BreatheDecay and The Visitors | Lillian Tranborg’s films celebrate the coming of spring

At long last, we can finally celebrate the first day of spring!

To mark the changing season, and the sense of hope that spring evokes, artist Lillian Tranborg shares an art project immersed in the natural beauty of Wytham Woods in Oxford. Lillian’s enchanting film follows the organic evolution of a sculpture from August 2018 to March 2021.

Words, films and images by Lillian Tranborg

Wytham Woods, an ancient woodland on the outskirts of Oxford and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, was the inspiration and became the home of the Continuing Bodies sculpture. The lung shaped form was installed on the 28th August 2018 as part of the Future Knowledge exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, forging a connection between the gallery space and the outdoors. It was created, as a reflection on climate change and the relationships between humans and nature, by a group of local artists as part of the Modern Art Oxford’s How Nature Builds programme. I was fortunate to be one of the artists involved.

The choice of material for this art installation is also evocative of the forest. The bricks are made from mycelium, a sustainable and biodegradable building material that is grown rather than manufactured. Mycelium is a fungus that colonises the roots of trees, to create what are known as mycorrhizal associations. The trees provide the fungi with food in the form of carbohydrates and in exchange, the fungi help the tree to absorb water and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen via their mycelia. These mycorrhizal mycelial networks also allow trees to communicate and exchange nutrients with each other beneath the forest floor.

The sculpture’s steel “rib cage” is holding the mycelium bricks suspended and linked into lung shapes, one mirroring the other, into a cocoon shape where one can move through, between or quietly linger inside. Turning beautifully red by oxidation, the steel is expected to outlast the mycelium lungs, as the skeleton would in a body.

The mycelium material was partly chosen for its biodegradability and, wanting to grab the opportunity to follow the gradual decomposition, I embarked on regular monitoring of the process of decay. Continuing Bodies has now been slowly decaying for over two and a half years. The gradual and seasonal changes can be viewed on @continuingbodies.

Over the more than two and a half years that the Continuing Bodies sculpture has been in Wytham Woods, there have been recurring signs of nibbling on the mycelium bricks. Although, on my regular monitoring visits, I have been able to take pictures of flies and spiders interacting with the sculpture, I really wanted to know what other beings might be visiting, and eating, the sculpture.

Taking advantage of the forest being closed for human visitors during lockdown, I put up two wildlife cameras and left them there for the first week of March 2021. This is some of the footage that I got. Didn’t catch the guilty muncher – still a mystery…

Lillian Tranborg is an Oxford based artist and sculptor who favours working outside with natural materials such as clay, wood, stone and found objects. She takes inspiration from nature, science and the things that link them.

You can see more animal activity and follow the evolution of the Continuing Bodies project on @continuingbodies

Read more about our ongoing How Nature Builds project and revisit Future Knowledge, an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2018.

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