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.
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.
These paintings were made both as emblems for the 30 day journey spanning the northern half of France and into Holland back in 2007, and as sweetener to the deal proposed to those who had hired us to stand in for avian experts and create an environmental impact study to interpret how wind turbines effect birds. This task we did diligently, not fully understanding the implications to the health of the bioregion, crafting a study littered with fully articulated impacts on birds as well as lofty goals for mitigating impact-peppered with a strong disclaimer-we are artists, not biologists (see excerpts here). I exchanged the ten paintings, plus the environmental impact report for transit back to montreal on a cargo ship, and funding for my friends project in India kick-starting traditional craft economies.
each bird portrait was made half from memory, half imagination, then the closest relative identified in the field guide to birds we were seeing in the farms and fields proposed for the wind turbine project. each work is titled for this bird, and the descriptions on the back are like the game, two truths and a lie, each one holding two true facts and one imagined one.
this method of painting from imagination and memory relies on spending weeks in the field observing birds behavior and identifying them in a field guide. this sourcing of imagery for painting relies on first hand knowledge to be able to then use the strongest memories and impressions from the physical experience of being close to actual birds to paint from. this is an important distinction to me since it relies on drawing people into connection with the natural world, going out to observe and eventually find empathy with the winged sentinels of the forest.
each work is ink and watercolor, 9″ x 11″ and stitched to cardboard, as these were the most efficient materials i have found to use while camping and hitch-hiking.here)
the following photographs and text contain a true story which unfolded through the fields, mountains and motor-ways of france in 2007. there is nothing more to describe. i love to create new experiments in how imagery and commentary can stand in for conventional dry storytelling, therefore, the story may connect to the images, or it may not. see what you can imagine through the visuals and text. enjoy. in a sense the paintings above are the conclusion, as they marked the end of this adventure, and were left in the executive offices of the wind turbine company who hired us, the ceo saying as i departed; “my wife will love these….”
"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!
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.