Visual artist Leah Wilson creates place-based paintings that address changes within environmental ecosystems over time. Both process and finished paintings reflect an engagement with ecology and environmental engineering through observation and data. In addition to drawing attention to natural cyclical changes, many of her paintings tell stories of landscapes that have been exploited and manipulated for their natural resources, and reveal the results of ongoing habitat restoration projects.
As an “episodic permanent resident,” Leah Wilson’s recent work is centered at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest located east of Eugene, Oregon. The Andrews Forest is one of 26 Long-Term Ecological Research sites in the world, making it ideal for extended place-based projects informed by ecological changes, and for cultivating of a sense of place through the creation of long-term projects.
Artist Statement - Collecting Evanescence
2012 – Present
The HJ Andrews Experimental Forest near Blue River, Oregon, is one of 26 long-term ecological research sites throughout the world. This makes it an ideal choice for me to create long term art projects informed by changes in the forest over an extended span of time. Through my presence in the forest, and afterward the process of deep reflection in my studio, I am observing my own path to knowing and connecting with this specific place that is known primarily by scientists and through science.
A lacquered plaque made from a slice of a tree trunk is adorned with an image of a salamander. It marks the beginning of the Discovery Trail located at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest headquarters. The trail wanders through old growth forest and leads to Lookout Creek. When I first came to the trail in 2012 I found no signs or kiosks along the trail designating an area or object as particularly “discover worthy.” There was an invitation at the trailhead to discover, but it did not dictate what that discovery should be, or when or how it should happen. The unintended gesture of placing the marker at the trailhead, and no more, succinctly described to me the potential that the invitation offered from being in and developing a relationship with this complex place. It was an invitation to discover both the questions and the answers. It was an invitation to personally come to know this place through the creative process and of art making.
My approach to creating artwork mirrors the mission of long term research at the Andrews. Both require the commitment of extended time with the place. As an outsider to the established community, a fundamental underlying objective to continue to create artwork from the Andrews is to develop a sense of belonging and a personal connection to the forest that evolves over time. Over the past six years some of the questions I continue to ask are:
By increasing understanding of the primary purpose and use of this place of science, can I also simultaneously see, use and know the place in a different way, in a way that my presence and process as an artist can initiate and eventually establish connection, knowing, and belonging? Can my development of a visual language, methods of discovery, and creative process fit alongside the language and methods of science in a meaningful way? What is the personal effect of consciously setting out to develop a deep connection and relationship with this place, and can it inspire others to ameliorate the disconnection they may feel from their own places? How would that, in turn, affect the places that have come to be known?
Answers are revealed slowly, if at all, and most often searching for the answers only leads to other questions. Here, as in other places, a connection is likely found within the ephemeral. Often the process of coming to know and building a relationship to this place, as with to any place, can feel like attempting to collect the evanescence. However, continuing to attempt to collect even what seems is futile, focuses attention and increases clarity. It opens a space for a deeper look. Through a persistent process of asking, noticing, collecting, creating, and reflecting, all in the attempt to know a place, and then to begin again, and yet again, connection is made.
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