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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STEAM2020 Feb9 Detail of gathered materials

Epic Walk Diaries (Pensacola) February 9

perdido toward perdido
never quite though
the indolent (beep beep)
keeps us rotating north

lime yellow green
spike stems
glowing in moist grasses
memories of horsetail
neither moss nor pine
vascularly rhyzomic
sporifically versatile
the original flash photography

happy black snake
not seen      seen
not bothered either way

long live the longleaf pine
from grass to tree
needly joyful fireworks
friends of fire
blue skies and wind

pine savannahs
pulped to near extinction
colonized by slash and loblolly
saved by love and rainwater
long live the longleaf pine

saw palmetto
pierce ground and brush
radiate blades
cut through uncertainty
with planar precision

scintillating
sleepy tubing river
I can see alabama from here

first timers greet
memories of the ancient
no hurry
the snake shall remain black
long live the longleaf pine

memories of alberta
wild rose country
catching
brambly
insistent

quiet budding
summer to us
winter to them

simple vertical
calming spindles
this forest is hope

—-
[
Start 1:33pm
End 4:53pm
From University towards Illian, recalculating,
recalculating, to Perdido River Nature Preserve,
onto trail, didactic panels, sunning snake, muddy patches,
to the river bank, a look at alabama, quick chat with the local,
back to trail, stymied by mud and brambles,
escape to private property, wet feet, lunch on the road,
boardwalk through the bog, sleeping pitcher plants,
long leaf pine savannahs, grasses, back to private property,
feathery finish to The Indolent (now loblolly).
]

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November 1 Detail of gathered materials

Epic Walk Diaries (November 1)

metallic blue berries metallic blue metallic blue
like planes so many planes so many boats
heard so many cars
there was dust
there were the waves too the lapping of water
sometimes we couldn’t see the boat it was a crescendo of
metallic sounds

remember the music notation for silence?
it wasn’t there
but sometimes almost there

didn’t you love that there were so many fences
and as many holes as fences?
we were always at an almost-dead end
then a new portal
so good

caught once
(but to be fair many came before us)
we slip past the perplexed matriarch
“we’re not wandering in, we’re wandering off!”

hardened flyäsh
it’s condemned he said
it would move the needle but as it was
it only said 13480 lbs
with some flickers
but really 13 or so tons
this is the coolest parking spot in vancouver
so many shapes and the potential of flyäsh
and and and
an ecosystem fed by the fraser

we heard the sound of hell fire low deep resonant menacing constant
it’s behind a door there are no windows
how do we know it’s not hell in there?
we have no contrary evidence
except the flyäsh guy
he says its a blower
you know for those big ass cement pipes you see lying around
oh ya I guess they’d need some blowing

a playground of shapes
like kindergarten but rusty not soft not small
ratty curtains of orange and blue
a lot of land doing not so much toil not so much work
piles of sand and products of sand
sometimes more emptiness
but on a fresh surface

what a weird little spot we found ourselves in

an outside living room
a box of test tubes with industrial plastic wrap
a survival kit war field surgery guide wilderness survival
water filtration he was ready for everything
except
maybe his own self
a woman would use a backpack
you know…you need both arms
for survival
he’s a survival commuter

a little frisson
probably we’re not supposed to be here
the whole time
we’ll apologize
it helps we’re women

brambles are the original colonizers
creeping across the concrete
far criss crosses
such an interesting deadlive zone this is
we find a colonial talking stick
hard and definite
it never stops talking

we happen on two eagles
they happen onto crows that feel their own mortality
attack screech eagle feather floating down
once more a path opens and we think
maybe this feather is for us
no I think
it will bless this forgotten road instead

—-
[
Start 1:22pm
End 4:37pm
Fraser Park to educational panels,
through trails and down to beaches once in a while,
through holes in fences and makeshift homes and living rooms,
many steps on forbidden territories including a cement factory (garden?)
it kicks us out swiftly,
we walk through the garden of cement shapes,
past a condemned fly ash dispenser,
under a tressle bridge and abandoned structures,
under the yellow oak street bridge,
through a mossy green pebbly beach,
up an embankment to a business park,
and finally to a park at the end of Shaughnessy Rd
(with sand volleyball courts)
back through the railroad tracks (on flyäsh advice)
down Kent (crossing the beginning of the arbutus greenway)
back to Fraser park and Lola.
]

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September 2 Detail of gathered materials

Epic Walk Diaries (September 2)

fruity prequel
   apples pears and guests

[ there is nothing like an apple right off the tree ]

    brambly webs of striped predators
 to fenced greens and rocky shores
    later for this final reckoning of riches

quel 
   to the wrong riches
  not quel
 schloss is our gain
   a veiled secret to an entrance
     [why us?]
  glad to escape the colonial 
      mud says more

monoculture park
   an invitation to trespass
 ganesh welcomes this begin
     [ remover of obstacles! ]
   sacred care
      ruby before stones

low tide
   [ can a river have low tide? ]
 grasses muddy to a martha stewart hue
    show the waves of time
      hide chasms of mud
      [ only the feet know ]
   
  a hinted salamander
   small like a mouse
     scurries like a squirrel

sprinkles of violet [asters]
   yellow 
     white (joined by pink juniors this time)
  magenta strands of invasion
    the old browns standing tall
       rosehips (the colonial kind)
   hawthorn reds
       deadly ones too

you take the low road
     [ the logs captured enslaved corpses ]
   i take the high road
        [ hugging brambles ]
  feasting on unseen blackberries
           watching the shore one
     on muddy ganesh-approved tracks

merging for the stony feast
      brambles finally give
    we have earned this resolve
[ how many before we pay later? ]

rock steps of uncertain balance
   a dance with slippery partners
     [ how would the japanese do this? ]
  grace to the finish

surer returning steps
    a fall bouquet forming
      [ you look timeless
               with this wild beauty in your hands]

-----
[
  Start 1:30
  End 4:00
  False start at McCleery Golf Course,
  to the schloss at the Marine Drive Golf Club,
  given permission for early morning with a hint
  to an easier way, to the Fraser River Park full
  of hawthorns, past a NO TRESPASSING sign,
  past a Hindu shrine on the river shore,
  scramble through flattened grasses, logs, rocks,
  mud, wild flowers, brambles, to the edge of McCleery,
  and back, past the shrine now joined by sunbather,
  blocked by a sunstroked seashore-cleaning kayaker,
  and to Lola (and water).
]
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July 23 Detail of gathered materials

Epic Walk Diaries (July 23)

        permission to enter
   thank you for asking
          a past-teenage pass
      fields of chicory
         purply bright bitters

   river boat smell crows feasting
       on pungent impermanence

a true path
   a mud bypass
 beside a more river
at ease

      pump station
  prompts chaotic strategies
    inhibiting bacteria
      doubles us back
  to musqueam academy

 permission to enter
    yes 
      some may not be as nice
 beware of the fore

        Amigo greets us
          at La Finca
     zucchini blessings for all
   sleeping pumpkins
         waiting for halloween
    fore ball     pumpkin wow
  two hundred orange pounds
          not Portlandian

     figs roses sunflowers
         (not smiley yellow)
            mourning Gilbert
     Gilbert with the new apple tree
       
          smiles on imperfect grass
     river path edible sweetness
       Bauer bench
           a note to return

 a road to helpful extraordinary lips
        directed lively
   
   shaded limpid creek
 leaning queen anne
    thistles push pull poke
       guarding a soft finish

         fruity amble
          passed white history
      winched   embarrassing riches
             river cops
      doubly taken land

    ripe bounty
        chalky jade
     anne bourne moments
   groomed wildness
      village permeability
 inaccessible secure wealth
         wild boundaries
   generous contradictions

   damson plum finish

----
[
  Start 10:10
  End 2:20
  Musqueam Cultural Rotunda,
  to the river, cul-de-sac, back to Lola,
  to the Musqueam golf and learning academy,
  on Groomed Paths by the water, up to 51st ave,
  back down to the water, more Groomed Paths,
  along country club, past Deering Island, 
  Groomed (Fruity) Paths,
  Mccleery Golf Course, picnic under plum tree, 
  clean finish at Carnarvon St and Celtic Ave.
]
2
April 21 Detail of Materials

Epic Walk Diaries (April 21)

circumvent the upper class
   kin yet rejected
  not prepaid
      private you know

musqueam welcome
     he said river
  walking good
    a dog rides cheerful
 meander to laughter
      family

tidal flats
   pretend easy
 bones say otherwise
      dispersed vertebrae
   skull     memories of eyes
     spineful finale

stick to the grass!
   mud traps and chasms
  oil underlay
 rivulets    at some scale
     rivules really
  follow the line serpentine
       algorithmic life art merger

reed waves
    rise and drape
   hide and house
  red winged black birds
     check check
 bushtits pootiweet
  do we only hear alarm calls?

human detritus
   photogenic barrels and balls
      easter gloves
 reed mud life asserts
    life wins
      patient

stoic sentinel field
  ritual ancestors
    stand orderly
  skeletal
      siren song
   mud bounce

 d e t o u r

chasm labyrinth 
   go left!
 stick to the grass
   leap!
    part the typha forest
  log highways
     positively running now

surprise opening
  listening oasis
 layers of song

greenery boundary
  contrasting relief
 honest map check
    grit to origin

taunting brambles
 brambles mud
   brambles branches
  brambles reeds
    brambles roses
  cedar saviors
      water bombs

coloured goals
   pull
 sorrel  irises
    yellow  white  pink
  just unwrapped green
      horsetail forests
    nettles
   awake awake awake

up the creek
  cedar root path
   fern handles
 red berry finish
     i hope you laugh

--
[
  Start 1:15pm
  End 6:05pm
  Avoid the colonial greens,
  to Musqueam cultural rotunda,
  meet the dog, witness the egg hunt,
  down to the river flats.
  around and around up and down backwards
  leaping slipping sinking
  scrambling brambling
  backward tracking to the creek
  remembered climb back to colonial greens.
  Encounter on private land, you know.
  road to Lola with unexpected forest walk.
]
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