It’s been very quiet here lately … and a bit frantic everywhere else in my life.
Just got back from a week in Newfoundland, installing Boundary|Time|Surface at the Discovery Centre Gallery in Gros Morne National Park! The exhibition will be up for the entire season – until early October 2016. If you have a chance to visit this magical place, please drop in, and let me know what you think!
It was lovely to be back in Woody Point. It’s a gorgeous spot on the planet, and the terrific people out there make it even better. The staff of Parks Canada and all the folks I’ve met in Woody Point and Rocky Harbour are part of what makes Gros Morne so special to me; it’s been more like a family reunion than going to work. Waking up to whales playing in Bonne Bay every morning didn’t hurt either!
It was a hectic, challenging, tiring week – but worth it to see this work up and complete in a way I’ve not had the opportunity to experience until now. It’s a very interesting process/experience, seeing the work all together for the first time; there’s always that element of wondering if what you’d envisioned would really make sense in the space, as an integrated series of pieces that speak to the viewer both individually and as a whole.
Here’s a (very short) video walk-thru of the exhibition (apologies for the slightly shaky footage – handheld on a phone isn’t ideal, I know):
And a few still images of the work as well:
I wanted to take a moment to thank some people for their help in making this exhibition a reality …
John Waldron – my geological partner in life, the universe, and everything, scientific collaborator, resource person, and tech troubleshooter extraordinaire
Jennifer Galliott – artist, entrepreneur, and top notch exhibition install assistant (she makes a mean latte too!)
Rob Hingston – and Parks Canada for having faith in the project, and bringing the exhibition to the Discovery Centre
Bruce Gillam – for his assistance with the lighting, cabling, and making things the best they could be
It’s time to regroup a bit, nurse my colossal jet lag and exhaustion – and start to get organized for the next round of work and travel … more on that in a bit.
Received some great news, which set life a-kilter and many things in motion (a bit like a juggler on a unicycle) …
I have been accepted into the Artist-In-Residence Program “Art in the Park” at Gros Morne National Park on the west coast of Newfoundland.
The project I am going to work on will be a site-specific installation at Green Point:
Green Point has been chosen as the Global stratotype representing the division between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods in geological history.
So, this spot on the planet holds a boundary, a division in time and history. Just like the strata shown in the images above, there are many layers to that story, different scales of time and history, differing notions of memory. Many ways to understand change, and the essentially ephemeral nature of all things.
These are some of the things I am going to be considering in my work during my stay.
There is, in many ways, a very arbitrary quality to this division; other places on the planet record this same point in geological history. But it is here, this one place which was chosen to be the internationally recognized stratotype. There’s food for thought there too … so many human-generated boundaries/divisions/separations have this same arbitrary quality. There’s power in choosing. Power in naming and defining. Power in distinguishing the sides of boundary, whether it is readily visible or not: we know what it means to draw the ‘line in the sand.’
These are things I will be considering too.
There’s a raw, vital beauty to the landscape there. It commands respect. It’s a place that can make a mere human feel quite insignificant.
I think those are important things to consider too.
And I know there will be many adventures over the weeks of my stay – and I will do my best to capture some of that journey here.
I’ve been working really steadily in the studio the last few weeks, and that doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. I did take a lovely break this past weekend to attend a good chunk of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival – which was delightful – but even then, I put in several hours in the studio on Thursday and on Friday in advance of going to the evening sessions.
It’s the ‘last push’ in preparations before the October Residency exhibition, in which NEST will see the light of day as an organized body of work (well, at least, it’s my sincere hope it will be an organized and coherent body of work … let’s put it that way!) The exhibition opens on October 18th – and while on one hand, that seems like a relatively long time in the future, in actuality, it’s the blink of an eye. It takes so much time to make work … time and energy and thought, and some of that effort is emotional as well, to be honest, and so really can’t be rushed. Nor would I want to rush any of this work – not the process, nor the result in each piece.
Of course, throughout the process of creating this work – well before I actually began making anything, truth to tell – I had much to reflect on and think about: the ideas that spurred the project were (to me at least) fascinating, and remain so to this day. But that’s just the starting point: the intellectual and conceptual fuel as it were. What the project has become is also a deeply personal journey; a combination of archaeology, discovery, and letting go.
I am quite struck with just how autobiographical the work has become – quite directly so. It is not in any way lost on me that my continued interest in the intersections and conflicts between the competing narratives of memory, history, and the social construction of identity has a direct and enduring relationship to my own personal lived experience. Yes, I know, an obvious thing – but the depth of that understanding and grasping the enduring nature of that questioning is something very new. Identity and its relationship to security – to one’s sense of home and the stories and memories that come out of that first nest – can be slippery things indeed.
Whether we admit it to ourselves and the rest of the world or not, the archetypal nest is a home for the heart. We all seek that emotional space that we understand to be stable – permanent, even – in the face of ‘life’, which is really simply shorthand for continual process and all the change that it embodies. It is an old truism that ‘home’ is not a place per se – that as individuals, we contain it or hold it somehow within mind and memory. So it is at once visceral and primal – and utterly abstract. We have need of the refuge it supplies on every level of survival imaginable … . Because the enormity of that need can seem overwhelming at times, we externalize it: invest objects with emotional and symbolic import, hang on to the grand narratives of childhood and family like fetishes that provide access to that other, first world in which we lived in that nest, felt secure enough to venture forth and (at least) peek over the edge to the world below the tree.
But what if those objects are for the most part gone? What if those childhood narratives have been called into question – unverifiable, or suspect in some way? What if that sense of security (of any sort: emotional, physical …) within the primal nest held no guarantee; what if it was a contingent thing, qualified or tenuous in some way(s)? How do these other possibilities disrupt the understanding of the nest as refuge and haven, home for the heart and body … and what effect does this have on the way we construct our-self-story through the filters of memory, and in relation to the assumptions inherent in the social discourse of race and class and gender?
Much to learn and ponder here … and this writing is a start.
I leave you tonight with and image of some recent work, and a quote from an amazing singer:
“…you must understand that I have never really known how to describe the work as anything other than an inspired reaction to the love of and a desire to communicate an arrow from the heart.” – Lisa Gerrard
… sometimes the work is an arrow to the heart as well.
The dearth of posts here of late has been due in large part to being a bit (ok, a lot) snowed with work … the usual “I need to clone myself” thing I get into on occasion. In this particular instance, it’s been a combination of being out of the studio due to travel, coupled with several projects coming due all at once. It’s been a very busy, hectic spring any which way I look at it … Catalysts coming out and the launch here and trip to Toronto for that, the talk to the Dirt City, Dream City group of artists, the Curiosities exhibition work, dropping work at my Calgary gallery for a group show that opens at the end of June, grant writing, ongoing work for the Residency … and of course there’s always so much more that goes on ‘behind the scenes’ – reading, research, and (gee, who know??) life-related things like spending a bit of time with family and friends, the more prosaic things like laundry and (very) occasional sleep.
I will be throwing my studio doors open for the evening, and inviting people in to see the work so far; I’ll be doing a demonstration of gel-transfer printmaking, and I have some new mixed media assemblage work in the Member’s Show in the main gallery at Harcourt House as well.
I have been working rather furiously on one component of the NEST project that will be launched on the 21st … photos to come, once the work is up and the event on the 21st takes place!
It’s been an exciting time – tiring, but worth every second of lost sleep.
I’ve become just as fascinated by the diverse ways in which other artists and designers have approached working with birds’ nests (and the many ideas and resonances these objects provoke) as I have with the reality of the nests themselves. There’s some really amazing and interesting work out there: tree houses, hotels (!), installations, site-specific sculptures, photo essays … the list seems to be endless, and a quick google search brings a plethora of images and projects. Such a vast range of work also speaks to the enduring ability of the nest-as-object to captivate the imagination and provoke responses in people.
One the one hand, I think much of the art and design work dealing with nests speak directly to the tug of desire, of a deep longing in humans for all kinds of safety and security: physical, emotional, and psychological. On the other, there’s a more analytical need: the puzzling at – and the puzzling out of – the brilliant engineering and construction that goes into these structures. I mean really … no hands or opposable thumbs, and just look at what a bird can create for itself and its young. Quite humbling, to me at least.
I thought I’d share a few images of some of the nest projects I’ve found on my travels in the virtual world; some of them archive human and avian relations in a broader, direct sense, while others riff on the imaginative conjurings that nests provoke:
The diversity Beals captures in this collection of images is really quite stunning, as is the tension between their incredible fragility and their endurance as constructed objects. I was instantly struck by the range of materials used by the birds as well … well beyond the ‘usual’ of twigs, leaves, grass, lichen, and moss: spider silk, bits of chicken wire, hairpins, bits of thread and fabric, plastic twist ties, twine, nails … the list is truly a testament to adaptation and resourcefulness.
Chris Jordan is another fantastic photographer who has turned his fine eye (and lens) to avian themes. His photoessay on the plight of albatrosses on Midway Island is thoroughly arresting, and speaks volumes regarding the far-reaching impact of human-made materials on the environment.
These are such loss-filled, lonely images. I find myself haunted by them … but also heartened by artists such as Jordan and Beals, who use their work to highlight the extent to which the human search for comfort and safety of one sort or another wreaks havoc in other ways. A profound reminder of individual responsibility and collective impact. I encourage you to have a look at what Jordan is doing to actively change the balance on Midway: http://www.midwayjourney.com/
Part sculpture, part performance … Verdonck’s work is looking directly at human-animal relationships (among other things!) I find the disruption created in the urban context quite interesting – it’s not simply the spectacle of the unexpected – although that’s certainly a factor. What struck me in looking at the work was the way in which the physicality of this nest, perched as it was on the exterior of such a clean-lined monolith, spoke to the nest-like aspects of the cubicle farm and the high rise apartment – and perhaps exposed some of the human messiness behind those glass walls. The the comments made by passersby were interesting and quite thoughtful as well. It’s quite a structure, regardless of what one thinks of the artist’s intent here.
This is quite a lovely take on the the idea of the nest-as-refuge: the height, the move to monumental scale and the durability of materials (this is all-metal construction) strikes me as an assertive statement, perhaps a challenge to the reality of a real nest, which is precarious, exposed, subject to damage from the elements.
In short, the ultimate tree house! A delightful foray into imagination that speaks to the ideas of camouflage, hide-and-seek, ‘nesting’ as a familial or conjugal enterprise regardless of species. I just wish there was some way for humans to fly to the entrance!
There’s more – so much more – work out there … it would wind up being a bit ridiculous to go on.
Suffice to say that each project raises its own set of questions with respect to the way in which the nest-as-object becomes a site upon which (or through which) a variety of human needs are expressed. Some of these are part of the ongoing ponderables associated with the NEST project overall: why the ongoing attachment to non-human structures? How does our response change with changes in the scale of the nest? In the materials? What about location?
What about combinations of those variables: scale – materials – location ?
Such is the nature of the work … and with that, off to the studio!
I spent a lovely three days out in Victoria BC this past week/end, working with my friend and collaborator Catherine Owen. This was a great time on many levels:
First, Catherine and I have been collaborating for several years, and so there is a subtle rhythm of understanding between us in relation to our work; we work in similar ways, share a great many of the same theoretical and philosophical concerns, so those aspects of working together are ‘understood’ in a sense – and we can just get on to the business of doing and making. It was deeply satisfying to discover that although we have been working on NEST in two (mostly) discrete bodies of work up to this point, we are captivated by the same issues and ideas overall, so that when we eventually begin bringing the two halves together, there will already be a solid and consistent framework in place. Very exciting to see how much has developed already – and how much more we can both do with this! So far: at least 50 MS pages, over 400 photographs, 50 drawings, 30 gel transfer prints (in progress), and several sculptures in the works. Not bad, so far.
Second, this little trip was a welcome change of context. I find it’s terribly important to get some physical distance from a project now and again. The separation in space and time allows for renewed vision, critical assessment, and the opportunity to return to the work at hand with fresh eyes and mind. I have been missing the Ocean greatly – being landlocked on the Prairie has that disadvantage! I found being out on the shore faced with that immensity again, and the powerful persistence of the tide and crashing waves allowed a clarity and simplicity of thought – a cleaning house, as it were.
Third, it was really interesting to explore elements of the NEST project in a completely different environment. Finding and understanding nests here in Edmonton is one thing for me, based on many years here, my understanding and familiarity with the landscape and its details … but to be an active seeker in another urban space, with a completely different climate, was quite another. This was an excellent object-lesson in itself regarding the necessity of both patience and active seeing. We found only a few nests in our various jaunts, and although time limitations had a great deal to do with that, I cannot ignore the reality that I don’t know the land and its denizens out there as I do here. Tough to find things when you don’t really know where to look, beyond the obvious.
We also had some adventures! Catherine had also arranged some work with photographer Paul Saturley, which resulted in a great shoot on China Beach … in the pouring rain. Of course. I was both pleased and honoured to be a part of that work – schlepper, umbrella and flash holder, and model tormentor.
So, I’m back here – and back in the studio … and feeling excited and energized by the work at hand. Oh, and looking forward to spring. Just sayin’.
I’ve been quite conscious of my work process in the last while – more than usual – because it seems to be evolving quite rapidly. This is, quite naturally, bringing all kinds of interesting questions to light for me in relation to the way I work, why I am drawn to do what I do: the ‘why’ of the ‘how’ if you will.
This body of work appears to be resolving itself around repetition/recapitulation, and consistent references to specific patterns and shapes. This is something that had begun to make itself known with the initial work for Archives of Absence, but for the most part, I chalked that up to working in different materials and with different content than I had before. Now, I’m beginning to think otherwise.
A bit OCD? Maybe … but there’s other things at work here:
What does the reiteration of form or object say about the object itself, and/or about the need to repeat or recapitulate the form – and the doing? Certainly for this body of work, focused as it is on birds’ nests, this form of making does certainly tap into action as an instinctual and/or ritualized process.
There’s also my predilection for squares, circles, and grids: circles and squares are two of the ‘perfect’ forms, and they seem to encapsulate notions of balance and harmony, this being inherent in equilateral/bilaterally symmetrical shapes. The way these shapes relate to space is important here too – their extension into space is the same in all directions. These are democratic shapes – they occupy and contain with equality. Grids and patterns based on grids work in a similar way, especially when used as a means of expanding or contracting the scale of an object, or measuring space. Grids = Order, Containment, Regularity, Pattern. They allow for variation, but within rigidly set boundaries.
This repetition can create blindness through its sameness, on one level … that jaded sense of “seen that before”/ “same old, same old” … we become desensitized to the things we see repeatedly. But the converse is also true, and something I want to explore much more: if we are presented with a sequence/series/reiteration of the same object or form, we are also (at least I am) drawn to the details: the hide-and-seek of finding the differences between these objects which are essentially the same. It is these threads that reveal independent narratives attached to (and issuing from) each object.
So in the end perhaps this is becomes about seeing and choice, and the connections between the process of making and the process of recognition.
Poet Louise Gluck sums up the the complex simplicity of birds’ nest building activities so well. In her poem ‘Nests”, she writes:
It took what there was:
the available material.
I am discovering just how much that particular approach informs my practice overall – and for this body of work, particularly so. Part of what I want to do with NEST is to apply the methods of birds’ natural nest-building habits to the work that I create – both literally and metaphorically. On a literal level, I have always works with recycled and reclaimed materials – the detritus of city living and the remaindered artifacts of the manufactured world. This is an essential aspect of what I do: to make work that treads lightly, but also speaks to those complexities of living in this world and out relationship to the materials we make and use to do that living. The parallels to the wiliness of birds as architects and engineers is obvious, and not a little fun:
Bowerbird Nests … the male creates installations of objects to attract the female, which may include bright blue bottle caps!
I received a fabulous book this past Yule season, that is contributing enormously to my research for the NEST project, and to my understanding of some of the engineering and architectural challenges I am facing in constructing work.
Have a peek at Avian Architecture, by Peter Goodfellow – it’s a goldmine of terrific research on – and images of – various forms of bird’s nests, and has grab listing of resources for further research as well. (click on the “google preview” button on the page I’ve linked here to have a peek inside!)
In human terms, crafting a ‘nest’ is both process and product. Effort and thought goes into the selection of physical objects and materials that we use to build our homes, the ‘nesting’ we do over time to create comfortable spaces for ourselves. But these material artifacts are also invested with meaning of an altogether different sort: the weight of memory, of connection and attachment that is assigned to some (if not all) of the things we choose.
There is an architecture of the spirit here, a using of the ‘available materials’ to create meaning far beyond the things themselves.
A small nest made of copper mesh, beeswax, human hair, and a crow feather I created in 2011.
Birds nests then, be come markers of sorts – signifiers and pointers directing our thoughts and responses back to the spiritual/emotional ‘nests’ we create as individuals … or to those that we wish we had, or have lost in one way or another. Perhaps it is simply the precariousness and fragility of those exposed havens – made of everything imaginable, in seemingly random collections – that make that connection between the animal-made object and human desire so enduring.
One of the really terrific things about the artistic community in this city (and beyond!) is its willingness to support and engage with the work of its members. I feel a deep and ongoing gratitude for this – making art in such an environment allows individuals (and their creative practice) to thrive, to be supported, and to gain valuable feedback and insight into their work on an ongoing basis.
A little while ago, I posted a request for materials for a series of sculptures I will be creating as part of the NEST project for my Residency. To my great delight, people are responding, in really great ways!
I had a contribution from Beth – all the way from Calgary(!) – Paddy has lots of goodies he’s bringing to Harcourt over the next while, Kim has started a collection of plastic strapping at her shop, Marc donated an amazing wooden frame that will likely be part of an installation, and Brittney has bags of shredded paper for me that I am figuring out how to best use as well.
I am so thankful to everyone who has contributed so far – and I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes my way in the next while … and what will be made from all of these disparate materials.
Have spent November and December settling into the new studio space I have for the Residency at Harcourt House, doing research, planning/plotting/scheming (i.e., orating out some if the too-many ideas I have for work!), and generally … well, nesting!
My predecessor, the remarkable David Janzen, left the AIR Studio in great shape for me to move in; freshly painted walls, swept, spic-and-span. My thanks to David for such a lovely welcome (although I do miss having him ‘over the wall’ as my studio buddy)!!
The paint spattered floor tells a different story from the pristine walls!
I LOVE my work bench!
Starting to move in …
Having the luxury of more than twice the space in which to work has been amazing so far. I’ve kept my regular studio (right next door), and am using that as a reading/research/drawing/’clean work’ space, so that I can devote the AIR Studio to the ‘messy work’ of fabrication and work on large-scale pieces.
And what have I been up to work-wise? So far, 300+ photographs of nests, for starters! I’m really excited by these images, and their graphic quality. They lend themselves to adaptation and extrapolation in other media – printmaking and drawing for starters … so I’m looking forward very much to working with them in various ways over the coming months.
I’ve also been drawing a fair bit, and loving that process as well. This, in particular, has become a way into working with nests as sculptural forms – of learning how they are built in a physical way, since the hand that makes the mark also builds the form and traces the limits of its structure in space. The drawings are also teaching me a great deal about scale, and its particular importance for this body of work. I’ll come back to this idea again in future posts, I’m sure, but for now, I’ll content myself with posting images of a few of the drawings I’ve done over the last couple of months …
Lots more to come … and I think I have figured out a couple of construction questions that will make for some interesting results! I’ll keep you posted!