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Archive for October, 2013

crushed plastic jack-o-lantern, Oct. 2013

For a few hours more it’s Halloween in Kentuckiana.  With a tornado watch in the air and rain for certain, it’s not boding very well for the actual observance. Sorry about that kids.  It does seem to me that the actual going door to door and collecting candy is not the same prized occasion it used to be.  It seems these days (and here’s where I start sounding old) every holiday has candy and it’s not as special as it used to be.  Halloween is becoming more of an indoor activity with parties replacing the ceremonial wearing out of the shoe leather.  Still there are decorations and costumes to carry on the tradition.  While making my rounds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park…I keep my camera and collecting bag ready for any Halloween related or other spooky items.  Among the more common Halloween finds are these plastic jack-o-lanterns.  The bigger ones are used for actual candy collecting and the smaller pieces are novelties for the table.  Here are a couple more the river has washed up.

smashed plastic jack-o-lantern container, Oct. 2013

destroyed plastic jack-o-lantern, Oct. 2013

Of course, all these novelties are made from discarded plastic which may turn out to be the scariest thing of all.   Walking near the river’s edge, I will often be startled by sights of a spectral nature.  The ghosts of objects and functions past hang mournfully from the branches of the willow trees.  Observe these two ghostly images…if you dare.

plastic "ghost" on a willow branch, Oct. 2013

plastic "apparition" at the Falls, Oct. 2013

During one recent high water moment along the river’s edge…I spotted what appeared to be “something” hanging upside down from a tree branch.  It was animated, black, and hairy and after snapping a quick photo…I got out of there.  In the back of my mind the words “cat demon” formed.  I didn’t want to hang around and find out more.  The hairs on arms were standing straight up!  Judge for yourself.

upside down "black cat demon", Oct. 2013

Today we had a Halloween party at the art program that I manage.  Needing a costume I had to do some quick overnight thinking and making…which often produces interesting results.  How many times has having a deadline served you well?  Looking at the river junk I have saved at my house…I created this head-gear? or weird sculptural hat to fill the bill.  Here’s my “costume” photographed against a black cloth that makes it look like an art object.  Imagine wearing this on top of your head!

Al's Halloween Styro-hat, Oct. 2013

The foundation is the Styrofoam shell of an old bicycle helmet.  The effigy head is actually recycled from an old, now destroyed sculpture I made and left on site at the river.  After the rest of the body fell apart…I wandered bye and salvaged the head since it was still in good shape.  I had no idea what I would do with this head…until this opportunity  presented itself.  The eyes are plastic bottle caps from old dish washing detergent bottles.  The red mouth is more waste plastic as is the yellow hand on top.  The arms, nose, and ears are wood bits.  The neck (which you can’t see very well in this image) is a polystyrene mushroom.  The bungy cord which forms a chin strap, is the only element that did not come from the river.  I have a beaver-chewed willow stick running through the head and into the base.  A little glue holds it all together.  If one can “prize” finding discarded Styrofoam…then I confess to liking the shells from old bicycle helmets.  I have used several over the years to make various turtle and tortoises.  Here’s an example that became the basis for my Cottonwood Turtle story from a few years back.

Albertus Gorman's "Cottonwood Turtle", found Styrofoam and wood, Falls of the Ohio

Well, it’s time to call it a day.  Just a few intrepid souls in costumes made it to the door on this dismal night.  They were well rewarded with chocolate and bubble gum.  To close, here’s one final image from the river…what would Halloween be without witches and here’s one of the best.  Trick or Treat from the Falls of the Ohio.

plastic witch cup, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2013

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Softball core river pearl from the Falls of the Ohio

It started with one.  I had been picking them up for years…odd, yellow ocher orbs that the river marooned in various sections of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Initially, I was intrigued by them because I knew they had to be something, but what?  Early on I formed this association in my mind that these balls were giant pearls and they were gifts to me from the beautiful river.  Made from a lightweight yet solid, hard foam, these balls weathered in very individualistic ways.  Many of them had acquired a nice patina from their river journey perhaps floating long distances for many years.  For a while, each time I would go on one of my excursions to the Falls of the Ohio, the river made sure that I would stumble upon one or more of these balls.  Into the collecting bag they would go.  Eventually, I found out what kind of balls they are and in case you haven’t guessed yet…here are a couple more images that will reveal what they originally looked like.  I’ll start with one of these balls in the process of transforming, followed by one that is more intact.

softball with covering coming off, Falls of the Ohio

softball in the river

My river pearls are the cores of contemporary softballs.  How did all these softballs end up in the river?  When I was a kid, a softball had a hard rubber ball in the interior which was surrounded by what seemed like miles of string wrapped tightly around the rubber ball.  A two piece leather cover was then sewn over this “string ball” which completed the softball and was now ready to be played with.  For those who might be unfamiliar with softball…it’s a game similar to baseball, but the ball is about twice as large as a standard baseball.  I collected these softball cores for years, but especially during the early phase of my Artist at Exit 0 Project.  After each river trip I would dutifully fill up boxes in my home’s basement with my found balls and then forget about them.  Over time, I started picking up lots of different objects and using them in various ways as materials for my sculptures or as offbeat collections of odd items I was creating.  I guess I always knew that I would return to these balls and make something interesting with them someday.  That day arrived last week.

softball cores in my backyard, Oct. 2013

I had no idea how many of these balls I had collected or passed up over the years?  This recent photo taken in my Louisville backyard shows about 110 out of the 160 balls I did save.  I decided to act on my river pearls idea by making an impractically large pearl necklace.  I carried all the balls I had to my friend Tom’s sculpture studio and used his drill press to drill a hole through each ball.  That was a bit more of a technical challenge than I had first conceptualized.  Most of these spheres are not perfectly round. In fact their imperfections (which I really like as evidence of wear by the river and elements) made each drilling a unique experience.  Eventually, I got the job done and laid out many of the balls on the concrete pad in my backyard.  Just as I was beginning to thread and knot braided nylon cord through the balls…the sky let loose a monstrous rain storm.  By day’s end, nearly seven inches or 17.5 centimeters of rain fell and flooded parts of my backyard and basement!  It was like being visited by the river in an interesting way.  I had initially “graded” each ball by condition and color to form transitions in this giant strand, but the water and now mud from my backyard changed the color of each ball.  I decided to make my first piece one hundred balls long.  There is a knot tied with the cord that keeps each ball from touching.  At my local hardware store I found a brass hook that I could use for a clasp to close my giant necklace.  All that was left to do was to return to the river…to the place that I found all of these balls and inspiration and find a way to give thanks for these many gifts.

river pearl necklace in plastic bucket, Oct. 2013

Loading the necklace into a large red plastic tub I carried my artwork down to the Ohio River.  One hundred balls became surprisingly heavy and I was concerned about twisting an ankle or tweaking my knee as I walked over the driftwood.  I came to a sunny place under the railroad bridge and laid the necklace out upon the sand for the first time.

weathered softball cores, Oct. 2013

Here’s a look as some of the weathering that occurred with a few of the balls.  And here is one of the first images of the necklace joined together.

one hundred ball necklace in the sand, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2013

This was okay for a trial run, but I had other images in mind.  I have always loved the willow trees in the park and I chose one of my favorite ones to “wear” my river pearl necklace.  Yes, it’s a hopelessly romantic gesture, but I felt like “celebrating” this tree in a special way.  Here are a few more images.

amazing willow tree wearing my river pearl necklace, October 2013

willow tree "wearing" my river pearl necklace, Falls of the Ohio, October 2013

detail of willow tree necklace, Oct. 2013

Moving closer to the river, I stopped by an old willow that was barely alive.  I draped my necklace over its old exposed roots and created a few more images.

Old willow roots and necklace, Oct. 2013

Once in a while, a park visitor would walk by and look in my direction and continue on as though I was engaged in a most ordinary activity!  If I had stumbled across this scene…I think curiosity would compel me to say something.  Next is another detail from my eccentric strand of pearls.

detail, slightly elevated river pearl necklace, Oct. 2013

With the river within sight, I lifted my bucket of balls and headed towards the fossil rocks.  It was a sunny, but windy day and my next idea was to put the necklace into the water.

"La Belle Riviere", softball core necklace, Falls of the Ohio, October 2013

I found a pool of water surrounded by Devonian inspired limestone that would prevent my necklace from being carried away by the current’s flow.  Still, the wind kept changing the configuration and blowing the balls against the rocks.

"La Belle Riviere", softball core necklace, Falls of the Ohio, October 2013

I used a beaver-chewed willow stick I found on the bank to guide my necklace into shape between photos.  The necklace which I now had named “La Belle Riviere” was the name originally given by French missionaries upon encountering the Ohio River for the first time.

"La Belle Riviere", softball core necklace, October 2013

It seems appropriate that the river which played a large part in bringing these balls to this shore…would continue to influence how this piece would be perceived.

detail, of "La Belle Riviere", Oct. 2013

I enjoyed how the gourd-colored balls harmonized with the surrounding riverine landscape.  I felt some sense of accomplishment in creating this piece and being able to return it to the Falls environment to create this site specific work.  It was also a fitting ten-year anniversary artwork since “La Belle Riviere” began with that first found ball a decade a go.  I will see how well it holds its own in a gallery environment since I want to include this piece in a two person show I’m participating in this January.  After these river photos…I loaded the necklace back into its container and began the slow walk back to my car.  While making this work, I did have one admirer that found the work irresistible and I will end this post with its image.  So long…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Butterfly with detail of softball core necklace, Oct. 2013

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Tussock moth caterpillar, Oct. 2013   Red-faced and bizarrely hairy, the unique caterpillar of the Tussock moth was munching its way through a maple leaf.  Everything about its appearance says I’m not tasty and leave me alone.  It’s now October and it won’t be much longer before the first frost and freezes arrive and with it the colder temperatures which will quiet insect life at the Falls of the Ohio until next year.  The caterpillar inspired me to post a few other entomological images taken in the park.  I confess that I have always liked insects as examples of how diverse life can be.  I’m amazed at the incredible variety and forms that our six-legged friends can assume. Here’s another really weird caterpillar that I found at the Falls that I just haven’t been able to identify through any of my field guides.  Does anybody out there in blog land recognize this?

strange caterpillar from the Falls, late June 2013

This fluorescent green caterpillar has dramatic eye spots on its posterior that would incite a predator to strike there first.  Its anterior is located on the opposite end and I would have fallen for this trick too, but noticed that it was walking backwards.  I wondered once it completed its metamorphosis…would the adult be a moth or butterfly?  Maybe some day I will stumble upon and collect a large cocoon I don’t recognize and I’ll take it home and watch a miracle as it emerges from its silken home.

hornets and flies on willow bark, 9/2010

During this time of year, certain willow trees at the Falls are exuding sap which draws a variety of insect life including various flies, hornets, and butterflies to these sweet “licks”.  Whether the flowing sap is due to disease or injury is unknown to me? The large bullet-like hornets are so preoccupied with sipping the sap that they ignore me.  To test this, I’ve carefully touched them with my finger while they were feeding and they remained docile.  I was walking through the tall grass when I noticed a large flying insect land on the bush next to me.  Despite its wonderful camouflage I was able to locate our next insect after a short search.

Chinese Mantid, Falls of the Ohio, late Sept. 2013

This is the Chinese Mantid which I read was introduced into this country in 1896.  It is the largest praying mantis you are likely to come across in the United States and this specimen was about four inches or ten centimeters long.  I’ve seen them grow larger, but not in this park.  In fact, this is only the second mantid I’ve seen out here.  There are several native species, but they are smaller and more obscure.   And now, it’s time to reveal my most spectacular discovery which is a near but harmless relative of the praying mantis.  Here is a picture of its head.

detail, head of the Falls Phasmid Stick Insect, October 2013

And now, for the rest of its body which is about two feet long or roughly sixty centimeters.  I came upon this unique life form casually walking across the driftwood on its way to somewhere else.

full view of Falls Phasmid, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2013

Although as insects go this is a giant…it is also an extremely fragile creature.  It is a member of the walking stick family.  It relies on slow movements and its cryptic forms to merge with its surroundings.  The Falls Phasmid is strictly a vegetarian and eats the foliage from a variety of different trees.

aerial view of Falls Phasmid, Oct. 2013

I came across this specimen in broad daylight.  I had always heard that they were nocturnal and chose to restrict their movements during the day to avoid detection.  Walking stick insects are among the largest insects we have.  This species is additionally strange in that its head, thorax, and abdomen are so clearly differentiated.  Some scientists have gone so far as to suggest a bit of mimicry at work here.  On the surface it does seem to possess a superficial resemblance to a giant ant which might be enough to dissuade predators from attacking it.

Falls Phasmid hanging in a tree, Oct. 2013

I did observe this particular Phasmid making return trips to a particular willow tree where it clung to a nest-like structure that was hanging down from a branch.  The meaning of this structure was not immediately apparent.  Perhaps the Falls Phasmid uses this form to help it overwinter?  Keeping a respectful distance away, I did see the stick insect walking slowly over the riverbank, but I couldn’t tell if it was searching for something in particular and I did not witness it feeding.

Falls Phasmid Stick Insect, Oct. 2013, facing left

Falls Phasmid in the wetlands area, Oct. 2013

Originally, the Falls Phasmid may have had the ability to fly.  Other walking stick insects from around the world have vestigial wings that suggest a different past.  Our specimen lacks even the most superficial suggestion of wings which hints at an ancient lineage.  Perhaps all stick insects evolved here first and spread around the world much later?

Falls of the Ohio Phasmid Stick Insect, October 2013

I watched the Falls Phasmid for a while and took a bunch of photographs of it before leaving the park.  I’m curious about that tree that it likes to hang out on and so will check it the next time I’m here.  On my way out of the park, I also came around this wonderful Viceroy butterfly and thought that this would make a fitting image to end this post.  When I think of the butterflies that inhabit the park…this is the species that comes to mind first for me.

Viceroy butterfly, Falls of the Ohio, October 2013

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glass bottleneck against coal gravel, 2013

I wish I could remember the exact written passage where the image of a bottleneck captured my imagination.  Back tracking through my books has not revealed the exact source, however, I do remember that the context came from biology and more specifically the history of life.  Of the five great extinction cycles, the one that closed out the Permian period (roughly 245 million years a go) was the most brutal and efficient.  All those trilobites that had been so successful for so long hit the wall.  At this time the super continent Pangaea existed.  Millions of years of continental drift and the resulting global climate change are the leading hypothetical causes for this extinction.  Regardless, the effect was that the majority of life’s diversity as it existed then and which filled up that particular metaphoric bottle…did not make it through the bottleneck.  Fortunately, some life did survive, but it would take subsequent millions of years for life to evolve and radiate out to regain its former glory.

green glass bottleneck with cap against sand and water, 2013

We like to think that we stand atop life as its ultimate achievement.  We frequently miss the bigger picture of which we are small part and are even oblivious to the effects we have on everything else around us.  The bottleneck effect has been adapted by other systems to illustrate that which is a hindrance or impediment to progress.  The basic idea, however, remains the same.  Whatever is in the bottle is going to get squeezed on its way out that is if the contents do in fact make it out.  In my own blog, I don’t mention U.S. politics much, but lately it is in the news and it’s troublesome. Our seeming inability to govern ourselves…to in effect allow small selfish groups to manufacture bottlenecks strikes me as self-defeating and doesn’t bode well for the future.

two glass bottlenecks on sand, 2013

At the Falls of the Ohio State Park, I literally find bottlenecks all the time.  Unlike their plastic counterpoint, the glass ones don’t break down as much.  There must be something about the material strength of glass that is increased when it is forced into a tube that makes it extra resilient.  Over time, their sharp edges do get worn down and their surfaces become frosted through tumbling in the sand.  Personally, I find glass to be a far more attractive material than plastic.  I’ve come to look at our artifacts in much the same way I might regard a fossil as examples of objects that have been touched by and affected by life.

four different glass bottlenecks, 2013

There’s something about the process of “finding” that is compelling if not compulsive for me.  I try to stay watchful for opportunities, particularly if I come across an image or material that I can apply through my art.  The process of collecting, examining, and comparing is also personally meditative and relaxing.  I started photographing bottlenecks years a go with no goal in mind.  Just more documented stuff among all the other stuff along the riverbank that I come across each time I visit the park.  Looking over my photographs, forgotten images of bottlenecks would catch my eye again.

beer bottleneck with cap on stick, 2013

bottleneck with red cap on stick, 2013

Other than take contextual images, I guess the next thing I did with bottlenecks was to stick them on the ends of branches and sticks.  This allows the light to play through the glass revealing its jewel-like attractiveness.  It might also cause someone else to notice that there is a lot of smashed glass in the park.  Granted, the river floats a lot of bottles in here from upriver, but there is also a lot of drinking that goes on here via the local folks.  Why pack your empties out when you can just throw them on the ground?  One bottleneck on a branch led to more…in fact the whole arc of these now bottleneck projects has trended in the “more” direction.

glass bottlenecks on a willow branch, 2013

glass bottlenecks on driftwood tied to a branch, 2013

I guess this last image is a bottleneck candelabra?  I find many of the bottlenecks I’ve used near stands of willow trees by the water’s edge.  I suppose bottles that float in are snagged in the tree’s exposed root system eventually breaking through contact with floating logs and leaving the shards in place?  People also throw bottles against the trees which has the same effect.  Rarely, do I need to walk very far to find enough glass to create a small project and image.

glass bottlenecks stuck in the mud, 2013

Here’s one project made from bottlenecks collected around one particular willow tree.  I liked the way they looked collectively stuck in the mud and their tubular arrangement reminded me of fossil corals which also references the Falls of the Ohio.  Here’s a few other similar site specific groupings of bottlenecks.

upright glass bottlenecks in dirt with shadows, 2013

glass bottlenecks stuck in the mud at the water's edge, 2013

diverse collection of glass bottlenecks, 2013

detail of arrangement of various glass bottlenecks, 2013

The next couple of images are from my last bottleneck piece.  In addition to lots of waste glass…I also find discarded fishing line, often in the same places.  I brought these two materials together for this ephemeral work.  Recently, I was talking with a good friend of mine and we were remarking about how much of our lives seem mediated by and require reading various kinds of screens.  This last glass project may have something to do with that because the bottlenecks are arranged in a flat, parallel screen hanging from a horizontally growing willow branch.  I wonder if anyone else ever saw this and what they may have thought about it?

various glass bottlenecks suspended on fishing line, 2013

detail, various glass bottlenecks suspended by waste fishing line, 2013

Well there you have it!  I suppose these bottleneck projects will now crop up on occasion like my found coal pieces do as intimate site specific expressions.  For now, it’s enough to present them as images without trying too hard to extract every bit of meaning from them.  Bottlenecks in the broader sense are challenges.  May we always remain open to meeting them.  So long from the Falls of the Ohio.

bottleneck on a stick at sundown, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

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