Four Shapes of Pensacola

Pensacola Epilogue #1

Well it’s been just over 4 months since we got back from Pensacola. So much has happened. As soon as we got back, a flood of administrative and teaching duties came our way from having been away. And then, a few days later, I got really sick with symptoms remarkably similar to COVID-19, and passed it on to Alex. Then as we were both recovering we were told to prepare for the University to shut down.

The ensuing months were difficult but enlightening. We tried to keep up production but the reflection needed to understand the pandemic situation and enforced isolation inhibited a free flow of ideas. We still very much valued the experiences we had in Florida and the data we collected, but they became distant very quickly as the more immediate situation enfolded.

It wasn’t a complete shutdown of creative activities. We tried to work with the Camellia scan data. We processed it in different ways. After a while we had to admit we just weren’t falling in love with them. There was just something about the composition, the too-much-ness of Camellias, that thwarted our efforts. It may be that they can’t be treated as a standalone study. They may find themselves interjected into the other works. And this, in a way, seems fitting given the way we encountered them in Pensacola. They were very ordered, prim, in contrast to the wildness of the bayou and forests. Yes, they were everywhere in the city but somehow seemed like an addition. Like a lawn. Here is a frame from one study of the Camellia data:

camellia scans

Camellia scans processed through Touch Designer.

Recently as things have started to reopen and become more predictable, I started to play around with the shapes we had scanned on a rainy day. I also started to think about the colours we saw when we went down to the beachfront — bright joyful colours reminiscent of carefree beach holidays. This too seemed to be Pensacola. Again the contrast. In the end I made a composition of 4 of the shapes onto bright saturated backgrounds (featured at the top of this post). It may still change (maybe the camellias make an appearance??). We want to try printing it with the Risograph at Emily Carr. This is a standalone study for the mushroom shape (the accident that started it all):

Mushroom Shape

An accidental mushroom

There is still much to investigate and document from our time in Florida and we will keep going in fits and starts as we deal with all the changes in our lives.

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Sound Flower Pickens

We started the day with a quick jaunt to Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens via the Scenic Highway. This is something we had wanted to do during our stay but had never quite found the time.  On our way there we spotted the miniature Taj Mahal that we had been told about. Somehow in our minds we pictured it bigger but still the earnest kitsch quality of it was beautiful.

The sand here is indeed as white as people had told us. Like snow really (and more on that later). We had thought that the Fort was built by the Spanish but in fact it was build by the US government and was used mostly to ward off confederates. We don’t know the full history of the Fort yet because it was super cold today and we were way too chilly to read all the panels.

We rushed back to the lab for noon because we had scheduled a bowl recording session with Noah and Anastasia. Noah was ready with a series of bowls that he had made and filled with water to achieve certain tones. We collected various implements to bang on the bowls and recorded them on their own, as a collective, and as a collective with the Epic Walk composition by Simon Overstall. All of it was recorded in Ambisonic format using the Rode 360 microphone. We listened to portions of it later on using headphones (binaural) and it was delightful. Definitely led to some ideas about interactivity and sound.

We couldn’t do a full walk today but decided that it might be nice if the progressive scan ended on a colourful note so we went out on campus and collected a variety of small flowers, among them some cherry blossoms just starting to bloom — a fitting last gift to circle us back to Vancouver. We decided to let the scanners go for as long as we could and to do another trip to Fort Pickens in the meantime.

The second time around we had a bit more time and it was slightly warmer so we strolled through the Fort batteries and made out way onto the beach, past the bird nesting grounds where we are told we should leave them alone because they need space to forage, loaf, and court. This seems to us like exactly the kind of values we should keep in mind for humans — let us all create new human habitats that optimize for foraging, loafing, and courting. Life would be better for all.

Coming back, we decided to keep driving along the spit but about a third of the way in we realized it would take us way too long to get back to the University to pack up our studio. We had to do a UTurn! No problem. We have lots of experience with those by now. But as it turns out, the sand here not only looks like snow but also behaves a little bit like snow. As we tried to edge Loblolly the car back onto the road from the sand-flanked shoulder, we heard the sound of spinning wheels. Stuck in the sand in Pensacola in a quite deserted stretch of road. Maria tried to push the car from both sides to no avail. A car passed and stopped! Sean (a local man) had some straps that he used to link our cars together and try to pull us out. But the force of the pull snapped the straps without any kind of progress for Loblolly. We were about to try again with a slightly different technique when Dave and Donna from Kentucky stopped with their large pickup truck. They had a chain and a hitch and were able to pull us out without any problem. Meeting our embarrassment at being stuck in the sand, they said “it happens”. We thought they were just being polite southerners but in fact, apparently it does happen regularly here. In any case, we were charmed by the super helpful people that stopped and never made us feel stupid about any of it. We have no photo documentation of this adventure unfortunately.

Back at the University we took a look at the last few snippets from the progressive scan and the Camellia scan and printed a couple with the laser printer and pasted them in the notebook. We regretfully stopped both scans and started to pack up everything, leaving little traces of our presence here and there as bouquets, still lives, and best-of vegetation. It has been a beautiful time here and we will miss the studio, the people, the walks, the bayou. More on the learnings on a later blog post.

 

 

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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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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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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.
]
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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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