It takes a child to teach us how to build a village.

Setting out to build a village and teach children about the negotiations and collaboration needed to work together in and understand how to live together  harmoniously with the land and each other. Sounds great.

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Sammy Tangir captured this amazing graphic from our staff meeting about the winter village at Evergreen Brick Works

Once the materials came out on the floor, and the first kids arrived, something else happened. Something I should have remembered by now: the first two children were two year olds (so being able to explain techniques and context for building villages will be impossible with words, so how to proceed?)

What works then for kids of this age, what they can be taught is the magic of the materials, and through the materials can be found lessons and much to chew on, especially if you’re not looking (that’s a joke, and an argument for using natural materials–because little kids will eat the workshop when you’re not looking – ha!).

We brought out clay, sticks, bits of plant, old flowers from the summer that have been eaten by birds (cup plant eaten by goldfinches if you care), bits of fired brick in miniature, leftover parts of christmas trees not needed for decoration when they were bought at market, and had a jam session.

This work is jazz. It’s setting up the stage with instruments, and letting go of the product you thought would emerge, as the players arrive with their own ideas, skills and inclinations.

One of the animators who helps bring out the creative side of children who i work with says: “the less you tell them, and direct them, the better.”

But also, in the same breath, she says “BUT: kids need to be told when they are damaging or hurting something (watching kids pour drinking water on the ground instead of on plants, this needs to be spoken).”

Somehow both can happen, but only if the facilitators are knowing that they cannot control the outcome, and are paying keen attention to what kids are naturally drawn to, and allowing this to emerge and be elaborated on through play.

This comes back to ideas of what we are trying to teach children, and really, what they can tell us about our desires to be heard and make change through those little illogical minds.

If we can impress upon them the importance of cooperation, care, true collaboration then they will be better able to manage shared resources in a world with less available and cheap energy, where these values will save lives.

Can you imagine trying to have this conversation with two year olds?

Well no, because the drivers for their worlds are more direct, less abstract. More about what is in their sensory view and not predicated on ideas of global resources and energy security. It’s really about feeling secure, though not for the wee ones, for us.

This i remembered all in the course of a minute when the children arrived, and i remembered my course as an artist, to bring out questions of depth through the material play, like a treasure hunt where we know all the stops on the map, but do not yet know what treasure will emerge at the end.

This potential could depress the more linear minded, that kids cannot follow through to the lessons we need to impart to make us feel secure and good about ourselves, but to me this brings deep and meaningful inspiration. I want to see how far I can go in finding transformation, and sometimes that looks like spending an hour listening to the inner imaginative world of a kid who others dismiss as, well, childish.

When it is possible to take this dream world and make it real, to get kids into leadership positions in the design, and to become a resource to them to realize projects beyond what they have participated in up until then. This brings more inspiration than work I have been commissioned to make from my own imagination, relying on my specialized professionalism.

(Don’t get me wrong, I am totally open to having projects of depth that I can display and make with my own hands, but when kids are involved in design and building environments they inhabit, this is a lesson beyond my own ego and/or professional aesthetic choices as a professional artist.)

You, little child, can tell us how to make this building, paint this hallway, design this garden, these are lessons of empowerment that are missing from childhood. It is also a method for finding and including a departure from what is possible, when you include those who think differently.

It is a test of adulthood to see how far you can take this process;

Can kids actually build parts of the urban environment?

Do they have what is needed?

Most of us would say: of course not. There are safe-work practices, skilled hand-work, judgement and assessment before implementation. Not to mention focus and maturity. All of these commonly held cultural beliefs which impart the lesson that we need professionals in every part of our lives, and that kids have no place in this world before they are trained and disciplined adults.

Ok maybe you would not want a two year old as a doctor (“I can see there is pain, but all you need is candy and a movie, you’ll be all better”). or a lawyer (“just pretend you know nothing until they have evidence….then say sorry….works for me”). I am sure you can think of funnier examples.

I have seen amazing things emerge when kids are given the control and power. Every year around our fire pit (at the Children’s Garden within Evergreen Brick Works) we would get pooling water, and we blamed the professionals. Those who graded the gavel in the space before we moved in did not do it properly….then everything we’ve layered on top is therefore effected by this grade (metaphor there).

Every mini flood we would bust out shovels and dig trenches to redirect the water. We were playing at making rivers, and every time, more or less, kids drained the fire pit space. Then, eventually we came up with the money to hire professionals to make a french drain and re-grade the space.

The design and build landscape firm built a trench EXACTLY where the kids had been making it for years! We just left it impermanent, for you don’t want to take away problems that others may solve later. Now there is no river to dig, and our wallets are lighter for paying professionals. Somehow ‘playing at’ doing the same work with kids really taught everyone something. It proved what is possible when we do not disguise our problems and ask for help.  (anecdotally i remember one mom digging with her two kids, she looks up at me and smiles “I am so glad we are doing this here, and not in my back yard”).

These inclinations are natural; to dig, to build, to destroy and rebuild. Often nature takes the role of reclaiming materials back to base elements, even while we are living within them. Removing the curtain behind which we hide imperfections, and asking families who visit to invest themselves in rebuilding our space, is what I observe creates the cohesion and connection that we speak about in placemaking, village/city building. When this relationship is extended to caring for other living things like plants and animals things really get interesting.

In the coming month we will continue to build towards this idea of a connected, healthy village, and I will bring in the voices of other facilitators of this work, to share alternate perspectives of what we are building towards.

These villages depicted are the first step in a winter of village building, where we look to what kids have to teach us, and will celebrate this work during family day in February 2017. On that day, what we have learned through many weekends of setting out provocative materials and watching the jazz emerge from expert miniature hands will have it’s moment in the winter sun, and we will see if the idealized village in my imagination is alive in the sculptures we make with kids.

Furtle: the fiery fertile [bread oven] turtle (2008)

Since, the bread oven and cart were forcibly dismantled. one day an intern filled the oven full of wood, lit it, and subsequently in the inferno the base of the oven cracked, and continued to burn a hole through the night. It was not until the next day that someone noticed and put it out. By then the hole was so significant, and in an impossible to reach place below the cooking plate.  Continue reading

mapping ‘mud creek watershed’

2014, 2'x4', ink, acrylic, hand made sumac ink and silkscreen on canvas.
2014, 2’x4′, ink, acrylic, hand made sumac ink and silkscreen on canvas.

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. mapping mud creek Green City Adventure camp, last day of first session 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.

‘elements of green design’ – four films from Evergreen Brick Works green design exhibit 2010-2012.

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.

see  http://ebw.evergreen.ca/about/green-design

and http://ebw.evergreen.ca/whats-here/centre-for-green-cities

Winter Solstice Basketry

Grown on the site of Evergreen Brickworks since its opening in 2010 from plants which regenerate annually and are cut late in the spring. the red osier dogwood is an important food source for birds and the black willow can grow up to 12′ a year. Both are native species are planted to begin natural restoration of the the five acre redeveloped industrial pad.
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.

The Natural History Emporium of Mystery; story and depth of place (captured in a museum display)

This ‘Mapping Nature Museum’ is a old schoolhouse slate, sandblasted with a meticulous map of the Don valley brickworks, beside a display table (installed on a heritage metal lathe) of artifacts and specimens found on the Evergreen Brick Works site. Families, school groups, volunteers and others are able to leave clues in chalk for future visitors that will build a beautiful, living map of natural experience. As a formal program, the boxes are opened allowing people to touch the specimens and use leading questions on cards to jump start the inquiry for teachers and visitors. As a story-building and educational tool, this map and display will soon include a treasure box where new samples can be left by the public and then rotated into the museum, reflecting the interests of the current visitors and the seasonal changes in the space.

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.

se this work in its natural habitat here.

arrr….coming soon…the pirate survival boat @evergreenbrickworks

choose your direction wisely... choose your direction wisely…

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…

guarding the gate of the childrens garden @ evergreen brickworks guarding the gate of the childrens garden @ evergreen brickworks

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:

http://www.foolishnature.org/homely/environmental/wood/wood.html

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.

the beaver

why living knotworks?

living pussy willow

living pussy willow

This knot was harvested in cassandra public school while the snow was blowing over a workshop on planting a living willow tunnel for the evergreen all hands in the dirt forum. In four months I have woven around 150-200 knots mostly from the material harvested at cassandra.
Since I was 12 or so I have been drawing celtic inspired knotworks mostly drawn from the book of kells and similar, though I would get through a letter sized knot and lose patience after 3-4 hours, because the drawing had a predictable end.
As I have said elsewhere the willow knots are waste material because of the way the were pruned or chewed in years past, and are not prime for fencing or basketry. Each break in the leader shoot produces two or more off-shoots which are the structural basis for each knot, and there are few options for weaving and tying these knots other than in the configuration I have made them. The only limitation to this statement is that I have noticed through time that as I become proficient and evolve different means of attaching willow to itself, different patterns evolve.
This, coupled with the awe-inspiring male or female catkins (or in the case of the dogwood I am working with now rosette style flowers) followed by leaves, brings the impetus to continue making knots far beyond my early drawings.
I am not sure if you have looked at the book of kells, but many of the illuminated knots represent animals, people or other symbols, and in this practice I will continue to create increasingly representational forms.
The first experiments have taken forms of insects, but recently I made a small beaver out of red osier dogwood.
Literally every day I am learning from the progressive revelation of growing stems and leaves, which I think of as knots growing out, like problems solving themselves.
I will post more revelations as they progress, hopefully into massive scale living representatives of animals subsisting on willow and dogwood in the don (like the beavers living in the mud banks of the don-1.5m long!).

One knot at a time though. 🙂
Morgan Zigler.

willow also from cassandra public school

willow also from cassandra public school

http://www.foolishnature.org

‘leftover and invasive’ tree baskets

I was commissioned, through my role as ‘animator’ in the children’s garden at evergreen brick works, to find some free, functional solution to children compacting the roots of newly planted trees in the garden.
each one of the baskets is made with a different technique and material. this is black locust removed from competing with native shrubs on the brickworks site by tuesday night site stewardship volunteers, installed and woven in chimney court by volunteers for the saturday public program.
This odd one is made of oak posts which i harvested when an old tree fell on rosedale valley road during a storm in 2009, long wired boughs of pine and spruce which used to be wreathes, were woven over, and then we put up a sign that said “WANNA PUT CLAY ON THIS FENCE? PLEASE DO” and they did. many kids with their hands, through their parents or with sticks used old clay left over from the cob house pictured in the background, to finish installing this ‘clay’ tree basket.
this wee fence is made in the style of the ‘brush hut’. this conventional survival shelter is based around the idea that if you are going to make a shelter out of sticks, and just tie them together at the top, there is little head room in the space, unless of course you use 18′ poles as in a tipi. so instead you make two rings of uprights and infill between with any form of brush. thereafter you lay your rafters on top and have more formal ‘walls’ and a roof, without relying on more complex building technologies. this is also designed as a kind of loose parts garbage collector, since in chimney court we put much emphasis on building and rebuilding shelters out of sticks, we have hundreds of orphaned sticks just laying about. this design allows for the orderly clean up of the childrens’ space, so they can build the garbage into something useful.
this last one is situated at the entrance to chimney court, again the manifestation of the educational principles of evergreen, the not-for-profit organization who currently runs the evergreen brick works project, where i have been working in multiple roles for 6 years. This is an adaptation of wattle and daub, a hilariously named medieval technology of building walls, where you begin with the wattle, a loose term for a kind of weaving with small sticks, and then daub it! with cob. cob, in case you have not been indoctrinated into the natural materials of the environmental art/education uprising yet, is a natural building material that utilizes and takes advantage of the inherent qualities of clay, by mixing it with sand, so it shrinks less, and some kind of fiber like straw for structural integrity. it is applied with water as the vehicle, and dries by air, making one of the most widely applicable building materials the world over, since it does not require a kiln to fire the clay.

 

 

as seen on:

http://www.bestgreenblogs.com