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Hidden Spaces – Solar Roots – by Naomi Wright

by Naomi Wright

I’ve just come back from an artists’ residency in Norway at Brekkegarden, a small holding on one of the many islands, tucked into the mountains of the Northwest coast.[1]  This residency with 5 artists was titled ‘Hidden Spaces’, ending in a community celebration on St Olav’s day, the first Christian Patron saint of Norway.

I’ve always been interested in the process of capturing the sun’s energy through photosyntheis. But plants would not make food without roots, roots underground, away from the sun.  This residency allowed me to study the many hidden spaces of roots.

I have memories of loving the cyanotypes below by Anna Atkins (1799 – 1871), the first  ‘photographer’ of plants, algae, ferns and an amazingly curious and artistic botanist.[2]

And like photosynthesis, cyanotypes rely on chemical changes in the sun’s energy[3]. The word cyanotypes come from the Greek words for light and writing.  I’ll be drawing pictures with light – a real art and energy project.

Himanthalia lorea
Laminaria bulbosa

After Anna and many other artists, and not practised it much before, I spent a week experimenting with cyanotypes of roots.  We always seem to concentrate on the art of above ground, why not dig around and get to experience our underground.  How apt to picture the roots using the sun’s energy, with which they very seldom come into contact.

Above ground
Below ground

As I pulled, scraped, dug and washed the roots, I became more interested in them and their meaning in the Norwegian landscape.  A dictionary definition has so many dimensions of belonging, physically, culturally, with kith and kin.[4]

I filled a sketchbook of cyanotypes and thought of Anna working on the algae in a much more scientific way than me.

These roots were a mixture of species on the peaty soil of the wetter areas covered in mosses, rowans, junipers and various blueberries.

A list of things that I spent some time thinking about roots:

  • They fix and secure
  • They belong
  • They are unseen and enclose hidden spaces
  • Roots can be tap, long, shallow, wide, narrow, big and small
  • They can talk to each other through chemical change
  • Roots house fungi and bacteria and other unseen microbes that release essential nutrients
  • They grow beneath the surface, beneath the skin
  • Underground, roots reach out and feel their way,
  • They feel their friends, look after them
  • Root plants survive, rooted, humans survive
  • Rooted in culture, or life, plants and humans survive together.

I tested the process on Valeria growing across the lower lands.

I painted pieces of calico.  I wanted to make a banner of roots, across the base of the building.  Placing them as roots, both cultural and physically expressive.

I still have some of the cyanotype chemicals and as Art and Energy we would like to make some more cyanotypes in helping us tell stories and celebrate the energy creating them.

[1] Brekkegarden was set up by Nina Boe as a NaKurHel affiliate place, a movement that supports and promotes the links between Nature, Culture and Health.  She works with artists, local school children, elderly dementia sufferers and drama students in her home and on the land for the benefit that it gives.

[2] Herbook was called  Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions(1843). 

[3] Ammonium citrate and potassium ferry cyanide are mixed together.   Where the sun reaches this chemical mixture on fabric or paper it will turn dark blue after being washed in water.  Where the sun is blocked off, the chemicals do not fix, and so a negative is revealed.  The process was originally used to reproduce architectural drawings also known as blue prints.   Cyanotypes were invented in 1842 as a cameraless photography.


  1. The usually underground portion of a plant that lacks buds, leaves, or nodes and serves as support, draws minerals and water from the surrounding soil, and sometimes stores food.
  2. Any of various other underground plant parts, especially an underground stem such as a rhizome, corm, or tuber.
  3. The embedded part of an organ or structure such as a hair, tooth, or nerve, that serves as a base or support.
  4. The bottom or supporting part of something: We snipped the wires at the roots.
  5. The essential part or element; the basic  core: I finally got to the root of the problem.
  6. A primary source; an origin.
  7. A progenitor or ancestor from which a person or family is descended.
  8. often roots – The condition of being settled and of belonging to a particular place or society: Our roots in this town go back a long way.
  9. roots – The state of having or establishing an indigenous relationship with or a personal affinity for a particular culture, society, or environment: music with unmistakable African roots.
  10. The element that carries the main component of meaning in a word and provides the basis from which a word is derived by adding affixes or inflectional endings or by phonetic change.
  11. Such an element reconstructed for a protolanguage. Also called radical.
  12. Mathematics – A number that when multiplied by itself an indicated number of times forms a product equal to a specified number. For example, a fourth root of 4 is √2. Also called nth root.
  13. A number that reduces a polynomial equation in one variable to an identity when it is substituted for the variable.
  14. A number at which a polynomial has the value zero.
  15. Music- The note from which a chord is built.
  16. Such a note occurring as the lowest note of a triad or other chord.