Delicate Shuttle

- a participatory art project



Delicate Shuttle was a participatory art project made with the participation of migrants with a refugee background.


The title refers to Bruno Latour’s appeal for a more integrated way of understanding our relationship with the world – to be woven into the fabric of the world not separated from it.


“In the eyes of our critics the ozone hole above our heads, the moral law in our hearts, the autonomous text, may each be of interest, but only separately. That a delicate shuttle should have woven together the heavens, industry, texts, souls and moral law – this remains uncanny, unthinkable, unseemly.

Bruno Latour


The project culminated in the creation of an installation consisting of 1000’s of White Poplar leaves at Newcastle City Library and was featured as part of two major festivals: ‘Refugee Week’ and the ‘Great Exhibition of the North’. It was commissioned by D6 – Culture in Transit.

Delicate-Shuttle, a white poplar leaf in central library, photo: Jill Tate Forage walk, Henna and two others sat on a bench enjoying Syrian coffee, photo: Arto Polus Delicate-Shuttle Installations at Central library, Photo: Jill-Tate Delicate Shuttle, white poplar leaves on central library wall, photo: Jill Tate Forage walk in Burnlaw, people walking on countryside, photo: Arto Polus Forage walk, a child holding a leaf, photo: Arto Polus Forage Walk, a box of white poplar leaves, photo: Arto Polus

The project commenced with a number of curated foraging walks in which we identified the White Poplar - itself a migrant from  Central Asia although now a commonplace and familiar part of English landscapes - as an appropriate symbol for the journeys we have made.  


The White Poplar also carries a weight of symbolic meaning that has accrued since the beginning of recorded storytelling and across a number of cultures. In Ancient Rome it was the tree of the people and was used to decorate buildings and public spaces during celebrations. For the Greeks, the Poplar was the tree of resurrection and associated with the ability to endure and overcome a struggle, as well as with time and the memory of loved ones lost. In the cultures of Assyria and Mesopotamia White Poplar was burned as a part of divination rituals. In Celtic myths the tree is associated with victory, transformation and vision.  These myths not only point to the importance of the tree in the ancient world but their commonalities show how the delicate shuttle weaves the threads of meaning across and between places as the symbolic language of the tree migrates with it and embeds itself in new locations finding new cultural homes.  


This rich symbolic history and associations with both hostility and struggle, endurance and overcoming, memory and loss makes the White Poplar an extraordinary and pertinent symbol.