Michael Ashley

Visual Arts etc.

Random Patterns - 2014

A series of twenty prints made from macro photographs of the scars on the trunks of dead Ash trees. The inkjet prints were made with archival ink on archival paper. Each print is offered in a series of five.

Also illustrated are four Frottage made by rubbing graphite on cotton paper held over the stumps of dead Ash trees.

 

Details

Inkjet prints: 17 in. x 22 in., Epson Cold Pressed Natural paper

Frottage: 8 in. x 10 in., cotton paper.

 

Artist's Statement

The Emerald Ash Borer beetle is expected to kill more than 90% of the ash trees in North America. A native of Asia, this invasive species was first identified on this continent in the Detroit-Windsor area in 2002. Since then, it has spread far and wide through the ash forests of the northeast. Studies have shown that, once an area becomes infested, 98% of the ash trees die within five years. The beetle was first identified in Ottawa in 2007. The municipal forestry department expects that all ash in the city will be gone by 2020. The department estimates that 25% of all the trees in our urban forest are ash.

The beetle lays its eggs in the upper crown of an ash tree. The larvae burrow into the bark and munch their way through the layer below the bark that carries nutrients from the roots to the rest of the tree. When there is a large infestation, significant numbers of larvae are present in each tree. Their sinuous excavations crisscross, girdling the tree trunk, effectively cutting off the flow of nutrients. The tree dies of starvation.

The images in this collection are macro photographs of trees killed by beetle infestations. Once the tree has died and the bark falls away, the serpentine scars marking the passage of the beetle larvae are revealed. It’s hard to believe that something as large as a tree can be destroyed by something as small as a grub, yet this reality surrounds us. The stumps bear the marks of the larvae that killed the tree, and the loops and swirls they made are the peculiar patterns that spell the death of the tree. The landscape is changed, and yet, the marks that remain retain a sad beauty as well as a reminder of impermanence.

Pattern recognition and the need to find meaning seem to be inherent to human consciousness; we want to see patterns even in cases where none may exist. Imposing a sense of order on what might otherwise seem confusing or threateningly chaotic can be comforting and safe.

Our minds delight in patterns. There’s something wonderfully intriguing, even seductive, in gazing at a sunflower’s head, or at an embroidery, a carved Islamic screen, the spiral of a galaxy, an Initial from the Book of Kells, a satellite photo of a river system, or even the random marks left by the larvae of the emerald ash borer.

The idea of chance is somewhat antithetical to the idea of pattern, as pattern implies something systematic or even rational. Chance and randomness challenge this and, as the Surrealists showed us, open a connection to the irrational and the subconscious. Culture (the rational) is set in opposition to Nature (the irrational) in what the French have termed a “danse macabre.” Though the patterns of the dance are familiar, they may not be predictable. This lack of predictability is inherent to randomness.

The paper used for the prints in this collection is made from cotton, no additional trees were killed.