Posted in Absurd, animal art works, Art, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, birds and birding, driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, lost and found, material culture, nature, nature photography, Ohio River flooding, photography, plastic, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam, tagged Art, artist at exit 0, at the intersection of nature and culture, driftwood, eco-story, Falls of the Ohio, Genius loci, material culture, nature, nature story, photography, plastic, sense of place, Styrofoam on March 7, 2017|
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A late winter landscape at the Falls of the Ohio and what has to be one of our warmest February’s ever! I can’t recall ever having an 80 degree day in winter before…not in Kentuckiana in mid February to boot. We had just a trace of snow to speak of and while nobody missed living through the freeze and gray monotony of winter…somehow we know “pay backs will be hell”. The cost will come in more insect and weed pests at least. It will be interesting to see how many and how severe our spring storms will be. Will they be full of energy violent and remembered for deluges of rain?
With a name like the Falls Pheasant, you would expect to find this bird here. Alas, our only native pheasant started disappearing when stands of river cane became less numerous. Once thought extinct, this colorful pheasant has started reappearing in once familiar places. I wish I could also report that the river cane is also coming back, but it hasn’t so far. Perhaps what’s left of these pheasants are the ones who will accept other habitat? It’s all about being able to adapt with the changes? Some birds pushed to the fridges of their comfort zones found new areas to live.
This is a young male of the species. As an adult, the center tail feather becomes twice as long and the head becomes a bright shade of turquoise. I chanced upon it during a period of high water investigating small islands of trees and driftwood where potential food would become concentrated by the rising river. The females are so cryptically colored that you can’t see them when they sit on their nests. The Falls Pheasant produces a small clutch of four white eggs with brown speckles on them.
From his driftwood mound vantage point, the pheasant sees noisy Canada geese he would rather avoid. Hopping from one bleached and weathered log to another it was soon on the ground. Reaching a stand of weed stalks, I was so surprised at how quickly the pheasant could completely disappear. I doubt this bird decided this area was a good place to stake a claim. The Canada Geese here are aggressive and then there are all the other predators too. Stray cats, dogs, compete with coyotes, foxes, raccoons, minks, humans, and birds of prey from the air patrol this space. Better to keep moving on.
Our story doesn’t end here. Just a few weeks later and at a spot not too far away from where I saw the pheasant…I came across another great rarity. I have always maintained that “chance favors a prepared mind”. I think subconsciously, I am always looking around for something different or out-of-place.
It was late in the day with the sun slipping quickly to the horizon line, when I spotted this distinct red color moving through the willow trees. Hiding behind the trunks as best I could, I was able to get close enough to snap four or five images. I would need to wait until I got home to make the identification which was a personally exciting thing to do! This was one bird completely unfamiliar to me and a new Kentucky and Falls of the Ohio record. This is the Elfin Flycatcher or Sugarbill as it is better known in Northern Quebec. This bird can truly be considered an “accidental” because it is so far away from its usual home range. In its winter home of Cuba…it is an insectivorous bird known for its aerobatic hunting of small flying insects that live in the warmth of the tropics. During the spring breeding season, the Elfin Flycatcher undergoes a long journey along the Atlantic coastline until it crosses over into the coldest reaches of Quebec. It arrives before the northern insects have hatched and to supplement its diet, it drills into hardwood trees (similar to our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker) to collect the nutritious sweet tree sap that pools in the drill holes. It feeds on sap until clouds of mosquitoes and midges arise from the waters of the north to change this bird’s diet.
The bright yellow tail and the purple crest mark this as an adult male of the species. The brown wings were continuously flicking like some nervous tic this bird was experiencing. How this bird got so far off track is a mystery. Sometimes large storm events along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast will cause birds to travel great distances to get out-of-the-way. There is another concern, less with this bird, but more so with other migratory species. As climate change scrambles the natural clocks, timing is crucial to migrating birds. Routes have developed over time to source food when it appears and if it doesn’t…what happens to these long distance migrants?
This is what has so many biologists concerned. What happens to all those species that find the changes too challenging and can’t readily adapt? For now, I will keep making my anecdotal observations from the Falls of the Ohio State Park and work my best to try not to get too depressed about it all. Drawing a deep breath of fresh air, I picked up my collecting bag and that day’s trophy river finds and turned for home.
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Posted in Absurd, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, ecosytem, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, material culture, nature photography, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam, tagged Art, art and nature, artificial and natural, artist at exit 0, barge rope, driftwood, ecostory, Falls of the Ohio, flotsam and jetsam, Genius loci, junk in the river, material culture, nature story, photography, sense of place, Styrofoam art, tree growing through a wheel, willow tree on June 30, 2016|
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I had an unexpected rendezvous at the Falls of the Ohio recently. I caught up with my friend Katinka as she was taking a walk along the riverbank. I have always loved the way she looks when the sun strikes her face at just the right angle and creates this wonderful glow about her. We are meeting by chance which is often the best way to go. The two of us decide to walk together for a while. She had an earlier start today than I did so I asked if she had seen anything on this beautiful morning that struck her as being memorable in some way? Immediately Katinka answered that there was a tree near the water that impressed her as being particularly heroic. Together we sought out the spot where it was rooted.
We don’t have to go far and as it turns out and I’m already familiar with this tree. It’s a Black Willow and it is growing through the metal holes of an old discarded car wheel. I noticed this one…and another similar tree growing through a tire in the western end of the park a couple of years a go. I can understand why Katinka thinks this tree is “heroic” as it tries to thrive while wearing a metal and rubber yoke. I keep wondering what will happen next as this tree moves through time? Will the limbs growing through the holes eventually get pinched off? Will the willow send out roots all around this wheel eventually elevating it off the ground? How is this tree going to accommodate this wheel?
I have documented this tree through a few seasons and so this was a good time to take a few early summer shots. The tree seemed healthy and was certainly taller than before. I noticed that after this year’s high water subsided, that the tree had shifted a bit as the tire settled into the earth. Linking the tire with the tree is an unusual union of the natural and artificial and Katinka agreed. She said that she couldn’t help but feel that the tree got the worst end of this bargain…but we shall see.
Katinka said she detected a theme developing and that she had witnessed other “unusual pairings”. She asked me to hold out my hand and on my palm, Katinka placed the soft, hollow, plastic body of a toy animal that was missing its head. She found this on the riverbank too. Interestingly, nature seems to find a way to express life and in this case, a small seed landed in the dirt that had filled the toy’s hollow body and had sprouted! This qualifies as a very small niche indeed.
I placed the plant/toy on the sand and then I wished it well. Simple as that. I followed Katinka to our next spot. She had seen something earlier and wanted to look at it again in case it was something that could fit the evolving theme of her tour of the Falls of the Ohio. After a little searching around the vegetation around the willows, we found what we were looking for laying on the surface of the sand.
Once upon a time, this was an object that required hook fasteners to adjust. In this found instance, the hooks from the cockle burr and other hardy plants have hitched a ride and their seedlings are using the man-made fabric for a substrate to germinate upon. Perhaps as the plant continues to thrive and grow, it can jump off its host by spreading its roots far and wide? I mentioned to Katinka that I knew a place that demonstrated a similar kind of union occurring between something artificial and natural and would she like to see that? It was just a short distance along the water line and the sound of the river filled up any need for conversation. The river can be satisfying in that way.
Reaching the spot, we could see a golden-yellow, tangled mess that was once a part of a large, tight, barge cable. At some point, the cable was cut and floated down the river and was now stuck joining two separate willow trees together. The yellow arc was swaying in the slight breeze. Subsequent floods and even birds picking on this large rope for nesting material have continued the process of fraying it. I thought there was something very art-like in the way this cable called attention to itself and the space around it. In places at the Falls of the Ohio you can find other trees that have snagged lengths of this synthetic barge cable in their exposed root systems and limbs. Here is another example of this as a river wave plays jump rope.
Both Katinka and I agreed that the snagged barge ropes offered us vivid examples of how the stuff we make interacts with the rest of the world. While we were looking at the ropes, a new protagonist arrived via a muddy Ohio River wave. A large plastic gasoline container became the latest piece of junk to become beached at the Falls of the Ohio.
So far, Katinka and I had spent the morning together looking at examples of how nature was dealing with us through our surrogates…the trash we create and discard. We both agreed that perhaps we should spend the rest of our time together just looking at the beauty that is nature. Although the Falls of the Ohio State Park is a rather small and some would add a rather limited place…I can usually find something that seems extraordinary and perfect in its own way.
Moving to the nearest decaying log I found a small and completely unfamiliar fungus seemingly bubbling up from the wood itself. All fungi have an important role to play and gives rise to the idea that nature’s creations are rarely superfluous like our own tend to be. I qualify that with a “rarely” since it seems to Katinka and I that what seems troubling about man is that out of synch quality with nature that we now seem to embody and in fact embrace. What was nature thinking about when it gave rise to us? The fungi have a purpose…what is ours, perhaps to usher in the next great period in the history of life?
One more small and seemingly miraculous discovery before calling it quits for the day. I spotted something moving over the shallow, water-covered fossil beds and a quick flash of the hand produced this freshly hatched terrapin. Katinka checked it out before releasing back to the same spot where I had found it. I hope it doesn’t run into any herons or raccoons that would make short work of it. This was a nice way to end the day! As my friend and I parted I watched Katinka as she immersed herself in a bed of violet flowering vines. Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.
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Posted in Absurd, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, collections, creativity, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Installation, lost and found, Louisville, Kentucky, material culture, nature photography, plastic, Plastic art, public art, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sculpture, sense of place, Site specific art, watershed, tagged Art, artist at exit 0, Bernheim Arborteutm and Research Forest, Bernheim Artist in Residency Program, Chiel Kuijl, driftwood, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Genius loci, material culture, nature, nature and culture, photography, plastic bottle, plastic container, plastic pollution, public art, sense of place, site specific art on May 1, 2016|
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April was a busy but mostly productive blur. Lots of balancing went on encompassing family, work, loss, art, birthdays, and spring transitioning to summer. We had an issue with our family computer that kept us quiet for a while, but hopefully that has been resolved. At this point, I have thousands of photographic images scattered everywhere and if by chance I happen to lose something…well, chalk that one up to the will of the digital gods. I had this strange realization about being a survivor of a by gone analog era that my sons don’t understand or have much experience with. These digital images I have been creating at the Falls of the Ohio can be as transient as the artworks they document. Fortunately, for my sanity, I was able to get to the river on a couple of occasions in this month, breathe deeply, and relax with my art. The last two visits I made to the park in April were gorgeous days and productive. Here are images made from that day’s project.
I have been having fun gathering up the different plastic bottles and containers that I have been coming across the last two years and making something with them. The arrangement I made today was composed of black and white plastic junk I came across after a few hours of work. All the black and white containers were found in the general area of where this piece eventually came together. I moved around a center location and after fanning in and out found enough stuff to bring back to “base”. I had previously picked out a place where I wanted to make something because I liked the view with the railroad bridge and the City of Louisville behind that.
I found a couple of nice plastic buckets and a nice fairly straight wooden plank and set the arrangement up with its back shielded by a huge log. There was an even larger log that had an end on it that had been scorched by fire, but it worked with the scene. First, I arranged all the black bottles up and moved from left to right and kept the large containers on the bottom row. I set the three “grayish” containers up next and that including the two silver jugs I came across. At least they seemed to represent some value between black and white and I took several photos with them in the configuration. Later in the day, I did return back to this spot and shot a few without the gray containers in the pictures…just the black and white ones which I liked too.
Here’s an image with a train crossing the tracks. Unfortunately, I did not get a shot before my piece was set up. Now for a progression of other work in progress photos documenting the brief peak of the “Arrangement in Black and White Plastic”.
While I was working out in the driftwood, new friend and fellow artist Chiel Kuijl came out looking for a few choice pieces of wood for his rope installation. Chiel has been the Artist at Residence at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest and is originally from the Netherlands. We have crossed paths out here at the Falls of the Ohio as well as socially with mutual friends. He has returned to Holland, but is due to return to Louisville this year to work on a recent commission.
Chiel later built a beautiful rope installation over water as well as distinctive “furniture” from ropes and driftwood. Park of this busy April included visiting Chiel out in Clermont, KY to see what he accomplished during his residency. I look forward to showing you a few images of his work in a later post. First!…let’s get through this one. I did remove the “gray” containers so it is just black and white butting up to one another.
I week after I made this piece, I returned to check on it and inspect my base studio. Here is an “after” picture. I already have plans in mind on how I can reuse this black and white plastic. One other fun development…I am working towards my show at Bob Hill’s Hidden Hills Nursery in Utica, IN. That will open on May 22 after some of the Kentucky Derby madness has subsided some. I have three very large figures I have been working on and you will see those soon. Have a wonderful Sunday…from the Falls of the Ohio and the Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog.
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Posted in Absurd, animal art works, Art, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, birding, birds and birding, creativity, driftwood, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, fresh water, Louisville, Kentucky, material culture, nature photography, Ohio River, Ohio River flooding, photography, Plastic art, recycled art, repurposed materials, sense of place, tagged Art, artist at exit 0, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, birds, Chiel Kuijl, driftwood, ecostory, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Genius loci, Kentucky, Louisville, nature, photography, plastic, rare animals, sense of place, Spring bird migration, Styrofoam on March 24, 2016|
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Went out to the river, but to tell you the truth…I thought it would be too high. Just a couple of days earlier, the Ohio River was once again over its normal banks. Every year is different and this year the tail end of our winter was marked by warmth and high water. Although the riverbank was muddy, I was happy to be able to walk around. I’m having a show at a friend’s place in May and I was on the lookout for more washed up materials. As it played out, this first official day of Spring would be a more memorable one than I had first anticipated.
One of the reasons that this can be an interesting time of the year at the Falls of the Ohio is the annual Spring migration of neotropical birds. I have been known to set my collecting bag aside and just hit the woods on the look out for migrating birds. The first time you see a male Scarlet Tanager or a Rose-breasted Grosbeak will make a bird watcher out of a lot of people. This past weekend, which is still a bit early for the usual migrants…I came across something totally unexpected that I couldn’t identify at first. I didn’t get many pictures, but what I have is here. If you have never seen (or much less heard of) Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf, (Aviana indeterminus)…you wouldn’t be alone. Hammerkopf translated into English is hammerhead and that description seems to fit. Heisenberg’s bird is about the size of an American Robin. Among the features that stand out the most are its massive red bill and the petal-like feathers found at the base of its neck. The wings can be brown or white and it has been known to have a crest, but some individuals have been seen that don’t have this feature. There is no consensus as to its overall population, but a few individuals seem to make the news each year. This bird is an enigma and it seems to prefer things that way.
The individual I came across is a second year male. Looking at the info there is on this species did say that the unusual ruff of feathers around its neck could turn bright red as the bird matured and was ready for the breeding season. What little there is in the scientific literature suggests that this is a highly variable species that can be found anywhere at any time. With this bird, you really can’t pin down where it originates and it doesn’t seem to have a “normal range”. It seems to be a very uncommon bird with a world-wide distribution.
This individual kept surprising me. I almost felt that it “changed” the more I observed it. By that I mean at first I found it by the mud and then it changed habitat by going into the trees. I lost track of it for a short while, but rediscovered it at the water’s edge. From there, it moved back under the willow trees where I eventually lost it for good. I saw it use its large bill to delicately probe the mud and hammer through a driftwood log and in both cases wasn’t sure of what it was eating if indeed it found anything to begin with? I just saw enough of this bird to pique my interest, but I have had bird sightings that have lasted mere seconds that were satisfying enough to last a lifetime.
While I was out exploring the Falls environment, I did come across another individual who can vouch for me that this strange bird was indeed out here. I struck up a conversation with him and as it turns out he is also an artist. His name is Chiel Kuijl and he is from the Netherlands. He has a residency at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky where he is working on a unique outdoor rope environment. He was looking for select, interesting pieces of wood that he could incorporate into his art project and the Falls of the Ohio are a perfect place to do this. Talking with Chiel, one of the things he is enjoying most are the new and unfamiliar birds he is encountering in this country. I asked if he had ever seen a Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf before and he said that he hadn’t and it was really unlike what he was accustomed to back home. I am sure I will see Chiel again, but what of the hammerkopf?
I don’t often make an appeal to the larger blogging world, but if anyone should happen to see this bird or something similar to it…I hope that you will post pictures of it. It might make an interesting research project to see where in the world this species will turn up and what it might have to say about those particular places where it is found. For now, I will leave it here and hope you will follow along the next time I am hiking at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.
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Posted in Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, collections, creativity, ecosytem, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, fresh water, Installation, lost and found, material culture, nature, nature photography, Ohio River, photography, plastic, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Styrofoam, unusual collection, watershed, tagged Art, artist at exit o, assemblage art, Devonian Period, driftwood, exhibit design, Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Falls of the Ohio State Park, flint artifacts, fossil beds, found objects, Lewis and Clark, nature display, photography, plastic, pollution, sense of place, Shawnee language, Solid Light on January 10, 2016|
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On January 8 of this new year, the exhibits at the renovated Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center opened to the public with a grand ribbon cutting ceremony. The interior of the Interpretive Center had been closed for 13 months. About 6 million dollars had to be raised to upgrade the 22-year-old permanent educational displays. After a national search, Louisville-based exhibit design company, Solid Light, Inc. won this high-profile contract and solidified their growing reputation within the exhibit design field. Judging from the enthusiastic response of the people attending the reopening it was worth the wait. I played a very small part with a commission to create an assemblage from objects I found in the park and I was eager to see how Solid Light used it.
The displays are divided into four themes or sections beginning with “An Ancient Sea” that highlights early marine life during the Devonian Period. The extensive fossil beds in the park date roughly to 400 million years ago and are the remains of an early coral reef ecosystem populated with many species of coral, brachiopods, and early fish which make their first appearance during the Devonian Period. I was glad to see some of the older models that made up the original display were re-purposed into the new display. The exhibit is interactive and there are hands on elements that children will enjoy. Large, wall-sized videos help set the scene through many of the sections and in “An Ancient Sea” an animation depicting a shallow marine environment includes fish swimming through sun-dappled waters as trilobites search for food among the corals.
The second theme is entitled “A Changing Land” and covers all the geologic changes from the Ice Age to the appearance of the first Americans. For me, the highlight of this area is the inclusion of the Shawnee language which can be heard spoken inside a reconstructed shelter. It’s wonderful that the contemporary descendants of these ancient people were involved in the design of this display and acknowledges their presence at the Falls of the Ohio.
Previously, the remains of prehistoric man’s material culture (primarily represented through flint tools) were a focal point in the old center’s displays. For those worried that examples of the “real thing” would be replaced with virtual images and copies will be pleased that you can still explore original material through some inspired casework. Be sure to peek inside many of the drawers in the different themed areas to see fine examples of specimens and artifacts.
The third theme “Converging Cultures” recounts the history of the Falls area with the arrival of the Europeans. The Lewis and Clark Expedition is a key moment not only in the history of the United States, but of the Falls of the Ohio as well. Many of the men that comprised the “Corps of Discovery” were originally from Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Wall-sized videos in the Lewis and Clark Theater recount the biographies of many of the men who made this epic transcontinental journey. The story of John James Audubon is also noted and forms a transition into the last themed area of the new displays.
This last section is called “The Falls Today” and focuses upon the Falls of the Ohio as a rich contemporary ecosystem. Some of the old taxidermy mounts have been reused to highlight some of the many species that live within the park. Another large video display, this time a virtual aquarium, speaks to the richness of life in the river, particularly the species of game fish that are of interest to fisherman. There is also a call to responsible and sustainable living and the need to keep pollution at bay. This is where I come in. I was commissioned by Solid Light to create an assemblage of found objects that is representative of what can be found in the Ohio River. Here is the finished result that was placed within its own case with graphic elements added.
The panel within the case is 8 feet by 4 feet large. I posted about the panel as I was creating it and showed many details of the more than 100 different objects that comprise it. Of course, everything I’ve attached here was found within the context of the park. The early reaction is that children in particular love looking at all the odd elements especially the found toys. My panel is among the last things you see as you leave the exhibits area to exit the building. I’m glad that there has been a greater emphasis in this new interpretation to include the current state of the world. One could argue that as interesting as the past is…it is the present that is of the greatest concern. Further reinforcing this idea are the results of the minor flooding we experienced the previous week. As the river has subsided, another massive new inventory of junk has washed into the park. As I was leaving the ribbon cutting ceremony and walking to my vehicle, I could clearly see how much more work needs to be done. Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.
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