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Fistful of ash – Mischa de Stroumillo

I’m from London but grew up in Sussex, where I am currently living. As well as being an artist -which can be unpredictable at times, especially under the current circumstances – my day job is foraging and selling wild foods.

My mum is from Poland and taught my dad the wonders of picking our own food from the wild. I spent most of my childhood playing in the forest, collecting and searching for anything edible. This upbringing has not only informed the way I approach my artistic practice but allows me to support my nomadic existence, where I can travel and move freely outside of the confines of a conventional nine to five.

Share with us your journey to photography.

Both my grandparents were incredible painters and I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort, but I had a profound aversion to painting and drawing when I was young. When I was given my first camera at the age of twelve, I realised that I could paint with light. I became obsessed with the traditional process of black and white photography. Playing and experimenting in the darkroom was an epiphany, and it is the underling pulse in all of my work. 

In recent years I have been attempting to integrate my photographic practice with my love and concern for the natural world. Internalising can lead towards a lot of discomfort, so having a creative outlet to process ecological grief, or any grief for that matter, can be very cathartic.

Let’s talk about your series ‘Fistful of Ash’.

This project is far from finished. As it stands, it’s becoming more of a personal attempt to rationalise and conceptualise my own grief in response to the changing and depleting climate. The last few years have brought an endless stream of ecological catastrophes that at times have filled me with a lot of dread.

After spending some time in Australia last year during one of the worst bushfire seasons on record, I noticed how, through the destruction and devastation, there is a glimmer of hope. The resilience of the natural world is inspiring. The cycle of death and life, especially within ecology, is a concept that is hard to grasp within Western thinking. Having studied and spent some time with indigenous people over the last few years, I’ve learnt that the process of death, in all its various forms, is vital for change. I guess this project is a celebration of this process and a desire for change.

Elsewhere you say “I am interested in how western thought has enforced an artificial delineation between humans and nature”, can you talk a bit more about this?

This idea that we are separate from the natural world has led us into all kinds of  systemic problems. The dissociation from nature has made us treat land as a commodity, as if pillaging and harming an ecosystem has no effect on us.

We are only capable of treating the natural world the way we do when we dissociate from it, enforcing this artificial delineation. It’s a protective membrane that shields us from the necessity of listening. As human beings we have a very limited capacity for listening. I am interested in deconstructing this hierarchal mentality and learning to listen.

Were there any moments or experiences or realisations that stood out to you?

I had many precarious experiences in Australia during the bushfire season. It’s given me a profound respect for the element of fire and solidified my long-standing assumption that we are so inferior to the natural world. Watching the charred landscape of the Australia bush regenerate within days of a fire – something way beyond human capability – was astounding.

Recommend us something.

I’m really into horror films at the moment – ‘The House That Jack Built’ by Lars von Trier is a recent favourite.

In regards to reading, I am a little late to the party but I am currently reading ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I find her writing very calming.

Finally, tell us about a piece of art that has influenced you.

While I was still under the impression that I wanted to be a painter, I became obsessed with Karl Blossfeldt. One of my art teachers introduced me to his work and I would sit in front of his photographs for hours, attempting to depict the elegant detail of these natural forms with paint and charcoal. This kind of isolated encyclopaedic presentation has always been a huge inspiration for me. / @mischadestroumillo 

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