At the end of my Aldo and Leonardo Residency in the Boundary Waters Wilderness, I collaborated with scientists from the Minnesota Biological Survey Lawson Gerdes, Jeff Lee,Dan Wovcha and field assistant Jenna Pollard, to make an installation that rendered a scene of what 21st century land surveying entails — and what one variety of scientific research in the Boundary Waters wilderness looks like: the relevé method. The installation contains scientific tools, information, camp gear and idiosyncratic objects that illustrate the character of the four of us that went to the Boundary Waters to survey the biodiversity of the area using the "relevé" method. Using aerial infrared maps, we canoed and bushwacked to specific sections of the Boundary Waters to mark off 20x20 meter plots and assess all the plant species living in each plot. We surveyed each relevé plot at multiple levels, from the canopy to the ground cover, assessing density and maturity. We would also dig a hole in the ground to inspect the soil layers (if charcoal was present that would indicate there had been a fire) and test the PH of the soil. By performing the relevé method, we were able to generate a scientific rendering of the native plant community and fill in the map of biodiversity for the state of Minnesota that the Minnesota Biological Survey has been charting over the last two decades. The installation was created at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, MN.
The five of us have discussed exhibiting this installation again some day at a larger public institution. We have ideas for a series of public programs that could go along with it, including relevé school curriculum, the launch of a relevé society (these societies/clubs are prevalent in Europe), relevé events/performances, and workshops (for example: where participants can learn how to press plants, make a plant pressing book, and a solar plant dryer). We have plans to make a proposal to the Minnesota Science Museum and the Bell Museum of Natural History or during the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Wilderness Act in Albuquerque. If you have any suggestions for any institutions to contact about hosting the exhibit, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Jenna Pollard, Dan Wovcha, and Katherine Ball.
Much gratitude to Wolf Ridge for hosting the installation, Lawson Gerdes for bottomlining the science end of the collaboration, Jeff Lee for leading the Boundary Waters Trip, Dan Wovcha and Jenna Pollard for their filming/photography, zest for life, insatiable curiosity, deep wonder and reverence for the flora and fauna with which we share this planet.