, letting in light for flowers, insects, birds and small mammals to thrive. Reviving such traditional woodland management practices play a vital part in restoring the centuries old relationships between humankind and the forest that have been largely lost in recent generations. These will need to be rediscovered as we move beyond the age of cheap oil into a more localised, low energy future.

Photo courtesy of Linda Pullen

‘Tip of the Iceberg’ open at Focal Point Gallery, The Forum, Elmer Square, Southend-on-Sea, SS1 1NB this Saturday 11 September 2021 and runs until 9th January 2022 – we hope to see you there!

More info at https://www.fpg.org.uk/exhibition/tip-of-the-iceberg/

More about our hand-made artist’s charcoal here...

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Over the last few months I’ve been working with Focal Point Gallery in Southend on Sea on ‘Roots and Branches’, a large scale charcoal artwork for the ‘Tip of the Iceberg’ multi-artist show opening this weekend. This exhibition “explores the … Continue reading →
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