Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Reflection: Full Spring Studio: Ten Years Exploring Connection and Flow

An Invitation:

If, like me, you are nurtured by the stories of co-journeyers traveling toward a life of greater meaning, or are rediscovering your playful creative dimension, or working on your relationship with the Earth, or  simply curious, …then please join me in an experiment —  a year of reflection to explore the story of the last 10 years of Full Spring Studio. I would love your company (and ideas) and I hope you will find something that helps you see your own story more clearly and perhaps feel a sense of companionship as I do when reading the story of others on their adventures.  


Connection and Flow

Since childhood I’ve been  drawn to playing with essential elements of the earth: making mud pies, constructing twig forts, and burying secret rock collections. These elements and actions seem deeply symbolic, even without naming what they mean. I think that’s what attracts me to Joseph Campbell’s work which examines the commonality of symbols in stories across time and cultures to reveal something essential about human experience and imagination.  As I reflect on the mission of Full Spring Studio “…to explore the connection and flow between humans and the rest of nature,” I feel centered by two of his quotes below.

On the story of the earth:
“…the World Navel is the symbol of the continuous creation: the mystery of the maintenance of the world through that continuous miracle of vivification which wells within all things.”

On the call to connection and flow:
“The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking
and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world.”

—Joseph Campbell, the Hero with A Thousand Faces

The Tenth Year

I’m also drawn to symbolic timing. A year from today will be the 10 year anniversary of forming Full Spring Studio, LLC. I’ve been thinking about this day, and the coming year for quite some time. For a long time I’ve wanted a sabbatical – a time apart from the usual routine. Not as free time, not to even try something new, but to nurture something old. It’s as if I’ve been planning and making and planning and making for nine years, and haven’t really stepped far enough back, or slowed enough down to see where I’ve been and to care for the project-children I’ve brought into the world. What I mean by that is partly practical and physical: I want to have records of images and nice documentary artifacts of past works – particularly performance or interactive works that are hard to capture in a few photos. For example, I’m two-thirds the way through a booklet about a two-week art-led environmental education project with preschoolers called Downstream/Upstream that took place in 2011. The project is done “externally” but I am not finished with it. So part of this year is about closing loops. The other idea for  this “sabbatical” is reflection. Where am I in this journey? What have I learned? Where do I go next?

My intention is to take this tenth year leading up to the decade mark and retrace where I’ve been with a goal to do several things:

1.       I want to give the art works that are most important to me some attention and reflection so that they each have at least one post that acknowledges their place in this decade of work.

2.    I want to ask some questions about each art work: “How has this creation  played a role in the mission of Full Spring Studio to explore the connection and flow between humans and the rest of nature?  What have I learned from it? What human-nature story does it tell? What questions does it raise? How does it relate to the questions I’m asking now?

3.     I want to tell an overarching story across the collection of blog posts so that at the end of the year I’ve’ made sense of the last ten years.  One of my guides and sometimes collaborator, Audrey, suggested I consider the Hero’s Journey, since that figures prominently in some of my work, and since – well -  it is a proven narrative form.  This is daunting – since I’ll be experiencing the last year of this journey simultaneously with telling its story. Yet it is by telling the story of Full Spring Studio that I hope to bring back some of the quest’s  “elixir” – some sense of clarity and wholeness about this decade cycle of an ongoing adventure.

Jonee, age 4

The hero’s journey starts in the ordinary world where we find the protagonist in their ordinary environment and learn about their character. In that spirit I’ll write the next post as a kind of autobiographical artists profile of how I found myself ten years ago reincarnating a dormant call to art.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Bird Safe Impressions

Expansive windows to view trees and sky draw occupants closer to the nature they love outside. 
But windows can draw birds to fly into the reflection of those landscapes in the glass. 

I went to a dinner for Audubon Minnesota this week, recognizing contributors to the last 10 years of their bird safe work: programs to prevent fatal bird-building collisions by selectively reducing night lighting and careful building design. I was there because about five years ago, I co-authored bird-safe guideline criteria for the B3 Minnesota Sustainable Buildings Guidelines.  But I was also there because I love birds, and by association, am fond of bird-people.

Page from Ascent, 2009
Artist's book
Dead Birds Count

In a presentation, Audubon Project Birdsafe Coordinator and bird-safe guideline co-author, Joanna Eckles gave the stats of the bird count study Audubon had conducted over the last decade, as volunteers made regular walks around Minneapolis and St. Paul in the early hours to inventory bird-building collision fatalities and injuries. Some of the volunteers had been walking these routes for over five years and collected 500 or more dead birds. Each bird is identified and the place and date found are recorded. This data is used for research and helps document the extent of the bird-building problem and reveal patterns across the years. Over the course of the program, over 4500 dead birds that collided with buildings have been collected by volunteers, ...who presumably love birds. How does that feel, I wonder, to go collecting the bodies? Are they still warm? The birds I've found by my house are days old and rotting, but to see a bird up close that recently expired, --is the awe at its beauty there, when the body is intact but the life has left?

How much effort should go into birdsafe design? How valuable is a bird? Birds are small, soft, and fleeting. Buildings are massive, solid, and designed to last decades. The concerns of buildings tend to win. But I loved birds before I loved buildings and it pains me to be practical on this topic. There are practical ways to prevent collisions - that's what the guidelines are about, but sometimes costs or design preferences are in tension with the impact on bird life.

Bird Life

Birds are a muse for me. Many of my artist's books and associated poems reference birds and their bodies: bird beaks, bird feet, feathers, bird bellies. My first public artwork, Children's Nest Egg, was a giant nest and referenced birds in its engraved text. Perhaps this bird attraction started in junior high school art class where the best images we had to draw or paint from were Audubon magazines. I studied the beaks, the eyes, and the curved bird feet gripping a twig. The photos were closer than I could get to real birds and this personalized them for me - faces and postures I could relate to. I was a nature-loving girl.

But the most potent study of a bird and its body I've experienced happened later as part of a bird-building encounter. I was in architecture school, in the library among the dark green hardbound archives of black and white architecture magazines with smooth pages illustrating hard edged modernist buildings. There, along the shelves I saw a small yellow bird. It had probably come in one of the tall slit windows that opened in those days and didn't have screens. I knew I had to get the bird out. I moved toward it and it hopped further down the aisle. Again I moved closer and it hopped further. Then I moved more slowly and it stood still while I reached out to wrap my hand around its belly. It felt warm and its heart was beating rapidly. I never knew a bird's body held so much life inside. I carried it toward a window, stepping evenly like I was balancing tea cups. Then I extended my arm outside and opened my hand. The bird flew away.

Recollections of my encounters with birds are adapted from a collection of bird-writings in process.