The Burr

Here are some new ideas I have been working on, based around a tree that looks extremely pregnant. These quick drawings in photoshop may become real, temporary interventions and consequently photographs, or they may remain simply as ideas. These images are digitally produced, deliberately not high quality as these versions will not go to print. It’s definately work in progress.

3 Trussed & Pegged

2 Tied Off and Pegged Down

I discovered the tree in the woods close to where I live. I find it very disturbing, in both negative and positive ways. It creeps into my daily thoughts and demands attention, I visit it most days when I am walking my dog.

1 Supported

This is a truly magnificent beech tree, like many in Eaves Wood, though certainly not the biggest. The wonder of this tree is its bump. The pregnant bulge protrudes straight out of the trunk about a metre. I haven’t measured its girth but it will be at least three metres. It is a natural burr, I know, but it is so much more….

This tree presents a mirror image of a beautiful, human, pregnant belly and simultaneously, a sinister, repulsive, tumorous growth. This is my interest, this is what grabs me: these two extreme interpretations butting up against each other, hard to untangle. Isn’t this the way of preganancy? I remember so clearly that feeling when I realised that I had this thing growing away inside me. The sheer spike of panic, the hot wave of claustrophobia that comes when I knew that this is itthis life inside me, connected to me, it’s with me for life now!

The repulsion that ensues, my mind’s rejection. How did I get to this? What’s wrong with me, surely no-one else has these feelings of dread, horror? It’s growing inside me, that’s not right , that’s not natural , it’s like a tumour, feeding from me, parasitical, sucking the life out of me. That’s my life it’s sucking away to feed itself, getting bigger by the day, creating different bits inside me, from me…using bits of ME to make bits of IT! Taking my blood and my food, making it into skin, blood, bone, stretchy bits, hard bits, soft bits, personality bits….

And so, I endlessly stare at my tree, trying to unlock it and as a woman, bizarrely, make sense of it.

I try to work out the complex, imaginary relationship between the burr and the tree:

Is it painful like a tumour? If so , let me help to pull it off with bright, clean, red bandage, wrapping tightly round where it joins the tree, if I pull it tight enough, and peg it down to the ground, it might drop off? like unwanted docked lambs tails or bulls testicles. Or like the ugly wart I had , which my mum tied cotton round, and tightened painfully to help pull it off.

Is the burr too heavy for the tree? does the tree need some support to carry its weight? As if it’s a beautiful pregnant belly, I bind and weave tight, red bands of support from back to front, to hold the bump in place remembering those final difficult days when you feel as if you will tip over, fall forwards- or the bump will drag and sag it’s way down to the ground under it’s own weight.

There’s an invisible energy escaping from the burr, a life force that shoots out of the various holes and fissures in the tough elephant-like skin (bark!), of the burr- like benign buzzing bees or malignent wasps, which escape to swarm around and act as a visible marker, declaring this spot as dangerous, high energy, high voltage, keep away.

4 With Hanging Crysalis

5 With Nipple Flowers

6 Wire Echo

About Sally Barker

I now live in Hebden Bridge with my partner and 2 children(15 and 11), having just moved back from London where I lived for 22 years. My work explores relationships between us and our environment, particularly the landscape: the mutual shaping, nurturing, destructive and creative forces. I use as…Read more


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One Response to “The Burr”

  1. Helen Sargeant

    What great ideas. I particularly enjoy where the tree bump has been held up by what looks like a baby sling. Your relationship with the tree reads as a maternal one.

    I saw a series of Louise Bourgeois etchings in Tate Liverpool yesterday called “Topiary: The Art of improving Nature”, 1998, and I thought of your post. Her etchings depict “a woolly-textured tree gradually metamorphosing into a human figure, whose natural growth is hindered by mutiliation. ‘Topiary’ the art of clipping and training plants into ornamental forms, represents an intervention into natural growth and is suggestive of ‘improvement’, imbuing Bourgeois’ anthropomorphic amputation imagery with dark connotations about the shaping of female identity. Drawing has been a central expression for Louise Brourgeois enabling what she has described as her ‘psychic survival'” (Tate Liverpool exhibition plaque text).

    Louise Bourgeois depicts a tree becoming an amputee, your tree become’s a pregnant woman.

    Its strange making and growing another human inside your own. I liked to listen to my sons hearts beating inside me, to see my sons images on a scan, feel them kicking, then it seemed a little more real. I struggled to picture them living inside.


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