A Wilderness Science and Art Collaboration

Aldo & Leonardo, a partnership between Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, is a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The project is inspired by the scientific wisdom of Aldo Leopold and the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Our endeavor is an interdisciplinary collaboration of artists and scientists designed to celebrate the lands, resources and opportunities protected by the Wilderness Act. In 2013, we are hosting one-month residencies in six diverse wilderness areas. Artists will work alongside wildland research scientists and gain firsthand knowledge of the wonders, complexities and challenges of our nation's wildest places. The result will be a body of work that creatively illustrates the value of wild areas and honors the scientific efforts to preserve wilderness for the next fifty years.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

wilderness heart to the beach

By tory tepp

it seems like it was all a dream at this point, sitting here in a beach bar in florida, drinking as it were. i met with the director of the atlantic center for the arts for lunch today and my recollections of the summer finally brought me to a place to finish the tale of my wilderness experience, more specifically, the manifestation of said experience as an art project. it seems it was a summer of synchronicity and it's been interesting to hear similar tales of reflection and redemption, though i am in no way redeemed and have repeatedly proven myself to be intrinsically flawed and beyond hope of that sorts. nevertheless, the experience in the wilderness and the subsequent work of art was a process of purification and ritualized art making beyond value and i return inspired and refreshed from the effort.

so the final days of my residency were colored by the ash and exhaust of the local fire. on the one hand, outdoor activity was rewarded with bitter effects as being confined to quarters in the sierras was out of the question. on the smoke filled bright side of things, most of the ranger tours were cancelled due to imminent fire threat or redirected priorities. this meant that i was able to spend more time with them in my final week as i crafted my project, and this was a major benefit in terms of understanding the group as a whole.

i have to revisit the rangers at this point and make clear how i feel. if my assessment in the prior blog seemed harsh, it was completely due to my own romantic expectations of their duties as well as an uneducated idea of their purpose. but i was immensely attracted to the simplicity and intensity of their lives. they loved what they did and it was not encumbered by the overspray and backwash of petty bullshit that chokes the simple joys out of life for so many. they loved the wilderness. it was a passion born out of an understanding of their place within it and a larger picture of being united with a greater spirit, a greater energy. and in the sierras, the idea of god is evident in every moment the eye is open. they knew this, they were attuned to a way of life within this setting, the stone halls of the gods, the verdant groves of the goddess, the cathedrals of poets and fauns. theirs was a blessed existence marked by the flagellant work of the truly devout, the inexhaustible fatigue of the divinely driven. and the health of their soul was reflected in the hardiness of their frames, lusty, zealous, whimsical, loyal. i was happy among them, simply happy and devoid of the gripes and rashes prone to civilized folk. i salute them, i thank you all.

and from my interaction with these brave, beautiful folk, my project was conceived. from the confinement of smoke and ash filled skies the litter was birthed. and out of the sense of renewed spiritual capacity, out of the smoke from the total war burning of sherman's march all over my love, a phoenix rose burning and brilliant. the project was about romance, more accurately a nineteenth century romantic ideal of wilderness and nature and god. since i had found concurrent stream of such romantic energy, my own inner purposes aligned with this greater group, i had no doubts and all the usual art school prompted over-thinking and self-doubt were immediately dispelled. it seemed way too simple, but it was. the romantic ideals of these true lovers, the rangers, that was what the wilderness was all about. a romantic love beyond ourselves.

the project began with me asking for poems from the rangers; i asked everyone associated with the high sierra wilderness crew to write a love poem about their favorite tree or wildflower or place. originally the idea was to create a single poem constructed from ideal bits and pieces of all the poems. but once i started to gather and read what they had written... and let me say as someone who is not a novice to community art projects, getting feedback of this nature from community collaborators can be a bitch and i was nervous asking them for something so personal, so delicate. and i was blown away by not only the amount of responses i received, but the intense, open nature of the poems. there was no awkwardness, there was no bashfulness, they wrote straight from the heart, with conviction and verve and once i read them i could not possibly bust them up. the words needed to remain together. the sentiments of each ranger had a place within the wilderness heart project, they WERE the wilderness heart project.

so, i'm already getting bored talking about my project, maybe it's a full afternoon of beer, thanks a lot nancy, but i feel like i need to be more deliberate and articulate about the nature of the project than i am able to be right now. the final strokes tomorrow.

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