Archive for the ‘Exhibitions and shows’ Category

Thinking in Circles – A journey through the rings

Friday, November 9th, 2018

My following essay was published on Nov 7, 2018 by Abbey of the Arts as a ‘Monk in the World’ Guest Post. I invite you to visit their website for more posts and inspiration.

At the moment I’m shutting down my textile studio after a long day. The chaos of my work surface recedes. My thoughts take a quiet stroll through the day’s creative journey, where my eyes and hands led me outward from the warm heart of a tree, and back in again.

I have been a professional artist working with textiles for over 30 years. I also hold a BSc in Horticultural Science. Not surprisingly, my work is inspired by trees and the many ways they connect with each other, other organisms and humans. The biology, mythology, culture and symbolism of trees have given me an infinite source of material to draw upon, gracefully guiding me from one absorbing subject to the next. Lately my generous muse has led me to circles.

The circular motif perfectly mirrors the inter-dependence of forest trees in their natural setting, and reinforces a spiritual interpretation of this remarkable phenomenon. Recently, I finished producing a collection of twelve round wall hangings called Woven Woods, which highlights the science of tree communication.

Woven Woods at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum 2018

In this way, circles captured my imagination. In my wish to delve deeper into their mystery, I came upon the idea of working with tree rings. Tree rings are a living journal of a tree’s history: its growth, development and endurance. They record events in the life of a tree by building layer upon layer of fresh cells, leaving the marks of events forever preserved within. I’m intrigued. My new task is to explore a question: what can tree rings teach me?

Taking this challenge to the studio, I begin by layering circle upon circle of plain and printed fabrics, and stitch them down. Each new layer represents a fresh phase of the tree’s life. In my mind I situate myself at the heart’s core, and, like a tree, build outward, letting stitches and colours guide me.

Heartwood – Oak Framed textile, 12×12”

Through the rings I imagine tracing my own life path, from youth, to jaded young adult, to my long break from my Roman Catholic roots. I lose myself among the layers, through the various bumps and spots, the tortuous side trips, the dark tunnels, each step leading me further from the heart. Eventually I finish the rounds, and find myself outside the circle, past the bark layer, surrounded by empty space.

I look down at my work, surprised. How did I get here, so far from the heart?

Wind in the Willow #2   12×12″

As I examine my emotions, I am suddenly reminded of my many failed attempts at communing with real trees. I’ve studied various techniques on how to approach them, imagining the power of their radiating energy, hoping to experience a warm response. Nothing works. I am always on the outside, cold, rejected. Perhaps I am taking the wrong approach. I wonder – instead of expecting energy to radiate outward from the tree, why don’t I allow it to draw me in? Is it possible to follow the rings back in as I have come?

I can experiment. I seek out a grand white oak and press my arms around her fragrant being. I let go of expectations and allow myself to fall. The difference is magical. In this moment I stand at a labyrinth’s entrance, sensing the power of her heartwood. I am guided inside, drawn up into the branches, and pulled downward into the roots. At last, the right way to approach a tree. And perhaps this is the finest message of all: she has always been there for me.

Mother Oak   16×16″ 2017

We move through our lives unconsciously collecting, storing and sometimes burying our own memories. We add layer upon layer of life experience and distraction, moving around and away from our center. We need to be vigilant, because at any moment we can be offered the gift of return. I examine my own life trajectory – one that took me far from my roots, physically and spiritually. The centre is slowly, miraculously, calling me back, and I am listening. It will likely take a few more curves and tunnels to recover, uncover, the span of my life, but a true strong heart awaits. All I need to do is let myself go.

Call of the Heart 2018 36″ fabric wall hanging

 

How to Stitch a Song: A Kingston Symphony Orchestra project

Monday, September 10th, 2018

Last year, in 2017, I was invited by Evan Mitchell, the Musical Director of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, to create a suite of three wall hangings inspired by a special performance of classic music pieces, all of which incorporated birdsong. This project was so well received that Director Mitchell approached me once again this year with a new challenge: to use as inspiration four selected Strauss art songs.

Not one to resist an intriguing exercise, I accepted with pleasure! And thus began my six-month journey with Richard Strauss.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

A quick look at some of the links and information revealed that all four songs refer to death and renewal in some way, two of them composed at a time when the great artist was contemplating the end of his creative life.

I wondered about working with such a dark subject. Director Mitchell explained that “between the idea and imagery of renewal through the night and the optimism of tomorrow, there is a real cycle of evening through morning: a connection to the earth with our own progression of life. In the order they are to be performed, they go from openness, to existentially meditative, to intimately optimistic.”  What a beautiful way to approach life’s natural cycles! Because I’m working almost exclusively with the circular form lately, I was delighted that circles and spirals would suit the theme of death and renewal spectacularly well.

So… I listened (over and over), I read (different translations, history, conductors’ notes), poured myself a glass or two and began sketching. After some trial and error, I began to get a feel for the cadence of the music, the position of the voice within the piece, and the sounds of the instruments. From the best coloured sketches I developed small stitched trials. As I worked on them I noticed how well the rhythmic sound of the sewing machine and the repeated stitches matched the musical notes as they played. They looked good. The size and shape of the final versions practically chose themselves.

With these four pieces, the Great Strauss shares his graceful embrace of the progress of time, and his respect for life’s portentous passages. Working on the imagery drew me closer to the positive symbolism of the Circle: that in all of life, nature and art, there no such thing as a full stop. As with my previous project with the Orchestra, each piece took on its own unique imagery and style, enhancing my appreciation of the music.

These four framed textiles as well as other related works will be on display on the day of the Concert on October 21st at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, Ontario.

Here are the images! I’ve included the music for each, and the poem that inspired it. Enjoy!

An die Nacht (To the Night) – hear the SONG

To the Night 16×16″

The visuals for this piece were clear from the beginning: darkness dimming the bright colours of a passionate life. I accomplished this effect by using black sheer fabric arching over one side of the circle. I was surprised to note that the intensity of the dark side changes dramatically when viewed from different angles, very appropriate. On the dark side grow white spruces, and flowers on the light, as this might also read as the movement of the seasons. The leaf shapes mark the passage of time.

Out of the forest steps Night,
Out of the trees she softly steals,
Looks around her in a wide arc,
Now beware..

All the lights of this world,
All flowers, all colors
She extinguishes, and steals the sheaves
From the field.

She takes everything that is dear,
Takes the silver from the stream,
and from the Cathedral’s copper roof,
She takes the gold.

The bushes are left, stripped naked,
Come closer, soul to soul;
Oh, I fear that the night will also steal
You from me.
by Hermann von Gilm

 

Beim Schlafengehen (At Bedtime) – hear the SONG

Falling Asleep 16×16″

For this one, the concept of letting go, along with the idea of a soul returning to its home with the stars were the main inspirations. The beginning and the end come back to the same spot in the circle, flowing onward into eternity.

Now that day has exhausted me
I give myself over, a tired child,
to the night and to my old friends, the stars:
my watchful guardians, quiet and mild.

Hands – let everything go.
Head – stop thinking.
I am content to follow
where my senses are sinking.

Into the darkness, I swim out free:
Soul, released from all your defenses,
enter the magic, sidereal circle
where the gathering of souls commences.
by Hermann Hesse

 

Im Abendroth (Into Sunset)- hear the SONG

Sunset 16×16″

For this piece I couldn’t help but respond to the sentimentality of the words. Strauss refers to his beloved wife when he portrays an ageing couple at the end of their lives together. They admire a setting sun after traveling from busy, complex early years to the womb-like warmth of old age. The trill of larks can be heard in the instrumentation, marking their path.

We have passed through sorrow and joy,
walking hand in hand.

Now we need not seek the way:
we have settled in a peaceful land.

The dark comes early to our valley,
and the night mist rises.
Two dreamy larks sally
forth: our souls’ disguises.

We let their soaring flight delight
us, then, overcome by sleep
at close of day, we must alight
before we fly too far, or dive too deep.

The great peace here is wide and still
and rich with glowing sunsets:
If this is death, having had our fill
of getting lost, we find beauty, no regrets.
by Joseph von Eichendorff

 

Morgen (Tomorrow)- hear the SONG

Tomorrow 16×16″

In Director Mitchell’s own words, “Morgen (Tomorrow) has such an unbelievably explicit beauty that one can’t help but feel as though it isn’t an end but a new beginning.” The sweet harp/piano notes of this piece along with the imagery of beach and sky reminded me of quiet, dreamy steps along the shore in the morning. I decided to enhance this effect with repeated elements like circles and leaves, alternating with frothy surf against pale marine blue.

Tomorrow again will shine the sun
And on my sunlit path of earth
Unite us again, as it has done,
And give our bliss another birth…
The spacious beach under wave-blue skies
We’ll reach by descending soft and slow,
And mutely gaze in each other’s eyes,
As over us rapture’s great hush will flow.
by John Henry MacKay

Thinking in Circles – The Root Language of Trees

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Greetings and Happy New Year!

In my last blog post, I described how my touring exhibition of round wall hangings, Woven Woods, came to be. This collection is now launched at its first venue at Art Gallery of Burlington and will be there until January 28, 2018. It will then move on to several other venues until 2021. You can imagine that after four years of dreaming and working toward this goal, it might be hard to let it go.

Woven Woods at Art Gallery of Burlington
Dec1 – Jan 28, 2018

Well, not surprisingly, it turns out that circles are simply irresistible. No sooner had I finished the last wall hanging for Woven Woods, an intriguing new direction presented itself. I was checking out images of cut tree trunks, when it occurred to me that tree rings have a great deal to say. They tell us about a tree’s history, about growth and aging, about endurance, about how their stories grow from the heart and mark them forever. Circles are symbols of eternity and commitment. I thought that these tree rings might help me better understand trees, from the inside out.

As I studied various types of cut tree stumps and their rings, it struck me how differently trees must experience their world from that of humans. As mobile bilateral beings, we humans interpret our surroundings from the centralized perspective of our brain. Trees however are radial beings, with no bundled nervous system, and live their entire lives in a fixed position. In spite of these limitations, we know now that they developed sophisticated ways to communicate with each other. Wouldn’t it then be natural to wonder if trees might share their consciousness with beings like us? Moreover, is it possible for us to reach out to them too?

Right around that time, the movie Arrival came out. The film is based on a short story in “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. In the story, an alien ship lands on earth, and the life forms on it, mobile radial beings, are desperately attempting to communicate. A specially trained linguist is hired to decipher their written language, which is comprised of intensely ornamented circles and spirals. By the end of the movie, we understand that these beings use a communication system that incorporates time – past, present and future – in each of their missives. Time for them is measured in a circular way. This new language is in fact their special gift to us – reminding us that we must always take into consideration the karmic effect of our thoughts and actions. This led to an exciting AHA! moment for me, in support of a fresh approach to relational experience.

Could not find the creator of this wonderful cartoon 🙁

Of course, in my online research I came across numerous techniques for approaching and communing with trees – some arising from ancient cultures, others that seemed, well, just made up. Here is one of the better examples, a very detailed series of steps of Chinese origin: How to befriend a Tree. As I’ve said before, I’m a doubting Thomas when it comes to most of this new age stuff. Still, my direct experience tells me there is a distinct field of energy that surrounds each tree, and the strength varies greatly from one to another. I can feel it. I wonder, does the tree also feel me?

Wind in the Willow #2
12×12″

Working with tree rings in fabric is a rare delight – there is an unlimited scope for play and ornament using the wealth of shapes and structures that nature provides. I layer circle upon circle of fabrics, stitch them down, and start the journey using free-motion embroidery on my sewing machine.  Each one is a fresh meditation, leading me along a slightly different path. As I make more, I discard some motifs while bringing in new ones. With these pieces I put myself into the heart of the tree and work outwards, letting the prints and colours guide the choices. They take a long long time to make.

Mother Oak
16×16″ 2017

Might tree rings help us understand the language of trees? Is it possible that a tree’s consciousness extends, aura-like, beyond the rough bark of its exterior, like radiating tree rings? Do trees embrace the full cycle of time as they witness the world around them? These are questions I continue to ask as I explore the imagery and possibilities. As I walk in the woods I try to stay open to the fresh perspectives my art has opened up for me.

Heartwood – Hawthorn
12×12″ 2017

You may well ask, is all this just a stretch? Maybe. But not long ago, inter-plant communication was also considered a stretch. Our scientists have now proven it true. The First Nations people honour and speak to trees. Perhaps in the near future, we will determine without doubt that they are indeed reaching out to us, and are only waiting for us to accept their gift.

Communion #2
8×16″ 2017

Woven Woods: A Journey through the Forest Floor

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

At long last I can tell you about a major collection I’ve been working on for nearly five years, that just began its cross country tour of Canada. This project has been on my brain since the initial idea found me, and naturally I’m excited, if only to be able to see it at last on gallery walls.

An exhibition is coming! An exhibition is coming!

If you’ve been following my posts, you will know I’ve been working with a number of natural concepts, centered mainly around trees and tree biology. The current research that interests me most is about tree communication, particularly the mechanics of how trees send and receive nutrients and messages through their roots with the help of forest fungi.

Here is a short description of this natural process, which I’ve described in greater detail in earlier posts (including this one):
In the top six inches of the forest floor lies a vast and flourishing communication system as old as photosynthesis itself: an exquisitely balanced symbiotic relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and tree roots which provides a network of channels for resources and messages between individual trees. The resulting plant chatter is as complex and efficient as our own worldwide web. In recent research, biologists have also discovered the existence of Mother trees: larger, older specimens that, with the help of their fungi, serve as system hubs in life, and as nutrient pumps in death. This mycorrhizal network thus connects and stabilizes the forest, and by extension, our entire planet’s biosphere.

Fascinated by this current research, I applied for an Ontario Arts Council Grant to travel to the University of British Columbia and meet Dr Suzanne Simard who is a leader in this field. Together with her and some of her gracious Grad students, I toured her lab on campus and her field facilities through the mountains to Kamloops. It was an eye-opening experience.

Dr Suzanne Simard in her natural element, the forest.

I couldn’t wait to share my reverence for this ancient forest system, not only for its own sake but also because we have so much to learn from nature for our own survival on earth. After visiting Dr Simard I spent three years of sometimes excruciating trial and error, trying to nail down the best way to portray the process, without having it look like some kind of neo-artsy science project. You will not believe the crazy things I drew on paper, the weird thoughts I thought, and the strange clunky semi-formed beings that were born and died. And all the hours of sleep lost over flashes of brilliance, while awakening to yet another non-germinator.

What IS that thing?

But something finally clicked – I kept coming back to it with many of my earlier concepts and realized that the most logical way to show connection was with the CIRCLE. The circle is not only present everywhere in the natural world, including the shape of our planet, but it’s also symbolic of environmental cycles of all types from seasonal to reproductive to regenerative. Not to mention, the circle is inherently spiritual and beautiful.

From there, it was a matter of choosing technique, size, and cohesive elements. How many to make? Which materials? Is my 45-year old Bernina up to the task? Am I? I’d rarely worked with circular designs before – what might be the challenges?

While reading as many research articles I could find for inspiration, I drew and drew and drew dozens of coloured samples… trying out designs, layouts, colours, concepts.

One of many ideas in pencil and pen.

I decided to make quilted wall hangings rather than framed works, because I didn’t want to feel limited to any particular size or standard ‘look’. Each was to have an organic shape of its own, unencumbered by the rigid expectations of a square format. And thus began a new journey for me, working in a larger format and in the round. Once I’d made the first, I was hooked.

Ubuntu- Source 2014 47″
The very first one.

The resulting collection, entitled Woven Woods, is a series of twelve round quilted wall hangings, measuring 36 to 46″ in diameter, each depicting twelve trees of varying types, seasons and stages of growth, and portraying a different aspect of their connection with the mycorrhizal net. I chose the number twelve because in numerology it is the ‘number of completion’, and it is found almost ubiquitously in our measuring and mathematical systems, our measuring of time, and in several key spiritual and astronomical concepts. Each circle encloses the story of a thriving ecosystem, where all individual elements contribute to support the whole. The word Ubuntu, given as a prefix to each title, is an African word which means “I am, because you are.”

Ubuntu – Winter
2015 46″

For materials, I used fabrics of all kinds, mainly dyed and printed cottons, some silks, a variety of synthetics and sheers, and cotton batting. The surface technique is raw edge appliqué enhanced with machine embroidery. In a few of them I also used acrylic paint for shading effect. They are all machine quilted, and hang flat with the help of a ‘brilliant’ (ie, my own secret idea) structural framework on the back.

You can see them all HERE.  If you click on the photos you will see a description of the inspiration for each quilt and a relevant quote or poem.  Or you are so very welcome to see them in person wherever they may be. They really are better in the flesh.

Woven Woods at Art Gallery of Burlington
Dec1 – Jan 28, 2018

This collection was shown for the first time at the Art Gallery of Burlington, Ontario, from Dec 1, 2017 to Jan 28, 2018 as part of ‘Holding by a Thread’, with Line Dufour, Carole Baillargeon and Kelly Jane Bruton. It will tour until 2021 (or as long as I can find venues). My goal is to show them in every province in Canada, and, with some luck, abroad. Please see my Upcoming Events page for locations and dates. The pieces in this collection will be available for purchase at the end of their exhibit run.

Thank you thank you thank you, Ontario Arts Council!

 

Canadian Comfort

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Lately I’ve enjoyed portraying particular trees, either for the great stories associated with them, or because of their exalted status as Designated Heritage Trees. In my search for a tree that might exemplify the true Canadian spirit to honour Canada’s 150th anniversary (and to submit to a local juried show), I came across a truly marvelous specimen who lives in Pelham, Ontario in our Niagara Peninsula.

The Comfort Maple on home turf

The Comfort Maple is believed to be the oldest and finest sugar maple tree in Canada. It lives on half an acre of land purchased by the Comfort family in 1816 and later entrusted to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, to protect it for its historical and biological significance. In 1975, the tree was estimated to be 400-500 years old by the Ontario Forestry Association. This tree towers about 80 feet at its crown, with a trunk circumference of 20 feet, which is crazy huge for a sugar maple. Despite its age and exposure to at least two bouts of lightning, this is one stunning tree in all seasons.

How to portray the story of this lone giant? I looked at all the available images from winter to fall, checking colour variations, bark texture, position of branches and location in the landscape. I found several articles that discussed its history, age, and issues of preservation. I was struck by the thought that, at 500 years old, this great old maple must have germinated in old growth forest, yet now it finds itself surrounded by tilled land with no other trees nearby. I wanted to bring this contrast of past and present into the piece.

I started with a coloured thumbnail drawing that included a field and shadowy forest in the background, shown during the day, in the fall season. But sadly, the design lacked that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.

Drawing #1

Why not change it to night, I debated, for a stronger sense of mystery? The shadowy forms behind the tree would recall the primordial forest which existed when the maple was a tender seedling. In front of the tree could stretch the rows and furrows of its newer agricultural surroundings.

Drawing #2

Fine then, Drawing #2 it was! But… maybe a change of frame shape… should I make it a bit deeper to show more of the field rows? Hmm.

Time passed (insert sound of sewing machine, and some thread, cottons, silks, yarns)….

And voila!

The Comfort Maple
Framed textile 24×36″

In my sketches for a new piece, I rarely put in all the details. A lot of the good stuff happens right on the piece itself. I trust that as I focus on the theme for those long hours, fresh relevant ideas will come. As I began the background work I wondered how to address the long interval in time between sapling to ripe old age. What if we could tap the half-century long memory of this magnificent specimen? So I added a small closed door in the trunk, to honour the stories it might love to tell us, if only it could.

Because I’m an artist. I can do anything.

The little blue door

For colours – that particular bronzy yellow/orange from one of the fall photos was a frustrating challenge to capture. After some experimentation, I combined five different shades, colours and metallics in tiny snippets to get the right effect.

And the moon… well a rare tree like this can only occur once in a blue moon…. so that choice was made for me.

Happy birthday, Canada!

Blue Moon for the Comfort Maple

Wood artist Marv Ens of Pelham is making beautiful pens from the wood trimmed from this tree. Proceeds from their sales go to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Foundation to continue their good work. It comes with an embossed display case and a Certificate of Authenticity. At $75, this is THE perfect gift for any environmentalist. To order one, contact Genevieve-Renee Bisson, Foundation Coordinator, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Foundation at (905)788-3135 ext. 260  Website: www.npca.ca.

Comfort Maple pen by Marv Ens.

 

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On a Wing and a Prayer

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Earlier this year in mid-May, I received an invitation from Evan Mitchell, the Musical Director of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, to create a small suite of works inspired by a special performance of classical music compositions, all of which incorporate birdsong. The three pieces to be performed are: Jennifer Butler’s “And Birds do Sing”, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’.

The concert hall is the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, and the lobby is large, beautiful, open, and enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking Lake Ontario. The performance is scheduled for March 5, 2017.

Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ lobby

Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ lobby

I know NOTHING about classical music (picture inner struggle here), but YES struck me as the more interesting option in this case… a new experience! So much to gain, so little to lose! I love birds! So I said YES.

And the invitation gave me plenty of time – an eternity, it seemed! The director provided links to the music, and programme notes to explain the composers’ creative inspiration for each piece. I listened to them while working on other projects, read the back stories, and then hoped something magical would happen.

Time passed…… and passed…

 

When all else fails, I think the greatest motivation possible is a deadline. Having lots of time to do something doesn’t necessarily make the result any better – in fact, it can have quite the opposite effect. So, eager to quit procrastinating, I gave myself a two week time window in November 2016 and trusted I would get there somehow.

leap

Leap of faith

 

How to begin? Obviously, listening (with intent) felt like the best first step. I recorded my main impressions as they progressed: which colours came to mind? how did the music fit the background story? How did I feel along the way? what might all those instrument sounds LOOK like?

I started thinking about the physical form of the pieces. How on earth to capture the various movements and the passage of time? After all, music moves through time but visual imagery needs to encompass everything in one shot. What about this: because a musical piece builds on itself while it plays, and previous sounds lodge in our memory even as we hear the new ones, perhaps the pieces should be tall and vertical, and read from the bottom up!

It didn’t feel right to use representational imagery alone – I wanted to show the feeling and colour of the sounds and didn’t want to limit my visualization. Abstracts they must be! As I began the drawings, I also realized they must be quilted wall panels, as the designs resisted being hemmed in by frames. And technique? It felt most logical to plan for a loose (might we say, imperfect?) form of fabric collage that would allow plenty of freedom of shape and background changes.

It takes hundreds of small decisions like this just to get to first base with any new project. Sometimes I think this is why we tend to procrastinate – it’s hard work and it’s scary! At times, the answers are easy and obvious, but other times we must make a leap of faith, hoping experience and wisdom will serve well.

Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17

I decided to begin with the Mozart which was the most accessible to me: a rich melodic piano piece. It had a charming story to match: Mozart tried to teach the theme to his starling, but the bird couldn’t get it quite right. Mozart was so tickled he wrote the bird’s mistake into his journal.

img_2193

Click on the starling to hear the Concerto

In the design of this wall panel, the starling became the central motif, with the three movements of the concerto settling around him in swirls and swoops of colour.

the-mozart-2016-42x20s

The Mozart 2016 42×20” Fabric Wall Panel

 

Jennifer Butler “And Birds do Sing”
https://soundcloud.com/jaebutler/and-birds-do-sing-2010

The second, by Canadian composer Jennifer Butler, is a modern piece written in 2010, and is the most abstract of the three compositions. The sounds begin with drums in cool waves, dark and tumbling and pierced with high flutes, eventually resolving into a lullaby composed for the composer’s daughter. What does a drum sound look like? Maybe circles… oblong circles? And flutes…. might rise up in long strands? The overall feel of the piece was cool and spring-like, hence I stayed with blues and cooler tones. The panel begins at the base with the rhythm of the drums, then another layer, upon layer until the clear notes of birdsong and lullaby surface.

the-jen-butler-2016-42x20s

The Jen Butler 2016 42×20” Fabric Wall Panel

 

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQGm0H9l9I4

The Beethoven piece was the most complex. Although I incorporated elements of the movements, like a walk by a stream, a storm, birds, and a reference to folk art to represent a peasant dance, I was more interested in the smoother cadence and feeling of the performance, the melodic swings and eddies. The sounds were less emotional than the previous two pieces, so I used a more sophisticated colour palette.

the-beethoven-2016-45x21s

The Beethoven 2016 42×20” Fabric Wall Panel

 

Each of these pieces grew and evolved completely differently. In focusing on and working with them, I learned something intriguing about classical music: that, just like visual art, it begins with a personal story – now I will listen for it. And perhaps when the music lovers at the concert see my interpretations, they might learn something about abstract visual art. My fondest hope is that the music provides an entry point for understanding the abstract imagery, and in return the visual art enriches the appreciation of the music. As with many other occasions when I took the leap, I enjoyed every single minute, and the effects will last a life time!

For purchasing information, please click HERE. All the photography of my work is done by my very talented and dedicated husband, Janusz Wrobel.

starling-1

European starling from frasersbirdingblog.blogspot.co.uk

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Small is beautiful

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

(This post is the third installment of a creative journey inspired by research on tree root communication. For a bit more background, go to Going Somewhere? Start with a map, and The Mother Tree.)

Trees can’t chase their food, so they must count on resources harvested from their immediate area. Through the process of photosynthesis, they can feed themselves directly from the atmosphere using sunlight and carbon dioxide. But this chemical process also requires plenty of water … and for many trees, a consistent source is not always a given.

Cedar Grove by Janusz Wrobel

Cedar Grove by Janusz Wrobel

From the fungal point of view, water is not a problem. Fungi have the ability to draw water from the most grudging of sources, even from the air itself. They also break down molecules into simpler nutrients that can be absorbed by tree roots. But they are not capable of creating their own food because they do not photosynthesize. Trees and fungi are meant for each other!

Secret Heart #7  6x6"

Secret Heart #7 6×6″

It’s a lovely, romantic idea. But how exactly do these two very different species get together? How does the two-way transfer of water and nutrients work?

In my last post, we saw that a fresh seed root soon introduces itself to the massive fungal network in the top layer of the forest floor. The root tip exudes a natural hormone that awakens fungal spores or strands nearby. In a process called colonization, the alerted fungal strands pierce their way through the epidermis (skin) of the roots. (If this sounds like a terrifying Body Snatcher situation, remember that our own bodies are walking zoos: we have at least ten times as many bacteria, not including yeasts and fungi, as we have human cells.)

Once inside, the fungal strands colonize the root in one of two ways, depending on the species:

Cross section of root tip showing two different types of mycorrhizal colonization. Photo courtesy of the Botany Department at West Virginia University

Cross section of root tip showing two different types of mycorrhizal colonization.
Photo courtesy of the Botany Department at West Virginia University

1) Arbuscular fungi start growing INSIDE root cells along the central core of the root. They are called Arbuscular because once inside the cells, they form tiny tree-like structures: trees inside trees! The large surface area created by their dense canopies is an efficient way to transfer water and nutrients.

2) Ectomycorrhizal fungi spread their strands AROUND root cells, forming a 3-D spongy structure called the Hartig net. The tip of the root becomes enveloped with a pale mantle, easily seen with the naked eye.

Some fungi are specific to particular trees – for example, Arbutus and Maple trees have their own favourite fungal species. But many fungi are non-specific and will colonize trees, grasses and many other plant species. Also, one tree may host several types of fungi at once. The established fungi maintain the flow of water and nutrients through fungal strands that connect their specialized inner root structures with the outer soil network, visible to us in the form of mushrooms and truffles.

A pale swollen mantle is a sure sign of ectomycorrhizal activity on tree roots. From “Relationships between Plants and Fungi”

A pale swollen mantle is a sure sign of ectomycorrhizal activity on tree roots.
From “Relationships between Plants and Fungi”

But the best view of all is under the microscope. When tree rootlets are thinly sliced, treated with special dyes and magnified, it becomes possible to see exactly where and how the two species, tree and fungus, meet and mate.  Electron microscope photographs are bizarre and beautiful, and these are no exception: a gold mine of ideas and eye candy. Below is one of many that drew my attention.

Arbuscular colonization

Electron microscopic image. Arbuscular mycorrhizae are in fuschia. See how they’ve expanded like blobs inside the root cells? Photo by Marc Perkins.

And the quilted panel that it inspired:

ROOT XS 1 2014 22X22S

Root XS #1 2014 22×22″ Quilted wall panel

In this piece my intention was to stay true to the photo so I could learn to manipulate line and shape, but while working on it I began to see great potential for design and content. More adventures ahead in future posts!

ROOT XS 1 2014 DET copy

Detail from my quilted wall panel inspired by a cross section from a tree root with arbuscular mycorrrhizal fungi. I used many kinds of materials, and the technique is machine collage, embroidery and quilting. Note the little trees!

Going somewhere? Start with a Map!

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Today is the second day of January 2015. Nearly a full year ago, I received a grant for a special project, mentioned in this blog. Much has happened since, and in the next few posts I am going to show you some of the developments.

Just to recap: my new textile art project is inspired by recent scientific research on how trees share resources and communicate through their roots, with the help of mycorrhizal fungi. This amazing root/fungus system is important for most plants on the planet, but trees are especially dependent on this symbiotic relationship. In fact, without these fungi, trees would quickly die of thirst and starvation. Moreover, fungi not only help plants draw water, they also facilitate the transfer of nutrients amongst trees, and, even more amazingly, they actually deliver messages, even to other species (more about this later). It’s fascinating stuff, and the more I find out about it, the more inspiring it becomes.

The mycorrhizal network http://www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/potd/2010/03/mycorrhizal_networks.php

The mycorrhizal network

I am treating this project as a journey. It began the moment I first saw Prof. Suzanne Simard’s short video about her research. The ideas presented in this talk so aroused my curiosity that I couldn’t get it off my mind: MUST do something with this! With OAC grant in hand (or, more specifically, in bank) I could proceed with my itinerary.

How does one begin a journey? Why, with a map of course! Mine is a unique map, the product of several years of research by Prof Simard and associates. Using multi-locus microsatellite DNA analysis, they studied how two fungal species connected a group of Douglas Fir in a 30 m section of forest. The green fuzzy dots represent trees, and the lines connecting them are the fungal paths. Even without much technical knowledge, it’s easy to see that the system is extensive and intricately woven. One tree was found to connect to 47 other trees (see arrow)! I wanted to see this for myself.

From: Architecture of the Wood Wide Web New Phytologist (2010) 185: 543–553 www.newphytologist.org Reprinted with permission of the authors.

From: Architecture of the Wood Wide Web New Phytologist (2010) 185: 543–553 www.newphytologist.org Reprinted with permission of the authors.

So, in May, I headed out to BC to meet Prof Simard and to spend four days with her and her generous grad students. Wielding a shovel and gear, we drove through the mountains to locate and examine some of their research sites.

Us and 'Rob Ford', our trusty SUV.

Us and ‘Rob Ford’, our trusty SUV. Julia, Prof Simard, Deon, me and Melissa.

It was an eye-opening experience – far from the shelter of the cozy lab, we encountered all the elements the mountains could throw at us, except for bears and bugs who were waiting in the wings for summer.

End of May. Really.

End of May. Really.

Undaunted, we dug up some fascinating root/fungal structures.

The white fungal strands connect one set of tree roots with another.

The white fungal strands connect one set of tree roots with another.

We also spent time in the lab (more about this in a future post). When I got home I had plenty of material to ponder. For the past ten months I experimented with lots of crazy ideas and materials, came up with a plan, and in November began to approach public galleries with the proposal. In the next few blogs, I will share some of the ups and downs and images of the process. Every journey implies a destination, and mine is a touring exhibition in 2017 called Woven Woods.

OAC 2014

Below is my first interpretation of the Schematic map of the Douglas Fir research site. In it I stitched as many words I could find that meant ‘connection’. My initial intent was to make a very large version of this piece as part of the exhibition, but this idea did not make the cut. Perhaps for a future project?

Tree Chatter 12x12" 2014 Machine collage and embroidery on printed and plain fabrics

Tree Chatter 12×12″ 2014
Machine collage and embroidery on printed and plain fabrics

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Terra Silva: A Return to the Roots

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Hello all,

Last month, after a four month wait since applying, I was awarded a generous grant to pursue a project very dear to my heart. The grant is the Ontario Arts Council Franco-Ontarian Arts Grant for Established Artists, and it is meant to help artists set aside time and resources to creating a body of work.

snoopy

SNOOPY DOING LORRAINE’S HAPPY DANCE

For my project, I propose to create an exhibition inspired by the world beneath the earth’s surface, where roots meet the soil. Most of us are completely unaware of the millions of organisms that work the soil. In fact, soil life accounts for a much larger living mass than that which exists above ground, just as roots can outweigh and outsize the visible part of the tree. I have always been fascinated by the science of soil, and it has been the subject of much of my latest work.

In my search for inspiration, I recently became aware of the work of Prof Suzanne Simard of UBC. Dr Simard is studying how microscopic fungi act as a communication interface between one set of roots and another, creating bridges between various tree species to share resources. The network works much like the neural networks of our own brain. Through her work, we are learning that trees in a forest do not compete, but in fact cooperate with each other and share resources. This gives a forest more resilience and stability against adversity like disease or climate change. In every forest ecosystem, there are certain Mother trees – older, larger specimens – that serve as anchors for a large grouping of younger trees around them. When Mother trees die, they slowly release their stored nutrients and resources to all the trees in the network. Click on the image below for a wonderful video of Prof Simard, talking about Mother Trees.

simard photoProfessor Suzanne Simard explaining her research: click on image to see short video

This research is a rich source of inspiration, both visually and conceptually. Also, it will be relevant to all who love trees and nature, and who care about the environment. I have been in touch with Dr Simard – she is eager to share more information and is excited about the exhibition. In fact, she invites me to come and see first-hand what she and her students are up to in the lab and in the field. Of course, I am saying YES!

So, here I am right at the beginning. Dr Simard sent me half a dozen papers and articles to read up on, and I’ve acquired a textbook for which she is a contributor. Happy to share this journey with you, along with all the digressions and distractions along the way.

OAC 2014

The value of working in Series

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Escarpment #13 2009 24x24"

Escarpment #13 2009 24×24″

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
Joseph Campbell

Way at the start of my art life, all my passions were directed at exploring techniques and trying out new materials. I wondered how any artist could deliberately limit herself to one particular subject for two consecutive pieces, let alone an entire series! The infinite possibilities were too exciting. How could I possibly choose one over another? What if I missed out on something even better? And truly, the textile industry marketing machine is built on distraction, with new materials, techniques and equipment introduced every day. Overwhelmed and scattered, I began to realize there were fewer and fewer satisfying and tangible results for my constant industry. It was time to rethink the value of limits.

For me, this realization preceded a beautiful turning point. Now, I rarely do one-offs. Nearly all my new work somehow, either formally or loosely, fits into some kind of series. I want to write here about the value of working in series, not from a curator’s or collector’s point of view (because this is well covered in many excellent articles already), but from my own experience as an artist. How does it work, with respect to my creative path?

Perhaps I am predisposed to working in repetitive mode. At our family cottage, my favourite activity is to walk the very same 45 minute trail from our property to a rocky shore on the opposite side of the point. I do this at least once a day, at different times and in all weathers and seasons. While walking, I might mull over whatever is foremost in my mind, or just watch for butterflies. Each step is a rhythmic motion, a heartbeat, that carries me from one thought to the next. Invariably, by the time I reach the end of the point and back, some insight reveals itself that would not have come otherwise. For me, this trail provides a consistent platform from which to frame and recalibrate my inner world. Over and over, on the very same trail, I never fail to find something new.

As in life, so with art. A subject chooses me, and so the trail is set. When I first moved to the Niagara Escarpment area eight years ago, I found myself observing how the layers of unyielding rock supported certain vegetation and trees. What a rich vein of imagery and ideas to draw on! And so my Escarpment series was born:

Escarpment #1  2008 23x32"

Escarpment #1 2008 23×32″

The first pieces I produced really primed the pump. I loved working on the rock imagery in collage and appliqué, and I loved the results. Fresh ideas began to suggest themselves. With each new step, my thoughts turned to the metaphoric value of these images, like Triumph over Adversity:

Triumph  2011  30x40"

Triumph 2011 30×40″

No single piece in a series can possibly tell the whole story, and why should it? In this piece, I can tell the story of Courage:

Courage  2010  24x24"

Courage 2010 24×24″

In this one, I can talk about time and memory:

Between Now and Then  2009  36x48"

Between Now and Then 2009 36×48″

Or I can simply have some fun with colour and materials:

Escarpment #16  2009  24x24"

Escarpment #16 2009 24×24″

The possibilities are endless, series within series, and all kinds of spinoffs. Each piece is a step, like a sentence in a paragraph. It leads to the next, and so on, until the thought is complete. Sometimes it takes only two or three pieces. Other times, as with my ongoing Hawthorn series, the conversation continues intermittently for years and years.

Like all good things in life, the Escarpment series led to another, my Fertile Ground series. And I trust that eventually, by keeping to my trail, new ideas for series will grow, either building on the ones before, or shooting off on other tangents entirely. Working in series is a rhythmic, organic process that resonates with the pulse of nature. I feel the music of the Universe within me, with every step.

Do you like working in series? How did you start, and what are you working on now?

Fissure #5 2011  24x24" - another tangent!

Fissure #5 2011 24×24″ – another tangent!

 

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