★ ★ ★ ★
I was sat in Hyde Park in Spring 2014. The sun was low and the ground was hard. The ground was hard because it was covered in small curled up hunks of wood. Wasp galls under an oak tree. These were of course familiar to me, but at that moment amazing and horrifying. Rapt in sci-fi movie trepidation, I filled my pockets and went home.
Andricus quercuscalicis, the wasp that creates the Knopper gall, injects its egg into oak flowers. This causes a genetic mutation in the flower and instead of an acorn it grows a gall, a thick waxy residence for the wasp’s grub, which feeds on the nutrients meant for the acorn. In the autumn the gall hardens and falls. When spring comes the grub emerges a wasp to find either a mate or another oak flower.
The genetic relationship that this parasite has developed with the oaks is hyper specific in order for them to be able to enact this mutation. In fact, it is not just oaks but two particular genus of oak tree. The wasps reproduce in cycles, one generation parthenogenetic (all female) and the next sexual, each with their specific oak preference. The pedunculate oak and the Turkey oak, respectively.
The wasp was first found in the UK in the 1960’s in Devon, having spread from southern and eastern Europe over 400 years. It has since spread north and was found in Eglinton Country Park in North Ayrshire in 2007. Despite the wasp seeming to thrive in some areas, and having a population boom in 1979, this slow spread may be due to the fact that they require to be in areas with both genus of oaks. Although one can’t help but factor in climate change making the north increasingly appealing.
Many parasitic insects make galls on plants and cause little impact on the host. The Knopper gall, however, affects the oak at its point of reproduction. For each gall there is one less acorn and the fecundity of the tree is decreased. Officials say that the Knopper gall is currently not a serious threat to the British oaks, however in Hawaii the local government was forced to introduce a secondary parasite to combat gall making wasps that were devastating local coral trees.
For this collection the galls were photographed using a fixed set up of magnifier, tripod, and lights. The style of the photographs is static in order to highlight the differences in the subjects. This method is inspired by the industrial architecture photographs of Bernd and Hilla
Becher. The Bechers documented numerous buildings and structures with a rigorously flat style. By presenting groups of photographs of different buildings, built for the same purpose (blast furnaces, storage silos, coke ovens, etc) they created series upon series of images with infinite subtle variations and seemingly miraculous similarity.
Unlike acorns, which are generally very similar looking, Knopper galls are wildly diverse. Despite the enormous variety of shape and form within the photographs each is unmistakably the relic of this particular parasitic mutation.
In 2011 Taysir Batniji produced a series of works called ‘Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine’. Taking his lead from the Bechers, Batniji and a hired photographer set out to produce a series of photographs of Israeli watchtowers. Due to the political restrictions around photographing such structures, Batniji’s pictures lack the perfection of the Bechers. It is in this corruption of the ideal that Batniji’s point becomes clear, these are not photographs about what the buildings look like but the politics surrounding their visibility and their powers of surveillance.
The method used to catalogue the photographs in this collection is also a corruption, in that it was based entirely on personal aesthetics. The process was complicated and protracted and what may appear at first scientific is in fact not. The choices made in this taxonomy are entirely stylistic and in that respect the collection is perhaps more closely related to fashion than it is to botany. This draws attention to the imagined divide between the two and the unpopular idea that there is a liberal portion of personal taste in science and in turn, cold calculation in art.
 This paragraph tells us: This is a creature dramatically different from ourselves, which generates faster than we do. Its power lies in its females. Our acts of patriarchy make us weak.
 This paragraph tells us: This is a creeping threat and we have brought it on ourselves. In our decadence we make ourselves vulnerable to our enemies, who are numerous and gaining in strength.
 This paragraph tells us: Our complacency does not serve us. Time is not on our side. In attempts to fight fire with fire we are likely to burn up everything.
Based on the original ebook ‘Wasp Galls’ available on Tom’s website.
Photo by Anna Ricciardi
Tom Moore works with Lost History & Found Flowers, Low Spectacle & High Fashion, New Monsters & Old Hollywood, True Crime & False Lashes, Fresh Guts & Worn Clichés, Breaking Hearts & Accelerating BPM. Drawing is séance. Film is spell casting.
They have exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery London and the ICA. Their films have been screened at the London Independent Film Festival and Donau Festival. They teach drawing in Berlin.
At The Wild Word we are proud to present some of the best online writing around, as well as being a platform for new and emerging writers and artists.
As a non-profit, the entire site is a labour of love.
If you have read the work in The Wild Word and like what we do, please put something in our tip jar to keep this amazing platform alive.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!