The Dreaming Bear, Ursus oneiros

Painting by Dan Nuttall of Ursus oneiros

For some time now I have been interested in the “level” playing field created through the use of the terms “human-animal” and “non-human animal”. Here, the level playing field is the consistent use of the term animal.

Related to this is another idea, that of  hierarchy in relation to dimensions of sustainability (e.g., political, economic, social, cultural, ecological), specifically the fact that the ecological dimension or “ecology” trumps the economical dimension or “economy”. Example: you can have ecology without economy but you can’t have economy without ecology. Ecology trumps economy. Taken together the above two ideas can be combined as follows: in a finite world with ever shrinking resources all animals will ultimately be subjected to ecological constraints, however those constraints arise.

Painting by Dan Nuttall of Ursus oneiros
Ursus oneiros (Dreaming Bear) by Dan Nuttall, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 48″ SOLD

As an artist and ecologist I see competition for space, the attributes and qualities of space, and the inputs and outputs of space as critical aspects of the global discussion about which animals and what kinds of spaces will survive. Such questions are independent of the debate about whether or not animals should be kept in captivity as, ultimately, ALL animals will face shrinking spaces, lower quality inputs (tainted food, water, air, vegetation), increased competition, and decreased access to mates (habitat fragmentation, forest destruction). The questions of “zoo” are also the questions of “planet”.

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
Dan Nuttall, “Shore Lines”, acrylic on wood panel, 4 x 8′

Which leads me to displaced animals in compressed life history volumes such as zoo exhibits. In a previous post on this blog, titled “The Mind Is A Zoo“, which addressed the painting shown above, I stated that the “…oneiric state of the painting provides an overarching serenity linking both the familiar and the strange. One wonders what animals dream when they are born in captivity and exposed solely to a single environment. Is there still something deep and rudimentary that can arise from a genetic or shared consciousness? Some archetypical memory?

In other words, can a bear dream of a forest if it has never seen one? If the dreams can only be comprised of things the bear has seen and experienced in its own lifetime does that mean the bear dreams only of the exhibit space and anything it may see from it? Does containment matter if one is born into it? Or, is it possible that the collective unconscious of the bear includes the hard wired dream of a leaping salmon and outstretched paw? And if the bears disappear who will keep this dream? Where can it be stored? And if the dream disappears can it ever be dreamed again?

Non-human animal sensing, experience and memory are components of non-human animal culture. In ecological terms this culture has four cornerstone requirements: food, water, hiding cover and mates. Even if these requirements are being met in what seems to be large unrestricted spaces or conservation areas the lack of any one of them or a reduction in the quality of any one of them can impoverish non-human animal culture and lead to population decreases and extinction. In this sense what we think of as “habitat” becomes the cage. In other words – thinking that non-human animals are “out there” in the “wild” and are “safe” is really just an illusion.

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Dan Nuttall, “Habitat Is The Cage”, acrylic on wood, 30 x 40″

Links to other posts in this blog on the subject of ecological art, non-human animals, otherness, animal sensing and animals and space HERE and HERE and HERE.

The painting above “Habitat Is The Cage” will be shown at Gallery 1313 in Toronto June 21-July 1, 2018, as part of the “Eco-Art 2018” exhibition curated by Phil Anderson. Like all of the other paintings in this post the lineworks or line patterns you see have been taken from abandoned polar bear exhibits at the Stanely Park Zoo in Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

Below, from the same series, but not focussing on bears but the Family Canidae, is “Future Ghost (Canidae)” which addresses domestication as both a form of erasure and conservation.

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Future Ghost (Canidae), acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

More of my art work can be seen HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten Thoughts You Should Be Having About Non-Human Animals…

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1. Human and non-human animals live in a finite world. Whether the oceans the sky or a landmass, there is only so much space. The human animal is an effective competitor and has a continually expanding population. As the human animal population expands it collapses the volumes within which non-human animals live. This displaces non-human animals. As such, all non-human animals live in continually shrinking spaces. The art below explores the relationship between ravens and glass. What are the implications of the anthropogenic, material world and non-human animals?

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Raven and Mirror (1 of 4), acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″ (SOLD)

 

2. All spaces occupied by non-human animals are designed (affected) by humans. The spaces occupied by non-human animals have a variety of names: zoo exhibit, conservation area, protected area, island. These spaces have “inputs” and “outputs”. Regardless of name or designation zoo exhibits and conservation areas are the same – designed and shrinking spaces, with controlled quantity and quality of inputs and outputs, and a finite number of non-human animals that can be supported. The art below creates a mini-drama to provoke questioning: Why are 3 birds approaching a nest? Why is it empty? What happens next? What do we know about the lives of these “others”? 

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3 Birds Approaching An Empty Nest, acrylic on paper, 11 x 15″ each

 

3. Animals can thus occupy displaced ecologies or in situ ecologies. In situ ecologies, for the time being, require less intervention from human animals to maintain. A green roof, a fish tank, a zoo exhibit are all displaced ecologies. The care and maintenance of displaced ecologies require more resources than in situ (connected) ecologies. The painting below uses forms taken from abandoned polar bear exhibit to mimic landscapes. What is a “real” landscape? What is a “fake” landscape? What effects do artificial landscapes and containment have on the psychology and evolution of non-human animals? Are all conservation spaces really just zoos?

 

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Mimesis 3, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36″

 

4. Human animals control the quantity and quality of inputs and outputs for non-human animal habitats. In a sense all animal spaces have “bars” that regulate – some things are kept out and some things are allowed through. Water is one of the resources that moves between the anthropogenic “bars” that divide landscapes. But if this resource is corrupted it means that the corruption flows along with it. What language is required to help us “read” the value of water? What symbols and signs can we perceive when we comes to understanding or approaching nature? Is perception without action of any value? Does all nature have to become “symbolic” to be “counted”?

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Dan Nuttall, “Symbolic Stream 1”

 

5. If the quality of input is less than optimal for a given non-human animal species this is a form of “competition”. Pollution is a form of competition. Waste is a form of competition. Noise is a form of competition. The photograph below is an art povera found object moment referencing the recent spate of whales dying from ingested plastic.  The “poverty” here is very real – non-human animals are impoverished by many of our human activities. The “found” aspect is really about the “discarded” – waste is a form of competition.

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Dan Nuttall “Whale Intestine” 2018

 

 

6. Ultimately, all non-human animals will be faced with extinction, captivity or domestication. Here, the organic curve and resplendent colours of a reef are juxtaposed against the rectinilear shadows of urbanity.

 

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Dan Nuttall, 2018, “Coral Reef” diptych, 18 x 24″ each

 

7. When engaged in competition human animals usually choose themselves over non-human animals. In this series I used clouds as a metaphor for the “self”. Our heritage as a species allows us to float above the landscape, in dynamic tension with the hydrological cycle. We shift and change shape taking up evaporating water molecules only to have them condense to be released back to the earth. Can something like a cloud – so light and airy – be bruised?

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Dan Nuttall, “Bruised Cloud”, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 48″

8. We are all animals and subject to the laws of ecology. The world can survive without economy but it cannot survive without ecology. Ecology trumps economy. Below, the inverted sky, and sea with melting ice, are intersected by a meat bridge where only three of the four legs of a polar bear can be seen. What is this bear “worth”? What is its “value”?

 

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Dan Nuttall, “Habitat Is The Cage”, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 40″

 

9. Given the above the issues relevant to zoos and “captivity” are the same for “the wild” and conservation areas. Human animals need to think more holistically and along longer time frames. Icebergs, taken from the iconic Canadian “Group of Seven” painter Lawren Harris’s work, exist against a hazy sky while a loon sinks into the depths – escaping but connected.  

 

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Diving Loon, acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

 

10. The number and diversity of non-human animals should be viewed as positive correlate of the probability of human animal survival. These dodos are derived from a skeleton seen at the Smithsonion Museum in Washington, D.C., about the same time I discovered I was, in part, of aboriginal ancestry. My family had erased or rendered this aspect of my life extinct. The rift between what we think versus who we really are can obfuscate meaning. Our collective distancing from ecological truths needs to be shrunk.

 

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Extinction Is A Won War (Dodos), acrylic on paper, 30 x 40″ each, SOLD

 

You can read more about my thoughts regarding non-human animals, and explore my art in relation to this topic HERE, or my ecological art HERE and HERE.

 

My web site is dandoesdesign.

 

 

Art and Humour: “A Duck And A Hunter Walk Into A Clearing…”

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Dan Nuttall
A DUCK AND A HUNTER WALK INTO A CLEARING…
acrylic on archival paper, diptych
22 x 30″ each

I love a sense of humour. In this piece I didn’t necessarily want to tell a joke. But start one? That sounded like a good idea.

Hunting stories are often full of woodsy humour, adventure and friendship. They are also often about animals. So I decided that a hunting theme might be interesting – a very visual way to play out a well known joke format.

Shortest. Post. Ever.

Competitive Exclusion

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Competitive Exclusion (L)

In ecological theory the principle of “competitive exclusion” states that “two species competing for the same resource cannot coexist at constant population values, if other ecological factors remain constant” (Wikipedia, 2016).

Here on earth we compete against every other living species. Garbage, for example, is a form of competition – an ecologically useless manifestation that consumes, space, resources and time. Ecology’s “garbage” is camouflaged as things human are cultured to “need”.

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Competitive Exclusion (C)

The broader the wash of competition (forms, rates of encounter) the narrower the stream that the rest of life lives in. Outside of direct competition with humans, competition between animals steadily increases within collapsing rivulets.

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Competitive Exclusion (R)

In this painting, “Competitive Exclusion”, two planes of action compete for the eye’s attention. The primary colours create a forest of distraction while nature exists behind it, subdued in the background. The colours bring visions of corner store plastic bread bags and forced gaiety. The choice of primary versus secondary colours integrates culture and hierarchy (oppression). The almost complete absence of complementary colours is also linked to my thinking, of late, about the life and painting style of Vincent Van Gogh, who heightened contrast and visual interest through his use of complementary colours. Focussing on primary colours provided a unique challenge – I tend to want to be unrestricted in my impulses with paint. Perhaps the self-imposed restraint is one of the lessons.

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Competitive Exclusion, triptych, 16 x 20″ each

Ultimately the eye fatigues and chooses the garbage candy of primary colours and nature fades into the background. Those that can find and keep their eye on nature are our salvation.

Dan Nuttall, COMPETITIVE EXCLUSION, acrylic on plywood, triptych, 16 x 20” each

You can find more of my blog articles on ecological art here:

Ecological Art : Three birds approach an empty nest…

Cool Blue Art : A Form of Air Conditioning?

The Mind Is A Zoo

SENSE AND SCALEABILITY

Ten Thoughts You Should Be Having About Non-Human Animals…

More of my larger body of artwork here at: http://www.dandoesdesign.com/

 

Ecological Art : Three birds approach an empty nest…

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One of the characteristics of ecological art, as distinct from environmental art, is the inclusion of a moral imperative.

 

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Three birds approach an empty nest. The composition seems to infer that the three birds will arrive at the same place at the same time, suggesting some kind of intersection. Their coincidental arrival also suggests the possibility of competition.

 

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Offset from the triad of birds sits an empty nest.

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In this work the quadriptych configuration creates its own set of “branches” in the form of spaces between the four scenes. A second reference to “branches” is found in the association between the “actors” – the birds and the nest. The overall composition introduces the viewer to an ecological drama.

What is this ecological drama?

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More at: http://www.dandoesdesign.com/

and: https://www.facebook.com/torontoartist/

Imagine That

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Dan Nuttall, Benthic Creatures, oil pastel on archival paper, 11 x 14″ each

How one ends up at a particular intersection in a piece of work always fascinates me. Have you ever completed a piece, left it for some time, come back and seen something unexpected but recognizable? Or seen a collision of past moments?

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These works, Benthic Creatures were, ostensibly, created as art for children. They’re about 10 years old. They were my imaginings of creatures sitting on the ocean floor (the benthos) in perpetual night, waiting for a sound or a pulse of bioluminescent glow, a constant snow of fine debris from above, silent. I wanted something a bit magical to activate the imagination. I wanted the mind to stretch, to imagine the furthest reaches and to think that life could exist there. They were images for a bed-time story.

And now?

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Today, I see some obvious things like my time in marine biology and my job at The Vancouver Aquarium. But I also see a bit of Francis Bacon in the twisted calcareous coral of one image and the lines in all three that seem to demarcate corners or the intersections of walls and floors. I see that the settings are somehow domestic, that these creatures are surviving against the odds, hidden or isolated in the deep blue. They are both soft and pulsing and hard and sharp.

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I also see the edges of a larger, untold scene – a fourth creature – sensing his way in the dark, hoping that one day someone could imagine him.

The Mind Is A Zoo

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
Dan Nuttall, SHORE LINES, acrylic on wood panel,  4 x 8′, $5000 CAD

The landscape in this painting was created through the reconfiguration of an abandoned bear exhibit found in a zoo. Originally opened in 1962 the bear exhibit expresses the era’s design thinking – nature simplified, abstracted into modern geometries that keep the animal contained and on view while accommodating the display of some behavior patterns. If the exhibit’s role in animal containment can be set aside the bear exhibit is actually quite a beautiful assemblage of shapes and spaces, a giant concrete sculpture squatting in a bowl, a sunken hollowed-out Guggenheim. The composition has clean lines and hard edges with nature abstracted as tunnel, bridge, pond, cliff face, edge, promontory and plain. The eye can discern different paths for movement and the minimal slopes that accommodate both the need for maintenance and animal safety.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 1″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

Mimesis is defined as imitation. Mimicry, for example is a form of mimesis in which, over evolutionary time frames, one group of organisms evolves to share the characteristics of another group – often as a form of conferred protection. The role of mimesis extends to the act of painting itself – artists try to imitate things. To what end the serialized imitations of nature found in art?

 

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 2″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

Initially, the bear occupied an in situ habitat which was re-imagined as an ex situ zoo exhibit. Using the ex situ exhibit as a starting point the painting reorganizes the exhibits design language and, this time, imagines a novel “wild space”, transforming the exhibit into another habitat, a new wild. This new wild, metaphorically speaking, “returns” both the bear and the viewer to the wild. Further iterations are possible. In the painting the repetition of lines and shapes creates repeated spaces. The repetition allows the eye to make comparisons and to begin to sense pattern and discrepancy – akin to an animal surveying its surroundings. The repetition of form, with its genesis in nature should seem familiar to us – the observer is a sensing animal after all – and introduces a kind of déjà vu – a recollected story told through the repeated use of known words or phrases. What we know, as human animals, is coming back to us, inverted and flipped, playing with our perception and yet familiar.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 3″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

The oneiric state of the painting provides an overarching serenity linking both the familiar and the strange. One wonders what animals dream when they are born in captivity and exposed solely to a single environment. Is there still something deep and rudimentary that can arise from a genetic or shared consciousness? Some archetypical memory? As one gazes, the familiarity of lines and compositions is upended by the congruency of the synthetic whole and the desire to make sense of it. The water in the lower right hand corner of Shore Lines places the observer in the water, looking at the shore, as if in a boat, possibly adrift. There, at the edge, notions of distance, containment, barriers to movement and isolation come to the fore. Animal movement is naturally limited. Islands, mountain ranges, rivers, oceans. Is this the ultimate conundrum, coming to terms with the kinds of spaces animals will inhabit? How big should they be? Who should control inputs and outputs? Which species get to survive? Is domestication going to be the ultimate destiny for anything we allow to survive? Does it matter whether bars are visible or invisible? Does it matter that our dreams are merely stage sets designed by those who construct and narrate our realities? What thoughts should we be having about the fate of non-human animals? You can dwell on that HERE.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 4″, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 40”

 

These paintings will be on display at my first solo art exhibition, at Lee Contemporary Art in Orillia, Ojtario, August 10 – September 2, 2017. More about Lee Contemporary Art HERE.

You can see all the paintings in the above show HERE.

And find out more about my larger  body of work here: www.dandoesdesign.com

 

Competition for the Same Space at the Same Time

Road Kill by Dan Nuttall
Road Kill by Dan Nuttall

As many of you know I am participating in an art show this spring and will be showing my work “Shore Lines” and “Mimesis 1, 2 and 3” which deal with notions of habitat and the ultimate and twinned fate of both human and non-human animals. I must state for the record that I am not per se “anti-zoo” but rather “pro” asserting the type of work that human animals need to do to consider the long term questions about the twinned fate of human and non-human animals – who will get to survive? how much space will be allotted? is domestication the only answer? what losses of culture can be sustained? when the chains become broken how long are the strands and what are their functions?

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Domesticus by Dan Nuttall

Coincidentally, the art show I mentioned above has an art competition with the theme “Road Trip”. As an artist and someone interested in non-human animals and issues of space and competition I have decided to approach this topic in terms of seeing the road as something that might “trip” up someone or something – like a non-human animal. In essence I will painting something to do with roadkill. At least that’s the intention now – no paint has been smeared just yet.

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Crying My Eyes Out by Dan Nuttall

Some of you have written to me asking for more background and greater depth about my blog piece and my animal-centric art pieces so:

1. You can read my blog article concerning ways of thinking about space/habitat as a dwindling resource and how the same questions we apply to zoo exhibits may be applied to conservation spaces. More may be found HERE.

2. Coincidentally, I have just been contacted by an organization that I would recommend you check out – called “Wildsight” and more about their work may be found HERE. You can also read about Wildsight on FB HERE.

While my Masters and Doctoral work dealt with the “design of optimal environments for displaced species” and the “sustainable integration of human and non-human animal communities”, Wildsight’s Denise Boehler gets right to the heart of the matter – Ecopsychology and notions of coexistence – completely aligned with my previous academic work AND the art I am doing. As I have often said: “Good design solves multiple challenges simultaneously”. How we design our world can reduce roadkill, conserve habitat, and see art as a vehicle that carries all of us safely down that road.

Please share, like, comment or invite friends to explore both Wildsight and dandoesdesign.

 

SENSE AND SCALEABILITY

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Giant Mowed Grass

As Baudelaire once said “The whole visible universe is but a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination will give a relative place and value; it is a sort of pasture which the imagination must digest and transform.”

Nobel prize winners (1973) for their work in animal behavior, Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen worked with “supernormal stimuli”. A supernormal stimulus refers to an exaggerated version of a stimulus. Lorenz, for example, discovered that birds would prefer to incubate artificial eggs to their own – if the artificial eggs were identical but larger. More recently (2011) similar Nobel prize-winning research has demonstrated that beetles will copulate with the supernormal stimulus of discarded beer bottles. In an evolutionary and adaptive sense animals seem hard-wired to go big or go home.

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Red Nest by Dan Nuttall

Human animals are no different – we also tend to move toward supernormal stimuli whether one is considering a cheeseburger or aspects of human anatomy. Think of Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” which, despite it’s source of inspiration being liquid mercury, is most often referred to as “the bean”. Or Hapa Collaborative’s gigantic bright red “bendy straw” in Vancover’s Mid-Main Park, that references the history of the site. Given the grounding of landscape architecture in the natural sciences, our professional mandate for stewardship, and the current state of ecological crisis how might such scaled up truths serve clients and users and the environment?? And is going “big” the only approach? Is additional thinking required?

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Giant birch bark pathways designed by Dan Nuttall, MALA

In my recent work with Schollen & Company Inc. Landscape, some of our discussion has centered on bi-directional scaling of stimuli – taking big things and making them small and small things and making them big – all with the goal of providing landscape users the opportunity to “notice” and connect with ecology.

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As Senior Designer and Project Manager of the newly opened Rouge Crest Park in Richmond Hills, Ontario, we took great pleasure and pride in going both big and small before going home. In this park the sun and its rays manifest as scored elliptical tree pit grates which shrink both light and the cosmos under the shade of a tree while eschewing the traditional forms of round or square.

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Where a significant boundary to movement is required the innate attraction of humans to maintained grass is scaled up in a towering weathering steel fence, its rust colours punctuated by vibrant green, its upper limits shorn as if mown. Pathways have transformed to giant birch trunks; movement along the path is akin to scaling the tree’s bark. Tiny snowflakes drift as giant benches in the shade of trees.

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Those exploring the scale of the park at its fullest scale will discover a spiral hill where an elliptical stone bench ensures direct in contact with a quote from Burroughs: “ I go to nature to be soothed and healed and have my senses put in order”. In the world of landscape architecture both big and small can appeal to the senses and perhaps this is central to putting our world back in order.

Bewilderness at Fieldwork

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In 2010 I had the pleasure of installing a site specific art installation at fieldwork, located near Perth Ontario. Now, five years later, I am going back to fieldwork to remove Bewilderness. In my art practice I try to use my forms of engagement as opportunities for reflection and to mine process for the coal of wisdom. I wanted to start this blog by looking at the “there and then” of Bewilderness as a way to approach the “here and now” – the deconstruction of an idea…

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The Woods Are Dreary, Dark and Deep…

“…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods on A Snowy Evening

This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one’s eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there’s only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend. The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear – a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.

 

More on Bewilderness HERE.