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Archive for November, 2012

I have had a few folks ask about the Project Reclamation exhibit I’m participating in and I thought this post would be a good place to feature this.  The exhibit opened a couple of weeks a go on November 2, 2012 and will run through January 12, 2013.  About a year and a half have passed since curator and artist Mary Margaret Sparks asked me to participate in this invitational exhibit.  There are thirteen artists represented in this group show with a nice cross-section of projects in various media addressing the complex topic of coal its use and extraction.  The Carnegie Center for Art and History located across the Ohio River from Louisville in nearby New Albany, Indiana has done a fine job of installing and interpreting the works and has planned many activities that the public can engage in to learn more about the controversial topic of coal mining through the practice of Mountaintop Removal or MTR.  This is a highly destructive way to extract coal from southern Appalachia’s mountains which also endangers  some of the greatest biodiversity in our part of the world in pursuit of cheap and reliable energy.  To further spur the artists along, the not for profit organization Kentuckians For the Commonwealth invited the participants to Whitesburg in Letcher County, Kentucky to tour Appalshop and watch a few coal-themed documentaries.  A guided tour into coal country provided additional impressions of the mountains and the folks who call this place home.

All of the participating artists had some prior interest either working with coal as a social issue or material substance before accepting the invitation to show.  There is a unity in the belief that the more we degrade the environment, the more we change ourselves and not for the best. For me, my entry came through the related issue of clean fresh water  which is also our number one vanishing resource.  I frequently find river-altered coal at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Combining this coal gravel with discarded and river found booze bottles gave me an opportunity to work with ideas about consumption and addiction.  The result was my “Mountaintop Mini-bar” sculpture, but I also have six photographs from my “Coal Flake Series” on view as well. My impression of our guided trip to coal country reinforced what I’ve previously seen and experienced.  It seems to me that the people who were sacrificing their land and culture were not receiving much in the way of compensation for our quest for coal.  Regrettably, this is an old tale seen time after time across the globe.  People might think that this is something that only happens in distant poor countries, but we have our own share of material poverty in our own backyard.

Most of the participating artists took considered approaches that referenced and respected the uniquely rich culture of coal country.  Several artists worked with traditional fiber and or needle and thread to produce their statements.  Julie Yoder created a large wall installation, “Appalachian Patchwork”,  assembled with woodcuts on handmade paper.  Patchwork quilting is an important Appalachian art form and Yoder’s piece represents the landscape and local culture as being a composite of unique designs that have come together over time to form a whole.  Mountaintop removal has a way of fragmenting this landscape and disrupting the continuity that life here depends upon for survival.

Other artists utilizing fabric, needle, and thread include Jo Ann Grimes with her sympathetic portrayals of miners.  Joel Darland and his marvelous hand-embroidered quilt squares.  Rachel Brewer’s two embroideries of song birds on dirty furnace filters.  Mary Margaret Sparks’ imposing “Lest We Forget” hand-embroidered and sewn re-purposed fabric waterfall that is a memorial to lost mountain streams and creeks that were damaged by coal mining.  Also in this group is a fascinating video entitled “Harriman” which is the work of Denise Burge and incorporates video, fabric, and thread.  Burge’s video is a statement made in the aftermath of a disaster.  A broken coal slurry dam in Tennessee had poisoned the surrounding watershed and imperiled the health of a community living in the area.  Burge’s video documents some of the clean-up involved and how protective the coal industry is in guarding its own image.

Photographs by Joshua Howard contrast the natural beauty of coal country with the grim realities of the industry.  A more overt political statement comes from Wayne Ferguson who sees Kentucky’s senior senator as being in cahoots with the industry that helps bankroll his re-election campaigns.  Ferguson’s drawings chart the corrupting influences of money and power at the expense of the land and the best interests of the people.

The sense that mountaintop removal is a great calamity for nature at large comes through the works of two artists.  Ceramic sculptor Alex Adams’ piece entitled “Wounded” suggests that MTR mining disrupts the very living tissue of the mountain range. He does this by representing two mountains that have had their peaks literally removed revealing  raw, open wounds.

Painter Michael Koerner’s approach is equally reductive and he comes to a similar conclusion about the fate of the mountains.  His diptych entitled “After the Canaries Left the Coal Mines, the Mountains Began to Leave Appalachia” is an argument reduced to its essential points.  For example, in Koerner’s landscape, the painting is physically divided into two parts suggesting man’s indifference towards nature.  The bare slopes past the forested mountains are a warning of what could occur with unchecked mountain top removal.

One last artist before closing.  Aron Conaway’s work lies at the heart of our culture of consumption.  His work entitled “Billions and Billions Served” features a Ronald McDonald clown driving a toy front loader on top of a large pile of coal.  In his work, Conaway makes it obvious that we are all implicated in the big issues of our day.  The demand for coal exists because we demand the energy to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer time heat.  If we don’t like the side effects of coal mining, perhaps we should speed up our search for alternative energy sources, find ways to curtail our addiction to electricity or both?  The demand for cheap coal and energy is what drives the supply.

The Carnegie Center for Art and History has a nice program of upcoming events that expands the breath of this exhibition.  I have already participated in one gallery talk that drew an interested crowd.  Film screenings, art making opportunities, and a panel discussion on mountaintop removal and renewable energy sources will also be held during Project Reclamation’s run.  There is the hope that this show will travel which will be an added bonus.  Thanks to Mary Margaret Sparks, Karen Gillenwater, and the staff at the Carnegie Center for their hard work.  I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into an exhibition from our area.  My next post will be from the Falls of the Ohio!

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Hello all and welcome to another adventure set at the Falls of the Ohio.  Since my last visit, the Ohio River has risen in response to all the rain that fell in the northern portion of the Ohio Valley and has flowed down river in a southwestern direction.  The fossil beds normally exposed during the summer and early autumn months are now submerged by swiftly flowing water.  Walking this ever shifting shoreline I’m open for whatever presents itself as novel and different.  Turning the corner around a  stand of willow trees I was caught by this unusual sight.

A tree captured barge cable or rope was in a different position from the last time I had noticed it (see this year’s Halloween post).  It is possible that the river rose high enough to dislodge it from its previous resting spot.  I was struck by the way it seemingly is suspended in mid-air with its regular yellow and black intervals contrasting with the unruly roots and branches around it.  Around here, water can both rise and fall quickly.  In the fine silt and mud you can often find interesting patterns that were created by the movement of wind and water.  Here is such an example.

The back and forth rhythm of the river caressing the land are recorded as peaks and valleys in this very fine mud.  I can be “hypnotized” at times by concentrating on this movement which I find soothing.  I’m always interested in the various subtle patterns that water can create on the mud of the riverbank.  It’s akin to trying to “track” water and recognize its footprint as it moves onto the land. I also noticed about a two foot tall, low “wall” of material (mostly wood and dried grasses) along the shoreline that marks this latest high water moment.  And of course, there is always the ever-present mostly plastic junk that also gets swept away and mixes with the natural debris.  I found lots of plastic detergent bottles, bits and pieces from toys including another doll’s head.  Here are images of other finds including an interesting toy ball.

I’m assuming this is a dog toy based on the image of the dog on the ball?  The small knobs are different from the usual balls I find out here.  Now, for a bright blue comb in a design that’s also new to me.  The tiny grains around the comb are seeds from various river grasses.

More ” blueness”  in the form of plastic wheels on a wrecked pull toy.

In the mud, I came across this other type of footprint that I thought was a bit unusual from the norm.  Of course, it’s a sports shoe with cleats on the bottom sticking up from the mud.

And one last found wheel whose radial pattern inspired another image in my ever-growing “Coal Flake” series.

I’ve come to really like making these designs from river-altered coal that I find at the Falls.  I’m under the impression that this coal has fallen or been swept off the immense barges that transport this fuel up and down the river.  I suppose it’s possible that somewhere along the river’s journey the water has cut down through the rock to expose a coal seam somewhere, but I haven’t ever heard of this happening.  The barges seem the likeliest answer.  This particular example has more Asiatic Clam shells used in the design.  These clams are the most common of their kind that I find at the Falls.  Once upon a very recent time a go, the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys were the world’s epicenter for fresh water clams.  By altering the rivers and the water quality in them, many of these amazing creatures have either gone extinct or have become so very rare.  The Asiatic Clam is a non-native animal imported here in the 19th century as a good luck charm and has thrived as has the Zebra Mussel that you may have heard about?  The day was moving on and except for a few Mallard ducks and Canada geese I hadn’t seen much in the way of wildlife.  I decided to end my day by doing a little fishing.  I found a short, recently beaver-chewed willow branch and attached some waste fishing line I found.  I attached a hook and found bobber and into the water it went.

Oh, for bait I caught a small grasshopper and attached it to the hook.  A small found lead weight kept the bait below the water.  Every once in a while I would raise my short pole up and down in a “jigging” motion.  To my immense surprise I caught this very unusual fish!

This fish is called the Iron Gill based on the metallic covers it sports around its gills.  Other distinctive features include bright blue eyes and a small white dorsal fin.  It’s body shape is unique and lends itself to easy filleting…although I wouldn’t normally recommend eating the fish from this part of the river.  Catching this fish here was a surprise because normally this is a deep water fish found in large flowing rivers.

This species was first described to science by Constantine Rafinesque back in 1811.  Rafinesque was a controversial figure and brilliant naturalist.  He had a gift for collecting and recognizing new species, however, in his zest to publish and receive credit for his discoveries he was very sloppy in his methods.  As a result, many of the animals and plants he introduced to science are poorly described and classified which led to much confusion and consternation among the other “scientifics” of the time.  In the end, Rafinesque usually won out because science gives priority to the person who first (no matter how poorly) brings the new creature to the world’s attention.

After this last image, I released the Iron Gill back into the water and rebaited my hook.  Alas, this was the only fish I caught on this day, but it reassured me that my skills in this area were still intact.  For my next post, I want to show you images of a coal-themed exhibition I’m participating in the nearby town of  New Albany, Indiana.  It’s a good show and worth a post.  For now, I would like to close with another image of a found toy I came across on this day.  Have a great weekend out there in the wider world!

 

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It’s hard for me to believe that October has come and gone.  There isn’t much sand left in 2012’s hourglass.  I’m virtually alone (if you are only counting people) at the Falls of the Ohio today and it’s understandable.  The weather is cool, gray, and an occasional spit of rain falls against my face.  I like it out here when it feels a bit lonelier because my chances of seeing wildlife increases.  Such was the case today when I explored the area next to the tainter gates and under the old railroad bridge.  This area is sheltered a bit from the wind and many times I have found birds in the high grass and low trees near the sloping riverbank.  Today I observed Song Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and Hairy Woodpeckers in immediate proximity to each other.  In the sky, the first of the Ring-billed Gulls has arrived and a pair of Osprey with their broad wings searches for unwary fish too close to the surface of the water.  Many of the tree leaves have dropped and it looks like we will have a bumper crop of cockle burrs as I pull dozens of them off my shoe laces and socks.  Their prickly hooks irritate my skin as they work through the fabric of my clothing.  On days like this I’m just trying to attune myself to the subtleties of this landscape and I’m amazed at how often my patience gets rewarded here.  As I was walking to photograph uprooted trees against the flood wall…

…I spotted something shockingly white moving near the water’s edge.  Carefully moving as close as I could…I recorded this image of another rare bird seldom seen at the Falls of the Ohio.

A few more pictures in relatively close succession and I was able to identify this beauty as the Lattice-necked or Brown-winged Ibis.  I prefer using the Lattice-necked moniker because the long neck with its unusual patterning is distinctive to this bird alone.  I happened across an individual that was hunting for food and stalking the margins of the water.  I did observe it feeding on black snails that were common on the rocks. I recall from my old art history days that the ibis was a sacred bird to the ancient Egyptians and often was mummified to accompany dignitaries on their journeys to the afterlife.  In my mind I made the association that this ibis species in front of me was sacred to the life of this river.  Enough gabbing, here are a few more pictures.

This ibis species is more commonly seen around the Gulf coast and points south of here.  Every once in a while, a storm or hurricane will blow a few individuals into the heartland where they are a welcome treat to the hardcore birders.  The Lattice-necked Ibis has always been less common than the other larger shorebirds.  It is less aggressive than the herons and egrets which out-compete the ibis for prime nesting and feeding sites.  This bird did spy me and flew away, but only a short distance away.  I was able to catch back up with it and captured these final images of this graceful and dignified bird.

Here is the same ibis that found a nice fishing spot next to a small whirlpool. Every now and then a little fish would get caught by the rotating water only to find itself food for the lightning quick ibis.

I felt refreshed and energized by my encounter with the ibis.  I left the river  with a song in my heart which I whistled all the way back home.  Above me, two osprey I had seen earlier were circling in the clear, cool blue sky…another blessing of this day.

BONUS FEATURE…in process shots of how the ibis was made.  The head and body are pieces of Styrofoam I found out at the Falls of the Ohio.  The bill of the bird is a plastic handle from something…perhaps a feather duster?  The bird’s eyes are two small pieces of coal.  The neck I’m guessing is the plastic arm of a hanging flower planter?  At the base of the neck, I attached a small bit of white plastic hose I came across. The brown wings are the soles of two mismatched shoes I found.  The tiny tail and legs are found wood.  These are all the materials that make up this sculpture which owes something to the tradition of decoy making.  Thanks for tagging along with me on another adventure by the Ohio River.

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