‘You know what they say: if they give you lined paper, write the other way’
Throughout history, attributing qualities and meanings to flora has been a way of exhibiting sensitivity and spiritual awareness. The meanings attributed to flora of all genus has far from remained consistent, changing drastically - and often dichotomously - through time and culture. A flower symbolic of hope and life to one community was an emblem of death and sacrifice to another. They can be linked to both strong positive and negative emotions and vast amounts in-between.
“Historically the queer community has been stigmatised and often referred to as being ‘unnatural’. However upon closer examination the natural world is rife with queerness.”
-Sixto-Juan Zavala, Walthamstow Marshes
Burl wood growth is irregular with no discernible grain direction. The result is burl wood timber with exquisite wave and swirl patterns in varying colourations.
Etymologically deriving from Middle English ‘burle’ meaning ‘a knot or flaw in cloth’, form the Old French ‘bourre’- ‘flocks or ends of threads which disfigure cloth’, from the Medieval Latin ‘burra’ meaning ‘flock of wool, coarse hair’.
As a burl grows, it incorporates the trees underdeveloped buds that surround it and folds them into its expanding form, most commonly a result of some sort of stress or injury. Inside these complex twists and knots we can discover an abundant labyrinth of suppressed and complicated pasts; buds of lost life and countless potential, enclosed by constraints of regularity and uniformity.
Burls with the most complex internal structures are found in old-growth. It’s here that they have no sapwood and can often be found having mineral growth or voids; encased with bark and contain wildly contorted grain, composed of each natural layer of the tree: cambium, sapwood and heartwood. Older burls are made of entirely heartwood and are the most prized. They are usually filled with small knots from dormant buds. Second or new growth pieces remain further form the heartwood and are as a result less contorted and complex.
Burls are most commonly discovered growing beneath the ground attached to the roots and left undiscovered until the tree dies or falls. These burls occasionally ap- pear protruding from the ground. A hint of the prize that’s beneath.
In the early 20th century, lumber companies cut down redwood forests for timber, they desires straight grain redwood with uniformity and regularity. Later, artisans and woodworkers begun to recognise the qualities of burl wood, leading to the rise in demand from the 60’s/70’s onwards. Historically, the addition of burl to a custom-made item is usually seen as a sign of wealth or opulence.
Removing a burl will cause considerable damage to the tree. Burls are a trees wound response used to compartmentalise or seal off injured areas. Cutting off a burl therefore is like making a wound that the tree can’t seal off. Once cut, they simply heal and start growing again. Burl growth is impossible to artificially promote, making them impossible to artificially produce. They are an intrinsic part of the nature of a tree, often referred to as ‘diamonds of the forest’.
Burlwood is infamously hard to work with using traditional woodworking techniques because of its interlocked and twisted grain directions. This often leads to it chipping or shattering whilst working. Although, if successfully given shape, its ‘wild grain’ internal structure makes it extremely dense and resistant to splitting and lends itself well for bowls, mallets and handles for hammering chisels or pegs. Much alike the approach a stone carver must take in approaching a block of marble, one must approach the burl with sensitivity, respecting how to work with its complex structures.
Skimming through historical archives in the discovery of queer presence, lives and narrative can be much likened to Burl Wood. Its beauty and complexity found within and produced as a result of its constraint within the uniformity and regularity of the surrounding trees growth. Once thought to be malignant, uncanny and with no great allure; queer. Now reclaimed and admired in an understood and authentic light; natural, belonging, beautiful, and an unavoidable, integral part of any living body.
“Exploring those shifts in meaning.” - Matt Cook
Burlwood, Copper, Steel, Sawdust Polymer, 3D Print, Resin, Light Fixture
shown as part of ‘Dripping Rhubarb', Tableau, Copenhagen
made possible by Stimuleeringsfonds