Fermynwoods Friday 33 – Leaf Song

Leaf Song was a publication made by Vidha Saumya and Rebecca Lee, artists in residence at Sudborough Green Lodge in 2010. Fermynwoods have a history of placing artists in woodland spaces and encouraging new work to develop. For Vidha, the near total isolation of Sudborough Green Lodge was a vast leap from her home in heavily populated Mumbai. When Rebecca joined the residency, the two struck up a lasting friendship and collaboration. Inspired by their experiences of the forest and drawing on myths and traditions, Leaf Song is an alternative guidebook to the trees plus audio CD containing leaf songs and leaf sounds.

For this week’s Fermynwoods Friday, Vidha and Rebecca catch up and reminisce about their residency.

Vidha: I have often wondered, what connected the two of us, was it our closeness to nature while growing up, common love for songs and music, engaged interest in food and nourishment or our inability to be out of love? Our first walking together happened on an afternoon and our last drive together was when you dropped me to the station. ‘The Leaf Song’, recipe exchanges and singing to each other happened in between. You had proposed we make something together for Yasmin [Canvin, Director of Fermynwoods at the time]…what followed immediately was a dinner but what came together was this book of sounds generated by leaves around us. And then you carefully stitched them together into tunes. What were you thinking those days?

Rebecca: I remember that first walk with I think Yasmin there too showing us around the woods. Yasmin showed us the hides on stilts and stressed the importance of not walking down certain pathways. The residency was a big deal – I’d never done one before and felt like I was breaking some rule by even vaguely considering myself an artist. So I thought a lot during the residency about wild and over ambitious projects I’d made as a child and the band I’d been in as a teenager. My experience of our conversations and sharing, the singing we did in the car that day – I sang you some Tori Amos and you sang me a song about chickens which was really about men I think – and eventually forming our pieces and the book about singing leaves came as easily as those things had and I was surprised by that after. What had you imagined your stay was going to be like?

V: The residency was the first of a kind for me as well. Before this I had only left India to go to Pakistan to study for a year. This was the first time for me to come to the UK. Despite the colonial history there is still an immense aspiration to go to the west. I was aware that this is going to be close to nature but would have never imagined how embedded it was going to be. The associations to a forest/woods/countryside that I was culturally trained to understand is the complete opposite of what I experienced. The days at the residency were not easy at all. The time there was in contrast to everything I had ever known, whether it was language, use of GPS, living by oneself in the middle of the woods, building your own fire for heating or not having public transport. What I do remember fondly and I am glad it worked out so, were our interactions and prolonged discussions about music, songs and stories we grew up with. Your company and camaraderie uplifted me.

R: I really felt how our different experiences were as I came and went from work in Nottingham. Your descriptions of that being with the woods day in day out have just reminded me of things. I was thinking about us sitting outside until late with butter tea (you taught me how to make it) and the song Starry Starry Night*, popped into my head! Did we hear it on the radio in the car? Or whilst out somewhere? We sang along to it and now I think about you when I hear it! And that in turn has now reminded me about sleeping in the Danish shelters after Tim Simmons’ projections that (starry starry) night just before you left. There was a walk too that we took when the honeysuckle in the woods smelt really strong and the sun was setting. Your drawings were one of the first things you showed me when I arrived (John Berger also came up I think – new to me as a musician) and I thought/learnt, maybe for the first time, about the fact that drawings are not just the result of drawing, but lots of looking. We made our book of course, but were your drawings changed too?

*Don McLean fans will remind me that Vincent is the actual title of that song, but who remembers that…

V: My drawings were still developing at that moment and the nervousness of finding myself in a place that I had no previous experience of being and behaving had thrown me off completely. After our interaction and continued conversation I was able to slowly gather myself together and use the time at the residency to reflect on my thinking and working practices.

You also introduced me to the genius called ‘Flapjacks’ and ‘Leftover Risotto Patties’. Cooking and working on the book helped me put myself together as well and I recovered almost immediately from the slumber of not knowing what to do.

I had only read John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ until then. Since then I have become an avid reader and listener of his writings and I think his books can make for good company in the Fermynwoods cottage. In his later years, he talked several times about how living in the countryside affected his vocabulary and thereby his writing.

R: It’s useful you make this link between how places affect vocabulary or thinking as I was trying to find a way to think about what I took on from the residency into what I did next. Developing a vocabulary might be a good way of putting it. We suggested a world in which there are guidebooks to the sound and songs that leaves make – writing about them as instruments, or beings. At both that residency and since, my stays in the Fermynwoods cottages have always been about me making new vocabulary. Without fail, it’s a place I’ve been able to go and decide that I’m going to make sounds or music I’ve never made before. Perhaps being there with you put that in place.

Leaf Song

Around the cottage - Vidha Saumya

B for blue

This residency was supported by Arts Council England and East Midlands Visual Arts Network’s Sowing Seeds contemporary programme, organised by ten visual arts organisations across the East Midlands.

Look out for more Fermynwoods Friday posts each week looking back on some of our favourite projects over the past 20 years of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art.