Thursday, December 11, 2008
Bird Sculpture Park
Place and Time: A Dialogue with Nature
Sculpture Residencies and Exhibition 2009
To organize an inaugural exhibition of site-specific sculpture and earth-art at Yellow Bird Sculpture Park in the Summer/Fall of 2009. There would be four month long residencies (two for each of August and September), and 10 awards of $750 for costs involved in preparing and installing individual works selected from maquettes, proposals etc. The resulting exhibition would run for six weeks Oct 1 - Nov 15 2009.
To establish Yellow Bird as a site for displaying and enjoying outdoor sculpture and earth art, to promote the educational benefits of public art, and to bring local artists into contact with the wider international scene.
* Residencies  @ 1000 + travel (max $600), materials ($400), accom + misc costs $500 [$10000]
* Awards  @$750 (travel, materials etc.) [$7500]
* Prizes  $$ ($2500, $1500, $1000) [$5000]
Planning and organizational assistance [$5000]
Other costs (incl installation, advertizing and promotion) [$2500]
Collaboration hoped for with Vanderbilt’s Studio Art Department, and Cannon County Arts Center. Financial support tba
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
with thanks to Joe (the real plumber) Prince
Monday, November 10, 2008
I cut through about 50' of fence - a mixture of square roll fencing, and barbed wire. Some of the fence wire had cut deep into growing trees, and had to be clipped off with my amazing fencing pliers, the head of which, with its hooked nose and its hammer face, seems to have evolved about eight different functions. I pulled up two T-posts with Joe's heavily levered red post puller. And I coiled the old fence into a rusty brown roll. How to dispose of it? Even The Recycling Center does not want old wire - I think it jams their machinery. Farmers find a back gully and roll old wire into the next century. But the more I looked at it, the more it seemed like an opportunity rather than a problem. I came to see that it could be the armature of a vine-covered bird sanctuary. If I set this jumble of dead wire and fencing in a back from the path, just under the trees, and planted it in the spring with climbers, (or just left it for nature to invade), it would quickly become a haven for birds, protected by the wire from predators.
Removing the fence was a revelation. Just being able to walk across that divide was a special thrill and I took out some small saplings that had taken root in the old fence line. Establishing continuity between what shortly before had been inside and outside was a visceral experience. I could feel the land smoothing over under my hand as if it were flesh. I spent another couple of hours with my Echo chainsaw, trimming the thorn-festooned eye-spike level branches of the osage orange and the honey locust trees. And dragging the amputees deeper into the woods. Occasionally, there would be a backlash from a cut limb, and my right hand got pricked and torn and brimmed with blood. It felt right that I should be marked in some bright way. I was marching around trimming and tidying the world just as I wanted it. But it should not be an entirely one way process. I tried to leave eloquent shapes where I found them - arched branches, branches that fanned out horizontally. Sometimes I would trim them to look even more elegant or strange. Some of these dead grey trees are inhabited by dryads, with little entrances clearly marked.
I left the whole space ready to be bush-hogged with the tractor. It will reduce to clippings all the brambles that tear at one's clothes. Walking will become a pleasure, not a war. And where the branches were dragged off to - deeper into the woods, further down the hill - will become the new wild. If I have destroyed habitat by clearing the brambles, I have created more thickets a little further afield. And the horses will be able to run around without being torn up.
I just hope being mown down in November is not some sort of fillip for bramble growth in the Spring. If I hear the stubble murmuring "What does not kill me makes me stronger", I will have to reconsider my strategy. Meanwhile, I welcome the prospect of some stunning new spaces.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
On 30 acres in Dumfriesshire Charles Jencks created his Garden of Cosmic Speculation, an 18th C garden 'full of ideas', as he put it. The ideas in question are highly abstract, modeling 'the cosmic architecture of galaxies, black holes, and the Big Bang', and provoke (in me at least) something of a double response. On the one hand, like the perfectly laid out geometrical forms of the gardens of Versailles, outside Paris, it looks like the imposition of human order onto a nature that must at all costs be tamed. On the other, the geometry in question is not that of angles and straight lines, but mimics the (mathematically describable) organic curves found at many different levels in nature, both cosmic and micro-cosmic (like DNA). And from the pristine photographs it looks as if landscape maintenance is a major task chez Jencks, with an enforced regime of grass mono-culture, the better to accentuate the curves, a cross between a canvas and billiard table cushions. It was with both delight and relief that I read that the invasion of part of Jencks' garden, Snake Hill, by moles and voles, had occasioned some head-scratching. As befits a very 18th C project, Jencks had spoken of "using the landscape to investigate what your beliefs are. And the appearance of the moles took this process forward. ... [Some] said we must get back to normal, and get it right, the way it was, and I thought a long time and said no, no, no, we must work with nature. And this is a very good illustration of catastrophe theory in action ... it's a co-creation with nature... nature makes a move, we make a move, and we're in dialog."
This is a great model for Yellow Bird as a Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art]-in-process, in which, yes, there are ideas-put-into-action. But not only moles give you feedback. What is exciting about Jencks' moles is of course that moles are not just destroying, but creating whole underground earthworks, much more complex than the burial chambers of Egyptian pyramids, for example. An army of mini-James-Turrells. Half blind they may be, but they have, in a very positive sense, a highly developed 'tunnel vision'. (Cf. rats, famous for being better at solving maze puzzles than humans.)
Jencks' model of 'dialog' with nature is very productive. Returning from the sea, there is a peculiar reassurance in stepping on to 'terra firma'. Earthquakes understandably cause deep anxiety. 'Undermining' is almost always a negative term. Jencks' moles and voles caused part of the garden to 'fail'. Hegel and Marx played with the characterization of their own writing as 'molework', both in the sense of undermining and exploring, perhaps renewing what Kant had called the Groundwork of philosophy. /See ref. below/ For the most positive narrative, we might compare the vital role of worms in a fertile soil, aerating it at many layers, drawing down surface litter, digesting decaying organic matter into soluble nutrients, etc. Here, holes, tunnels, are communication pathways, transmission channels, part of the health of a living soil, rather than undermining a firm, dead, impervious solidity.
Walking around the lake last night, I found fresh mounds of soil on the grass.
"So, Yellow Bird is a Gesamtkunstwerk-in-process! Tell us more ..." [to be continued]
[See David Farrell Krell's article "The Mole: Philosophic Burrowings in Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche" in boundary 2, Vol. 9, No. 3, Why Nietzsche Now? A Boundary 2 Symposium (Spring-Autumn,1981), pp.169-185].
This morning I started up the new road again, expecting (like last night) to find more clusters of deer, with their white flash tails marking their darting flight. Instead I found myself tidying up the rocks on the side of the road, forming a ring around the new rock cairn/roadside sculpture. Suddenly, chaos is turned into order, through minor rearrangement. And yet every rock I moved was the shelter for worms, beetles, larvae, and channel and tunnel patterns that would now be destroyed.
I could lament this, or celebrate the ongoing shaping and reshaping of the world that is our common task. Each rock in the new circle will provide a new shelter for insects etc. And out their windows, they will have an up-market view - of the cairn. Elsewhere at YB there are walls (stone fences), some of which seem functional (marking boundaries) and others not - just lines in the woods. They may have been made by gangs of slaves after emancipation who wandered around looking for work. Farmers would (I believe) have them clear rocks off the land so it could be ploughed, and these walls began at least as just neat ways of stacking them! There is a civil war 'monument' at the top of my neigbour's ridge. Or is it just a big pile of rocks, cleared from the surrounding area. Now a landmark. How the symbolic is born from the practical.
P.S. And why do deer exhibit their flight so vividly with those white lines on their erect tails. Couldn't a predator track them more easily?
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Today's financial crisis has given prominence to the dangers of 'leverage', in which a small amount of money is made to do too much work, with the attendant risk that the house of cards will at some point collapse. In this world, leverage is associated with empty promises, excessive risk etc. But in the real world, leverage is a vital principle and power.
Beside the new road connecting old and new YB, there are many rocks, haphazardly abandoned by the bulldozer when the dirt stopped moving. Returning from a short morning walk, inspecting the germination of the feed-wheat scattered for erosion control on the banks of the road, I came across a small family of 7-8 rocks that called out to be stacked as a cairn. The large ones were hernia fodder - too big to lift, but not too big that one might not THINK one could lift them. Pondering the situation, I flashed back to another early morning scene outside a monastery on Mt Athos, in Northern Greece, where four elderly monks were moving enormous stones using wooden staves as levers. I quickly found just such a tool, about 5 ft long, made of cedar. And with its help I was able to slide one stone onto the base stone, and then swivel it into position by turning it on a proud point on its surface. With leverage there was almost no effort, where before the whole body strained in the heaving.
When we think about the history of fundamental inventions, it is easy to run forward to the wheel, and to forget altogether about the lever, which, before donkeys and horses, already made it possible for humans to move things they otherwise could not, giving us what is called 'mechanical advantage'. And so I aligned myself with the builders of Stonehenge (who also rolled stones on logs), achieving what seemed impossible, with simple equipment, ingeniously deployed. And with the bird who uses twigs to poke insects out of dead trees.
Nearing the top of the cairn, I lifted rocks directly, using the ropes and hawsers and bone-levers of my own frame. Can we really be 97% water? Well, my tractor's front-end loader runs on hydraulic fluid. Working with and against gravity. These rocks now look as if they have been there forever. Moss is colonizing the North face.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
The white rock sculpture exposed in the pond will start to be submerged again, simulating the erratic surfacing and drowning of Smithson's Spiral Jetty. The Aztecs are said to have cut the hearts from their victims, draining their blood down the temple steps to encourage the sun to rise again the next day - each red dawn gorged with sacrifice. And until the rain comes, pouring down the cracked throats of every parched shoot, every desperate tree, no-one can be sure it will return, that the cycle might not have been suspended. Already the fields have turned grey, a step or two closer to desert. When the dust turns to mud and the weeds sprout anew, some of these surface rocks will be sucked back into the pasture, and the history of this once limestone sea-bed will be hidden again from view.
We seem insulated from tectonic transformations by geological time. And yet the current financial meltdown looses on the world Foucault's spectre of the washing away of the human as the marks of birdsfeet on the beach are dissolved by the incoming tide.
Yellow Bird - with its Zygoptera (damsel fly) wingbeats at 60 per second, and its ordovician coral fossils some 450 million years old (sorry Palin), with its Civil War era pile of rocks on the ridge, its root cellar filled with domestic refuse, and its shadows of lost fields, is a vast theatre of laminated time, of pulsing rhythm and irresistible shifts, a medley of dances from the feverish and frenetic to a slow swirl welcoming death, inviting rebirth. Over millennia this same rain has scoured the limestone into living shapes that from time to time wake from their larval slumbers and crawl to the surface. Where we wait to meet them.
Friday, October 3, 2008
I need to look more closely for wings, in case one might turn out to be Pegasus, the winged horse of legend. From a distance, it is decidedly possible. Even without wings, with gold bridles and a little coiffing, they could nudge the mythological.
Perhaps it was their arrival (and temporary quarantining while they are wormed), but that prompted enthusiasm on the part of their neigh-bors, the Heflingers, but not long after these three stooges managed to open the gate to their field and trot off down the drive. I gave chase with my 4x4, and captured and led Kaysee back into their field. Whereupon the other two returned and somehow persuaded Kaysee that he could jump the fence, and off they all went again. Angie, on the phone, suggested bribing them with food, and eventually I got them all back by shaking the bucket of sweet horse grain. It does look good – I might try it for breakfast.
So now, all seven horses are inside their respective fences, and all is right with the world. But I confess I am not quite sure about the whole fence thing. They say good fences make good neighbors. And yet it surely matters who decides where to put the fence, what is being excluded, under what conditions etc. We all want to be safe, but not in jail. Are these horses in jail? Must we not constantly, or at least regularly, justify every such fence, making it a playground rather than a jail – both the fences we make for others, those we submit to, and those we make for ourselves.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
My plan was to make (I had hoped) two or three such cabins, so that people could come and stay for a weekend or a month to finish that essay, or write that book, in an attractive peaceful setting. The style would be simple without being primitive. I am reminded of the Hotel de Filosophes in Amsterdam, in which each room was dedicated to a particular philosopher, had a select quote inscribed around the top of the wall, and a bookshelf of their books. I stayed in the Simone de Beauvoir room. It is an idea worth imitating, though perhaps one could ring the changes from month to month. Perhaps these cabins could be very much smaller than the 900 sq ft I was thinking of (on two floors). How much room does one need to live in? Is it easier to concentrate in a tiny space? With a deck! How about a well appointed tree-house?
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Yellow Bird Farm (the main property) has been owned by:
Beecher Stroud (father in law of HH) sold to Hogan Hollis (see Hollis Creek Rd) - (father of Louise, Carol’s (Bob Melton’s wife) mother). HH owned a property that included Bob’s farm and what is now mine, and sold off Yellow Bird to Woodrow Shelton (1945) (father of wife of Elmus Tenpenny – I met Woodrow a couple of years ago before he died) - he drained the small existing pond (claimed there were mega-mosquitos). He had tenant farmers growing tobacco, hogs, dairy cows: the Reedy’s (son George), the Willey’s (?), the Thomas’s. He sold to Johnny Huff, who sold to Grady Ratliffe (the farm still had cornfields behind the poultry shed). He ran out of $$, and the farm went to Ode Pettigo (realtor?), who sold it to Joe Davenport (1964), who sold it to me.
[The Lodge was built for Priscilla Woodward and Charlie Thornton in 1996 by Tom Bean. Built from 4x4 pine wood reclaimed from a whisky distillery, and from sunken cypress recovered from the Mississippi in/near Memphis. Sold 2005 to Pat and Julie Fann, then to me Spring 2008. Ralph Hall built the connecting road for me with his bulldozer in May 2008.]
The only previous name Joe knew was Rebel Hill Farm, which he once gave it at the suggestion of one of his pupils. The big field above the farm pond was Back field, and the field with the old pear tree, Pear Tree field. Apparently the pear tree was old when Louise was a child (she is in her 70s). Said to be a ‘Bosch’. Looks more like a Keiffer to me. Either way, ripens in October. I am picking fruit now and storing them in the basement. Ethylene from ripe bananas in the same brown bag apparently accelerates ripening.
Why ‘Yellow Bird’ Farm? Probably an associative mix of childhood visits to Yellowstone, affection for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the name of a calypso song, and a certain natural ring of innocence and delight. I was standing outside the barn with Joe a few weeks after I bought the place. “So, you’re calling it Yellow Bird” he said. “Do you see those birds on the fence?” “Yes I do” “Blue birds” he declared. And then with a twinkle: “In the spring we get bright yellow goldfinches – you’ll see.”
Words can be like birds. You are searching for the right word, when – how did it get there? – you find it’s perching on your shoulder.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
To share Yellow Bird with sculptors, earth-artists, friends etc. – especially from a distance - I need to be able to provide some sort of map. Perhaps I too need a sense of it as a dispersed but articulated whole. I can get both a plat and a topo map from the Court House in Woodbury, but it will lack any location names. So I have set myself the task, the pleasure, and the adventure, of devising a palette of names for the significant sites. Immediately, the whole question of ‘place’ jumps out. If place is meaningful spatial location, what role do names play? Establishing, creating, opening, extending, provoking, commemorating …. meaning? Should we name everything at the same time, as if by divine decree – like the ‘world’ of Narnia, or the Hobbit – so that the names all seem to have been baked in the same oven? Do we deploy literary allusions, chance associations, portentous redeployments? Do we let names accumulate over time, as memories accrete and inspiration upbubbles anew? (Yes, that seems right.) And who does the naming? Here I welcome input - imaginative, biographical, commemorative … YB is a shared space – with bipedic and polypedic friends alike - or it is a poor thing. Can I listen to the other-than-human for guidance?
Yellow Bird Solar Research Institute. I filled a black 55 gallon oil drum with water and placed it in the sun. As it filled up, the outside metal was cold below the water level, and hot above it. So it seemed to be radiating heat within. But at the end of the day, it seemed sub-tepid. So much for a free daily drum bath. I guess it’s radiating heat back out again. Next step – try to find a big clear plastic bag and some spacers to create a greenhouse effect. (The official solution creates an insulated glass box.) Watch this space.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Life at Yellow Bird: In the mornings I am writing a book: Fatal Projections: Pathologies of Alterity. Most of the chapters are written or drafted – typically versions of papers I have given over the last two years. But as much as they do fit together, I am struggling to clarify an integrative theoretical basis. I am looking for a streamlined general account of ‘projection’ both as necessary for sanity and as empirically variable and ethically charged. I think of Kant, Feuerbach, Freud – but how to sew them together? In the face of this challenge, I went in for displacement on Friday, and cleaned out the fridge. Out went rotten containers, moldy sachets, out of date cheese (yes, I’m not yet a vegan). Was I modeling for myself the difficult practice of throwing stuff away. Practice on dead broccoli, move on to bad first drafts.
Today, I must have been continuing to externalize the task of organizing mental/textual space. I got it into my head that there was a part of YB that had too long been out of bounds, the steep brambly slope up to the ridge above Pearson Pond. Surely my 4x4 would handle that. I could take shears and a Japanese pull hand-saw to clear the way. An hour later, having got lost, stalled, and ripped up by nature’s precursor of barbed wire slashing my forearm, I began to regret my venture. Large logs obstructed the way. Trees too close to pass between blocked my passage, and everywhere dangling strands of thorns. At the same time, the drive to return and ‘conquer’, with more serious equipment and a team of trail-blazers, was hard to repress. The better to ‘care’ for the place. Perhaps we need a little control for care-taking to happen. Anyway, with an arm crimson-speckled with thorns, I looked forward to returning to writing and thinking, less bloody forms of the sanguine.
In trying to think about projection, I note that cleaning the fridge and trying to cut paths through the wilderness are precisely forms of projective externalization, displacing a problem with a less promising form onto a space in which ‘it’ seems more tractable. But on this occasion, at least, surely it’s not the same problem. There is just an analogy between the two problem situations. I still need to return to sorting out my book’s conceptual map. All I will have gained is a certain renewed confidence in tackling difficulty. Or, worse, a confirmation of Sartre’s dictum that ‘les choses sont contre nous’, and that sometimes they win.
I went by Bob’s and picked up the boards I had sorted out from the old building I agreed to tear down for him. I plan to make a French Country Table, 8’ x 30”, with breadboard.ends by gluing them tight onto plywood. Narrow so that you are close to people sitting opposite. Are the boards oak? Poplar? Some of each? Can a warp be flattened out with screws or glue? The classic joinery advice is to use round pegs in oval holes to hold the end pieces, so the width can ‘move’. Another nice example of strength through flexibility. Pleased to discover that the poison ivy I thought covered the building is or was largely Virginia creeper. I feared the worst. Vines of mass destruction. How can we prevent ourselves being governed by fear? Imagination is good; fearing the worst bad. How/when can we subject imagination to ‘reason’, or at least a certain reflection?
Friday, September 26, 2008
I drive on with my 4x4, and take a tour of the estate. Much to do if I want to host a sculpture competition[exhibition etc next summer/fall. To begin with, maintain all trails, and map the whole area, with names. How to invent names? I could draw on a literary model (Tigger was lifted from W the Pooh). Or wait for memories and associations to arise. Or?