The creek has been stretched back in time, erasing not only the human created erosion and damage, but also eliminating any chiseling the creek had done on its own prior to human intervention. It’s like shaking a giant Etch A Sketch until all evidence of previous drawings have been eliminated and the raw material is reset to a flat smooth plane where a new drawing can start to take form.
My relationship with Whychus Creek started tentatively. The milky glacial water was not inviting even though it was a hot day in July. The headwaters on Broken Top are not very far away. The water is cold.
In conjunction with my solo exhibition, Stories Told by Water, Umpqua Valley Arts hosted an artist talk on August 5. In this talk I give context to Stories Told by Water and I introduce work in progress the studio.
This place is defined by water.
I came to Pine Meadow Ranch to listen to stories of the creek on this ranch in Sisters, Oregon. The ranch is idyllic with its unobstructed views of the mountains and Whychus Creek, its milky glacial melt waters originating from Broken Top and all Three Sisters, running through the ranch.
Little, if any land on the ranch is untouched. It is a fully constructed landscape dating back to the 1800s when settlers cleared fields for cattle and began diverting streams to irrigate their ranches. Some of the coveted water rights for this ranch date back to 1895, superseding the water rights of Three Sisters Irrigation District (TSID).
My art does not speak directly to environmental crises, environmentalism, or even ecology. There is a lot of art that does and I’m not convinced of the efficacy of much of it to change minds or to offer a new perspective, let alone to initiate action. There is only so much crisis one can take. I know this from experience.
I choose a different approach with my work.
My resistance to the label art-sci leads me to examine why I gravitate toward science with my art. I wanted more magic. Scientists show me how to see the world differently and expanding my mind by helping me see more complexity in the environment. But now, As an artist, instead of burying the magic, I get to draw it out and play with it.
Art grants me certain liberties such as magic and intuition. Perhaps art offers scientists freedom and expansion to contemplate words like this. Expansions flow in both directions. I have gained freedoms and expansions from working with scientists.
What do I learn from climbing a tall old-growth tree many times? What can I glean after sitting in one place from sunrise to sunset every season of the year? It makes me ponder the differences between actively or passively receiving information.
We heard from four ecoartspace artists who shared their ideas and artworks about trees and forests: Marie-Luise Klotz, Christopher Lin, Erika Osborne, Leah Wilson. Leah Wilson told the story of “Listening to the Forest,” her installation created for Oregon State University’s College of Forestry.
Challenging perception is too confrontational for my liking and it implies that I: 1) know the viewers’ worldview and 2) have an agenda to change it. Neither is true.
Instead of a challenge, I see my art as an invitation.
Art does not need to include an explicit element of self expression. My creative process is in service to developing a relationship with place rather than expressing myself. My path veers away from science because of my intention. I look toward science for examples of field research processes and systems designed to look at the world objectively. Unlike scientists, I do not set up systems to ensure that whoever asks the question gets consistent answers. I do not aim to answer questions. My intention is to develop a relationship.
You have a very structured and deliberate approach to your art. Do you find that limiting? Many students complain, saying science writing is so formulaic, so boring. But consider haiku. What writing could be more formulaic?
I receive many questions during presentations and artist talks. I can’t address them all in the event’s timeframe. This is a good place to reflect:
Q: What motivates your choice in topics?
I am devoted to the process of integrating specific systems into my projects. Each discrete system builds upon the previous and my empirical knowledge grows alongside the more intangible knowledge. This is the space where systematic processes transform into rituals that may perhaps be spiritual in nature. The resulting wonder gleaned from the ritualistic performance of the system’s procedures feeds a part of my human spirit that systematic research for empirical knowledge alone does not provide – There is an additional intention embedded within the system.
How can my process of meaning making be distinguished from the ordinary process of making? Ritual? Can I accept that? I turn away from ritual now mostly from habit. It echos a repetition of actions that are done so many times they lose their meaning. I question those assertions and assumptions, reactions that have become automatic to almost become the ritual that I habitually reject.