The long Fourth of July weekend has created a few opportunities to visit the river. On one of my excursions I had a special guest accompany me. I’m always happy to be able to share what I know and do at this place called the Falls of the Ohio. In my day job, I direct an art program for adults with developmental disabilities. For the last two years my program has been lucky to have interns from Yale University who are part of the Bulldogs in the Bluegrass effort to recruit intelligent, motivated, young people to consider professional opportunities in Louisville. Sometimes it works! In the twelve-year existence of the program, 35 graduates have moved to our city to begin their careers. This year our intern is named Ariana Parenti. She’s a soon to be senior art student and Philadelphia is her hometown. I think she was curious about working with artists with disabilities and wondering what else in the not for profit world she could turn her art degree towards? The internship is a ten week, paid work experience and the coordinators of the Bulldog program have scheduled many fun and educational activities for all the interns to participate in. This trek to the Falls to make art from river junk is not one of them!
Ariana and I talked about so many things that it’s hard to find a good place to begin. So, we walked around the riverbank collecting odd interesting bits of stuff, taking pictures and occasionally watching what the fishermen were catching. Since my last post, catfish have become the fish of choice or at least they were biting. I wondered what it must be like to walk into a space you first experienced as a site on the internet? For Ariana, this would be a part of her adventure. The interval between those two points are like the difference between a traditional drawing and a sculpture. At least with the sculpture you can walk around the object which changes your perspective as you have a three-dimensional experience in your own space. As we approached my Styro-studio, I could see that something was very different. Some one had taken the dark-eyed figure from my previous post and left me with a totem-like construction made from materials I had gathered and stored on site. That’s fine! I love it when people play along and anyone is free to use what I have left under the willow trees. I had been wanting to make a larger figure from my scavenged Styrofoam and now I had Ariana to help assist me. On our walk we found one especially nice prop we used and it’s a discarded lacrosse helmet which is the first one of these I’ve come across out here.
After dumping the contents of my trusty and official Lewis and Clark collecting bag onto the sand, we started mixing and matching the stored Styrofoam. We had the helmet and needed a head to go in it. After that, finding a body that seemed to go with the head was next. The hardest part is selecting the driftwood branches that had enough articulation and gesture to make decent limbs. That’s not always easy when you are looking for something particular in a mountain of tangled wood. Here’s an image of the work in progress. The blue body on this guy is not actually polystyrene but may be some form of fiberglass? I’ve seen archery targets made from this stuff which is light but dense enough to stop an arrow.
For me, working at the Falls is about making art from the stuff of life in the space of life. Each informs and influences the other. The riverbank and nearby woods are my theater whose stage I populate with odd characters that you can interact with and become a part of the show. The sculptures act as temporal focal points…this is what I made on this day. The images document the context as it existed in the park during that particular moment and form a record of my activities. My work has a relational aspect to it, perhaps not in the literal postmodern meaning of the term. I include pictures of the wildlife I encounter in this blog because they are a part of this world too and should not be discounted and dismissed.
Ariana and I talked about our various school experiences, had lunch, and made a few small pieces from the junk on site. Then I picked up our blue, helmeted friend and looked for good places to take his picture. I returned to the big tire from the previous post and placed him inside the wheel well and this is what he looked like on this bright, warm, and sunny day.
There are a few other tires stuck in the now drying mud and we posed our figure in this landscape. The tire seems like some large croquet wicket! Perhaps this is what the figure is doing…playing some obscure game that has rules to it that nobody understands?
And now one image with Ariana in it so you can have some sense for scale!
Walking along the riverbank we stumbled upon an old friend. It’s the remains of a large plush Pink Panther toy that was stuck in the clay. I remember finding this thing out here last year (for another image see my Mutant Toys post from last July). I lifted it and it was surprisingly heavy. Ariana took my picture and I think this is one of the rare images of the Artist at Exit 0 featured in this blog.
Stopping among the willow trees closest to the water, we posed the figure atop a mass of its amazing root system. Here our figure looks like he’s pontificating about something important like the value of clean water for example.
Since the day was moving along and Ariana had other engagements, I stashed our sculpture back at the studio site. He may show up in something else if he isn’t found by others first. We toured the Interpretive Center and I noticed their exhibits are starting to look care worn and I understand plans are underway to freshen them up soon. I think Ariana enjoyed herself and I know I did. I can’t imagine having the Louisville experience without coming here at some point because for us this is where it began and continues to be relevant. I’ll end this post for today with a sign I found in the men’s room. It’s not something you typically find in such a space, but it conveys an important message. All around us we are being affected by non-native species and some of them are destructive pests like the Emerald ash borer. We definitely don’t want to find this little guy hitch hiking to our woods!