Limb

Paint flowing into the demarcated tracks of wood boring beetles is like tattoos written on a body, calligraphy of a journey from larval to adult. ‘Limb’ references W.S. Merwin’s prose poem ‘Unchopping a Tree’, prescribing how to begin the arduous task of putting a tree back together. “Start with the leaves, the small twigs, and the nests that have been shaken, ripped, or broke off by the fall; these must be gathered and attached once again to their respective places.” ‘Limb’ mirrors these tasks. Reassembling this vine maple that grew in the yard of my family home speaks of irrevocable loss.  Sewing through the rings of a tree is to sew through time itself, the tree’s memory.

windows and doors – a photo essay on longing and leaving

Finding an old roll of 35mm colour film, I wandered through my house, its moodiness lingering in a silence of sorts, darkness filtered by natural and artificial light.  I read once that a house is more about its windows and doors than its walls.  Shelter intimately connected to the outside by thin panes of glass that separate and connect.  Windows as extensions to our eyes. 

 

Wild

A number of years ago, I brought a small pit-bull cross home form the Pound.  His name was Dante.  Perhaps, in retrospect, I was buying him time.  The two short years we spent together were both wondrous and fierce.  In his wild animal, tamed tortured dog mix, he was an embodiment of nature/culture, a link to other languages, other worlds.  Ultimately, entering the dark forest, his death collided with troubled questions of ‘assigning’ meaning and value to species other than us, and what is our relationship to, and understanding of, wild?

I have been reading books that push towards the poetic end of the biology continuum between manipulation/control and poetry – titles such as, ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ by David Abram and ‘The Tree of Meaning: Thirteen Talks’ and its companion book, ‘Everywhere Being is Dancing: Twenty Pieces of Thinking’, by Robert Bringhurst.  They speak not only of a “shifting of our thinking and feeling about the place of humans in the world” but outline other ways of finding out, through poetry, biology and language, which challenge my existing knowledge-base and notions of wild.

Speaking of the lure of the local, Bringhusrt writes from his home amidst this coastal British Columbia rainforest – the same forest of my study: “Where is language on this map? Where is it and where can it possibly be? Is language always a domesticated creature, or is it, or can it be, wild?”[1].  Bringhurst refers to the ecology of a particular place; within an ecosystem, its languages, its natural history, its cultures, its forms, its myths, its poetry.  I want to travel to these dark liminal forests of dense underbrush and archipelagoes – to protected areas north of Bella Coola; on Lyell Island of Haida Gwaii; near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island and further north to Nootka Sound.  I am looking for a different (truer?) quality to come into my work pulling from multiple sources – local poets and storytellers of the Tsimshian, Haida and Nuuchahnulth people, processes of symbiotic and commensal associations, fieldwork and intrinsic meanings of natural systems.


[1] Robert Bringhurst, “The Tree of Meaning: Thirteen Talks, (Kentville, Nova Scotia: Gaspereau Press, 2006) p.261.

Forest entry

Susan Stewart, in her book, ‘On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection’, examines our fundamental relationship to the miniature and the gigantic.  Experiencing the latter through the landscape,  this image plays with these two “metaphors of containment”.

 

 

 

 

“Whereas the miniature represents closure, interiority, the domestic, and the overly cultural, the gigantic represents infinity, exteriority, the public, and the overly natural.”  Susan Stewart

Pattern

The outer bark of a tree, concealing layer upon layer.
Timber, a column of rolls of toilet paper stacked up one upon the other; the tissue printed with water-based pigment in the pattern of wood grain endlessly repeated.
Wallpaper, a mural sized charcoal drawing of the bark of a Douglas-fir tree, worked up over a grid of 1536 squares (each 1 3/4 inch square), the pattern repeated as wallpaper but still retaining the unique markings of a hand or of nature.  

Unchopping trees

A fallen vine maple tree being stitched back together. 
Several years ago I made this sculpture, ‘stitch in time’, which was assembled from the trunk of an eighty-year-old Western hemlock that grew in the yard of my family home.  It was just one tree, but it was one of many lost now; trees that I watched over, as much as they watched over me.
The opening lines of W.S. Merwin’s prose poem, ‘Unchopping a tree’, prescribes how to begin the arduous task of putting a tree back together.  “a stitch in time” was part of a group installation titled, ‘Track’, located in a back alley in Vancouver, BC, along the waterfront close to the original location of Hastings Mill.  This work is both a patchwork quilt and a boom of logs.  To patch one tree back together is to speak of irrevocable loss; sewing through the rings of a tree is to stitch through time itself, the tree’s memory.
Using the same cross-stitch, I am now stitching back together a fallen vine maple tree.  Whereas sewing the Western hemlock rounds was physically demanding, the vine maple is a more delicate work, the six inch sections articulated as the limbs of an antique doll.

Family trees

There is a small collection of photographs my grandfather took with his Kodak bellows camera in the 1930s and 40s.  Printed on heavy card stock, these photographs remind me of old postcards.  In amongst the family portraits are two sepia toned images of what appear to be early Vancouver landscapes.  One depicts two men and a tent in the foreground surrounded by massive trunks of Western red cedars.  Instinct is to turn the photograph over, half expecting to find a faded message informing the recipient of their whereabouts and idle thoughts.  Settlers, as these, came to the west coast of British Columbia to push back the barrier of the forest, to tame the wildness.  The deliberate removal of forest remains one of the most significant ways in which humans modify the environment.  Yet, in this province, ideas embodied by dwelling and forests, wilderness or even a solitary tree are ingrained deep within our identity.  Having grown up amidst towering trees, I cannot separate the two.