In his autobiography Roland Barthes mentions an ancient Greek ‘alphabet of trees’. He may have been mistakenly referring to the Ogham alphabet, an ancient Celtic script found on monuments in Ireland and western Britain. A late medieval text associates each of the letters with a particular tree: A/white fir, B/birch, C for hazel, and so on. In the 1940s Robert Graves offered a controversial but influential theory that certain Ogham letters also correspond to the lunar months – for example, B represents the month after midwinter.
Did people really imagine the alphabet to be made matter and time like this? How would it be to walk through a forest of words and months? What does it mean to be enchanted by those ideas today?
The Alphabet & Calendar of Trees (2015) interprets 21 letters from the Ogham alphabet. Each collage is made from wood-pattern plastic laid over light green A4 office printer paper. The collage is placed behind glass, floated on paper card, backed with hardboard and framed in wood from the abachi tree (Triplochiton scleroxylon) treated to resemble ‘antique oak’.
For more on the thinking behind the work – and why I chose to layer up the ersatz ‘woody’ materials – here’s an excerpt from my conversation with the curator Jeremy Millar from his publication for the exhibition Overlay at White Rainbow Gallery, London, in 2016.
* The Alphabet & Calendar of Trees, Cathy Haynes, 2015.
* Overlay exhibition publication designed by Sophie Demay.
* Installation shots from the exhibition Overlay, with Nancy Holt, Hannah Lees, Zoë Paul and Claire Potter, curated by Jeremy Millar, White Rainbow, London (28 June – 17 September 2016). Photos: Noah Da Costa.