One of the greatest things about creating is you never know what is going to happen. I came to the beach with an open, non-judgmental mind, welcoming the materials to speak to me and began collecting. It was only in the action of doing – making – that I knew how I wanted to arrange the long reeds, sticks and crunchy seaweed. The spontaneous connections, the unknown, the creating is what makes this a soulful process. Engaging mind, body, spirit to offer something to the earth. An ephemeral weaving of smelly, twisted, organic lengths of multiple shades of brown. The look of a child’s work – unstructured, spontaneous, loose, rough. An expression of place and time that will fade with the change in weather.
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A periwinkle, a small crustacean with a slug/snail-like living organism protected by its tough granite-like shell, clinging onto rocks and each other underwater to survive. Once the live organism has died the somewhat boring dull brown shell washes ashore cluttering the tidal line with other dead and dried out sea life.
The one beautiful aspect of the periwinkle (besides its very cute name) is the spiral. The perfect swirl forms the little pointy nose (or hat – whatever you prefer) at the pinnacle of the periwinkle. I gathered hundreds of these ‘winkles today. I sat at the tide line sifting and sorting like a gold panner foraging for his precious nugget. Although I came across some delicate, eye-pleasing honey yellow species, these were not the materials for today. The dull, overlooked, normal little winkles that camouflage with the seaweed, filled my hands, my cup, my bag. Wondering what to do with about 3 lbs of these small shells I finally dumped them in between a small crevice formed by two rocks. Measuring my treasure I wondered if the significance of 3 lbs was enough to make any sort of statement…or anything at all.
These small shells already distributed all over the beach had just been redistributed into one condensed area…so what?! They are dull, brown and too many already clutter the beach. Their mass in numbers had drawn them to me and I wanted to put them into every crevice, every hole, every negative space, but even then what? People were also starting to flood the beach ruining my concentration and provoking self-consciousness. I thought of the periwinkles striking feature… the spiral. Should I make it reflect itself? The spiral such a common element in nature’s design, artists work and among doodlers…is it too played out? I suppose, but not enough for me to care. The periwinkles marched in solid formation bouncing off the walls of the stoic rocks and into a form they can call their own. So for those posers, those with flashy colors and unique patterns watch out for these simple shells – this is their truth, their identity and it only made sense to honor it.
How does this speak to me- to the human race? How do we show our truths and identities, reflecting ourselves through an awkward action. How can we take the possibly single thing we may be proud of in ourselves and honor it – letting the dull, potentially mundane things fade away for a day – a tide – a cycle of the moon and give shape to our truths? Perhaps there is only one single positive truth…but it’s there and some of us wear it on our sleeves while for others the spiral lingers deep in the caves of our soul.
With the next tide the spiral will wash away reminding us of the delicate balance between honor, pride and the ego. These dull little ‘winkles have allowed me to harness their one beautiful aesthetic for a tide cycle and then disperse back to their humble selves possessing a new quality and respect for their ultimate truths.
Last weekend there was a small flurry of excitement about winter as the ice sculptures arrived despite the warmish temperatures. Local shops sponsored an ice sculpture to promote business, local culture and to celebrate the season! There were frogs with candy hearts, toy trains, musical instruments, pin-up models and two headed mice to represent the diversity of downtown. I was surprised by the detail and color inlay that most had. It seemed a somewhat extravagant expense considering the only real fate of an ice sculpture, to melt. However the immortality attached to ice is what draws you in, freezes your attention, if you will. How can this shiny, translucent material that you usually find clinking around in your water glass be transformed into the fierce cold-blooded dragon in front of you? It’s fascinating, but needless to say slowly but surely it will melt with all the hard work and craftsmanship that goes into it.
It is not only an amateur carnival trick either. Professional artists have adopted ice as a dramatic material and natural resource to work with, scoffing at the predictable outcome. Our environmental art superstar Andy Goldsworthy probably takes the cake with his seemingly unnatural spiraling ice sculptures attached together with his own saliva. What can he be learning about the earths wintry forces through these early morning explorations with this frozen substance? Jim Denevan, another artist uses the solid landmass ice forms as his canvas to draw large-scale perfect circular patterns through the snow. These ‘drawings’, I don’t doubt, may be interpreted by aliens as our attempt to communicate with them.
Science makes an appearance here as well. There have been science expeditions to Antarctica that invite artists who will use their art to make a statement about climate change and/or other interpretations of what they observe. In Copenhagen one artist sculpted a polar bear skeleton out of bronze and then used ice to form the outer layer of the body. As the temperatures warm the ice melts revealing what will eventually happen to the bears at the Poles if somehow climate change is not halted.
So from one town’s hallmark of a winter celebration, to an artist’s introspective lair and to highlight some of our worlds environmental issues I say ‘Here’s to Ice!’… now if it will only get cold enough for me to try my hand at it…
Karen Ristuben artist/educator presents her lecture/performance “Just, one word…” at NOAA’s Gloucester headquarters, 55 Great Republic Way (Blackburn Industrial Park) on Tuesday, November 15 (America Recycles Day), at 7 pm.
“Addressing the issue of marine plastic pollution from an artist/educator’s perspective, I offer a different way to represent and communicate the hard scientific data currently the focus of many marine scientists, toxicologists, epidemiologists, and policy-makers. My project deals with our use, over-use, and disposal of plastics, their toxicity, and their effects on our public health. Highlighting the issue of marine plastic pollution and its impact on ocean ecosystems including the marine food chain, I use a multi-media performance/lecture format, with my own and archival video and photography, based in part on my July 2011 voyage across the Pacific with marine scientists from Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Rockport artist Nina Samoiloff will have marine debris constructed works on display as well.” http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=268359479873332
This important issue is being addressed by artists across the globe – tune in later for more about these artists. For now if you are in the area I highly recommend attending this presentation.
I went for a solo-walk on this beautiful fall day to the local Audubon Sanctuary and remembered why it is so important to cherish these moments of alone time with nature. Nature is one of the best educators. By being still, listening, watching and admiring her beauty we can learn many important life lessons. As the spider skimmed across the surface of the marshy waters, amphibians darted below among the brown decomposing leaves on the lookout for tasty treats above. The spider made it across the water unharmed but it reminded me of every creatures struggle to survive the day, including myself. As we face hardships, realities and fears we can be reminded that we are not alone and it is only part of the natural cycle to have challenges that take us out of our comfort zone. Thankfully birds aren’t hunting me from the sky or deftly plucking me from an aquatic habitat, but there are moments in life when I feel like the spider, skimming the depths of potential destruction, hurrying with all my might to reach safety at the far shore. And to learn from him that no matter how fearful I may have been to keep moving forward, continuing to search for a safe haven and gathering confidence each step farther from danger.
Mother nature is one of the best artists in the world, her canvas holds the elements of art, design, emotion and beauty. Here Earth is Art.
Commorant in Flight