(The content of this project contains some references to sexual violence.)
Bleeding Yew is a multimedia research project exploring the yew tree species’ (Taxus baccata's) unique regenerative abilities. I employ anthropomorphic metaphors to consider yew agents of change in reference to healing from both personal and environmental trauma.
This part of the project combines landscape, still life, and land art medium format photography. Three locations across the UK are featured: Roundhay Park (Leeds), Morvern and Oban (Scottish Highlands) and Kingley Vale (South Downs).
The first three works were made in Leeds while experiencing personal upheavals, and considering local histories of power abuses. I brewed a deep red paint by slicing and straining beetroot and applying it to patches on woodland trees. I documented this intervention with 120mm photography.
The project took as its starting point the purportedly neutral name of the investigation into Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse crimes: Operation Yewtree. Savile, one of the most recognisable television hosts in the UK, was responsible for 450 sex offences (328 committed against children).
Popular national institutions became implicated in preserving a predatory media culture, helping Savile to hide in plain sight. Even King Charles sought advice on public speaking from Savile.
Operation Yewtree was launched in October 2012, the same year I graduated from a high school located in close vicinity of his flat in Leeds. In between, on ‘Soldiers’ Field’, were also the sites of where several Peter Sutcliffe (known as the Yorkshire Ripper) attacks took place in the 1970s.
Bleeding Yew defies nonchalant violence through symbolically re-claiming space in the land. In November 2021, journeying on public transport from London to the Scottish Highlands, I broadened my arboreal knowledge while thinking about the hypothetical dangers of travelling alone.
During a weekend on Morvern with Woodland Trust foresters, five of us explored the land around their ‘Croft’ (a unique farmland ownership system).
Neighbouring timber plantations dominating the wider Highland landscape became apparent to contrast with the land across the Croft: ancient habitat-forming woodland ecosystems rewild and increase carbon stores, as Highland cows also help to do.
Yew trees emerge from this journey and my archival investigations as figures of wisdom and warning. Yew are negotiators of change: they grow to be thousands of years old and are commonly associated with death, purgatory, and re-generation, and are often found near religious sites of worship. The yew tree is not a neutral symbol.
Bio-electric studies have shown Taxus employs root systems with the highest vitality among trees, investing heavily in them as seedlings, making yew extremely adaptive (Yew: A History, Fred Hageneder).
Extended branches of the tree can root new trunks when they touch the ground. These rhizomatic, expansive growths have formed ancient groves like at Kingley Vale. In some trees here, patches of bark seep deep ruddy and mauve sap.
Some species of fungus, such as the sulphur bracket (commonly known as chicken of the woods), can break down the insides of the trunk’s heartwood. Yew thus becomes hollow with age, much like the slow rotting of the old establishment’s core.
The tree re-cycles decaying matter into re-territorialised growths, like hope we have for re-thinking destructive features of contemporary culture.
These processes, while disintegrating internal systems, can, over time, strengthen whole structures against breakages from wind - we need to be able to sway, growing flexibly and resiliently like yew.
The following screen captures are from a video showing the beetroot preparation process to make a deep red vegetable paint. This batch was applied to the roots of a tree near Oban in the Scottish Highlands.
1080p. 6 minutes 28 seconds.