May 2010

Virgo

Virgo and what she is ...
I have been associating myself with Virgo since reading “Romeo and Juliet” and came across my name.
                 “I’ll say yon grey is not the morning’s eye;
                ‘Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia’s brow.”    Act III Scene V

Shakespeare uses Cynthia in place of Diana, the Roman Goddess of Virginity and the Hunt.  I was haunted by this association for many years yet I now embrace this literary find and the connection I, as the barer of the name, have with history.

               Virgo
              “…. Traditionally regarded as representing a maiden or goddess associated with the harvest.”           
              Canadian Oxford Dictionary

I am using Virgo as the “virgin” and Field of Fortune is taking place in the spring.  There maybe a discrepancy here but I see it more as a beginning and an end.  The beginning is with spring in all her virginal beauty and hope for the future.  In the end is autumn with Virgo and the harvest.  The middle of course is the growth of what you sowed. 

The Woods Are Dreary, Dark and Deep

fieldwork dan nuttall bewilderness art trees forest nature sustainability

"…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…" Robert Frost, "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening"

This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one's eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there's only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend.  The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear - a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.

Lumbar

fieldwork dan nuttall bewilderness art trees forest flesh

 "Life is found in animals and plants; but while in animals it is clearly manifest, in plants it is hidden and not evident. For before we can assert the presence of life in plants, a long inquiry must be held as to whether plants possess a soul and a distinguishing capacity for pleasure and pain."

Aristotle, "On Plants".

My time in Brooke Valley Ontario has been preceded by a considerable amount of time in New York City. So while my initial experiences in the pine plantation are still resonating with me, other experiences are also affecting my perceptions of the plantation. In New York City my feelings of separation from nature, and my work in landscape architecture has underscored the importance of trees. Trees in New York City seem to fall into two primary categories; street trees and trees in city parks. Nearby Prospect Park, with its gently rolling landscape designed by Vaux & Olmsted, is a haven for me. In a city like most, where non-human forms of life seem under-represented, the massive park trees that we take for granted come into sharpest focus when they die. Recent spring storms have left Prospect Park littered with immense fallen trees that were quickly moved off roads and paths and cut into pieces over several weeks. A walk through the Park during this time reveals a scene of scaled up truths - trees lie like beached and dismembered leviathans. Where the trunk has been sawn in cross-section, expansive pale wounds glow with rawness while adjacent sections of trunks and limbs seem to tell the story of a giant creature felled mid-stride. The life-full-ness of these dismemberments seem to exist in paradox to the lives they lived. Not full of muscle, sinew, blood vessels or a spinal cord, they did not flail, bleed, twitch or scream. They fell and were severed into sections silently - no quivering and steam in the cool spring air. And if they could? If the removal of bark revealed glistening pink flesh? If there was a gentle shuddering as one last breath was exhaled? How would this have changed our world? Can we kill things just because we cannot assess their sentience? How far, ultimately can we extend our notions of "other"? Of the living? Of life? 

For more images like fleshtree please visit: www.dandoesdesign.com

Bewilderness

fieldwork dan nuttall bewilderness art trees forest flesh dan does design

In fairy tales and folklore the deep dark forest is a forbidding place where witches and wolves wait to prey. In the late 1800's and early 1900's psychoanalysts believed that the forest represented the unconscious mind and contained things that we fear or aspects of ourselves that had been rejected or neglected. They also believed that something good could come from going into the forest and confronting the darkness - an opportunity to confront our fears and anxieties and to triumph.

This installation seeks correspondences between human life and nature via the psyche and imagination, primarily by cultivating a sense of bewilderment in regard to trees. Bewilderness evokes the familiar and the new, prompting wonder and imaginative recognition, eliciting new relationships. By providing the double presence of tree and flesh we are challenged to reconsider how we relate to trees, and by extension, to other beings and nature. 

Seeing the Light... Getting Death Right

fieldwork dan nuttall bewilderness art trees forest flesh surreal dream
fieldwork dan nuttall bewilderness art trees forest landscape architecture

 "I tend to create work and push it slowly into the darkness. Sometimes it is obliterated. The trick is to have it exist in both lights - accessible to all. Always close to salvation and tragedy."   Louise Bourgeois

Despite all my preparation, sketches and proposals I am only now just coming to terms with site context and the feasibility of my proposed work (see "Bewilderness" below).  There is much to consider including the logistics of implementing various ideas and the availability and cost of materials. There are other practical matters as well. How much can I lift? How far can I carry? Where is the electrical outlet in the plantation? How difficult will trail making be? How much time with the deer flies, black flies and mosquitoes can I stand? I decide that my first task is to understand where natural clearings occur in the plantation so that I can choose those that will best fit each installation.  The natural light that occurs in each space will also affect what I do. I course back and forth through the plantation on my hands and knees, dragging fluorescent flagging tape with me as I go, in order to trace my path. I know that I want to stay away from the edge of the plantation, that I need to spot naturally occurring corridors of movement to reduce the amount of clearing I have to do, and that I need a loop to create a surreal dream sequence, with installations fairly evenly spaced along the path. From some perspectives I can see how the trails of fluorescent tape relate to each other and to the clearings. Some of the clearings are elliptical while others are square and seem cathedral-like. I find a nave and apse in one clearing and one installation clicks into place. As I get a better idea of the plantation overall, I start connecting spaces and thinking about how sequence and progressive realization of installations will build narrative. At the same time I am finding that the use of local materials and resources integrates the rural and adds additional layers of meaning into my work. A number of cedar rails from split rail fences have been piled near the slopes of an abandoned gravel pit; an old galvanized wash bucket sits behind the barn; wire mesh with pigeon feathers and excrement sits as a soiled tense sheet atop scattered hay in an old animal stall. I begin integrating these found materials into my work.

Knowing that I want to introduce trees and flesh into my project I take a series of color samples ranging from a bruised plum to bubble gum pink and tack them to a tree under what I feel could be average lighting conditions (see first blog entry below). By photographing these samples and examining them later I start to develop a color palette that I feel might work. Working with the colors of flesh can be challenging, though I have explored flesh in two-dimensional media before (see "The Meat of the Day"). I also have Louise Bourgeois's quote, above, in mind.  In the open, the colors I am working with look incongruous and bright - a carnival of pinks, red and blue. In the forest they look submerged. I think about how blood looks green/black when something bleeds deep in the ocean. The introduction of death in the installation acts as a harbinger for all of the trees; the absence of skin takes away any possibility of mediation or variable sensing; dismemberment expresses a nostalgia for the whole.