meet the underFOOTs

The Underfoots are a collection of creatures from various places around the world. They are all manifestations of the overlooked, mossy intricate worlds underfoot.

underfoots
CLICK HERE TO FIND THE UNDERFOOTS

Ice Storm Shelter Design

Charcoal Birds. Vichy, France (2006).

The Beaver Lodge (l.e.e.d. platinum 2009)

This shelter housed the adventurous play of many hundreds of children at the evergreen brick works in the don valley from 2009-2011. This idea is not unique, to look to the beavers for how to build shelters that kids and adults can be inspired by. In this process, there was first about a month of material collection. Continue reading

As the World Turns : Rankin Inlet, Nunavut (2009)

SYMBOLS OF CHANGE;

A collaborative process where school children in Rankin Inlet are encouraged to ‘draw out’ their vision of what symbols can be used to illustrate change. these drawings were then brought into the studio and painted with hand made gauche with a mind to putting painted emphasis on only those details in the drawings that the children elaborated. these works were supplimented by a documentary film (with the questions and process guided by the kids participating) and exhibited in the local school, a small gallery near Stroud in the UK and at the University of Toronto.  

documentary film from the project:

https://foolishnatureblawg.wordpress.com/video/documentary/inuk-a-short-film-of-modern-life-in-rankin-inlet-nunavut-2009/

see this post in its natural habitat: http://www.foolishnature.org/homely/cultural/world%20turns/WORLDturns.html

WORKSHOP PROPOSAL FOR INTERESTED STUDENTS. Feb. 2009.

Background: I am an artist working in Toronto for a national charity called Evergreen, and have an exhibition organized in south-western England for mid-April of this year. I could easily sit down and paint a number of paintings on the subject which interests me, namely, the evolution of environmental/social change in Rankin Inlet. I thought it would be more interesting, and valuable, to host a series of workshops which teach through experiential education by engaging students in creating their own symbols of change. These symbols will then be drawn onto large paper, which I will then turn into a large series of paintings. The resulting work will travel with me to England where these symbols will exhibited. Half of the proceeds from the sale of this work, in England, will go to the school to buy art supplies, and this will be emphasized in the exhibition.

Workshop Content: speaking about symbols and their function in our everyday life, and allowing students time to brain-storm about the kinds of symbols they are surrounded by. This leads into the discussion of change, and writing out what kinds of change they are surrounded by. How do they think things have changed? Are changes good? Finally we begin the process of finding the symbol, the one most important detail, a detail which encapsulates all that is the story, the process of change. These is the symbols we find in groups of ten, and illustrate individually on paper and with materials that I provide. Guidance and some artistic guidelines will help to provoke creative work which will be effective, both in the sense of being a valuable learning experience through dialogue about change, but also will give some insight into the community and the lives of people who live here.

Overall Goals: I will leave Rankin Inlet, in two month’s time, with a body of work for this exhibition, as well as a short documentary film about the process. Through making this work as an artist-in-residence within the school, I will be able to provide means of creative expression for interested students which will then travel and give them a chance to have an international audience hear their unique voices. This project will both allow the students the chance to to tell their story to a large audience, and give the audience the opportunity to support the community whose work they are viewing, and contribute in a holistic way to the development of the arts in Rankin Inlet. This is the difference in intent between commercial and community art, and I strive to become a more successful community artist. Success in this sense is measured by the integration of the project within the community, and the mutual benefit found in the process.

Additional Ideas: There is a possibility, as an introduction to this workshop process to host a couple of events, short talks, film screenings, within the school. I could give a short talk on the nature of environmental change, and the usefulness of symbols to educate people about our environment. It would be valuable to also find a member of the community who could mirror this talk by speaking about the evolution of culture in Rankin Inlet. Finally, we could exhibit the work here for a short time, before it travelled to England in the end of March, giving the students who participated a chance to see how I have painted their drawings of change, while opening up the work to the public. This event could be a one night show sometime in mid-March, celebrating the achievement of the students. 

Specifics: We would need thirty interested students (especially those interested specifically in the arts) to participate in two half day workshops in groups of ten. In four hours we would cover background, brainstorming, discussion of symbols and, for the last two hours, drawing our symbols of change. In between the groups would be assigned some light, creative, design based homework, before finishing in the second four hour session at a later date. Each student will have two large sheets of paper (approx. 20”-30”) provided by me on which to explore these symbols with pencil and charcoal. We will be using erasers extensively as a way of changing their symbols, and as a practical joke about making changes. These drawings will then be taken back to my studio and painted. There is an opportunity to facilitate up to three dedicated students to assist as apprentices in the project in helping with documentation, paintmaking (since they will be painted in home-made watercolor), and some of the painting process.

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

can u tell what kind of plant this is? can u tell what kind of plant this is?

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?

sandarchy

sandarchy, graphite on paper, 10

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?