The Underfoots are a collection of creatures from various places around the world. They are all manifestations of the overlooked, mossy intricate worlds underfoot.
Crossing the Atlantic 2007
100 small portraits (2×2.5″) of the sea made while on a cargo vessel from antwerp to montreal for 8 days.
this journey was well paced for me, since the clocks went back one hour a day, as compared to abrupt air travel. I realized that I have crossed the atlantic 24 times, but this was the first time I experienced the journey at a healthy pace. In the belly of this ship, near the giant pistons, there is a lone exercise bike and a miniature sauna. just before arriving in montreal, and back in canada after a few years, i spent an hour in the sauna working against the culture shock of travel. can not say I have had a similar luxury on an airplane…..expect more oceanic travel to be added to these volumes once I learn how to sail.
environmental arts mentoring
three people, one of which is 11 years old, draw studies of plants every week in order to learn about environmental arts. can u guess which one was done by the 11 year old?
A story from the corner store…all the way into a Mongolian sand storm.
At the platform created for passengers to wait and be picked up by buses, they have no bathrooms. Not anywhere that I have seen do they have bathrooms on the ttc (not like in the UK where you pay 50p to take a pee). After waiting for what seemed like 30min but was probably 8, I had to pee so badly that all I could do was image getting off the bus 10min later and running to the house over the ice. The bus finally came, loaded and disembarked north along Broadview ave, and I was bursting by the time I was dropped off beside the corner store. For an inexplicable reason I chose to go in, instead of running home. George was particularly talkative, and began unwinding what he remembered of strong winds blowing all through his childhood in China. I was fascinated, but had to run and told him why.
The next day I went back, and asked, what were you saying about Mongolia?
“It was china but bordering on Mongolia in the north. In the winter, nevermind the wind-chill, it was normally -50c. But the wind was always blowing, it would blow you over. We had summer storms as well, but instead of snow it was sand. Sunglasses would do nothing, we would have to wear goggles just to walk, nevermind riding a bike. ”
George was looking out the window at the chilly winter wind.
“When I visited the small town I grew up in, equal distance from Mongolia and Korea, there were these old walls I remember from being a kid. It was wall after wall built to hold trees to protect the city from the ever-approaching sand, trying to wash away our town. These trees were not so big though you see, maybe up to here, ”
Indicating with his hand about 5′ tall.
“They were not tall but they were old right? Like the trees I saw by the tree-line in the arctic.” I broke in.
“Yes, yes, incredibly old, 40-50 years, but they would not grow bigger than me.” George continued, “when I was visiting this town in the 70’s I found, horribly that the fences we built to keep the crops alive had decayed, since by the fourth tier of trees you can dig a foot and find water for the new saplings. That was the saddest part, that every 5-10 years the dead trees would have to be replaced, and were then used to rebuild the fences, but people had forgotten that this was our responsibility. The fence used to run through the whole north, northeast and northwest of the city. It was immense. I cannot imagine how it must be on the interior plain, where the wind is much worse, and they have larger cities like Shanghai.”
When I arrived home the image was so strongly drawn in my mind, I put it on paper.
tunneling into school
what? why would anyone want to tunnel back into school. well i have no idea, but in the past six years have been investigating how to build living tunnels in school grounds and gardens and have learned a thing or two about willow tunneling.
tis the season…..the season where the trees drop their leaves and go to sleep for the winter. the essential life energy is then held underground, and any alterations to the branches will little be felt. that is why working with willow is winter work. i’ve found that willow cut while the leaves are out ‘out of season’ have a 15-40% success rate when transplanting as cuttings. that 40% is only won through flooding the plants every two days in their first year. willows transplanted in late fall early spring while they are dormant has an >85% success rate, as long as they are cared for, kept damp-through mulching, soaker hoses, etc- and there are no air pockets which frost out the underground life of the cutting and turn black. if they have made it through the trials of year one, they will likely thrive and produce abundant off shoots which can then be harvested to make crafts, transplant, make sculptures or as a rooting hormone when soaked in water.
you’ve probably never thought about it, but there is a set of codified rules for what is safe to install in school grounds. in canada there are rules set forth by the Canadian Standards association, and include much of what you might expect: choking hazards and the like. as we love to do with rules, they are broken into categories and made specific; measurements and testing tools for hip, head and limb entrapment, a delightful series of rules about protrusions, and many standards for materials, surfacing and grade. the simplest method for avoiding these figurative headaches is to use asphalt, grass, and chain link fencing. by far the most challenging route to designing these spaces is to take irregular and decomposing natural materials like wood, plants and trees. this is precisely what heidi campbell and evergreen do (http://www.evergreen.ca). alongside them i have learned a few tricks: try and design living structures whose woven cells ae over 9″ x 9″. this means no one will get trapped. anything sticking out-protruding-has to be cut so that its length does not exceed its width.
upon first hearing these rules i assumed that a living tunnel should be fully woven, so that no one will get stuck. as it turns out, children love to test structural stability, so no matter my attempts at designing without nails, anything woven with green material, once seasoned and shrunk, allowed the little hands to tear them apart (if left to their own devices; arguably you could direct their overabundant enthusiasm to rebuilding and tying the archways…). in the most recent design, the tunnel pictured in the film below has been planted with potted willow (since sometimes it is hard to get folks to water plants at school, especially in summer) and left to establish for a year before being woven into a diamond pattern. these loose branches cannot trap anyone, and are re-enforced by simple willow archways. moreover, the living branches do not shrink, and the diamond pattern allows the plants to ‘fill’ in, rather than left to grow straight up into trees. the condensed lesson here is: simplify and focus on designing the living elements to do the work, rather than spending time weaving as if its a basket.
tips for living willow structures:
1-dormant! tis the season-make sure you confine willow cutting and transplanting to when the leaves have fallen.
2-choose cuttings from your local clime-plants will do better if already adjusted to soil/weather conditions.
3-no air pockets-ensure that bare root cuttings have no air pockets which can hold frost. jump on them.
4-place cuttings 8″ in the ground.
5-weed suppression-ensure that for 6″ minimum all around the cutting weeds are suppressed with black plastic/fabric/mulch.
6-rule of thumb-ensure that cuttings are larger than a normal adults thumb, seems to help them succeed (help me overwrite the sexist origin of this phrase).
7-water water water. every dry day in the first year. get the kids to do it-watering can chain.
Tips for Living Tunnels in Schools:
1-involve kids-little hands can move mulch, make willow rope-every task is a teachable moment, you know, sense of ownership, cultivating stewardship ethic and empathy for living things.
2-simplify design-use archways to give form, but leave weave until 2nd year.
3-use a diamond pattern created by two 30 degree angles, bound with a willow whip in square lashing pattern, so willow fills cells created.
4-all cells created must be smaller than 3″ larger than 9″-to make sure no one gets stuck.
5-use potted material-existing roots will help success in first stressful year at school-the school ground can be a rough place for a plant.
6-arrange maintenance-ensure your artist/contractor visits twice a year.
7-find local knowledge to teach teachers; how to source, harvest, plant, weave and make rope-create curricular connections.
8-try and secure your own funding-or find local permaculture practitioners and see if someone will barter for baked goods.
9-as with the previous list-water water water! more water won’t hurt, but less can kill. 😛
helping kids fence their own school?
The Natural History Emporium of Mystery; story and depth of place (captured in a museum display)
This project is about discovering the natural community of the Brick Works, orienting participants in public programs to the yields of the naturalized space, and creating a culture of storytelling around it. All of these specimens are artifacts that in the future could become fossils, but they are able to be the inspiration for stories today that are shared and used to facilitate a deeper connection to place. By physically connecting the map space and specimen display, there will be an open invitation to experience nature, history and storytelling from every individual experience (whether or not visitors are directly participating in formal Evergreen programs). The culture of the Brick Works will continue to grow and evolve as these stories, artifacts and places become interwoven in this artistic interactive display.
Installed in with funds from Evergreen’s Interpretive budget in 2011, the interpretive display was crafted by Charles Jevons (Swordcraft.ca) and the slate map sandblasted by Cobalt Fabrications. the Concept of a personal/public nature museum is well articulated in the book: coyote’s guide to connecting with nature. This project is a collaboration with Lee Earl, outdoor educator at Evergreen Brick Works.here.
arrr….coming soon…the pirate survival boat @evergreenbrickworks
pirates will be popping up and learning about the floods in the don valley in the children’s garden at evergreen brickworks this coming spring. will they learn how to survive pirates? or will the pirates teach them high sea survival….time will tell.
guarding the gate of the children’s garden at evergreen brick works…
with sticks grown purposefully in a garden of willow and dogwoods, or as the forester’s of the early british countryside would call, a coppice, this wee beasty overlooks visitors upon entering.
see a video of the teens who helped harvest the willow here:
the earth science of this art lies in the ability of willow and dogwood to reproduce through any dormant (leafless) cutting or twig. then specific rods are chosen for structural form and placed as to fill in the sculpture as they grow.
thereafter individual willows will leaf out and change the form of the sculpture as it grows in the most unpredictable shapes, which can then in later years be trimmed or further woven in as a seasonal project. kind of like farming pretty trees, but in inspiring shapes. think bonsai.
check out other willow work here:
while creating more work in terms of seasonal trimming can seem like adding inputs/chores/more energy into yard maintenance, willow actually is one of the most productive crops that can be grown in an environmental education center/school-ground. i hope we all know by now that there is a clear disconnection from the seasonal nature of land based activities, meaning that many urban dwellers wouldn’t, as common knowledge, know that garlic should be planted before the first frost outdoors to get that jump on spring it needs. it is therefore productive to plant and cultivate species of easily maintained willows, who benefit and are encouraged to grow if cut in the winter, since this helps children and adults to reconnect to seasonal work and gain memorable insights into reproducing plants and trees to foster an understanding of how to become more self-resilient. can’t argue with that. ha.
next onto ‘the beaver’ at the other gate.