The Underfoots are a collection of creatures from various places around the world. They are all manifestations of the overlooked, mossy intricate worlds underfoot.
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
ingrained: tracking the grain of plywood with ink.
"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!
why living knotworks?
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.
‘leftover and invasive’ tree baskets
as seen on:
speaking of cedar…
from the last post, about making children’s spaces for the ymca in brampton, i had many opportunities to articulate the challenge of bending cedar saplings into a tunnel, using the inner bark to re-mediate head entrapment worries (as per csa standard) and getting to grip with this eastern white cedar, i recollected something.
sometimes one needs to be in the position to say things out load to really absorb them. i said to a number of people, “i had no idea if it would work, but had already invested days in harvesting, energy in transporting it to the childcare space, and it was not until the moment of bending the first two over and around each other, using unknown muscles to form and shape the poles and distribute pressure so that they would not break, that i knew it would indeed succeed. ”
along with this tirade about cedar, came the shortened version
“i have not worked with cedar in this way, so intimately, since i was 15. ”
it is this second phrase, uttered for humor, and possibly to solicit interest in the tree-too often we are wandering in a grey landscape without differentiation, seeing only colors and hard surfaces, patterns, as when you blur your eyes looking out of the subway, and i would love to bring at least one or two beautiful things in focus a day-that inspired this post. the pictures that surround and follow this post are from a humble and beautiful place, tucked back near a couple of lakes on the southern lower steppes of a dormant volcano in the interior of B.C. near a little town called Salmon Arm, where i grew up. The farm which housed this ‘first nations outdoor classroom’ was the stage which, i am now slowly realizing 14 years later, the primary experience which drew me into the intricacies between the living environment and our relationship in deriving use out of it. long story short, it is the small property where it all started for me, as an artist, educator, and whatever else i am.
one reason for me attaching significance to this place and these images is that this are taken in december of 2011, meaning that the structure pictured, and the little birch bark ties inside of it were made when i was 15, and have been holding the space together for the last 14 years. This is in stark opposition to conservative reality. one would not think that the work we do to fill the summer when we are 15 will last through the coming decades, and have other youth, children and the community in general glean learning an understanding from the ‘recreation’ of this native winter home. one would expect that the time you spent washing dishes when you were 15 would be remembered for roughly the next 14 minutes, not years. this has been a consistent ethical litmus test, to determine the usefulness of my work, and of myself in a community setting…….is it still standing and who interacts with it now.
there are few more soulful activities than wandering through a space you have effected, and seeing that effect still in place years later, standing still and steadfast through numerous seasons and outside and removed from the affected pace of modern north american human culture.
a few hand tools in the forest, some time, and a thousand innovations later…….and the ymca in Brampton, ON. has a newer, safer, and healthier place for kids to play.
These images are from the ymca in brampton, ontario, who have empowered evergreen to reform the toddler and pre-school outdoor daycare spaces with some space suitable for healthy kids to grow in; a living landscape of plants, trees, and details which makes me greedy to have something similar when i was a kid. it is an odd desire, since i grew up in salmon arm, b.c. and my elementary school had forests attached to it to the tune of about 5 acres. so evergreen has now commissioned me to design and build out a brush hut, whose structural spine is a 4′ cedar fence, and each side of the fence dividing the toddlers from the pre-school kids has a little hut.
All of the material was sourced from an adjacent property called cedar glen, and when i initially arrived i thought i was looking for two trees (for the brush huts) and enough willow to make 2 fifteen foot willow tunnels. When i arrived the willow was in short supply, and what maple i could find was either relatively rare on the site, unless it had been recently cut down and was sprouting up again, a process called coppicing. (more precisely coppicing is taking advantage, and creating annual cycles between coppice areas which you cut down, of trees which re-sprout from the bark collar after a tree is cut. it is an old technology of farming trees which has been practiced for over 2000 years.) the property being called ‘cedar glen’ you could guess which young saplings i was cutting out. that’s right, the eastern white cedar. there is something infinitely satisfying, and somehow right, or ethical about using the materials of small scale forest management to effect such beautiful little children’s spaces. I walked through the woods, populated with large black cherries, white ash, and literally thousands of small cedar saplings, growing together as if for comfort. others call this growing competitively, though it was useful to release the larger cedars of their competition while harvesting for the willow, now cedar tunnels. it may be a stretch of the imagination, but i sincerely believe that this ethic carries over into the material, and thereafter into whatever is created out of it. this balance of the application of differing traditional technologies through understanding different uses of the living pars of plants and trees is, in my opinion, of great effect to children learning, since more intellectual concepts may be harder to ‘sink in’ to their excitable minds.
in the coming two weeks, which mark the beginning of june, i will continue to upload images of these shelters. right now you can clearly see the woven grape vine, cut by a crew of 250 volunteers at cedar glen, the maple, ash, white pine and other upright structural poles, though what you cannot see in the image is the small binding cedar rope, laboriously made from the inner bark, and lashed in to prevent kids from getting their limbs stuck in the hut.