IMAGINE wandering through a forest into a beautiful woodland glen, immersed in its sounds and scents with butterflies fluttering around you.
Then among the trees is a bar, manned by a mixologist who teaches you how to craft three avant garde cocktails from wild plants foraged from the countryside.
But wait… is it real? The forest is actually a digital scene created by Tom Buckley, who is running a series of unique pop-up Digital Forest Cocktail Masterclasses in the Kings Road Arches in Brighton in April.
Tom, 26, a projection installation artist who lives in Brighton, has developed an immersive installation of video-projected woodland with live British butterflies pupating and hatching, forming a bucolic background to the bar where participants learn how to make quirky digital forest cocktails with names such as Stinging Nettle Collins, Moth To A Flame and Pond Water.
The entire enterprise is his: not only has he designed the digital forest installation, he has also devised the cocktail recipes, which use fresh ingredients he has foraged, and he’s the mixologist. And he has even reared the live butterflies.
“I’m obsessed with forests and with butterflies,” says Tom, whose day job is manager of the Lucky Voice karaoke bar in Black Lion Street, Brighton. “I grew up in North Wales, where there are lots of forests, and I have the best memories of them as a child.
“But of course there aren’t any in Brighton, so I create my own digital forests in the city. They’re quirky curious forests, complete with scents and sounds such as birdsong, because I want people to feel that they are discovering something for the first time, something a bit new.
“These are my perfect dream forests that I’m creating through rose-tinted spectacles.”
Tom has created large scale projection installations for a number of events and exhibitions, including a silver birch forest installation for Thomas Evans No 1, which makes non-alcoholic beverages, but the Digital Forest Cocktail Masterclasses are his first solo venture. “It’s nice because no one can tell me what to do or what not to do,” he grins. “It’s a great combination because I can mix my obsessions with forests and butterflies with my drinks skills from work.”
Above: a scene from the Digital Forest Cocktail Masterclass
Main picture, top: Tom Buckley
Below: the bar in the digital forest
Above: a cocktail maker immersed in the digital forest
Below: at the bar
Above: Stinging Nettle Collins
Below: Moth To A Flame
Below: a view of the bar in its digital forest setting
He has been out foraging in Brighton’s Stanmer Park to find fresh ingredients for his cocktail recipes. “They are a unique mix of whatever I can find at the time,” explains Tom. “I found some fresh nettles and made homemade nettle syrup for Stinging Nettle Collins. It’s shaken with Mamont Vodka and a squeeze of lemon, and topped with soda. Then it’s garnished with a nettle sugar rim made by crushing baked nettle leaves with demerara sugar.”
In his cocktail Pond Water, Martin Millers Gin is poured into a glass layered with cucumber ribbons and ice, it’s topped with tonic and then added are sweet popping tadpoles, which are made using a technique called spherification, in which a sweet liquid is dropped into another solution and forms a jelly shell.
His third cocktail, Moth To A Flame, uses smoked Tuaca, which is poured over angostura bitters and demerara sugar cubes and stirred. It’s then garnished with a tuca-soaked licorice root and charred.
As Tom teaches his masterclass participants how to mix his cocktails at the “forest” bar, live butterflies will be fluttering around. He rears them himself in his central Brighton flat, which is home to a series of terrariums and a net enclosure on his balcony.
“When I was very young, my granddad bought me a framed butterfly from a car boot sale and I became obsessed with them,” says Tom. “I started rearing them at home when I was four. I started with common British UK species, such as white cabbage butterflies, which are a particular pest on allotments, so I started asking people with allotments to give me the caterpillars. More recently, I have been rearing more exotic species – silk moths, for example, and I have a couple of atlas moths, which are really big.”
At the moment, Tom, who buys from breeders and suppliers, has around 100 butterflies and moths at home. Once they have gone from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly or moth, they live for about a week. And when they die, Tom preserves them.
He hopes to release large silk moths, currently cocooning, during the masterclasses and he has has also been trying to rear species that are in decline in the south, including the Purple Emperor. “On the final day, we’ll close with a party when I will release them and set them free,” says Tom.
The Digital Forest Cocktail Masterclasses are at Pop-up Gallery, 76-81 Kings Road Arches, Brighton on Friday April 6 at 7pm-8.30pm and 90m-10.30pm, and Saturday and Sunday April 7 and 8 at 5pm-6.30pm, 7pm-8.30pm and 90m-10.30pm. Tickets £30. Over 18s only. Visit designmynight.com/brighton/whats-on/something-a-little-different-digital-forest-cocktail-masterclass.