Sunday, June 14, 2009

Yes, there is such a thing as being a "little" decapitated

Look! a cow about to give birth. Be thankful for my bad photography, it blurs all the icky parts. I took this picture at a local dairy farm on the weekend. Part of me would have liked to have stayed to see the birth, but then this cow was glaring (yes, I'm sure glaring) and mooing loudly at me as if shouting, "DO SOMETHING!".

From my own birth experience that would mean rubbing lavender oil on her hooves, playing her Enya's soothing melodies, and telling her to imagine her body opening up like a rose. I read that last bit in a book about natural childbirth. Not exactly accurate. If they wanted to keep the rose metaphor, they should have written, "imagine a rose tearing into your body with it's acid dripping jagged glass petals while you scream repeatedly for those pain killing drugs you refused to have in your birth plan you misguided hippy mom to be!". And FYI, I can never listen to Enya again without getting crampy.

My daughter and I were alone in the barn when a farm hand came in and laughed, "She sure is agitated! and taking her time, normally they just lie down and out it comes" At that point my daughter was nudging me to leave, whispering, "this is freaky!"

Her comment reminded me there are less than a week until my kids start summer holidays. Dragging them to all the farms I love to visit during the summer months will be nearly impossible. So I've decided everyday, until school is out, to go and do something they'd hate, that I love.

Day 1 was a nature walk with the sole intention of looking closely at plants. An activity that would bore any person under 40 to tears, and probably a good many over 40 as well.

I'm more than halfway through a botanical illustration course and have acquired a naturalist's scientificky interest in plants. I'm feeling all sorts of possibilities for atonement. Me! plant murderer! I will learn and become a nurturer and protector of plants! But... then I ripped a plant out of the ground to bring home and study in detail... meh, whatever.

I recently read online about artists combining walking with outdoor sketching, nothing new, but slapped with a new label - sketchercising. I thought I should go do some plein air sketching too. While I was packing up my pencils and moleskin sketchbook, I realized... uh-uh, not for me.

A bear and her 2 cubs walked across the road not more than 20' from me recently, and the sightings of bear around here are constantly increasing. I'm not exactly afraid of them. What I can imagine is a scene where I'm sitting in the woods, dead quiet, deep in concentration drawing a plant. I'm so still a bear is right behind me eating berries unaware of my presence. I shift, making noise, the bear startles, and has one of those all too human reactions, swats me in surprise. A swat from a bear could result in a little decapitation, and yes, there is such a thing as a being a "little" decapitated. Uh... so no, I'm drawing house plants. Here's a botanical sketch I did of an orchid last week.

The Yin and the Yang

I'm sort of recycling posts here. Here's the popular video, "Where is Matt". If watching this to the end, you feel nothing, I suggest you contact a surgeon and have the cold, dead stone that is your heart replaced by something living. If that's unsuccessful, remain in the dark side and watch the parody, "Where the Hell is Shut-In Matt". Funny.

Where is Matt?

Where the Hell is Shut-In Matt?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Land Art

This picture could easily be interchangeable as an image of my backyard edible landscape project or brain. Either way, neither have a lot going on at the moment.

Now that all the big structural stuff in my yard is done, I walk outside everyday, look around and think, "now what?" I've confused myself by reading too many garden design magazines. I have to shake off the seduction of wanting some expensive outdoor living space. One that will make me forget that I'm in the middle of suburbia, but instead at an English country cottage or maybe a Tuscan villa. It's takes big bucks to create that kind of illusion. I'm also being reminded that it would be impossible to maintain that illusion because right now I'M TRYING TO BLOCK OUT CRAZY GUY WHO IS HAVING HIS DAILY MOANING AND RANTING SESSION.

My original purpose was to really make use of this land; function over form. But I do want to create a beautiful environment as well. Transforming land. I can't think of anything more elemental in human activity. It's what we're about as a species, molding our environments, control and organization. Sadly, the idea of just letting something BE goes against our natures.

An idea for a conceptual art project would be to not touch this space, just see what blows in and grows over the course of ten years, recording the changes and details in various artistic ways. I can pretty much predict what weeds will appear and end up dominating the space, but I might be surprised by some native fern or a few annuals from some other garden finding their way here. Eventually a tree or two would probably grow when I'm old, then dead. Thinking of this reminds me why I'll never be a conceptual artist. I can't see much point. But it does make me think of 2 different large environmental art projects. (To be fair, I have yet to see either one in person, and I'm sure will never see the first, but with conceptual art, well, it's the concept that matters the most, yes?)

Husband and wife team Christo and Jeanne-Claude, best known for draping fabric over, around and through BIG things: bridges, islands, Central Park, the Reichstag, are at it again. For over a decade the Over the River Project has been in the works. In the summer of 2012, 9.4 kilometers of the Arkansas River will have a translucent ceiling of fabric above it for 2 weeks. My first reaction: how stupid and maybe harmful to the environment? I have discovered they do carry out extensive studies as to the environmental impact with their projects (as they must). The results in this case have reported some of the following: some Big Horn sheep could die of stress, eagles might fly into the cables suspending the fabric. On a human scale, traffic will be congested with gawking tourists. Gawking tourists may get bit by the heavy population of rattlesnakes.

I'm more concerned about the sheep.

There isn't some big philosophical point to this art, it really is about spectacle and as for the wastefulness of it, I've softened my stance a bit thinking of these 2 words - Las Vegas. If ever there was an example of wasteful spectacle it'd be building a city full of luxury hotels and swimming pools in the middle of the desert. So Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's big projects do leave me with a little food for thought - the ego of humankind knows no limits and now has the resources to carry out it's whims. Okay, nothing new, but is there ever?

The second art project that I DID warm to was Mark Dion's Neukom Vivarium. An old tree that had fallen naturally and in the process of decay was transported, including the organisms living on it, put in a specially built glass housing. Inside, a carefully controlled environment replicates the conditions of the trees' natural setting. In a way, no different from the Amazon exhibit at a zoo or an aquarium, although in this case, the environment wasn't recreated to mimic a faraway place, but transported relatively intact and sustained. This piece does point to the idea of letting things be and how difficult it is to replace what's lost.

Dion says,
"I think that one of the important things about this work is that it’s really not an intensely positive, back-to-nature kind of experience. In some ways, this project is an abomination. We’re taking a tree that is an ecosystem—a dead tree, but a living system—and we are re-contextualizing it and taking it to another site. We’re putting it in a sort of Sleeping Beauty coffin, a greenhouse we’re building around it. And we’re pumping it up with a life support system—an incredibly complex system of air, humidity, water, and soil enhancement—to keep it going. All those things are substituting what nature does—emphasizing how, once that’s gone, it’s incredibly difficult, expensive, and technological to approximate that system—to take this tree and to build the next generation of forests on it. So this piece is in some way perverse. It shows that, despite all of our technology and money, when we destroy a natural system it’s virtually impossible to get it back. In a sense we’re building a failure."
As I look back to my 66' strip of dirt, along with the vegetables and berries, I know that I'll fill one corner with native plants, a little recreation of what once may have been here. And yet the plants will be bought at a garden centre and were probably imported from another part of the continent. I suppose that's irony.