A Bayou Bouquet

Today was a Bayou bouquet, literally and figuratively. We actually did go out and collect a bunch of Golden Clubs from the Bayou, and the rest of the day was a diverse mix of class and individual visits, printing of Hurricane Alex print, processing of the shapes scan from last weekend, artist talk, and wonderful dinner out with our new Pensacola friends.

Maria spent a good part of the day altering and cleaning the scan of the shapes to get them ready to be masks in TouchDesigner. Here are some results from those efforts:

Alex spent a good part of the day processing the files from the Hurricane Alex scanning experiment for printing, including some detail subsets. When the first print came out we weren’t happy with the level of contrast but noticed that when oils from our fingers got on the print, the blacks became blacker. So we rubbed mineral oil all over it and this helped a lot. We know Carlos will be interested in our hands-on innovation :–) The print now hangs in the studio space. Below is a detail:

We also went for a quick jaunt to the Edward Ball trail head to gather more of the Golden Club that a student had gifted us a couple days ago. We collected a whole bouquet of them and found a couple of mushrooms to add to it. Almost every one of them were added to the progressive scan. Here is a scan snippet with a part of the original Golden Club:

 

We have two scanners working now – one is working on the progressive scan mentioned above, and the other is our camellia scan. The camellia is deeply embedded in the land and culture of the Florida Panhandle. When we flow the scans through touch designer back in Vancouver we will be experimenting with layers, transparency, colour, texture, shape, speed and rhythm to capture this flower in its cultural complexity.The image below shows a red variety crisply dehydrated:

The end of our day found us discussing our installation and AIR discoveries in an artist talk held in the gallery. We had a warm and curious audience that, through their questions and comments helped us see how much we had done here. The innovative open studio model of this residency has been excellent as a method of generating ideas and materials. The format allowed us to become integrated into the creative community here in a natural, seamless and enchanting way. We will miss these people and this place!

The final part of our day was spend in the quaint part of Pensacola at a great Indian restaurant with the friends we’ve made here. As we left we looked up and saw this  charming chiming ceiling they’d installed to welcome diners and also offer a delightful goodbye.

 

 

 

 

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A visiting day

Working with the delightful students here has defined our day today. At 8am, Thomas Asmuth and his digital foundations class viewed the installation and conversed with us about the process of creating it. Afterwards we walked through the campus Bayou (Edward Ball boardwalk trail) and found ourselves seeing it anew through the lens of the local knowledge and memories of our guest walkers. Thomas identified the fish in the water, (blue gill and small mouth bass) and many, many of the plants – he even spotted an exotic, definitely non-indigenous, opportunistic taro plant tribe. How it found its way there is a mystery. Alyx Jeffreys, the student in our feature image, brought a handheld bluetooth digital microscope that allowed us to see the bayou in a completely new way. She also had a regular SLR and took some wonderful images – including this lichen.

photo courtesy of Alyx Jeffreys

The students thought ahead and brought bags for collecting garbage and left the bayou better than they found it. We heard about the behaviours of local wild life (Dylan had intimate knowledge of possums – not as cute as you’d think). We saw lots and lots of spider webs of all kinds. It was unclear whether we were seeing so many because they were made more visible by the rain or if the rain had somehow prompted the creation of more webs. They were hard to photograph but we all tried. The view with the microscope was very interesting, especially viewed sidelong.

  

The collection from this walk collection yielded new pine life, new ferns, and new mushrooms including a tapioca slime mold (ok, not technically a mushroom). Wikipedia claims that this slime mold got its official name, Brefeldia maxima, because it was thought to be particularly ugly. Granted, the specimen we saw was not so big but judge for yourself:

Alyx got a picture of it using her microscope and it looked like snow crystals. I hope we get our hands on this picture to update this post!

In the early afternoon, Nick Crogan, the director of the Pensacola Museum, brought his museum design students to visit us. We discussed all aspects of the exhibit, from conception through to visual technique to production and the the multiple changes and adjustments we all went through in the installation process. We also discussed the unusual format of being highly visible and interactive visiting artists-in-residence and all the advantages that this format has had for us.

Yesterday Noah, a ceramic and sound student had brought up the idea of bringing in physical bowls that could be played in response to the soundscape Simon Overstall created for the installation. He came in with a variety of bowls today and Maria and he experimented with recording them in a rehearsal room using the 360 microphone (Rode NT-SF1 Ambisonic mic). On Thursday we will try recording them in tandem with the installation.

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Campus X

Today our walk began thematically at parking lot x – leaning into Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. Venturing past the nature trail and bayou on the campus we moved towards the larger Escambia river that flows into Pesacola’s Escambia Bay. Ultimately we didn’t find foot access to the big river, but we did find our way to a larger, deeper part of the Conecuh (pronounced Cah-NECK-ah) river that feeds the bayou on the campus.

Following an unmarked, decommissioned road we came to a dock on a deep, slow-moving part of the Conecuh. It sported a rich wetland with grasses, watery ponds and an abundance of the chaotic forest style that is typical here. In addition to the deep stillness that typifies the bayou at this time of year, there was a low persistent thrum coming from the large smoke stack of the Gulf Power Crist Plant – a plant currently run on coal, that has been negatively affecting the ecosystem with its run-off. Maria made a few sound recordings, but the sound that was captured was overwhelmingly the deep bass sound emanating from the plant – making us wonder how deeply it affected the ecosystem as it runs day and night. In Jeff’s trilogy Area X manifests and captures land that transforms into pristine primordial nature with its ecosystem revitalized. Area x also has the power to transform humans. A bit of this magical thinking would go a long way here.

Entropy is evident in this place. Perhaps it’s less so during the growth season, but the bareness of the winter reveals primary strategies. Mushrooms and lichen colonizing their hosts. Plants that rely on each other to climb have created loops of intertwined branches that have unwittingly captured falling twigs. All of this forms unlikely assemblages that are beautiful chaos. This place is messy. Messier than Vancouver. Primed by the stillness and grey cast of the day, our minds were stopped by a saw palmetto shoot moving vigorously back and forth in the otherwise stolid forest floor. Nothing moves like that without some sort of very directed energy. We surmised that a creature was digging a tunnel and affecting its root system. The uncanny nature of the event (captured on video) woke us up — pure enchantment. We also came across a lonely champion twinkleberry tree. Apparently the biggest twinkleberry ever spotted. It was awarded this distinction in 1977. We don’t know if another has surpassed it. It certainly looks worse for wear and its trunk is being devoured by champion termites. The whole scene was desolate and abandoned. So strange to be labeled a champion and left to die on this unloved road.

 

On our return walk to the campus we visited the camellia garden and returned to the studio with 10–15 varieties. We started a camellia scan based on a visual strategy we developed over three years ago for a begonia. The rounded corners, and squarish shapes seems just right for the over-the-top aliveness and attitude of the camellia.

We also received plant gifts from students in Robin Blyn’s class who dropped in during the afternoon. The ferns and shoots (including a swamp shoot!) they brought in will find their way onto tomorrow’s progressive scan. Carrie Fondor’s thoughtful New Genre class dropped in this evening and gave us some great feedback and inspiration for new directions to take the work. We heard about the Taj Mahal of Pensacola and also got some great tips about the Blackwater park. Some of the students may be joining us on our walk at 8am tomorrow!

 

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Foxtrotting

Today we walked with four lovely students! When we got to the studio this morning we were surprised to see people waiting to go on a walk with us because we hadn’t seen any names on the signup sheet before we left yesterday. So nice to have these wonderful enthusiastic people joining us. Rebecca, a student who knows the campus trails very well, offered to lead the group through the boardwalk bayou to the Foxtrot trail and back. The sky was cloudless, the air crisp and cool – a perfect day for an outing. We walked for 3 hours discovering more and more life within a seemingly dormant bayou. As happens every time we go on a walk, the eyes adjust to the details gradually. Initially we engaged in conversation about life, school, their experience with the campus, nature, etc. But as the enchantment of nature took hold, we started pointing out details like minnows, scales on scaly pines, spider webs, decaying trees, grasses.

We made a rule that we (Alex and Maria) would not collect anything on this walk. It would be the responsibility of the guest walkers. This would prove to be hard for us but ultimately the right choice as it was fascinating to see what they picked up, being locals. We did have some influence, particularly on how much of each thing was taken (they were more timid at first). In the end we had two bagfuls of bark, branches, grasses, mushrooms, needles, and more.

When we got back to the studio, we arranged our collection on one of the tables. Unfortunately Alex and I had to jet downtown for a talk but we left the very capable guest walkers with the task of coming up with rules for how we would set up the scan the next day. We still haven’t seen these rules but very much looking forward to the process of interpretation tomorrow morning when we quickly drop in to the studio before going downtown for the colloquium roundtables.

 

 

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Pensacola so far

We arrived in Pensacola on Saturday February 1st. It was cold. We didn’t expect that. Neither of us brought the required clothing. Since then it’s been up and down in temperature with a huge range (12-27C). So even though it sometimes feels like summer to us, it’s definitely their winter as evidenced by the vegetation, which is largely in a dormant state.

We were also surprised by the structure of the city especially since the University of Western Florida (UWF) where we are being hosted is quite far from the historic downtown area of the city.

Things we have noticed about Pensacola:

  • Their are many many baptist churches. And we have been told there are more than meet the eye. Some houses are churches. When one enters bookstores, there is a front section dedicated to God and religion. This is an important part of the culture here.
  • There are many Waffle Houses. We are not sure why. Apparently they are all freezing cold.
  • It is car country. The roads are ultra wide and there are not many sidewalks. We spotted one bike path. Our dream of getting around by walking was dashed. We rented a car. Turns out a tank of gas here costs all of $30 (CDN). It’s really hard to get our bearings because everything is so far apart and the visible landmarks are usually chains like Denny’s or Taco Bell.
  • U-Turns. The highways and main roads (and there are many) are extremely wide and are generally separated by a centre median. This means that to get to where you need to go (like a Waffle House, say), it is necessary to make a U-turn. It is sanctioned and encouraged (nay, planned well in advance) by the in-car nav. We miss the frisson of U-turns in Vancouver.
  • It is surprisingly easy to be a vegan here. There are some good grocery stores and a greater awareness about plant-based diets than one might expect.
  • When it rains it sometimes comes down in sheets. On the first rain we encountered here, 75-100mm fell in a few short hours. There was dramatic thunder and lightning. And then a couple hours later all the accumulated water was absorbed by the sandy soil.

We have learned a lot of about the area in conversation with our gracious hosts and other visitors to our makeshift studio in the TAG gallery. For example, we noticed that there are many camellia trees here and someone told us they know of a camellia tsar (his words). Turns out there is a camellia garden on campus and we walked through it today. It was absolutely amazing. We will do a camellia scan.

The campus is located on a hilltop and is surrounded by wild spaces. There are also many trees on the campus itself. Once we started walking, we loved it. There is a boardwalk trail through a Bayou a short 5 minute walk from the gallery. From there, there is a 17 mile network of trails. All of the trails warn of alligators and poisonous snakes but there seems to be no general fear about these encounters. We have seen one snake so far and it was a mutually benign encounter. We learned from Jeff VanderMeer (who gave a lecture today) that alligators are like scaly basset hounds, and that, if you need to, you can execute a well-planned jump over one. We also learned that there are attacking otters here. And that this area is the 6th most biodiverse area in the world.

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