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.
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.
In 2009, from January 16th-18th, a group of activists, environmentalists and students gathered in the University of Saskatchewan, for the first of many conferences created to educate and create plans to oppose tar sands development in the province. workshops about direct action and the media, creativity and environmental justice, were punctuated by panel discussions with experts and first nations people with first hand knowledge. A healthy example of what a small group of dedicated people can begin to do to oppose the policy and destruction of established industry.
silkscreen version used in the field by josh berger in the first green city adventure camp, at evergreen brick works
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.
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.
a story of birds and wind turbines in the massif central mountains of France.
(if you like these images, see some preliminary sketches, in public, 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….”
beginning with the rising of the sun, in a small wood holding the cold remnants of a food fire from the night before, tilly and i pack our bags.
we want to catch the Spanish transport truck driver who said he was leaving for Spain at 9 am. exiting the forest, across a mono-cultural field of unknown crops (an appropriate breakfast guess is that they are cereals) and crossing the motorway on a bridge which spans two roman roads.
the new concrete vein intersecting the old artery to the heart of Rome. in ten minutes and five degrees of warmth that the sun is giving to the awakening world, we arrive to a lack of greeting.
the packed truck parking lot from the night before is abandoned, those who have slept and drank their fill of a legally required eight hours, have moved on as the sun thought about moving up.
Tilly is disappointed. we canvas the station, her fluent French allowing more conversational requests for lifts south. this interaction cheers her. despite this, three hours pass.
am worried about losing sight of her when she is asking truck drivers for lifts while i am at the exit with my thumb out on one hand and a sign in the other. a fine line between paranoia and caution
we are settled past the stage of being frustrated at people not stopping, and silently resolve to remember there is nothing to do about it, and waiting becomes a breathing exercise, or playful ways of displaying the sign, or some skin to passing drivers. at the exact moment we forget that people stopping is a part of reality, a sedan pulls up with a trunk full of hay and horse hair.
Bert and Greg are now our vessels to flow from the forest into the Sheraton hotel at the Paris airport, to be refilled with a five course lunch.
we now, within the hour, work for a multinational company, and are a little dazzled. in the car, along the Paris vein, we are asked if we know anything about birds. and we ask fourteen questions.
we are like reporters soliciting information out of general curiosity, and are paid with much information about our escorts, and their role.
Greg is the president of INNOVENT, a company based in France that he started in 1993, before wind power was in fashion or even profitable in France.
his first turbine was erected to make his factory more energy efficient (and as an added benefit more ecologically sound, saving the world through saving money).
Greg’s first turbine tumbled to the parking lot, and the turbine blades which caused the problem are still sitting in the yard. he fixed it, and is now in the process of installing turbines all over France.
in response, we ask another question. why do you want to know if we know anything about birds?
he tells a story of a beautiful, carefree week in the French mountains looking through binoculars at avian intricacies.
being a sucker for a good story i believed it wholeheartedly, and began imagining the beauty, of a british columbian mountain, and long days of stillness and quiet in the forest, and the potential of snow and rain and needing to survive, of climbing trees for health and joy and to keep the direction in this remote alpine forest site.
tilly wasn’t responsive to his story, probably because she is more honest, and knows she doesn’t know anything about birds, except they can fly
i accept, and we take flight past the Sheraton, and into the massif central mountains.
over the Sheraton lunch we overhear, and oversee the signing of 20 million euro contracts, between the Finnish supplier and our two friends and patrons, Bert and Greg. Erkki , the fin, doesn’t disguise his excitement when his profit is signed on paper, and he immediately snatches the signed sheets as a child, but no one seems to notice.
Erkki gives gifts of vacuum sealed caribou from the Finnish wilder-land, and Greg asks Bert to get the innovent socks from the car urgently.
see a window, and jump through it to find that i would have been better off inside. i give a drawing to Erkki, hoping that it would act as a gift from Greg and Bert
the paper, on which i happened to draw wind turbine in the Scottish landscape, with connecting roads and sky as a seminal step in the HOW IS THE WEATHER project, transforms into a personal gift from me, making the lack of reciprocal gifts from Greg and Bert all the more clear.
sox are given and all is forgiven, but this moment brands itself somewhere in the back of my mind. PARDON ME, COFFEE BREAK. BRB blindly tilly and i are escorted by train to central France, a distinctly different mode of transport through the landscape, more impersonal even though your are in much closer proximity to so many people, maybe because of this.
while there were people willing to drive out of their way to take us to somewhere we needed to go when hitching, some folk wouldn’t give up the seats that our tickets had reserved for us, when asked politely. we were relegated to the play area, a mock 2D city where the children can drive around aimlessly, without any real ability to change anything, a feeling probably repeated in their teenage years.
this marks a beginning of the change in our thought patterns. we now are almost in Vichy, and have to decide what supplies we will need for the mountains, since innovent is sponsoring this bird-watching, and we have to decide what our stories are.
stories are fun to make up when you don’t have to. when we excitedly sat down on Greg’s leather seats, we were wandering Jewish artist who mumble, when we exited, we became biologists…wandering mumbling bumbling Jewish artistic biologists.
i changed my pants to prove it. we were now to play a game akin to so many others we had as rebel clowns, but without the face paint, and group of silly support to keep up in character.
we are introduced to Jean Claud Dupris, who has been waiting for two and a half hours at the train station, because he and his moustache did not get our message.
Jean Claud dupris and his moustache unceremoniously, but respectfully dump our stuff in his family van, and hustle us towards unknown destinations.
it is hard to explain to someone that we would rather be outside camping in the rain than inside a hotel, and harder if you are pretending that you are a biologist and not just a nature addicted tramp, or a pair of them.
in the leather seated horse carriage which brought us to Paris, Jean Claud was painted as a primitive man. someone who is rural. and also someone who can be somewhat stubborn, and if this is the case, we were instructed to say that we expect him to fulfil our needs to facilitate the project being completed, and if he has a problem with this, then call Greg. this, as is my general experience, confrontational position was fruitless, and made a somewhat stubborn moustache a downright donkey.
tilly was the one who had to spin the yarn, to weave out biologist’s lab coats out of our art education.this, as is my general experience, confrontational position was fruitless, and made a somewhat stubborn moustache a downright donkey.
standing in the lobby of the hotel that Jean Claud drops us in, we are asked publicly how many beds we require by the patron and her Dalmatian.
tilly, in her rhythmic ignorance of the sick minds of men, says of course, one. hysterics are building.
the ridiculousness of the situation are bursting forth, and i give a stranger drinking at the bar with a missing tooth a Monty python wink wink.
tilly misses the joke, but it sets the stage for me to see the humour in Jean Claud ignoring our pleas to sit down and talk about what we need from him.
as it was somewhat similar to sucking water from rock, we let him lizard his way out the door and home, with a 9:00 meeting planned.
five weeks have passed, and i have only recounted two days, the pace shall have to be more of a summary.
after Jean Claud leaves, tilly and i sit down to a ritual Friday night meal, real hysteria breaks in and we find perspective.
what the hell has just happened.
we awake in the woods, and are escorted through Paris’ five star food to Jean Claud and a hotel meal, from transient to responsible faster than you can say mammal.
one of our first tasks as biologists, once we managed to create enough heat to run a vehicle off Jean Claud the following day, and just are brought to a little village without our imagined needs being met, was to find out if birds were mammals.
let it suffice to say that the learning curve was an acute angle.
this is only the first chapter of a novel story, which is just as long.
in the future i would like to elaborate, to turn it into a different medium.
i would like to record tilly and i speaking about this story, and animate that with these photo’s.
but possibly simpler is better and we will let this story be as much as it is, enjoy it. i’ll elaborate if and when i make time.
"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.
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.
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.