ear to the ground

Sheila Macdonald's got her 'Ear to the Ground'


This piece - An Ear to the Ground - is about the art of listening, listening with intent, deep listening. These are currently old- fashioned ideas often overlooked in an age of audio overload. Keeping “An Ear to the Ground” is an open invitation to do some natural eavesdropping. A specific place to listen to everything within range including the silence and then be able to decipher information from this experience. Tap into the invisible world. Do some aural mining.

I see the ear as an organ of hearing and balance, an instrument, a monitoring device and a particularly interesting metaphor in this age of hyper-surveillance. The earth under our feet is a territory that hasn't yet been totally invaded by electronic devices. As gardeners discover, the subterranean life of soil and its attendant geology is like an underground factory, busy, intense, productive and invisible. If only we could hear what was going on down there. We use the term “underground” to imply a sanctuary or refuge from the mainstream, an alternative way of thinking. I considered burying an audio recording device inside the eardrum and then playing back the sounds coming from the soil but there were some technical obstacles to making that work this time around. And I didn't want to be guilty of installing yet another surveillance device.

Considering the size of the ear, (16' x 10' x 4'), I chose to build it using large curved branches from old eastern white cedars, Thuja occidentalis, which grow happily on our farm in the Lanark Highlands. Their curves are sinuous, eloquent and irresistible to me. This miraculous wood, once debarked and dried, is light enough to work with easily. And it resists rot for many decades, ageing over time somewhat like an old cedar rail fence. Constructing the ear was a two person job and my assistant, Murray Edwards, hauled long curved cedar pieces out of the woods, devised the scaffolding necessary to build the skeleton of the ear and helped me deconstruct and then reconstruct it in the Field.

This is a hands-on piece that asks to be touched, sat on, walked through and played with. The eardrum is meant to be played like a drum and by using laundry line as a membrane to connect the skeletal structure of the ear, I intended to create the impression of the Ear as a stringed instrument. Perhaps in high winds the ear sings or moans as the strings vibrate.

The pink Eardrum is a re-purposed satellite dish. All the news, views and entertainment that have been transmitted through this dish over the years add another subtle level of meaning to the ear as a communication device. Like a steel drum, the concave surface of the satellite dish has different notes depending on where you strike it.

Then there's the earring. Ring the bell. I hear it as a call to mindfulness.

I invite visitors to Fieldwork to think about using this ear as an auditorium where you can listen quietly, eavesdrop on nature, play the drum, tell stories, stage a music jam or an outdoor concert, create an event, have fun.

July 16
I just paid my first visit to the ear, almost a month since the opening of Fieldwork summer 2013. When I installed the ear the cedar structure was golden, the colour of cedar when first debarked.

Almost a month later the ear has turned to silver. After one month of rain and heat. This process will continue until the silver greys. Is this reverse alchemy?

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