The sun awoke me on Sunday with an exaggerated light from the reflection on the fresh snow. I lay groggy, yet excited as I rearranged my day with this new information of clear, sunny skies. I knew the layer of snow was the perfect canvas for shadows on the floor at the bear cages, a rare opportunity that I had to capture with my lens. Impatient to begin my day I hastily pulled away from my last snuggle of coziness, disrupting the calm of the morning. The glistening outdoors pulled at my senses and tugged at my toes. I barely could wait for my roommate to gather her things before we donned our snowsuits and grabbed our ski’s. Yes, this was going to be an adventure, what better way to make art?
We slipped, glided and skied through the fresh powder in Franklin park, navigating winding wooded trails, fallen logs and protruding rocks – a true taste of the urban backcountry. The bear cages were just as I expected – pristine with no markings beyond the delicate footprints of birds.
My tripod set up, I captured the movements on the ground and walls. Movements that are barely noticed by the eye – those of shadows collaborating with the sun, marking time, marking space, creating silhouette’s of the sculptural elements around us… rusty architecture and grand trees. Eventually alone, I paced through the snow to keep warm and to keep time, creating drawings in the snow not unlike Richard Long’s lines. Fellow x-country skiers slowed and slid on by admiring the spectacle. I captured what seemed like stillness on film – but it was over two hours of the slow turn of our earth. Satisfied with my research and endeavor I skied back as the shadows continued to lengthen, downhill mostly this time, only to land hard on my bottom twice to remind me who was in charge.
Looking at an upside down nautical chart of Cape Ann I notice topographical lines shaped in oblong ovals, blue shades hugging the coast and various numbers tracking the depth of the harbor and edges of the Atlantic Ocean. The lines on the map dips and draws all the crevices the where the ocean has seeped into inlets and snaked its way up inland trails. My eyes shift to the close-up photographs I’ve taken of tree bark. I observe the resemblance they have to dramatic landscapes, messy mountain ranges and deep ocean trenches. This parallel has inspired me to create charts to navigate these expanses for the boats I am building based on trees, sites and natural objects.
Cork Tree boats are built from the stems of the cork tree. They have morphed from traditional deep hulled craft to more raft-like, Egyptian and Ethiopian reed boats. This accentuates the organic shape of the stems which emulates the incredibly complex and sculptural bark. It also gives the boats a stable way to navigate and be displayed as models in their habitat. Using the stems also speaks to time. Time is at play here because these stems are falling with the leaves in autumn giving me limited time to collect them and work with them while they are still supple. Their decaying fragrance is pervading my olfactory sense as I write. The shape and size of the boats is defined by the stems and is forcing me to work within limits of material, craft and knowledge. For these water vessels I am creating a nautical chart on the wall, responding to the charts I have been looking at and the topography of the cork tree. I plan to make a 3-D drawing using colored prints of the bark and other observations. I will situate the boats in their local waters and paint appropriate symbols and color. The installation will have the effect of a large-scale model of an unexpected ocean-scape.
The boat I constructed for the bear cages also feels a bit lost without a map. I have begun a digital map, an animation of time, using the lines I discovered there. My goal is to overlay lines depicting graffiti, shadows, cracks and creeping vines to document the present story into the future as they multiply and grow until almost no light can be seen between them. I am still wondering what this chart is going to be projected onto (the oars?), or from what perspective. A digital map usually moves around a central point, even though it is commonly the object or person that is actually moving. I’m wondering how to represent this movement with a static object in the realm of nonlinear time. I’m also questioning if this map can be linked with the cork tree boats and chart – if there is an overlap I’m not yet seeing.
The Vikings commonly sent off the deceased in the boat to take them on their next journey. Some of these boats were massive depending on the status of the dead. It had all the necessary objects and tools that might be needed, currency and sometimes even animals and food. This idea of using a boat for a symbolic journey is a reoccurring theme in my work and I want to continue to push this idea through these imaginative explorations of site, nature and material.
Navigating rough waters of the cork tree these supple, delicate, yet sea-worthy boats twist and turn with the currents and rogue swells over unfamiliar nautical expanses . They chart their course and create distinct maps on a journey all their own.
Built with limited knowledge and materials they take on a great risk traversing their native waters, yet the draw towards discovery and adventure is strong, stronger than the potential peril.
Why make boats? Is this reminiscent of my attachment to the marine world? This idea of travel, navigation, the smell, the shape, the implications of childhood and nostalgia. There are schooners, sailboats, cruising boats, fishing boats, motor boats, row boats made of wood, fiberglass, natural fibers and more.
A boat to me is freedom. It is joy of being with the natural elements of water, wind and sun- floating or speeding away from shore and the constraints the land can put on us. Feet ungrounded, unstable and loose, liberates the mind to let go of the structured repetition of solid ground. The boats I am beginning to construct don’t even float at all – they are powered by the consciousness of site and interaction of human experience; they move slowly, intentionally through various biomes at the edge of reality and dream.
Using sites to influence my construction of boats is intuitive, yet harkens to boats all over the world that are made for specific bodies of water or purposes. The boat for the bear cages uses metal and natural materials found and collected on-site, situated in a former pool of water. This overgrown pool represents a connection to larger bodies of water and implications of caged nature. The boat becomes a means of escape as well as a vessel to travel through time among the waves of the unconscious.
I’ve become especially enamored by the cork tree at the Arnold Arboretum. This variety of tree from central Japan boasts bark that speaks to a landscape of deep trenches, mountains and snaking waterways. It deserves a chart to navigate its channels… which is exactly what I am going to create. Assembling boats with the trees’ fallen stems, their hulls will correspond with the bark to help them flow with its currents.
Thinking about the purpose of crafting boats confronts me with questions… such as how do we traverse and travel through our lives or into states that take us physically or emotionally to another time and land? How does the journey really outweigh the destination and consist of the true experience of life itself? Within the limitations of physical self, time and space how do I use site, object and imagination to engage in this enigmatic journey of our own ephemerality and invite others to join me…
Today I spent over seven hours working diligently in the bear cages beginning to install my boat. Yup, I have a boat now. The rusted metal arc formed the base for the hull and after much trial and error, a trip to the emergency room, countless slivers of scrapes from hardware cloth and self-educating myself how to sculpt with wire, a frame took shape. This shell of a boat inhabited my living room for over a week and today finally made it’s way back to the bear cages. It was the perfect autumn day. Cool in the morning, sun glistening through the leaves creating soft dancing shadows without a dash of humidity. The cages have a new addition- scrawls of graffiti along the edges of the granite walls. Amateur drawings with a spray paint that will sadly add another blah layer of gray paint over the natural stone. After reading James Turrell’s, Mapping Spaces and the way he regards places, I can’t but wonder what the consciousness of ‘my’ place is. The architecture no longer has a function, therefore the consciousness is the only thing that gives it meaning. How can a place have consciousness? Is it the memory it holds? The history of caged in bears, their movements, their dreams mixed with staff and visitors that held the place in a sort of grandeur… Am I adding to the consciousness by doing my work there. I think I am. Boat is also a vessel to transport us to a place – the spiritual realm of thought, the way the god Ra rode his boat through the sky all through the darkness before he helped the sun rise. Riding our waves of unconscious to take us to another time, the past or the future.
I inspect the man-made pond and start moving creeping vines pulling at the leaves, raking them into a pile near the center as a foundation for my creation. The boat is not level. The metal piece I used is off-balance creating a pre-determined imperfection. I arrange it as well as possible on the mound facing the front of the cages, an appropriate placement. Yet as I walk around the edge I keep going back to adjust and give in to the whispers of my draw towards mapping, I realize the radial impression reflects a potential compass. I pull out my digital one and find North. North is a place of magnetic pull, exploration, the unknown and where the bow must point. Like the point of a sundial the boat will stay still but the shadows and light will pass around it marking a passage of daily time.
As I dig in the leaves that have left a solid layer of composted dirt I find curled worms, shocking white roots and leftovers of human behavior, trash. The biggest find was a long metal strip that appears to be the stand from a street sign, followed by chip bags, condom wrappers and a plastic peacock feather. These discoveries didn’t dampen my enthusiasm, but it was a reminder of our impact and the degrading debris surrounding me.
I began with my initial idea of filling the boat with layers of leaves and acorns. It quickly became clear this was not successful. The acorns became lost among the flaky shards of leaves and the wire bulged. I began using the sturdy but extremely light stalks collected from a plant at the edge of the cages to create stability, boundaries and an aesthetic for the boat. Angled in various degrees they formed a geometric map around the boat, marking a new territory with space for air, (the unknown), freshly fallen acorns and dead leaves. The juxtaposition of these remnants of space and nature created an interesting pattern around the boat. The meticulous precision and balance required close to six hours of attentive work to complete the design. I was intrigued at how slow this process was – stabilizing branches, collecting acorns, gathering leaves, tying wire as my back slowly ached, centipedes crawled on my ankles and yellow jackets buzzed by my feet. Sounds of the street filtered through with sirens and snippets of Marvin Gaye…
The boat will take form and I will row it to another place that connects the consciousness of this site to another time.
Back at the Bear Cages on Saturday I went through a mini-crisis of doubt, frustration and cognitive dissonance. Everything felt inadequate, stupid and lacking meaning – why was this even important to me, who cares about a rusty abandoned structure in the middle of a city park? I noticed more signs of abuse, shiny blue bits broken on the ground like robin’s eggs splattering an oozy filling, the fetus destroyed. Drips of blue saliva sprayed on the massive thighs and paws of the grand stone relief of the bears, while metal plates served as targets like cars in suburban neighborhoods on Halloween. Most likely the culprit had a paint ball gun, but I’d like to think it was someone mimicking Jackson Pollock in rare form for the night. This evidence amongst a fresh round of broken glass had me questioning the lure to this place. I gathered fallen branches and debris in an effort to create a hanging ‘rhizome’ by collaging them together and painfully acknowledging the results. My low-tech solution of binding them with twine was a sad experiment and fed my inner doubting demons.
Marking the disruptions and edges with charcoal
Found drawing… or vandalism
Finally I gave up and dove into the overgrown pools without any expectation. Pulling at the ivy to loosen it’s grip, I excavated long braided strands wearing leaves like bows. Placing them aside I started digging in the layers of dead dried out leaves, only to be confronted with the damp, redolent underneath. Yet as I kept mucking about I felt a renewed energy to be in the process of digging, of discovering – a worm squirmed out of a fistful of compost, a small spiral larvae clung to its shelter and the creamy white root system of ivy jumped out against the dark refuse. Compelled to keep digging, my fingernails blackened as I pulled out multiple plastic chip bags, sighing in contempt. My feet hit the metal first and my eyes adjusted soon after. A rusty ark arose out of the voluminous pile and the trickle of a thought I had to create a vessel was confirmed.
Tangles of color form oblong, organic and indistinguishable shapes. A mesh of line overlapping, creating an intricate topographical mess.
Each line recorded and traced from the wrinkles of an alder, altered and expanded, assigned a color. They begin to intertwine, play and change shape like the roots that hold the stoic tree to the ground, charting their own course.
The sea is like an eternal mountain range viewed from above, yet in constant motion. The peaks rise and fall showing glimpses of white caps- soft snow gracing the very highest ridge. The sun cascades down, blinding me with the glow on the water, sparkling like hundreds of diamonds taking over the horizon and tunneling the light along an unmarked corridor directly to the base of where I sit. Silhouettes of rocky outcroppings interrupt this stream of light with a backdrop of softly rolling hills, hazy, yet defined in the light blue sky with sea salted mist. The pocked beige granite rocks I sit on gradually turn dark and then emerald green diving into the waves where the seaweed begins, the wetness gives the rocks life, slick algae that becomes its lotion and rough barnacles its pumice.
A green can stands out as human interference marking the channel. Farther away I can barely make out a red nun. Thick forests of evergreens balance on cream-colored rocks, forming distant islands all merging together to appear as one. The hardy trees dig their roots into shallow topsoil, perched precariously on lichen covered cliffs testing the boundaries of mother nature. How they survive the severe ocean winters I will never know. The Bay sings in a never-ending chorus of mermaid splashes and motherly slaps of water on rock. I pull back on my socks as the wind changes direction, caresses my neck with its cool praises and muffles my ears. Busy ants crawl inside my sweatshirt tickling my arms, persistent on following their subconscious paths. The sun is warm in late-May despite the breeze and long afternoon shadows as long as I find a sheltered nook, to position myself just right.
I awoke in the dark, head filled with dreams of A-frame cabins becoming mansions and missing my mission for the morning, watching the sunrise! Warming up some tea, donning my head torch and fleece I trudge across camp to the ridge trail. At 6:15 a.m. the dawn air feels like a freshly unwrapped popsicle and the soft greyish-blue light is already filtering over the distant hills. I find a stump as my spectator seat and admire the lights shift from grey to pale pinkish-yellow. My excitement for the actual sunrise wells up in me~ excited for the day, one of my last to spend fully making art in this inspiring place. As the world turns light falls on the mountains behind me and a piercing spark alights on the horizon as the sun welcomes us to another gorgeous day.
My art cabin
The last two days have been filled with marathon art-making. Yesterday the weather finally cleared giving me the full day to do print-making in the field. I had my paper prepped, my charcoal and pencils ready and clear ideas of where I would find the prime beetle trails to use as inspiration. Soon my arms where aching, sweat beading on my forehead and the act of making was surprisingly much more physical and exhausting than I expected. A break to dip my toes in shockingly cold Blue Lake refreshed me for another round to experiment beyond the beetle trails and into the textures of bark, tree rings and charred wood. Unexpected designs, forms and marks filled my paper – some successful others a disaster. It is hard not to judge, but I have been trying my best to let go of outcome and really focus on this opportunity to explore process. To allow myself ourselves to make ‘ugly’ art, as one of the other artists called it, is somewhat liberating and, I think, necessary. Curiosity drives an artist and the only way to feed that and push the limits is to try. Try things that fail, look terrible and then in one instant a discovery is made by accident. A gem in the stack of dull rocks that inspires our souls to keep on creating and making mistakes.
markings in the forest – beetle trail outlined in charcoal
I was reminded I’ve been here over a week with our weekly community dinner last night. I felt much more comfortable in the space, with the people, with myself in this environment. Watching the brilliant stars from the dock after with a fellow artist is beyond rewarding to make that human as well as environmental connection.
Before I go to bed I look at my permanently blackened hands and laugh, remembering the camp name I gave myself at dinner ‘charcoal fingers’. I hope Elizabeth introduces me as that at open studios… tomorrow!
I arrived a week ago today. It takes about this long to mentally ‘settle’ in. To take in ones surroundings, the new environment, the new people and new daily habits. My mind has begun to let go of what was and be in what is – my reality of exploring, observing, making and interacting with this place. It feels unbelievably good to be surrounded by nature, to be a part of nature. The heavy rain pounding on my cabin roof the other night lulled me into a blissful sleep in part because it’s been over two years since I’ve had a direct roof over my head to enjoy such a sound. This place has reminded me of my deep need to be immersed in nature to feel whole, to be connected to not only to myself but the world around me in an honest way.
The last few days have been mostly damp. I’ve still been out exploring, mostly collecting and finding spots to return when the sun reappears for an extended time (tomorrow!). I drove about 20 minutes into Sisters, the closest town and stocked up on provisions – groceries, a pair of fleece pants from the thrift store, scraps of muslin, sandpaper and a nice bottle of Oregon pinot noir. Sisters is decidedly trying to be like the old ‘wild west’. The facades of each building are structured from that time era and even the fonts of store names follow suit. It is a sweet square mile downtown and the bustle for a Monday morning was surprising, even at a bakery that primarily sells gluten-free pastries and six tantalizing types of yerba mate.
Driving back the sunny weather and blue skies turned quickly into an engulfing snow storm! The artists from warmer climates are very excited to see snow- so there has been a stir of kid-like energy as it’s been intermittently falling the last couple days. I myself just can’t get over the shifts in weather. It will be overcast, downpouring and windy and the next minute the sun is shining through creating beautiful soft sunshowers cascading through the trees.
Yesterday Diana and I were determined to make it to the Pacific Crest Trail for a short hike. Within driving 10 minutes higher in elevation there was snow pack on the sides of the highway and even with snow treads on the wheels we got stuck in the unplowed road leading to our trailhead. Needless to say, I was ok with missing that hike, although it amazed me how quickly the climate changed… there isn’t one patch of snow around Caldera. When we returned the sun was shining and what felt like mini-hail began to fall for about five mi
sketches of different creature ‘maps’
nutes. Folowale, a dancer has become our resident ‘rainbow chaser’ and with weather like this he reports that he’s constantly on the hunt!
I’m making, I’m creating, I’m experimenting, I’m engaging in the creative process beyond just enjoying the beauty of the area which would be so
easy to do. The wood-borer trails, lines ‘drawn’ by beetles in trees are fascinating. These intricate, organic marks in the wood beg to be noticed, beg to be traced and captured in some way. They in itself are a writing of place. They remind me of little maps, recordings of an insects existence; or a secret language, symbols of a dialect I cannot understand but want to decipher. I have spent countless hours searching and finding these intricate abstract patterns, collecting large shards of bark from the forest, sitting by the fire patiently as they dry so I can try to translate these marks into a visual language to share with others. I have documented the various patterns through sketches and photographs like a scientist trying to understand ancient tribal markings. I have researched their implications and discovered these enigmatic lines have deadly results. In multitude they can kill a tree, many trees and have destroyed forests. At least 80% of the trees on the ground here have evidence of these beetles. It feels like an anomaly yet is so natural, the cycles of life and death, how one thing destroys another to live. How can I be so taken with an insect that literally fells forests? Yet like the forest fire it is natural and something humans can’t seem to quite understand or accept is this natural destruction.
I discovered a way to record these markings. I outlined them with charcoal from the burnt forest and took photographs with average results. Then I tried rubbings, but the paper needed to be thin, not something I brought with me. Yet in the process of doing the rubbings on-site I noticed something by accident – the lines I had traced were being transferred on the back side of the paper. From years of doing graphite transfers, I immediately became excited at my discovery and tried it out on a good piece of paper. I was surprisingly impressed by the results.
Notes from my sketchbook: “So I used charcoal to re-outline my previous markings of the insects trail. Then use my good paper, large graphite stick (wrapped in it’s sleeve) to press and rub on the back. I can see the imprint coming through… I flip the paper over and am immediately excited- stunned at the beauty of line and texture process captured… like a wood block print… yes. I then tried it again… and again with black paper and white conte. Gorgeous. I can repeat overlay, the process/possibilities seem endless. ‘I’m so stoked’ is not only for surfers.”
Yesterday I spent a large portion of my day experimenting with the wood pieces I’ve collected- using repetition, collage, mixed media and re-learning my printmaking skills to develop these pieces. By the end of the evening my mind was in overstimulation with the limitations, the possibilities and the effect these strong black and white visuals have on me.
I can’t wait until the sun peaks out again to dry up these trees so I can once again source directly from the forest. Until then my studio is looking more and more like the forest floor!