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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Interview with Artist Megan Singleton (Monomoy National Wildlife Residency--June 17-July13, 2013)

Megan Singleton is an artist, educator, and nature explorer.  She is adjunct faculty at Webster University and the Art Institute of Saint Louis, where she teaches Papermaking, Photography, and Digital Art Classes.   In 2005 she received her BFA in photography from Webster University and earned her MFA in sculpture from Louisiana State University in 2012.  Her studio is based in Saint Louis Missouri, where she investigates and collects materials from the landscape that can be used in the papermaking process.   Her exhibition record includes national and international shows, and private collectors and museums in the Southern United States have acquired her work over that last three years. 

Q: Why were you interested in participating at the Monomoy National Wildlife residency?

M.S.All of my work that I have been making in the last three years has all been directly related and inspired by experiences that I have had in the natural world. Discovering things in the landscape and then taking what I discover and researching the natural history of it has been a recent passion of mine. So when I read about the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge residency it seemed to match not only with the way that I work but it also meshed well with my latest and largest body of work. This piece focused on bayous and marshlands in Southern Louisiana. Having the opportunity to take what I learned from my experiences there, and applying those ideas to a new landscape is different but has similar feeling, which really struck my interest.

Q: Why is the intersection of Art and Science so important to you and your work?

M.S. I think that art and science are both very powerful areas of study and medium. They both can impact  community and the way that people think about our world drastically. Being able to entice people with visuals and art is a way to draw people in. Once they are drawn in there is something else they discover that is not necessarily scientific, but addresses a broader issue and audience. It can be as simple as realizing how drastically things change in small amounts of time, or noticing patterns that are created by the forces of nature.

Q: What are some of your first reactions to the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge?

M.S.I was a little  intimidated as my first reaction because we went headfirst into the tern colony, which was really wild. I have never experienced that many birds all at once. I was intimidated but I also felt different reactions at different times and places on the island. I say this because Monomoy is not very big, but each location on the island brings a different feeling.  I felt the north end of Monomoy was very controlled compared to the south end. I definitely got an understanding for the relationship between management, monitoring, and something being wild.  
When I stepped off the boat I felt like I was away from civilization, I really felt like I was struck by the wildness of it. I think that there are so many different aspects to this island in such a small area. One moment you feel like you’re in a marsh, then a twenty minute walk later you feel like you’re in the middle of a desert, three hours later you see boats and people swimming on the  beaches. There are definitely areas of the island that made me feel smaller, that made me feel like I was a very small piece of the island.

Q: What do you believe to be a highlight to your time spent at Monomoy?

M.S.  There was one experience that I felt I couldn't have had just by going on a hike by myself somewhere or just being dropped off on Monomoy. It was having the opportunity to work with the researches and the interns for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. I had this feeling of community and contribution to their overall goal. I have always had a background in art and not so much in the science field. Having the  role as an assistant to scientific research and walking in their footsteps was a great opportunity.  The research they were conducting, and the type of care that they gave to this place was really inspirational to me. I think about that a lot, along with the landscape and the other experiences that I had, but what was really inspiring to me was this group of young people that were there, including interns and young scientists. It gives me a sense of hope. There are these young people that really care about our future. This is important because these are the people that are going to foster our world. I loved their field guide books, and I took a bunch of pictures them and their documentation of their work and monitoring. 

Q: Did you experience any change in your perception at Monomoy?

M.S. I never thought wilderness would have been such a political subject. I never thought about all the politics or the administrative work that go along with something being designated as a wilderness area. So I thought that this was sort of an interesting dynamic. I have hiked and explored  in wilderness before but never realized there was this whole other non-natural dynamic to it. It was definitely eye opening for me; having the opportunity to just be on the island, and to witness how quickly a landscape can change became extremely dynamic to me. 
I never experienced a place with such a high range of tides. I was enamored by the tidal flats. I observed how quickly the water would go out and leave these amazing patterns in the sands; then in the evenings I noticed how quickly it would rush out into areas where I just saw the roots of the grasses, now completely submerged. The fact that the ecology of that particular landscape can survive extreme fluctuation is incredible. After the experience, I felt that I needed to live near an ocean environment.

When I first got to Monomoy I started to make paper out of invasive seaweed. I basically turned our house into a miniature paper mill for a couple of weeks. I converted the Weber gas grill into a fiber cooker with a large enamel pot. Then I wrapped tin foil around the whole thing to contain the heat.
It was really great because working with the scientist, I think lead them to different thoughts on the plants that are a hinder to everything around them and their studies. I think I showed them that there are uses and ways that these invasive plants can be transformed into something else. How practical or not the paper i,s really doesn't matter, it still can be used for something.

Q: Did you experience any absurd situations at the Monomoy Refuge?

M.S. The most absurd thing was going back to the tern colony. The fact that as soon as we got off the boat we immediately had to put on a yellow helmet; at this point you’re ready to get pooped on at any moment. I think that there’s obviously something very comical about that picture. There is a preparedness that you take when going into this unique chaos. After 15 minutes of being in the colony you begin to realize that, this is what it is; I will be pooped on. I think that was the most absurd thing that had happened.
One incredible thing that I saw was the power of the rip tide. I never experienced waves going perpendicular to the land before, and too see that on a day that there was fog so thick that you couldn't see 100ft in front of you was pretty incredible. The curve of the island makes you think about the curve of the earth because you can only see so far. Seeing the waves and the ocean shift to a point where they crashing into themselves is just beautiful.
 Just being on island and thinking about the designated wilderness of this landmass made me think frequently about the wildness of the ocean. When I sat and looked out, I thought to myself, that is wilderness. When there were no fishing boats and I’m seeing numerous seals swimming out in front of me; I really felt like I was looking out into true wilderness.

Q: What were some of the beneficial outcomes of the experience?

M.S. I think coming away with an understanding of how different people work, and assisting with the research by shadowing the biologist was great for me. Having that information to work with and thinking how I can abstractly add that data into some of my future art became very helpful.When I go back now and look at the photographs that I took makes me wish I was there again. So I think that being able to have all these memories,source images and videos to go back to along with my inspiration vividly there,  is a tangible outcome of the experience.Having a new look on how the wilderness act plays a political card is very important to recognize. These are not just places that are on the map, these places are managed with protocols. There is way more that goes into designated wilderness; it’s not necessarily as wild and let go as you would think.It’s a good thing to understand that these places are designated as wilderness for all of us. It has inspired me to look up where wilderness areas are in my own personal state in Illinois.  These designated areas are more available than I thought. So I am very thankful that this act is in place.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Final CANM presentation

Well today was our final presentation.  We videoed it so will hope to have some excerpts at least to post after some editing.

Some thoughts as we prepare to leave tomorrow after an amazing month here.  Wilderness is complex.  Most of the places we spent time in here did not qualify as wilderness under the definition of the Wilderness Act:
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.
Hoodoos in Sand Canyon
Areas didn’t qualify technically because were either too small, had roads, had grazing and mineral use, were full of archeological sites, had grandfathered islands of private land or other issues.  That said they were remote, certainly provided outstanding opportunities for solitude and contained many features of historical value in the enormous number of archeological sites here.  For something to be technically Wilderness Congress has to declare it as such.  We spent a lot of time in Wilderness Study Areas - which haven’t received a congressional declaration and aren’t likely to for a variety of reasons.  Much of the land here has mineral rights which preceded the creation of the National Monument by many years.  Canyon of the Ancients sits on top of the largest bubble of carbon dioxide in the world so it’s a striking model of the compromises that have to happen to protect precious archeological sites while permitting mineral development - and in some areas also long permitted grazing rights.

I came here with a more black and white view of how that might work than turns out to be the case in reality and am impressed with the balancing act that the BLM does here to serve multiple needs. Is it ideal? No clearly not but it’s a workable compromise that does protect public lands while allowing mineral development.  It’s not a typical “true wilderness” area and as such is truly a special case.
Above Castle Rock, CANM
CANM is an interesting and in my experience unusual monument in how hidden in plain view it is.  Most national parks and monuments have major paved loops with walkways to major features, loads of signage and a super accessible set of “front sites”.  While CANM has a (truly outstanding) museum with two ruins right on the premises the “front sites” are a long way off on roads which while perfectly drivable aren’t all paved.  It’s an interesting contrast with nearby and far more famous Mesa Verde -where fragile archeological sites are very present but mostly only viewable with a guide and on a super developed paved route with lots of curation.  The back sites at Mesa Verde are closed to all including staff.  At CANM the opportunity to explore back sites is very open - anyone can hike in although there is little in the way of signage and only a very few developed sites among the literally thousands of known sites in the park.  It’s a somewhat hidden park - the real gems require one to get off the roads and hike and the effort is rewarded with silence, remote beauty and remarkable archeology.
Hiking, cottonwoods in canyon, CANM

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

A month barely scratched the surface of all that is here and I look forward to coming back in the future, knowing enough to make a better start in exploring it further.  I learned a lot about myself on this trip.  I was pushed out of my comfort zone, driving on 4WD roads far worse than anything I had attempted, hiking and keeping up with people far younger and fitter and realizing that my skills were indeed up to navigating the back country without trail or guide. I have been a hiker and backpacker for many years but still found myself stretched and my confidence enhanced by these ventures.

Now I need to digest all the information from this month - scientific knowledge about the archeology, geology, biology and the visual information in the form of sketches and photos in order to make artwork that is coherent and captures some of what I found.

Lots of thanks due - to Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and to the amazing people at CANM who have been incredibly generous, supportive and friendly to the three of us during our month here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wild by Design, Collaboration between Anaya Cullen, Jack Greenlee, Plant Ecologist & Becca Orf, Superior National Forest, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

I’ve been here now in the Boundary Waters for a week asking myself this question: what can a costume designer offer the wilderness? And, more broadly, what is the role of the artist in environmentalism and wilderness preservation?

I find myself thinking deeply about these questions; in just a week the deep abiding beauty of this place, with its subtlety of color as witnessed in one patch of lichen on a patch of exposed glacial bedrock or in quiet expanses of cool water, in the eloquent curving surface of a shelf fungus, is seeping in slowly and persistently in a most welcome way.

We came back from our first trip in the wilderness area on Sunday. We ventured out with Jack Greenlee, Plant Ecologist here in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, BWCAW and Becca Orf, Biological Plant Technician, and Troy Nickle (http://troynickle.blogspot.com/), fellow artist in residence. We were out 4 nights and 5 days into Lakes 1,2,3,4 and then into North Wilder Lake, Horseshoe Lake, back into Lake 3 & back to our base camp, site 4 on Lake 4. Our last day we looped back down into Lakes 3, 2, 1 and then through Lake Confusion Lake (aptly named) eventually back to the to the put-in point.  I portaged my first canoe and learned that portages are measured in “rods” (about 16ft or the length of one canoe). There are 320 rods in a mile. 

The weather was everything, from sunny and crisp to dramatic thunder and lightning storms. We were pulling Canada Thistle at sight 9 on Lake 4 (not far from our base camp) when warning of severe weather came through on the forest service radio. The sky opened up as we were going back to camp, trying to get off the lake before the lightning came. Water came out of the sky like a rain shower on full blast.  We were soaked through, paddling hard, watching the rain dance on the lake. I was smiling so hard my cheeks were hurting…what a wild and beautiful moment. 

Back at camp, we were joined by two wilderness rangers Chris Kenny and Terry, and I had my best rain day ever, perched under our tarp, watching a lively game of cribbage on Terry’s handcrafted cribbage board, aptly sized twigs for markers, Jack remembering how to play cribbage, me sewing “plant sheets,” stitching natives and invasives to my sketch paper, peppering Jack with questions about names and plant types. My plant sheets seem to be a way for me to get grounded into this place, a way of meeting my new plant neighbors, building context. I’m struck by the heart-warming presence and honesty of this land and the people I find myself with and by their relationships to each other: plants, people, place. What a treat and an honor to be here.

So I circle back to my internal questions. What can I as a costume designer offer this wilderness? What is the role of the artist in environmentalism and wilderness preservation? …I’ve been reading and researching a bit…rediscovering old loves: Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, and delving into new reads: Sigurd Olson’s The Listening Point,  Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitude, and selected writings by Ansel Adams.  This morning, I was struck by a couple passages I read in an essay, Ansel Adams: The Role of the Artist in the Environmental Movement written by Robert Turnage in 1980, (Reprinted courtesy of the Wilderness Society from The Living Wilderness, March 1980).

Ansel Adams writing to Will Colby in 1952:
Everyone has a right to visit Yosemite. But no one has the privilege of usurping it, distorting it, and making it less attractive to those who seek its experience in its simpler, unmanipulated state…. The preservation of the primeval qualities does not relate to the mere protection of material objects. The significance of the objects of nature; the significance which concerns poets, dreamers, conservationists and citizens-at-large, relates to the ‘presence of nature.’ This is mood, the magic of personal experience, the awareness of a certain purity of condition.”

And true to my heart…
From Ansel Adam’s address entitled “The Role of the Artist in Conservation:”
“I believe the approach of the artist and the approach of the environmentalist are fairly close in that both are, to a rather impressive degree, concerned with the ‘affirmation of life’…. Response to natural beauty is one of the foundations of the environmental movement.”

If you’d like to read the whole article you can do so here:

I’m aiming to create work here that is an affirmation of life and of the spirit and specific beauty of this wild place.


Paddling for Invasive Plants in the Boundary Waters

Photograph by Artist Troy Nickle

After 17 hours of driving from Canada I finally arrived in Ely, (pronounced Elee) Minnesota, a town filled with canoe enthusiasts, canoe outfitters, outdoor enthusiasts, fishermen and hunters all taking advantage of the nearby Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. My first impression of this little town reminded me of mountain towns in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, although instead of seeing mountain bikes on the car roof rack you would usually see canoes.  Our journey into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness would involve a 4 day trip with fellow artist Anaya Cullen, Forest Service ecologist Jack Greenlee and biological technician and wilderness ranger Becca Orf. Jack and Becca are working in the Boundary Waters to monitor and mitigate invasive plants. The work that they undertake involves paddling out to the many camp sites along the network of lakes within the Boundary Waters to check the progress of invasive plants, map the locations with GPS and pull the plants. The plants that they target are not native to the area, and were usually introduced during European settlement. Many of these plants overtake an area and are hard to remove due to large interconnecting root systems. Plants like Canada thistle can shade out native plants and knapweed releases a toxin in their roots that affects most native plants, hence the name invasive. Some of these plants include Canada Thistle, Common Tansy, Hawkweed, Knapweed, Ox Eye Daisy, Leafy Spurge and Purple Loosestrife to name a few.

Photographs by artist Troy Nickle

On this trip we were looking at an area that had burned in the Pagami Fire. The area had a unique beauty to it as the bright red and orange bind weed that covered the forest floor was creeping up the black charred pines. Many of the new growth included a large number of Jack Pine whose seeds stay dormant until the heat of a fire burst the seeds open. Jack took notes of the new vegetation occupying the burned area.

Photographs by artist Troy Nickle

On our trip we would travel through more than 5 lakes and portage canoe and gear more than 8 times, some portages as long as half a kilometer. We camped and paddled in pouring rain and while trying to wait the rain out sat under a tarp, shared chocolate and  played cribbage on a homemade crib board with Forest Rangers Chris and Terry who were working at our site. It turned out to be a great rain day!

Troy Nickle portaging. Photograph by Becca Orf

Paddling through the area was a delight; some of the exposed rock in the Boundary Waters, part of the Canadian Shield, is some of the oldest rock on the planet. We often saw common loons, ducks, Canada geese, bald eagles, squirrels, and a variety of interesting mushrooms and vegetation.

Photograph by artist Troy Nickle

Photograph by artist Troy Nickle

Photograph by artist Troy Nickle

The work that Jack and Becka do made me consider what is the relation of my art to the environment, and how can I utilize invasive plants in my work to build on an awareness of these plants and perhaps even mitigate these populations. Part of mitigating invasive weeds involves pulling them so I intend to immerse myself in areas with invasive plants to collect them for my work. I am interested in my art playing a role in mitigating invasive plants and the aesthetics of creating something visually interesting from them.

Pulled Canada thistle wrapped around pines
Artwork by Troy Nickle

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bear Cans--My Sierra safe deposit boxes of calorie cache

Kotwa Project: The Circus of Destruction

Each night embedded with wilderness Rangers (on two 8 day ‘tours’ into the back country) A ritual is performed by all, when every trace of food, garbage, insecticides, lotions and pharmaceuticals are packed into each members ‘bear can’ for the night—Cans that are presumed to be indestructible vessels that bears can play with till they grow bored or frustrated with prior to abandoning your calorie cache unconsumed. 

The nightly positioned cache of cans is one point on the ‘Bear-Muda-triangle’ ranger jargon for the recommended 100-foot per side layout of sleeping camp, cooking area and bear can cache. (An abstract ideal I rarely saw employed)

Gni Gnah Loof, added to this ritual, and to the cache, for ‘Gni Gnah Loof’ carried three bear cans instead of one in his oversized pack-- one with his food, one containing a wind chime cut off from the wind, and a super-sized can with an accordion within. Each night these three cans are added to the camps cache. Gni Gnah Loof performs a slow ‘dance’ just beyond the post dinner 'cook site' conversation each evening on the trail .

Gni Gnah Loof,  tips and rolls the accordion can as a bear might—these manipulations enacted in slow motion  elicit the long tones of accordian  expansion and closure--these are accompanying  an under the breath incantation that Gni Gnah Loof resights requesting that bears do not turn themselves into fools.

Bear look at the food I have 'brung', my wild ways I have long forgotten.

Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match, 
see how I am a fool 
Begging for buckets and twirling batons
Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match, 
see how I am a fool. 
Trading to forage for instant raisins in porridge
Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match, 
see how I am a fool. 
Rub a dub dubbing my mouth soap bubble up my snout
Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match, 
see how I am a fool. 
These Ramen noodles making me a pet poodle
Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match, 
see how I am a fool. 
Rolling all cutely for M&M booty.
Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match, 
see how I am a fool. 
Spastic on the ground turning  barrels round round
Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match,
 see how I am a fool. 
Popping jellybean perscriptions 'till my eyes are a-spinning
Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match, 
see how I am a fool. 
Tangled in licorice whips a dope fiend with only one wish
Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match, 
see how I am a fool. 
Entertaining humans by gobbling creams of their grooming
Bear, look how clownish I am, being an accordion playing bear, boxing in a rigged match, 
see how I am a fool. 
Dancing for trail mix that makes the gut sick

Bear remain wild, wary is your lucky charm never buy the ad mans jingle.
Lick under stones the orange ants I have forgotten
Bear remain wild, wary is your lucky charm never buy the ad mans jingle.
Shake oaks for acorns I have forgotten
Bear remain wild, wary is your lucky charm, never buy the ad mans jingle.
Claw rotted brown logs for fatty grubs I have forgotten
Bear remain wild, wary is your lucky charm never buy the ad mans jingle.
Suckle tiny violet flowers, I have forgotten
Bear remain wild, wary is your lucky charm never buy the ad mans jingle.
Devour the geometry of mushrooms I have forgotten
Bear remain wild, wary is your lucky charm never buy the ad mans jingle.
Graze green meadow flavor I have forgotten
Bear remain wild, wary is your lucky charm never buy the ad mans jingle
scratch down to roots I have forgotten.
Bear remain wild, wary is your lucky charm never buy the ad mans jingle
Snap hopper bodies I have forgotten
Bear remain wild , wary is your lucky charm never buy the ad mans jingle.
Crunch the carrion marrow I have forgotten
Bear remain wild, wary is your lucky charm never buy the ad mans jingle.
Dig yellow jacket treasure I have forgotten

Bear look how hungry I am, what a Clown I have become, my wild ways I have long forgotten.

 Kotwa project: Moonlight Kitchen

Action and incantation are offered as a ‘medicine bundle’ aimed to protect both the wildness of bear diets and the safety of human calories. In sixteen nights performing this ritual no bear touched any of our party’s food or equipment—while other tour teams adjacent to our locations reported bear incidents inclusive of shredded tents, partially consumed backpacks, a chewed up two way radio and ingested hand lotion.

NOTES: I had began thinking about accordions early when thinking about  the compaction of soil in camp sites—the mournful squeeze of our burden on the breath of a site, how I might give voice to the mute voice of soil over tread upon.

The bear I defend against with plastic can I secretly root for – Could I collaborate with this most wild thing--in fantasy we bear and I would create together…bear wrestling with  the circus cans like kids with presents.b As I worked this thread it became clear that if I were successful it would mean I had afflicted my own estrangement from wilderness being upon my bear collaborator –my almond joy bar in bear can was a typhoid Mary’s Kleenix to the bear out there—my Wasa-Krisps the seat to the unseating of a wild bear--the first cause of a cause and effect chain that had already tamed and destroyed most of the worlds wilds, and done so to my kinds (human) benefit. I began to feel an earth alien and hoped to arrive by way of benevolent spaceship.The only ethical action being  the failure of the overture for inappropriate interaction.

I began to script a hope-- without religion 'a prayer' for the non encounter – yet one that still contained my wish for the risks and possibility of real contact.

Actors entertain! Bring on dancing bears for my flashing camera…let them serenade me. Provide me the raw ingrediants for my souvenir story of heroic adventures—Sing for your super bear! Beg me to assign poetry to your perfection. Please perform as salavating brute , then as cutie pie furry  eight foot tall toddler, or perform a greatful winnie the pooh smacking lips and gazing  my way with thankful eyses -Perfect bear is what I received, a bear  away in the woods roaming with indifference possibly miles away from my cheddar cheese and dried pineapple rings--away with the rock and  them without need of my kind. There will be no colaboration  only an unhealthy overture. Be wary bear—replaces beware of bears— this is KOTWA spirit and catalyst for Kotwa and the circus of destruction emerged.

the following images codify the musical circus bear

As it turned out  in the mountains only I played the accordion in the barrel, only I wrestled with these circus cans filled with curried beef, olive oil and parmesan pastas that I had hauled heavily into wilderness-ness. The difficulty of the overture coupled with its rejection have ramifications and then implications these are the content of the project

No shredded satins, resulted, no mouth sculpted plastic was made, no two way exchange or ingested hand lotion occurred—it is the bear absent that is the work--and this is success and not as sour grapes – my prayer was  fulfilled.  There is also disappointment I artist and you the would be viewer alike would prefer to see the bear hear his  ironic composition of inqury—If you, like my ‘other self’ long to see bears tossing musical cans about allah Nirvanna—if you’d buy the Bear songs mp3 as a girl on the trail told me she'd certainly do—then we are alike. And we have  adverted success. This is KOTWA--an act, of offering—for we are keepers of the wilderness act, not exploiters of wilderness residents.

KOTWA ritual implemented places our entertainment, pleasure, pride, finances and ego well behind our love of these last shreds of a once continuous wilderness and our unimposing presence among the remains

Kotwa Project: Gni Gnah Loof performing: The longing for dreams

Sunday, September 22, 2013

dear Scientist by erogerscello

dear Scientist,

Yesterday my painter co-artist and I went up to the Las Platas. We walked partway up the trail head road after becoming anxious about protruding stones on tires, and panting from high altitude we sat in an alpine meadow and had lunch. After lunch I sat and wrote in my journal, and Leslie scrambled and crawled around 'shooting' rocks and grass and things.

I wrote and drew stick figures in my journal. And I became fixated on one of the pictures. There are two stick people holding a circle split in half, and they represent to me the idea of collaboration.

Collaboration to me, is at least two participants, each fully present in all that they bring to the table - as people, as professionals, as thinkers, as doers, as questioners... holding an equal part of an undertaking. The circle split in half is the 'ation' of collaborate. The acting/making, the process of whatever topic, goal, or aim is on the table.

To me, true collaboration is only possible to the extent that the participants involved hold the same fraction of the circle. ( More to discuss on that in a future PHD I hope... )

Scientist, I don't think you have seen my half of the circle, and I'd like to tell you about it...

Scientist, my side of the circle is yes, about me as the hiker, the one that's afraid of snakes, the one that is quiet a lot and wears a red bandana sometimes, the one that asks simpler questions about your job and needs a kid definition of those geologic words I can't remember, the one who held the camera clicker for you... but there's also that part of the circle that says ARTIST; the part of the circle that says CELLIST, the part of the circle that in this residency you are labeled to be interacting with...

Scientist, I think you might actually be interested in more of this part of my circle...

Actually, I don't really think its important if you are interested, but it is important for me to show up with my entire half of the circle and there is a big chunk of my half that you haven't seen.

Last night I declined an invitation to a party. I'm not really a party person and I wanted some quiet space. I also wanted to do some work. Work for me last night meant going to the museum and sketching shapes from the ceramic work that inspired me, sitting in the Englehart exhibit with my Nascam and earphones to transcribe music I had already recorded, working on emails to contact parents and set up performance dates for my work in Rochester, and finally sitting down with Scubba the cello.

When I sat down with Scubba my hands felt awkward and achy from all the hiking, dehydration, and lack of working out and stretching. I played some scales, worked out my left thumb muscle for a bit, tried to improvise and got irritated, and ended up working on a little project I started my first week here.

My project is to explore hand shape possibilities in microtonal music.

It is rooted in topics including pythagorean chains of ratios, anatomy of the hand, sound waves... In current traditional western music the octave is split into 12 semitone intervals. These intervals are represented for cellists in two basic hand positions. We call them open and closed, or regular and extension. In the regular hand shape we have semitone steps between each of our fingers pointer to pinky. In extension, we have two semitone steps between pointer and middle and one semitone between the other fingers. These two positions form the basis of the way we approach music physically in first to seventh position. It seems to be the best way to avoid injury, and the most effective way to get around the instrument.

In microtonal music the scale is split into other divisions rather than 12. The microtonal set I am working with splits the octave into 24 pitches. While I have played music which included notation for "quarter tones" it was never clear to me which pitch division the composer had in mind, and more practically, how I was supposed to play those notes with my hand. Usually the method used is some kind of pitch bending- a loose method of playing slightly higher or lower than the 12 tone pitch. I wanted to explore how I could cohesively finger pitches within a 24 note division.

Last night I discovered that for quarter tone spaces, within the same physical distance there are multiple hand shapes possible. This sort of blew my mind. To spend 24 years studying the management of two hand shapes and then to discover that there are at least 5 (I'm still working on this) was pretty amazing. I'm not sure what research is out there about this, but look at this quote from wicki:
       "Bowed string instruments (notably violin/viola/cello/bass) can easily and almost unlimitedly play microtonal music, and in fact are easier to retrofit due to the lack of frets. Unfortunately, most trained players of the instruments are going to be finnicky about playing in any way other than the way they're used to, thanks to the pedagogy. There are two important tools in making microtonal string music work, scordatura and fingerboard marking." ( In other words the only way to play other pitch sets is either to re-tune the strings, or draw a line on the fingerboard so you can find the spot. )
I'll have to talk to cellists about it and see who is playing microtonal music and how they are fingering it, if anyone has ever written the pedagogy of this stuff down...

There now, Scientist, I feel better because I've told you about what I did yesterday. I'm not sure this actually makes any difference to you, and it may just be me trying to prove that I can be smart and sciency too, but maybe I feel better because my part of the circle went from an eighth to a quarter.



Friday, September 20, 2013

Leslie Sobel on radio today

I will be local radio station KSJD this morning at 8:30 am Mountain Time.  You can stream it later at this link.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Kotwa Project: Gni Gnah Loof: Additional heads so I can see more clearly

Kotwa Project: Gni Gnah Loof:  Additional heads so I can see more clearly

Up on the Piute, the rangers had there work and I as Gni Gnah Loof was free to explore—I began wandering up slope towards glacial lakes and Icy fragments drawn ever higher and further off trail by the lure of a lake more filled by sky, my ability reach fresher vistas, and the swing of my chime filled bear can—which mediated the spaces between steps and terrain, breath and motions bodily and geologic.

The rhythms of passing over stone, the swing of the can, and the arrival at overlooks built into a trance like progression upward deeper and less cluttered. High above the tree line in a world of only stone water ice sun and the stirring of grasshoppers—I found the elusive solitude and its affecting powers—marking my way with only gesture—leaving only the muted sound of the enclosed wind-chime that stroked distance and presence with color.

 As artist and as wilderness experience the revelation was that though I performed, performing was not central and largely vapid—that is to say that an audience that shifted my actions away from centered experience was superfluous—but not un welcomed for when these gestured merged with  genuine immersion they had  the most value for myself and any other –the wilderness itself consistently and correctly unaffected and beautifully indifferent.

Gni Gnah Loof, is the central quasi-fictional character within the Kotwa Project—This Kotwa teacher, detective and creator of rituals walked and climbed over a hundred miles on and off trail. His headdress of many velvet eyes over mosquito netting obscures his physical vision--but allows for the establishment of temporal cairns to acknowledge sites of significance or to serve as a surrogate central fire to gather round.

Kotwa Project: The sound is not the medicine, only its marker. As Gni Gnah Loof wanders the talus fields, scree slopes, summits, lakes, saddles and glacial remains above the tree line he swings his rattle--a bear can that contains a wind chime. The chime within resembling thought and mind within the skull, and contemporary human within the natural environ—able to sing either from conscious swaying if free or if muffled by containment


Wilderness statute insists that all monuments here be temporal, that no fires burn above 10,000 feet of elevation, that no structure are erected, that all signs of human activity (exempting those of ‘heritage’ be erased, and that nature’s placement of stone or pinecone is left undisturbed—Therefore costumed discourse regarding the introduction of the exotics resulting from our presence was my primary tactic-- for anything brought in or along beyond your naked body and desires for survival might be thought of as exotic-alien and therefore intrusive upon the wilderness character—not just what’s in your pack, but also what’s in your head seems non indigenous to these places, for my thoughts were from another world, another plane, one that shifts interests toward human desire and away from unfettered wilderness and its expansive solitude.


Wilderness statute insists that all monuments here be temporal, that no fires burn above 10,000 feet of elevation, that no structure are erected, that all signs of human activity (exempting those of ‘heritage’ be erased, and that nature’s placement of stone or pinecone is left undisturbed—Therefore costumed discourse regarding the introduction of the exotics resulting from our presence was my primary tactic-- for anything brought in or along beyond your naked body and desires for survival might be thought of as exotic-alien and therefore intrusive upon the wilderness character—not just what’s in your pack, but also what’s in your head seems non indigenous to these places, for my thoughts were from another world, another plane, one that shifts interests toward human desire and away from unfettered wilderness and its expansive solitude.

I encountered few humans here and when I did we paused together sharing Kotwa gestures (ways of being in the wilderness in keeping with wilderness character), information of terrain, and the events or observations of our stays –but mostly simply expressing the collective wonderment of place.

One of these meeting resulted in:

Duane McDiarmid (second from the left) among the Calvinists
He was wandering through the Sierra with a stupendous pack (about 80 pounds, he said), including three bear canisters. The one in the picture had chimes in it — to let the bears know one was coming, and since they didn’t want to be circus bears, his amusing theory was that they would go elsewhere. Another had, apparently, an accordion. The third had food. He was only carrying the one with the chimes when we met. He is a fan of using tree leaves as toilet paper (not a bad idea, although at 11,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada pine needles night be less effective). A previous enterprise involved a solar-powered ice cream maker in the midst of the Nevada desert. The idea was to cause some pleasure, but also to suggest that perhaps we take too much with us into the wilderness.
We wandered about barren Mesa Lake, then over to Tomahawk Lake, which is definitely worth a visit. After a pleasant day of wandering about this high, open country, we headed back to camp.

The Kotwa project 2013, is a series of remote performances supported by an Aldo and Leonardo Fellowship, Art Ranch and the Wilderness division of the U.S. Forest Service to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. My fellowship was situated in the John Muir Wilderness Area. The Wilderness Act includes both highly specific prohibitions and protections but also the esoteric ‘shape shifting’ language of “maintaining wilderness character”. But who or what represents wilderness character in our era? How will we be guided across this terrain? This is the purpose of the Kotwa (Keepers of the Wilderness Act), and Gni Gnah Loof, (Hanging Fool--a shamanesque instigator and player in the Wilderness Theater).
My project recorded and fictionalized actions that sit between the performed and the simple enactments that make up living on the trail. Like my happenstance audience of Rangers, Hikers and Mule-drivers, I negotiated the legal statutes, environmental extremes, and a nuanced role-playing that is a seamless part of ‘Contemporary Wilderness’. Motivated by a schism of roles, liaison between public and Rangers, interrogator and social critic of ‘wilderness as a concept’ and individual explorer authentically seeking the transcendental eureka. I investigated how conditioned preconceptions, fantasies, fears and the re enactments of prescribed roles transform the wilderness into a theater--

The documentation of the work (panoramics posted above) interrupt themselves by foregrounding blatantly incongruous visual elements to assert a fiction that better resembles the situated actions I ‘performed’, for it is not the prop, performance, documentation but the interaction between site (sometimes inclusive of ‘audience’) and self that is where this work resides.

bear can with wind chime
headdress atop bear can 
headdress carin in wind
bear can with wind chime's rope handle
bear can swinging chime
bear can swinging chime & shadow 
as Gni Gnah Loof, near glacial remains