Current work explores the physical, intimate, tactile relationship between humans and outdoor landscapes, up close and hand-held. How does the impulse to gather, weigh, caress and carry bond us to land, especially in places where tactile cultural practices have dwindled? What does it mean to carry a round stone or a wind-worn stick? To have the eye both drawn to and repulsed by lost plastic objects bearing the remnants of words? While the scientific imagination strains to envision large-scale solutions to environmental crises, sensory experiences can elicit a potent love and respect for the landscape. As a response to the absence of tactile stimulation in digital culture, this work offers a multi-sensory exploration of materials, inviting questions about the origins of the substances involved by encouraging touch and manipulation as well as visual scrutiny.
What is color? The brilliant petroleum-based hues that tint manufactured goods, packaging and pretty much everything in the urban environment maintain a philosophic remove, registering more as concepts than as identifiable substances. A red shirt — or wall — is simply ‘red.’ This remove suggests a deeper one, limiting our relationship with our environment by compelling us to dismiss it as unknowable. Color gathered by hand from a specific place implies a nameable relationship between the gatherer and the gathered. Mineral pigments compose the land itself, and carry the histories of what took place on that land. Practicing ‘honorable harvest’ of mineral, earth and plant color provides a way into a reciprocal relationship with the land and an imperative to understand its histories and cultural significances. These histories, however, can seem remote, obfuscated or entirely erased, and can require courage and persistence to pursue.
Can a descendant of settler colonialists feel at home on stolen land violated by neglect and deliberate poisoning? Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, suggests that though those with settler ancestors will never be indigenous to this continent, they can, like some non-native plants that do not negatively impact the environment, “naturalize” by entering into a dialog of giving and receiving with the land and its people, where ‘people’ refers not just to humans but to everyone here, according to a language of animacy.
Side-stepping consumerism and seeking value in the waste stream is another way to engage in reciprocity with a landscape. All but one of the pieces here are painted on found or reclaimed wood and other flotsam, including the cross section of a tree removed from an urban environment, and large weathered plywood sheets from the banks of the Willamette River. Smaller painted objects like driftwood and human detritus are altered on site with plant and mineral pigments, and are intended to be re-installed in the riparian zones where they were discovered and left to evolve and dissolve. Exceptions to this fairly rapid dissolution are the plastic objects, which have been adorned in cadmium reds and electric greens, eye-catching chemically-produced colors associated with petrochemicals but reminiscent of ripe berries and new leaves. The colors of these objects will not break down at an observable pace, but will remain indefinitely. Can their transformation through paint help shift the way they’re perceived, by linking them to their environment and narrowing the visual chasm between the rejected and the valued? What can be learned, and what humor can arise by lingering in the uncomfortable zone between apathy towards human failings and the desperate urge to mend?
Unbidden and in the absence of other tools or guides, imagination reflexively seeks out aesthetic harmony in outdoor places, forging a path through the woods towards reciprocity with place, propelled by beauty and deflecting the ignorance or hurt that the landscape reveals. This poetic immersion in the confluence of matter and imagination is designed to generate questions about the nature of both.