Fleece Fugitives (2023) was developed as part of a multi-year research project exploring the movement of plants through Empire – culminating in the exhibition: Shipping Roots at Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (March – August 2023)
Materials: Nature prints, cyanotypes, tartan carpet, handmade fleece curtains, herbarium specimens.
Fleece Fugitives explores how the movement and spread of plants by humans has not always been intentional. In 1822, Scottish celebrity author, Sir Walter Scott wore a pair of tartan trousers to meet King George IV in Edinburgh. The King himself then wore a kilt there was a huge demand for tartans and tweeds. When the Scottish mills couldn’t keep up with this surge in popularity, fleeces were imported from different parts of the world. The fleeces of Australian sheep made their way back across the very seas that the British had originally brought them over on and some were carrying native seed hitchhikers, or fugitives, hidden amongst them.
The woollen industry in Scotland unwittingly helped these ‘alien’ seeds to escape amid the waste wool, or ‘wool shoddy’, carried by effluent from the mills. They propagated around the mills and spread to diversify the landscape. Many didn’t stay but some, such as the pirri pirri bur (Acaena novae-zelandiae), also known as the biddy-biddy, biddy-widgee or red bidibid in Australia have become invasive. This plant now covers huge parts of the Northumberland coast and can be seen all over Holy Island, Lindisfarne just 50 miles east of Edinburgh.
There is a vast collection of Australian plant specimens in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh herbarium that have been collected around local wool mills.
Special thanks to Fiona Mathison and Rehina Adamovych for curtains, Elaine Su-Hui for artist assistance and Greg Kenicer for conversations that inspired these works.
Photography: Ruth Clark
Shipping Roots is supported by the Outset Transformative Grant; the Australian Government and the British Council as part of the UK/Australia Season; the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body; the NSW Government through Create NSW; and a City of Parramatta Council Community Grant.