Leah Wilson is a place-specific visual artist and writer. Her artwork is informed by rigorous physical engagement with the environment, keen observation, and a curiosity toward scientific ecological research.
Cultivating environmental empathy is critical at this juncture with our relationship to our planet. A fundamental underlying objective to create my place-specific artwork is to develop a sense of belonging and personal connection to the natural environment that evolves and deepens over time. I allow my art to be shaped by observing and responding to subtle environmental rhythms and oscillations. My creative practice evolves through a process of seeking around the edges where science drops its threads of inquiry, yielding, and opening a space for me to pick up threads to play with it. Both my process and finished artwork reflect an engagement with ecological relationships through imagination, observation, data, science, and physical interaction. Stories of connection, natural flow and rhythms, and awe and wonder are interwoven throughout my art.
I bear witness to environmental changes and honor what is present rather than prove my beliefs to be correct or to satisfy my expectations. I follow threads of inquiry presented to me when I am physically present in the place. My process requires a commitment of extended time with natural ecosystems and frequently includes places that are dedicated to the pursuit of increasing ecological scientific knowledge. Some of the threads of inquiry I continue to seek are:
By increasing my understanding of this place, can I also simultaneously see, utilize, and know it differently, in a way that my presence and process as an artist can initiate and eventually establish connections, 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 and environments? How would that, in turn, affect the places that others have come to know?
Answers are revealed slowly, if at all, and most often searching for answers only leads to more questions. Connections are likely found within ephemeral experiences. Often my process of coming to know and building relationships with places can feel like attempting to collect the evanescence. However, continuing the seemingly futile attempt to collect what cannot be held focuses my attention and increases clarity. Continuing this process opens a space for a deeper investigation to notice what the environment reveals within its unfolding layers. Through an intentional persistent and cyclical process of asking, noticing, collecting, creating, and reflecting, connections are made, my relationship with the ecological communities deepens and shapes me, and my art evolves.
I have made the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in Blue River Watershed of the Oregon Cascade Mountains my primary place of inquiry, my art home.
I embrace the land acknowledgment specific to the place in which I continue to find creative energy, inspiration, inquiry, community, and meaning.
Indigenous peoples have been in relationship for thousands of years with the forests, streams, and meadows we now call the Blue River watershed. In the Kalapuya Treaty of 1855 (aka Treaty of Dayton, Willamette Valley Treaty), the Kalapuya were forced to cede this land to the US Government. We continue to learn about, recognize, and value the attributes of the Blue River watershed that reflect the enduring relationship between Indigenous people and the land. We strive to be mindful of this relationship and to integrate it in our research, our decision-making, and our actions.
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