Thursday, August 15, 2013

Beginnings of Blowdown

While I was preparing and co-leading an interdisciplinary workshop on the affects of climate change on trees of northern forests in Cloquet, MN major storms were blowing down  trees further south in the Twin Cites and knocking out power lines. Workshop participants and leaders were affected by this living example of severe storms as we learned about how climate change increases their frequency and severity.

Upon returning to the Twin Cities, and with all the climate change talk in my mind, I was more aware of how a blown-down tree is not just an accident of weather anymore. It is also a symbol of our self destruction. I captured these impressions in a first draft of an artist's book based on photographs of blown down tree stumps. Here is the text of the draft introductory page of "Blowdown." 

Climate change creates the conditions that favor more severe and frequent storms, although no single storm can be directly attributed to climate change. This situation creates a troubling and ambiguous shadow narrative for severe weather events. Blowdown documents the remains of blown down trees from the storm that struck the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, in June of 2013 - damaging landscapes and causing widespread power outages. By July, when these photographs were taken, most branches had been hauled away, but stump removal had not yet taken place. Upturned trunks and roots attached to torn fragments of lawns formed a temporary memorial to lost trees and a reminder of the power of severe weather.

Images: In the images, I am trying to evoke my experience of this post-storm landscape. Standing by the toppled trunk of a large tree gives a visceral sensation in my gut of the power of the wind that blew it down. It also leaves a feeling of absence -- a hole in the memory of what my neighborhood street is supposed to look like. And it is laden with a vague sense of accountability - however remote the connection - our lifestyles of consumption, exhaust, and emissions are altering the atmosphere to help create opportunities for this storm that blew down these trees.


The work has a somber mood. I started with photographs in normal color and altered them to be black and white as that seemed to give a more stark and documentary feeling that fit the work. I plan to explore adding more text to each page, even if it is "data" like estimated age of trees, or wind speeds, and weather forecasts. But for now, the project is incubating.  I want to convey the darkness of the experience, but also in a way that feels constructive. It is not really this particular storm or these particular trees that are my main concern. It is the way they remind me of something much larger and more troubling, but so hard to grasp.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

29 Nights: Change & Constancy

night 27

night 28
I've been working on an artist's book with a working title of "29 Nights: A Journal of Moon Meditations."  It started this spring, when I decided to get more tactile work into my routine and use a brush, at the suggestion of a friend. I'd used sumi ink a bit before, including in the development of the Full Spring Studio logo. I decided I wanted something simple to work on - calming. So I decided to paint one moon every night for one moon cycle, starting on a new moon. 

I painted a traditional "enso" (meditation circle) and then used white crayon for the portion of the moon that was lit. Then I washed sumi ink over the whole page, revealing the white crayon, retaining the enso, and filling the page with a watery gray that created its own patterns as it pooled and dried.These images show the last three paintings in the moon cycle.

I started playing with a moon journal layout and poetry and research on how the phases of the moon actually work (as opposed to my initial misconceptions in my first draft of the poem.) Then I got busy and set it aside for a while to let it incubate. The theme that had been emerging as I worked on the paintings, poetry and learned more about the moon phases is that of Change & Constancy.

night 29
Change: In addition to the tides responding to moon phases, it seems like my friends and I rise and fall with the moon as well. I don't know if there is any science behind this seeming pattern, but I often feel low and slow near the new moon, and full of energy and ideas near the full moon. My whole perspective can change on what is interesting, advisable, and possible. Near the recent new moon on  August 6th, I was low again -- exhausted and overwhelmed, and noticing it was the new moon reminded me of this project and the other half of its theme.

Constancy: It is easy to cycle bright and dark like the moon apparently does. Before I looked into it, I used to think the moon was in the earth's shadow when it was a new moon, deprived of light, entering its dark phase. But in reality, the moon, (except during an eclipse) is always in the sun's light, it is just our perspective - our view of the moon that changes as the moon revolves around the earth. Behind all the apparent changes is something constant and reliable. The moon remains a solid sphere, bathed in light no matter what portion of its illumination we see at the time. I find this reassuring and a good metaphor for appreciating what is whole and constant in my life throughout the changing perspectives I have over time.