Alice Oliver: Under the Harvest Moon/By the Wayside

In an ongoing lyrical exploration into human and non-human nature, Alice examines and experiments within the relationship between the ancient landscape that surrounds her and the materiality of photography, exposing the natural cycles and examining the fate of not preserving the base of everything, the land from which we come. Alice's recent work exposes the intricacies of the intimate cyclical connections between women, celestial bodies, and the land. Alice's work utilisises the ancient light of the moon alongside cameraless analogue techniques to, quite literally, shed light on and visualise this knowledge of the sexual and reproductive female body that became lost to women in the face of modern medicine. These skills in healing, caring for and maintaining women’s bodies were deemed to be a threat to those in power within patriarchal societies; it was seen as Witchcraft.

 

Healing has always been regarded as the natural responsibility of women. With techniques learned and passed down through history, observed from one woman and passed on. But because women were excluded from academic institutions, female healers of the past had little opportunity to contribute to the science of medicine. Instead, they served as herbalists, midwives,  nurses, and empirics; the traditional healers. Untutored in medicine, they used botanical-based therapies and traditional home remedies, amongst many other techniques derived from their ancient native understanding of the land. Their remedies and medicines, made up of predominately plant matter, brought a lot of superstition, lack of understanding, and suspected charlatanism. Research shows the women from as early as ancient Egyptian times to the fifteenth century had relied on an extensive pharmacopeia of herbal abortifacients and contraceptives to regulate fertility. But why, if women once had access to effective means of birth control, was this knowledge lost to them in modern times? 

The cycles of the moon determine our monthly and yearly calendars, with an ancient light that has ruled our lives since the beginning of time. The changes that come with each passing moon have been seen to indicate the times for planting, harvesting, hunting, and gathering, reflecting the close connection between cycles of the moon and plants and non-human life. The moon has also always been seen as a female energy, connected with fertility and similarities have been found between the menstrual cycle and the lunar cycle. The inner rhythms of the menstruating body have been considered to synchronise with those inner rhythms of the moon. Menstruating bodies mirror the moon's waxing and waning stages of approximately fourteen days, producing a twenty-eight-day cycle equal to the average menstrual cycle. To go through a cycle of new growth is consistent with these ancient cyclical ideas of ovulation, flowering, harvest, degeneration, and replenishment. This period of change or transformation in the menstruating body is in tune with lunar energies, a celestial relationship that dates back to the beginning of evolution when beings were exposed to moon cycles for thousands of years before being exposed to artificial light. In an environment with solely natural light - solar and lunar, menstruating bodies were found to do so on the new moon and ovulated on the full moon, linking with fertility and harvest, all timed to the natural rhythms. 

 

 

moon print 3.jpeg

The Wayside

Lunargrams

 

Made by placing a large sheet of light-sensitive paper directly into the hedgerow/wayside, and exposing them to moonlight. The wayside is rich with plants that have been historically used as contraceptives and abortifacients, such as Artemisis and Queen Anne's Lace.

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Archive Image from the Wellcome Collection

X-rays of foetal head about to engage the pelvis From: The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire

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Lunaria

Lumen Print

exposed to sunlight

Dried seed heads symbolise fertility

The Wayside

Lunar photograms

 

Made by placing a series of 8' x 10' sheets of light-sensitive paper directly into the hedgerow/wayside, and exposing them to moonlight.  

Lunaria

Lumen Print

exposed to sunlight

Dried seed heads symbolise fertility

Act 4, scene 5 of Shakespear's Hamlet, Ophelia gives away a number of flowers with medicinal properties, keeping only rue for herself:

OPHELIA: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.

LAERTES: A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.

OPHELIA: There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays. You may wear your rue with a difference. (170-177)

Lunar Photogram of Rue

Rue

Lunar Photogram

Used for a wide range of medical uses, to treat the likes of worms, rheumatism, and hysteria, but was most recognised as an abortifacient in classical antiquity.

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Queen Anne's Lace

Lunar Photogram

Seeds are to be taken for seven days after unprotected intercourse

during the fertile period to help prevent fertilised eggs from implanting in the uterus.

Lunaria

Lunar Photogram

Dried seed heads symbolise fertility 

Petri dish containing bacteria found in St John's Wort

The dish is then placed directly onto light-sensitive paper and exposed to moonlight

DSC_2594.tiff

The Wayside

Lunargrams

 

Made by placing a large sheet of light-sensitive paper directly into the hedgerow/wayside, and exposing them to moonlight. The wayside is rich with plants that have been historically used as contraceptives and abortifacients, such as Artemisis and Queen Anne's Lace.

Acacia

Lunar Photogram

Records show that some of the earliest ancient Egyptian birth control methods included the use of acacia leaves and honey as a natural spermicide. Women would mix honey and acacia and soak lint or cotton in the mixture. They inserted the lint or cotton into their vaginas before having sex, and the combination would kill some sperm before they reached the uterus.

Maiden's tea Bacteria.jpeg

Petri dish containing bacteria found in the plant concoction for

Maiden's Tea. A 1920's drink made from rosemary, thyme, lavender, and

myrtle should be taken during the menses to prevent fertility until the next period.

Artemisia

Found by the wayside and in most hedgerows

 

In the twelfth century, Artemisia was used as a menstrual stimulator. Modern medicine has confirmed its use as Artemisia inhibits estrogen production and can prevent ovulation much like pharmaceutical contraceptives today. 

The Wayside

Lunar photograms

 

Made by placing a series of 8' x 10' sheets of light-sensitive paper directly into the hedgerow/wayside, and exposing them to moonlight.  

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Archive illustration

'The anatomy of the external forms of man' Fau, Julien, 1849, found at the Wellcome Collection.

With the natural spermicide, Gypsophila also known as Baby's Breath or Maiden's Breath, placed over the top.

Pennyroyal

 

Lunar Photogram

 

 Pennyroyal was primarily used as an emmenagogue, to stimulate menstruation, and as an abortifacient

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Petri dish containing bacteria found in Rue

Used for a wide range of medical uses,

to treat the likes of worms, rheumatism, and hysteria, but

was most recognised as an abortifacient in classical antiquity

Scan 10.jpg

The Wayside

Lunar photogram

 

Made by placing a sheet of light-sensitive paper directly into the hedgerow/wayside, and exposing it to moonlight.  

DSC_2580.jpeg

The Wayside

Lunargrams

 

Made by placing a large sheet of light-sensitive paper directly into the hedgerow/wayside, and exposing them to moonlight. The wayside is rich with plants that have been historically used as contraceptives and abortifacients, such as Artemisis and Queen Anne's Lace.

Petri dish containing bacteria found in Pennyroyal

 Pennyroyal was primarily used as an emmenagogue, to stimulate menstruation, and as an abortifacient

Moon print 3.jpeg

The Wayside

Lunar photograms

 

Made by placing a series of 8' x 10' sheets of light-sensitive paper directly into the hedgerow/wayside, and exposing them to moonlight.