Vida’s painting of a fantastical creature in the Slovenia landscape. More on … Vida’s work and life provided by her family.
Caroline Hyde-Brown, at Norwich University of the Arts, gave the Living Field this account of her work with the legume, grass pea. Here are some examples of her craft.
Read on to see how it is done.
Introduction to the grass pea
The grass pea Lathyrus sativus is a member of the legume family (Fabaceae) and commonly grown for human consumption and livestock feed in Asia and East Africa (Caroline writes). It is a hardy yet under-utilised crop and able to withstand extreme environments from drought to flooding. The grass pea fixes nitrogen from the air which helps maintain a healthy and well fertilised topsoil .
However, the grass pea contains a potent neurotoxin called B-ODAP which increases if the plant is exposed to conditions of severe water stress. Historically the grass pea is known to produce adverse side effects with excessive human consumption which exacerbates the risk of a neurological disorder known as lathyrism which can cause permanent paralysis below the knees both in adults and children.
Growing the plants
In September 2019 I initiated a collaboration with John Innes Research Centre in Norwich to investigate whether this ancient legume could be utilised to create a biomaterial with a sustainability strategy of raising its residual value. With a mixed methodology of qualitative research, critical inquiry, and home-based experimentation, I explored the inherent qualities of the natural raw plant residue with Anne Edwards and Abhimanyu Sarkar . I used a framework known as the ‘whole systems’ approach adding freshly collected rainwater and solar heat .
I experimented with different types of potting containers to observe growth patterns and plant behaviour. Shallow containers produced spindly and weak plants compared to the much stronger and higher yielding plants grown in deep ‘rose’ containers or in a glasshouse.
My assistance with the harvest at John Innes yielded positive results during January 2020. I began with behavioural growth studies in agar flasks, which provided a fascinating insight into the delicate root structure as the roots are normally below ground. Unexpected discoveries about how the grass pea behaved under certain conditions helped the iterative design process.
During lockdown last year I had time to observe the plants on my windowsill and how they used the agar provided by John Innes. I didn’t need to water them, and it was fascinating to see how the plant easily grew, the perfect house plant!
I also planted some grass pea in different types of container with various depths to see which environment the crop preferred. The black container (photographs above, lower left) provided the wonderful patterned shapes shown lower right.
Embroidery with roots and tendrils
Perfectly formed tendrils from the harvested residue of grass pea inspired me to do some hand embroidery. I used Kantha stitching on cotton to reflect the Indian traditional embroidery technique of simple straight stitch.
My overall aim was to see whether the grass pea residue could be recreated into a cloth of some kind. Cutting up the paper samplers and using other threads and vintage lace slowly transformed the paper into a fabric, but the harvested residue was extremely dry and brittle.
I was unable to spin a thread out of the stalks. However, I believe, with the right biotechnology, cellulose could be extracted from the grass pea to make clothing, paper, shoes and lighting. Recent advances prove that using agricultural waste is an extremely profitable and sustainable operation with companies such as Agraloop , already spinning innovative and unique fibres.
Initially my papermaking explorations were unsatisfactory. The handmade paper felt stiff, broke easily and resembled cardboard. After boiling the residue and retting it in a bucket for a week however, it softened to produce a softer slurry or pulp.
Although I was unable to provide precise samples of artisanal stationery, each piece of handmade paper had its own individual character. I began to realise that imperfections can help create an authentic narrative and felt more confident in exploring other possibilities with ingredients.
A series of handmade papers were constructed from localised resources. I wanted to see if the grass pea could hold other grasses and petals within multiple layers of slurry. I took advantage of the warm weather and dried them in the garden. By adding spices from the kitchen, combined with grass clippings and petals taken from hedgerows and heathers they took on a lovely range of colours.
I also wanted to test some of the bio-resins from my collection of azeleas to see whether it added another material dimension. I looked at adding colour and referenced the pantone colour range for 2020 to provide inspiration for a moodboard of handmade paper.
Bio pots and other functional products
Interpreting scientific knowledge and merging it with my own craft-oriented methods is a lengthy and complicated process. The bio pots initially started out as a conversation when I decided to see whether the knowledge I had gained through papermaking over the summer could result in something more tangible like a functional product.
I looked at whether the grass pea pots could be dyed to provide colour, starting with kitchen spices such as paprika and herbal tea bags with raspberry, blueberry, tea, and coffee. These were quite successful samples and ongoing observations are being made into the waterproofing and durability. Further growth studies will commence this year with a view to creating something that may offer a sustainable alternative for the tree planting initiatives overseas.
… and some final remarks
Research into the use of natural resources to provide extra sources of income has proven potential. It shows how the bridging of traditional artisan work with modern design can provide sustainable solutions. An essential part of the process includes rigorous testing of raw materials to demonstrate that the process is both restorative and circular from the beginning of the supply chain to the end product.
As an inter-disciplinary artist, I seek to implement new ideas through forming partnerships which help shape and question my own practice. I feel fortunate that we could build a strong professional network to bridge knowledge gaps. It was a collaborative process that reinforced our objective of helping to improve rural livelihoods in India.
I conclude that the grass pea supply chain could be disrupted from field to biomaterial and repurposed to provide vital ingredients for economic change.
Sources | Links
 Caroline writes: “When all other crops fail, grass pea will often be the last one left standing. It is easy to cultivate and is tasty and high in nutritious protein, which makes it a popular crop. The Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) states that at least 100,000 people in developing countries are believed to suffer from paralysis caused by the neurotoxin. More at the Crop Wild Relatives Project: The curious case of the grasspea.
 From the John Innes Centre web site, 27 May 2020: Paper making with grass pea.
 The “whole systems approach” was devised by a group of Product Design Students at the Iceland Academy of Arts in 2015 during a project using willow. They designed a unique range of products including paper, glue and string adding just heat and water.
 Agraloop: transforming low-value waste to high-value fibre.
 The Journal of Sustainability Education describes how collaborations beyond the comfort zone of specialist areas possibly hold the key to making unusual discoveries. Journal web site: http://www.journalofsustainabilityeducation.org/
Contact Caroline Hyde-Brown
web site: https://www.theartofembroidery.co.uk/
The editor writes: Many thanks Caroline from the Living Field for sharing your experiences and experiments on grass pea. We hope you can continue to develop the technology and craft work and help to generate new income streams for growers.
Note on a visit to the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. TeamLab’s mesmerising exhibition halls. Stunning architecture. Lily pond.
The ticket desk warned adults that about 60% of the exhibits were for children. There was no need. The exhibition spaces were mesmerising, children and adults alike absorbed in the shifting images and games.
It was like one of those busy open days at the Living Field garden: people marvelling at the diversity of life, children quietly buzzing around the activities and all coming to appreciate that people and nature can coexist.
Concept and design of the building
The main exhibition halls were below ground, underneath the ‘palm’ and ‘fingers’ that are the visible part of the structure. The ‘palm’ appears supported only near the base. A lacing of struts extends throughout the fingers.
The concept of the quite stunning building was explored in early sketches by Safdie Architects, viewable in the foyer . One of the sketches is shown above left.
teamLab and Future World
The main permanent displays, given the name ‘Future World – where Art meets Science‘ are housed in the below-ground chambers. They were made by teamLab, founded in 2001 and comprising a group of ‘ultra-technologists’, bringing together ‘hundreds of innovative thought leaders from multiple technical and creative backgrounds’.
In first exhibition – Nature – people interact with the various streams of images projected onto, or rather part of, the walls and floor.
‘Water’ streams down the far wall and along the floor. The flow is deflected if a person moves close to the wall or stands on the floor. Butterflies emerge and flap round the walls. They disappear if touched. Incessant, low volume, musical sounds accompany the movements. You’d think they would soon grate, but they didn’t, even after an hour of wandering in the space.
The descriptive panels explain the purpose: people affect nature all the time; they are part of it, not distinct from it. They can destroy it but need it.
The photographs shown in the panel above – all from Nature – are phone snaps taken in the available light. Excellent images of the exhibits can be viewed on teamLab’s web site .
Next on from the Nature exhibit are a series of rooms where visitors can move things around, sit at desks writing and making things, interact with moving images and (for the very young) play with brightly coloured balls. Crocodiles crawl across the floor. They know you’re there!
Leaving the darkened halls, the visitor emerges into the central shaft, a great space with a pond at the bottom and open to the sun and rain at the top, connecting inside to outside.
Outside the Museum – the lily pond
Immediately beneath the ‘palm’ on three sides is a pond whose surface is almost covered with lily leaves. The pond is raised above the surrounding walkways, so that people can kneel on the bounding wall and peer into the water. The pond lies above the underground display halls and is said to filter light down through their ceilings.
The pond extends some way out towards the Bay. The cluster of tall buildings at the city’s financial sector can appear as if they are on a level with the pond.
To the right of the financial sector, directly by the Bay but too small to see from here, is the Merlion that continually spouts its stream of water (top panel, upper-right).
As in most other parts of Singapore’s centre, the standard of plant-culture is very high. The lily pond is made to look like it takes care of itself, but there must be a continual pruning and removal of dead material and maintenance of an ideal nutrient balance in the water.
Did Art meet Science?
In the Living Field’s work with artists, the starting point is usually some topic of environmental or agricultural science – field systems, population dynamics, the structure and functioning of roots, plant metabolites and so on. The artist bends scientific knowledge and sometimes the scientific process, bringing together things that could not possibly coexist or would at least be normally far apart in time or distance.
A similar process underpins the construction of the Future World exhibitions. They do this to a degree subliminally, through the senses. It’s the impressions that last, rather than anything strictly logical. There’s more on one of the exhibits at the next post Real time virtual field – Tashbunosho rice.
The Museum is well supported by Singaporeans. Like the V&A Museum in Dundee, it must be a source of great local pride.
Sources, references, links
 ArtScience Museum at Singapore – general information, ‘what’s on’, etc.
 Designed by Moshe Safdie – link to the ArtScience Museum at Safdie Architects.
 teamLab – perhaps start with www.teamlab.art/concept. See also interviews and comment at Indesignlive, e.g. 5 minutes with teamLab and coverage of their Tokyo exhibits at New Digital Art Museum in Tokyo.
 Future World – where art meets science – link to see more on this permanent exhibition at the ArtScience Museum Singapore.
Author/contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com, visited October 2018
Maize, along with rice and wheat, and to a lesser degree barley, provides most of the cereal or corn harvest for the world’s civilisations. Maize was domesticated in the Americas and did not arrive here until recent centuries, when ships and navigation were advanced enough to sail across an ocean.
Maize is a warm-climate crop  but consists of many varieties, some of which can be grown here in summer, where it’s product is known as corn-on-the-cob or sweet corn. It is also grown in stock farming as an animal feed, but mainly in the south of the UK.
Yet maize has many other uses. Here we look at two of them, both starting with the husk surrounding and protecting the cob – Jean Duncan’s exploration of paper-making using husks from maize grown in the Living Field garden, and the traditional use of maize husk as wrapping for Burmese cheroots.
For making plant paper, Jean tried various parts of the maize plants including the leaves, the thick stems and also the papery coverings of the flowering and fruiting head, known as the husk, which she said made the best paper .
The images above are of a print on maize husk paper of an etching of a maize root cut in cross section and magnified so that the internal structure can be seen.
In the print on the left hand side of the images, the original root cross section is about 1 mm wide, the image itself is 22 by 22 cm and the paper 40 by 49 cm. To the right are close-ups of part of the print and of the paper, showing the visible fibres from the original husks, now converted into paper.
The paper in this case became a visible part of the finished art. Sources below give links to Jean’s description of making the paper and an exhibition in which images of roots were printed on various plant-based papers .
Burmese cheroot wrapping
Once it was brought across from the Americas, maize travelled quickly in the 1600 and 1700s and became a favoured cereal through Africa and among the warmer parts of Europe. It established also in Asia, but usually as a secondary crop behind rice.
Its parts were used not only for food for humans and animals. There is a history of usage as a medicinal, as a substate for alcohol (e.g. chibuku in Africa) and curiously, as a wrapping for cheroots.
The long cigar shaped structures smoked in Burma (now Myanmar) and known as cheroots are usually filled with a range of herby and woody plant material, not always including tobacco. The wrapping can come from a range of plants, but the cigars below were wrapped in maize cob husks .
Several husk-leaves were used to wrap each cheroot. The contents were, as said above, derived from a range of plant material, most pieces being 2-4 mm long. Each cheroot had a filter, consisting of tight rolls of leaf or husk. They were on sale locally along the Irrawaddy River in Burma, now Myanmar .
In his compendium of useful plants, Burkhill  notes that an industry arose in north Burma at some time in the last few hundred years, based on the use of a type of maize, characterised by a waxy endosperm (the store in the seed), which also had a ‘peculiar suitability of the sheath for cheroots.’ He also refers to the possibility that certain impoverished areas were afflicted by the vitamin deficiency pellagra through reliance on maize, as in parts of the USA .
Male and female flower heads
Maize is unusual among the cereal or corn plants in having separate male and female flower heads, each on compact ‘branches’ held on different parts of the same plant. The male flowers are usually held at the top of the plant and the female lower down. Female branches are shown in the images below, taken in the Living Field garden.
The female flowering head remains mostly hidden within a sheath of leafy material (above left) that later forms the husk. The grain sites are arranged around the central ‘stem’ hidden by the sheath. The stem and grains together will later form what we know as the corn cob.
Each grain site puts out a long thread, many of which together emerge from the sheath in an irregular bunch, often named a silk, the female part of the reproductive process in this species (seen reddish, above left and top right).
The function of each female thread (comprising a stigma and style) is to receive pollen from male flowers and to provide a channel for the pollen tube, that emerges from a pollen grain, to grow into the sheath to a grain site. When pollinated, the grain sites fill to give the familiar, yellow kernel which remains protected by the sheath.
Sometimes the season in the Garden is too short for late flowering maize heads and they do not grow into a finished, filled cob. One of these late heads was prized apart to show an undeveloped cob (lower right in the images above) and the surrounding sheath that had turned to parchment in feel and colour. The female threads, now fibrous and dead, can just about be seen issuing from each grain site.
The paper shown in the images at the top of the page was made from husks like these.
Finally, here is an image of maize intercropped with groundnut growing by the Irrawaddy river . The male branches can be seen at the top of some of the plants. Female flowering heads are circled.
Sources, references, links
 The botanical name for maize is Zea mays. The genus Zea is of the grass family and has only this species. It was domesticated and developed many thousands of years ago in Central and South America. It was first brought across the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1400s, then spread rapidly east.
 The article Maize paper by Jean Duncan describes how to make paper from plants in the garden. The exhibition The Beauty of Roots shows prints and etchings made on maize and other plant papers displayed at the University of Dundee in 2017.
 Details of the spread and growing of maize in Asia are given in the major compendium of useful south-east Asian plants by Burkill, published in 1966, but clearly the result of many decades of investigation and cataloguing. He lists the use of maize husks for cheroot wrappings and of maize leaf and stem for paper.
Burkill IH. 1966. Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsular. Two volumes, 2444 pages. Published on behalf of the Governments of Malaysia and Singapore by the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The entry on maize is in Vol II at pages 2327-2334.
The writer refers to the following article for confirmation of the use of ‘waxy’ maize varieties as cheroot wrapping in Burma: Collins GN.1920. Waxy maize from upper Burma. Science 52, 48-51. doi 10.1126/science.52.1333.48.
 The cheroots shown in the images were bought at a village store in 2014 on the banks of the Irrawaddy. Further description of the region is given at Mixed cropping in Burma on the curvedflatlands web site in an article by G R Squire. Disclaimer – no cheroots were smoked in the research for this article!
By Jean Duncan. More on Jean’s work with the Living Field.
Exhibition, Dalhousie Building, University of Dundee, 17-30 March 2017. More images here.
Our artist friend, Jean Duncan has been trying out new techniques, getting inspiration and materials from the Living Field garden and from microscopic sections of roots. Jean writes about her depictions of brassica roots:
“The print is an etching made on a zinc plate by drawing with a needle into soft wax and then etching the lines in copper sulphate. Ink is rubbed in to the etched lines and then printed on wet paper.
“My idea is to print root sections and plant drawings on to plant papers. I want to combine ancient techniques of papermaking with the latest microscopic images in a way that will highlight the plant’s diversity and engage people in how plants can enrich soils as well as provide food.
“For papermaking, the most successful fibres so far have come from maize stalks from the Living Field garden. These are chopped and simmered for several hours in soda ash to break down the fibres. The long fibres are then bashed further in a Hollander beater like a large grinder. Sheets of paper are then formed on a mould and stacked for printing or casting. Wet paper sheets can be pushed into plaster moulds of the plants and roots and when they dry the plant is embossed into the paper.
“So it’s a long process but I am currently working on a latex cast of a plant root and it’s been successful so far. It may even be useful to scientists as a way of preserving the fragile roots in a way that means they can be handled without being damaged.
Jean Duncan on this web site (with links): art/jean-duncan
Here it is.
And thank you for allowing us to use it on this site.
[More to follow from Jean’s experimenting ….]
Nocni dialog, oil, 1964 by Vida Fakin. More on Vida ….
T rep. The short form given by our field survey teams to white clover Trifolium repens. Still a common plant of pasture and waysides, so common that the intricacies of its structure and function generally go unnoticed.
Yet the mathematical artworks by Macoto Murayama shown in July at Dundee University reveal these intricacies in astonishing detail (image right).
The exhibition was held by courtesy of Frantic Gallery, Tokyo.
The Living Field’s correspondent gk-images sent some cellphone snaps from the exhibition.
The introduction gives some detail of the artist and how he transfers the complex flowering heads and flowers of his botanical subjects to two-dimentional images.
“Macoto Murayama is a Japanese artist who cultivates ‘inorganic flora’. His extraordinary images are created after minutely dissecting real flowers and studying [them] under a microscope. His drawings are then modelled in 3D imaging software then rendered into 2D compositions on photoshop before being printed on a large scale.”
Born in Kanagawa, Japan in 1984 he is now a researcher at Institute of Advanced Media and Art and Sciences, Tokyo.
The photographs, with reflections of lights and the opposite wall are of white clover (top) and spanish broom (lower).
Dundee University – Macoto Murayama: Growth and Form Exhibition. 14 May to 20 August 2016. Lamb Gallery, Tower Building, Dundee. Click the link for opening times.
Macoto Murayama at Frantic gallery: http://frantic.jp/en/artist/artist-murayama.html
Frantic Gallery Tokyo. Looks like some great exhibitions, for example the Universe and other Oddities by Zen Tainaka.
On Growth and form, a classic treatise by D’Arcy Thompson. Web site http://www.darcythompson.org/about.html
Images Thanks to gk-images for the photographs shown here.
Ps Back to T. rep. There would be, in the 1940s, five or six legumes growing as ‘weeds’ in cornfields but they have since been ousted by nitrogen fertiliser and chemical herbicide. Trifolium repens is one of the the last remaining of these nitrogen fixers still found, but then rarely, in arable fields.