The Underfoots are a collection of creatures from various places around the world. They are all manifestations of the overlooked, mossy intricate worlds underfoot.
this painting (captured with a horrid tiny broken phone camera) depicts the ‘don valley brickworks park’ which encompasses the “Weston Family Quarry Garden” or the quarry restoration by the T.R.C.A., and “Evergreen Brick Works” on the redeveloped industrial pad.
mud creek is the stream which trickles its way down from mount pleasant cemetery, crossing under the belt-line trail (built atop of a 50’s railway built through the valley) to terminate in the ponds. mud creek was diverted once for use in brick production, again to make way for the railway, once more when the trail was leveled out of the railway, and finally 10-12 years ago when the trca began the pond restoration. giant crack willow have swelled ambitiously along the lower stretches of mud creek, sucking up the abundance of nutrients washed down from human activity in rosedale. crack willow do send out clusters of showy seed into the wind, but they have a more obnoxious method of propagation: they replant themselves. many species do this obviously, but on certain slopes you can trace the evidence of successive generations of willow or apple, growing to a certain size and then dropping significant branches downhill/downstream where they root quickly back into the ground. moving upstream, or towards the top of the map, there is a stout bunching of oak, in a branching stem pattern suggestive of past harvesting, which has fallen over a large pool of oddly blue/green water, where mud creek emerges from its subterranean adventures in a spiral steel pipe. where mud creek merges through the successive ponds, down under an electrical building (oddly) before being divided in two and into the Don river i have seen giant prehistoric looking snapping turtles with all kinds of growth on its back, beavers, muscrat and countless other wild signs of regeneration.
when first approaching the capacity for the ‘don valley brickworks park’ to fuel educational activities by the charity which redeveloped the site, Evergreen, we realized the experience and learning gained by kids in our first experimental programs needed a way to be recorded. the first foray into mapping the park was carried out through google map, foot, and historical sources. hilariously we found that a pond indicated on public maps was actually a shadow cast by a hill on the google map. many such intricate crossroads between the published perception of the shape of the park and its reality when walked through. this silkscreen map then was mounted on paper and used to record the significant sightings and experiences of kids in the first green city adventure camp at the brickworks. from these initial mapping exercises, time was taken to reflect upon the most appropriate materials and venue for recording this ‘dirt time’ in nature, and displaying it to the public. eventually, a year or so later, the ‘Natural History Emporium of Mystery’ was installed near the boundary between Evergreen Brick Works and the Weston Family Quarry Garden. The Emporium features the same map lines sandblasted into an old schoolhouse slate for use with chalk, and a nature museum display mounted on an old 21′ heritage metal lathe from the brickworks. see the emporium here.
the painting pictured is one more iteration of interpreting the ‘don valley brickworks park’, trying to trace trough time the meandering of mud creek and its many inhabitants.
it is a bit odd to compress the four films into one frame, when originally they were mounted separately 1 1/2′ apart. some of the audio which served to fill the space and compliment the busy flow through of traffic in the ground floor hallway of the center for green cities, now are competing in this 9 minute film. the footage includes years of environmental documentary footage, with compelling statements by key green leaders in toronto (the founders of auto-share and bullfrog power….) as well as architects and designers involved in the evergreen brickworks project.
Often these plantings are originally grown in nurseries who focus on maximum yield since plant growth is tied to profit, and so they are flooded with fertilizers. These are then planted out, and the odd original shape obtained by the greenhouse growth of the plant stays with it as it matures, and therefore the shape of this plant as we now recognize it is misleading. dogwoods and willows have evolved to be stimulated by cutting/burning especially when the leaves have fallen and the energy of the plant is stored under the snow, in its roots. the form of a coppice stump, as it grows straight long shoots, is a beautiful thing to behold. often trimmed by beaver and muskrat, these long shoots are ideal material for basketry, and so are a living free renewable resource, who’s value can be added to immensely when planted close to an environmental center like the Evergreen Brick Works has become.
see the video of youth harvesting the black willow:
by planting species which have the highest yield of environmental and economic functions, we can work towards rekindling understanding of the role of ‘coppice’ plants and trees in responsible urban business practices of the future.
through experimentation in the pilot brickworks artist residency program, the dogwood and willow baskets will annually be available for sale in the Evergreen Garden Market for the holiday season, under the name: Winter Solstice Basketry.
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.
"In the pine top of my work table, the dark knots are boulders standing up in the river of grain, sending eddies and ripples spinning downstream, delivering the driftwood thoughtof a new journey to be taken, through trees." Roger Deakin, 'wildwood, a journey through trees', pp.32, Penguin Books, Toronto, Canada, 2007.
This will become a cycle of 50 paintings within the next three months, which will be mounted so that the water systems that are mapped out of the existing grain drain into each other and become a real document of the grain, i.e. a map of the landscape and conditions which the tree originally grew in, as well as an imagined topography created through the inferrence of grain patterns into landforms and features.
After spending literally years following the symbols of maps while traveling and sometimes without the assistance of visibility, like on the tops of mountains, i have used the symbols to guide me safely to shelter. this training made it impossible to not imagine these landforms in the plywood grain, as soon as i sketched them out i began to see rivers, lakes and water-systems, mountains, and could infer where i would look for clean water or shelter.
both the process of tracking grain in industrial plywood, understanding what different lines may indicate in terms of climate or sunlight and the process of imagining topography into grain resonate with the desire to square up and subjugate natural organic forms to geometric, and therefore human-centric patterns. making round spiral grain lay flat with glue and heat. imagining the bridge you would build over the river, the rectangular house on the cliff, which catches southern light, etc.
i am certainly not knocking the desire to square up nature, since the countless hours trying to master broad axes and hatchets, to achieve those straight lines needed to say, make a table out of dynamic cedar grain, would make that insult a little insincere. what i take issue with, and reflect through these paintings is that more often when you ask someone to define what wood is, it comes in 2″ x 4″ instead of growing out there somewhere.
outside of these political views, its quite calming and fun to follow a pattern, especially one which can reveal new insights into how trees grow and what the activity of mapping expresses about our intentions towards wilder landscapes.
speaking of which, i am now going out to discover some tracks left by creatures dwelling in the ravine, by the marks left in this, toronto’s first real snowfall!
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.
after purchasing bulk willow from a supplier in southern Ontario who buys from landowners in Quebec, i collaborated with evergreen learning grounds and andreas merker to deliver a three hour workshop in Cassandra public school in NE Toronto where we built a 15′ living willow tunnel. during the workshop i took half of the twenty associates who consult for school boards (installing natural play spaces across the country), and walked over to a stone theatre with a horseshoe boardwalk above out-of-cycle willow shrubs of multiple varieties. we harvested much of what was in the way of lunchtime monitors being able to see the kids through the brush, a.k.a. to improve sight lines. this brush was full of willow whips of purple and yellow, green and red, each cut multiple times (to improve sight-lines) in the past, and so were rendered useless as living fencing or tunnel material, and indeed for baskets as well. after spinning little circles in some leftover pencil-lead thin stems, i had the idea to sculpt these malformed specimens into little representations of bugs and animals, eventually embarking on monstrous living deer and eagles, etc.
these specimens were stored outside in the cold winter we’re having, and were brought indoors to defrost before being woven into these distinct patterns which emerged (again from being trimmed in a specific way over multiple years). each cut by pruners in years past, trying to see the children through the willow, produced uniform deformities, which evolved through the careful priming and bending with my hands, into about 150 little critters, which can be seen at: http://www.foolishnature.org/homely/environmental/wood/wood.html under the heading: Living Knotworks.
If one takes a dormant willow sculpture, and entices it indoors into a bucket of warm water for two weeks it will produce large catkins and then leaves, and can then be kept indoors over the last few months of winter to learn and observe from as it grows out its knots. I have been potting these works in glass vases, and they are currently for sale @ cafe Belong located at550 bayview- evergreen brickworks in the don valley; Ossington Ideal Coffee-ossington 1blok S of Dundas, W side, and soon also available at Broadview Expresso, broadview 1blok N of Danforth, E side.
Pay them a visit if your in the neighborhood.