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White oak, green stained oak, bog oak saw dust

Decay is a research project I initiated in 2017 as part of my design residency at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft. It studies how the decay process in wood initiated by specific type of fungi could be interpreted as a creative force (rather than destructive one). 


 Shape, color, texture and even function of the object stem from corresponding characteristics of three fungi: daldinia concentrica(King Alfred’s cake), chlorociboria aeruginascens (green wood cup), Kretzschmaria deusta (brittle cinder) associated with three stages of oak decay: white oak, green-stained oak and bog oak. I chose to work specifically on cedar and oak burr, which is a wonderful type of wood malignancy.Then I used the ancient Japanese technique ofcedar charring technique shousugi ban as a preserving method. When associated with wood, burning is a destructive process however when carried out in a controlled manner, it does not damage wood, but makes it resistant to fire, rot and wood-destroying insects.


I am interested in researching correspondence between materials taken from their natural environment. I believe that by doing so I am looking for fragments of a bigger whole. Experiencing the feeling of permeation between divergent worlds is extraordinary, and it brings the feeling of unity and wholeness. I think that my search of traces connecting various materials and objects are caused by something obscure, but ever-present in my art, the conviction that the world is internally cohesive and one. Thus far, I kept researching the correspondence between rocks and fossils and wood, up until a certain kind of combination of both these material in the form of fossilised wood, which forms a quintessence of their correspondence.

Daldinia concentrica

Bog oak

The object that contributed the most to my artistic work during the second stage of my residency is Daldinia concentrica, a mushroom also called King Alfred’s Cake, which we found during a walk in Ewan Clayton's forest, which looks like burnt wood or a black oak. The inside of the mushroom has concentric construction and resembles a burnt and carbonated cross-section of a tree trunk. Black oak is oak wood that spent hundreds or even thousands of years underground or under water. Oak wood contains tannins, which react with ferric salts present in water and in soil, which in turn change the colour of the wood from natural to grey-black or even blue-black. Black oak is most commonly found in the basins of Central and Southern Europe rivers. In the past, the wood was used in Poland to produce traditional furniture in Gdańsk.

daldinia concentrica

Another inspiration from nature is a piece of green and blue wood found in Ewan Clayton’s forest during a walk. We took that piece of wood without any particular reason, just because we found it exceptional and beautiful. It turns out that it owes that unique colour to a mushroom called chlorociboria aeruginascens, also known as green wood cup. 


Green stained oak

Chlorociboria aeruginasce

After I returned home, I checked where one can find them and the use of green-stained wood. It turns out that the mushroom often infects hardwood species, such as oak, which is then called “green oak”. What is interesting about this mushroom is the fact that it does not cause the wood to decompose as much as other similar mushrooms. Because of that, the wood exposed to the staining pigment can be used in arts and crafts. In the 18th century, English woodworkers in the town of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, started using small splinters and veneers of the green-stained wood to form highly detailed pictures of animals, flowers, local landscapes, and geometric designs, which were often inset into the lids of small wooden boxes. These antiques are called "Tunbridge ware” and are very valuable today.


Thus, we are dealing with two or three exceptional examples of wood decay, which does not degrade it, but change its characteristic in a given way. Bog oak can be found in Poland, green oak is popular in the United Kingdom, while burnt wood is a traditional technique. Additionally, oak is perceived as an exceptional species in itself, especially in Poland.  Before Christianity, it was believed that oak is a connection between the planes of the Cosmos, in Polish folklore it is connected with the symbolism of the centre. In early Middle Ages Slavs considered some tree species to be sacred due to their connections to gods, mostly giant oaks struck by lightning, which meant that they were chosen by the thundering god Perun.


Concept, design and development: Anna Bera 

Production: The Whole Elements

Client: Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

Photos: Tomek Henke

Year: 2017

The project was created during the design residency in Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft was organized by British Council in collaboration with Ditchling Museum and Polish Cultural Institute in London. 


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