In search of ants

Simon Blackmore, Antony Hall and Steve Symons, the collaborative group of artists known as Owl Project, are spending time in Fineshade Wood exploring the forest floor, lifting up logs and looking under stones to film ants going about their business. Using cameras and software to visualize the routes taken by these creatures to allow for what seems like chaos to be rendered as pattern.

Antony Hall blogs below about one day of forest exploration at Fineshade Wood.

Exploring Fineshade woods in search of ants, we felt the need to find a lesser walked track. We find one leading into a grassy meadow. Heads down, we scan the grass. We and try to focus on the space around our feet. The more we slow down and calmed ourselves, the more became visible to us. Tuning into the invisible motions beneath the leaf matter, between rhizome of stems and stalks. Soon we notice one ant, maybe two, on a small insignificant soil clearing about the size of a hand, nearly a mound. We suspected it might be a nest. Perhaps Yellow Meadow ants – the type that makes mounds. Perhaps this one had been flattened – or was it just a bare patch of soil?

In search of ants

Setting up a camera we noticed a couple of holes, the head of an ant, rotating its antennae in a circular motion as if it sensed the impending scrutiny of the artists above. It’s a black ant. Emerging fully it scurries into the grass. Under, around, and over and over several blades of grass with mysterious intent. Now I notice more ants similarly investigating the grass blades near by.

In search of ants

After a while I noticed a spider nearby. All I can see is one-minute delicate green leg under another blade, operating some kind of purposeful manoeuvre. Waiting a while longer a larger wolf spider cautiously makes its way past the nest, before disappearing into the deeper network of stems.

I hand over to Simon while I go to explore. While Simon filmed he had accidentally disturbed the nest, the ants are in a state of confusion, but we are delighted to see the chaos. The mound was now teaming with furious ants. Stepping through the grass I inspected the tree trunks of some young oaks. My initial conclusion is that nothing much is here. Interesting pockets of moss cling to the bark. A small fly lands on the bark. It walks up the trunk. I couldn’t recognise the species, tiny and insignificant. It was the size of a fruit fly but differed in that its wings are folded back in a tent-like manner.

In search of ants

The colouring in keeping with the bark, looking closer using my close up lense, I notice the speckles of brown in its wing veins. Each brown speckle is adorned with a robust bristle. Its carapace, the section of the thorax between the head and wings, has almost royal detail, angular metallic green, its noble head tightly paired to this. Its periodic and silent ascent was interspersed with short moments of remaining still. Moments of invisibility. Suddenly another overtakes, before stopping next to it. Moving my focus out a little I now see these flies are all over the trunk, each ascending in the same manner. Perhaps just slightly spiralling it contours as they go. Why? Why not fly? Where are they going? They are neither in a hurry or looking for food. Perhaps their journey serves more of a ritualistic purpose.

In search of ants

Turning over a log, we evoke a mass panic ground of beetles and centipedes speed away from sight. Others circle in confusion or remain still hoping not to be noticed.

We watched some kind of grasshopper-like entity slowly making its way across the log, scanning the surface with extra long antennae. Not until we processed the video, applying filter and movement detectors, did we notice its surface was teaming with mites and spring tails almost entirely invisible to our eye, slowly circling in confusion.

In search of ants

Other creatures such as centipedes are too quick to capture on film exiting in a straight line to anywhere else but here. To darkness and safety. The minute spring tails with their flexible soft white bodies are more visible against a darker surface. They have an ability to seemingly teleport short distances to escape danger – the spring in the tail probably equivalent to me jumping with speed over a house. Larger Bristletails, dark blue with yellow spots [please note I am colour blind] crawl inside the damp cavities between the bark. They move with a calm considered motion, antennae carefully inspecting everything they encounter. All this time in the periphery, spider mites teem on the surface with relentless mania.

Antony Hall, Owl Project

The result of Owl Project’s residency at Fineshade Wood The Algorithm in the Forest will launch at:

The Arches
Top Lodge
Fineshade Wood
Near Corby
NN17 3BB

Friday 28 June
With a talk led by the artists from 6 – 8.30pm