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Posts Tagged ‘Louisville’

In the beginning he was so unclear about what had happened.  There was this vague image in his mind of some kind of presence he felt that may have created him?  Even that “fact”  was up for debate.  All he remembers with any kind of certainty was that he couldn’t remember anything at all until the breath of life was blown into him.

What he remembers next is feeling the warmth of the sun on his face.  He tried looking at the sun, but his eyes couldn’t stand the gaze.  Averting his face, he saw a shape on the ground and was surprised when it echoed his own movements like a dance partner.  It was in this moment that he felt his body and became fully aware that he was physical and could move around in space.   He took a minute or two, three, four…to survey his birthplace.

What he saw astonished him!  Positioned in the sand were lots of pieces that looked like the same material he was made from.  It was a bit creepy and confusing for him and his next impulse was to escape.  This decision set him upon the path that would be his life’s adventure.  He walked and walked and everything he saw was new, confusing, and miraculous to him.  There were trees and plants and other life forms that occupied the same space and were delightful to behold. It took a while to absorb and understand some of the things he was encountering.  After a half day’s journey or so, the traveler came to a place different from where he began and after surveying this field…he had an epiphany.

It was a debris field full of all kinds of materials…some of which resembled the pieces he saw before and which constituted his very physical being.  He realized that he was made of the stuff of the world and felt the kinship.  He further intuited that these materials were themselves extracted from what had lived and came before.  Life is built upon life…dust to dust…ashes to ashes…plastic to plastic.  The Traveler moved on.

The Traveler was gaining experience of the world which then led to knowledge of it.  He encountered many other objects and filed them away in his being for future reference.  One such object was this immense cable or rope and our hero recognized that all the individual strands of this rope gave it great strength and unity when they were woven and twisted together.  The sun was at its high point and the day was getting hot.  The Traveler decided to move into the shade of the trees to cool off and discover what he could learn there.  After an hour’s walk or two or three…he came to a large black tunnel leading into the ground and it beckoned to him.

Reflexively, the Traveler overcame any misgivings and entered the tunnel.  It felt cool which he liked and there was blackness which he feared. In the next heartbeat there was an incredible burst of light and he found himself on the other side of the tunnel.  What he saw next was the most perplexing sight of this new and memorable day!

Impaled upon three sticks were three heads that were regarding him with interest.  The Traveler was a confusion of feelings that ranged from horror to outright fascination!  One head was blue and looked like an elephant minus its  ears.   The other two heads were childlike and misshapen.  Within his own mind, the Traveler heard the largest childlike head speak to him and it said, ” Welcome Traveler…we are the Oracle of the Sands of Time.  Together we are the past, present, and future.  All that you were before…you will be again…and more.

The Oracle then spoke in unison and told the Traveler that the Past, Present, and Future simultaneously coexist.  They were appearing to him now to act as a guide to the life that had been given to him.  Naturally, the Traveler was a bit  confused since he was new to paradoxes!  Then the larger head placed an image into the Traveler’s mind and said, “Do you remember that rope you saw today?…imagine a slightly different one more colorful and expanded. Now imagine it’s a model of the universe and everything in it.”

The Traveler then tried to grasp the idea that the universe is made of vibrating strings that phase in and out of time.   Because there are differences in spacetime and your point of view changes depending on how you focus on a moment…the possibility of multiple “you’s” can exist in different dimensions in space and time.  What you were before…you can be again…or not.  Yes, it’s all rather confusing and the Traveler moved away from the Oracle and tried contemplating what he was just told.

What was he supposed to do with this knowledge?  He then remembered the last thing the Oracle told him and it somewhat made sense.  As long as he was fully present and open in each moment of his life…he would be fine.  If he was having a bad day…somewhere in the universe those other “you’s” could be having better or worse days.  In the big scheme of things…it just doesn’t matter.  As the sun was setting in the west, the Traveler was able to face the sun with his shadow confidently following behind him.  He decided that he would keep walking towards the light and treat each day like it was brand new.

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I think today’s post will be shorter than usual, but will need to type it out to be sure.  On this visit to the Ohio River I found it rising which surprised me because we haven’t had much in the way of either rain or snow this year.  When I arrived on the scene, many of the familiar places I visit to make my art were already underwater.  I had to keep moving west in the park to access the shrinking riverbank.

I came across this picnic table near the Interpretive Center.  The river is now enjoying what is normally a cozy place to share a few sandwiches.  I wonder if this table eventually floated off?  I kept walking along the retreating shoreline being mindful not to step into the ever creeping waters.

I have my collecting bag with me, but there’s not much to find today.  It will probably be different after the river retreats. The trash left behind will mark how far the waves pushed the debris onto the land. I came across this nice-sized chunk of eroded polystyrene and decided to use it in today’s project.  A short distance from this find was an even larger hunk of Styrofoam and I was in business for the day.

This second piece of foam was nearly as large as me.  It took a bit of struggling to get it positioned where I wanted it near the rising river.  In this section of the park much of the driftwood I was finding seemed dried out and brittle.  I never did come across the right sticks, but had to make do with what today presented.  I did like the happy-go-lucky expression on this figure’s face.

Here’s a full shot of the figure at the place where I left it.  It’s gone now and the few ducks who were around were probably the only witnesses?

A slightly different view this time.  This figure’s eyes are large fishing bobbers I already had in my bag, however, the nose is some rolled piece of foam that I found out here.  I’m glad the sun came out and made the day a bit more cheerful.  That white object in the distance is another hunk of Styrofoam riding the waves…perhaps my next sculpture?

The river was rising and the light was beginning to fade and once the wind started to pick up…I decided to call it an early day.  One last look back at my saluting figure and this final image of it.  I’ll return once the river recedes and let you know what I found.

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The sun is shining and it’s a brand new year and because it’s also 60 degrees out today…you might not recognize that it is also supposed to be  winter here at the Falls of the Ohio!  I’m sure it will come, but for now we have followed our wettest year ever with a very warm beginning for 2012.  I’m walking the banks of the Ohio River on the Indiana side across from my home in Louisville, Kentucky.  This new year marks the ninth year I have been engaged by this project which has meandered as the river has.  I’m using the material culture that washes up in the park to make my odd form of public art.  I’m hoping to capture something about the spirit of the times in which we live within the context of this very special place which is important both to the history of life and my country’s history.

Last year ended with more high water which deposited even more debris into the park.  One would think that if you had experienced as much rain and flooding as we did that there would be little left to wash into the river.  You might assume that all the small streams and creeks and all the water ways that feed into the river would be flushed out and that the river would eventually flow cleanly…or as clean as it can after passing through our urban landscape.  Unfortunately, you would be wrong and I have the pictures to prove it.

I’m always on the look out for wildlife and birds in particular.  On this day, even the year round avian residents are hard to find.  Everything about this day was very still. The most noteworthy bird I came across was this rubber duck which is somewhat fitting since I ended last year with a collection of rubber duckies that I have found out here over the years. This holiday duck is just the latest to enter my collection.  Oddly, when I looked at this day’s images on my home computer, I discovered that many of my finds were also “yellow” in color hence the partial title of this post.  Here are a few of my other finds from this day.

How long do you think it will take before people won’t recognize what this is?  I came across this toy telephone handset among the wood chips. I guess you can view this as the original cordless telephone.  I think nature is calling.

This bright plastic train is missing its opposite half which washed away with the river.  It was sitting at the water’s edge on gravel deposited by the last ice age.

I even found SpongeBob out here, but what he’s doing looking like one of the queen’s guards, I haven’t the slightest idea?  I saluted back and dropped him into my collecting bag.

Although this isn’t some ancient ivory carving of a mammoth…I did pick this pachyderm up and he snuggled next to SpongeBob.

I’m not sure whether a child or the family dog chewed this plastic horse up, but it was missing part of its leg and had other teeth marks on it as well.  This is not the only horse I found out at the Falls today.  This following piece was much bigger.

It’s not yellow, but it’s a horse of some kind.  I imagine that this is a toy marketed to girls who would enjoy combing the artificial hair on its flowing mane and tail.  Frankly, it could use a good brushing because there were all kinds of burs and seeds tangled in it.  It might be interesting to find out what kinds of plants are ensnared here and I thought about planting the mane somewhere.  And now, another change of pace featuring horse power of a different sort.

I don’t pick up everything I come across otherwise I would need more than the single collecting bag that I bring out here.  Frequently, just taking a picture of a found object is good enough.  Here is a plastic Mustang car mixed in with the driftwood.  As I’m walking I’m also picking up Styrofoam, sticks, nuts, and whatever strikes my fancy.  And, as is my habit…I try to make something from what I’ve collected and photographed out here before I head for home.  Here is the first figure of the new year constructed from junk I found on this adventure.

I made this small figure in the western most section of the park.  The yellow earrings are actually fishing lures.  I came across these two lead jigs with the bright yellow feathers that were tied in tandem and fished on the same line.  The red-head gear is a fabric and Styrofoam flower that’s falling apart.  The necklace is a plastic heart-shaped locket.

While I was making this piece…I was discovered by three boys who live in the nearby town of Clarksville.  They were having an adventure of their own on this beautiful day.  The boys were curious about what I was doing and periodically they would come closer for a peek.  Apparently, what I was doing didn’t sit well for whatever reason with one of the boys who then started to call me names!  “Hey mister…your’e a freak!”  He called me a “freak” several times before running away.  Later, his two friends came by and apologized for him and we had a good conversation about calling people names.  I even reminded one of the boys of his social studies teacher and I’m guessing that’s somebody he has respect for?  Since the day was getting long, I decided it was time to head home.  I left my little figure with the feather earrings near the spot where I last saw the boys and perhaps they will find it.  Maybe it will give them the idea that it can be more fun to be creative than destructive.  That is always my hope.  Have a great year out there!

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The holiday season is upon us and I’m here at the Falls of the Ohio to renew one of my Christmas traditions.  For many years, I have been creating and sending out card images from stuff I’ve made or found washed up here.  This post documents what I came up with on this particular visit along the Ohio River.  Friends and family tell me they enjoy receiving these admittedly unusual cards.

To continue the story a bit from my last post, I came across some evidence that my friend Steve the Arrowhead Man had visited this area before me.  I came across this site where he sat on a log and chipped away rock from its matrix to reveal the projectile point that he sees within it.  The wind has blown away his foot prints.  Talking with Steve, he is an individual who believes that “all hell is about to break loose” and he views man’s poor treatment of the environment as the reason this crisis will occur.  To him, it might not happen today or tomorrow, but the road before us is clear to him and it is not a pretty picture.  During my last conversation with Steve he urged me to obtain a book on edible wild plants and study it.  I know that Steve has been periodically homeless and has tried living off the land.  I’ll admit that during my more pessimistic moods…that I agree with him.  However, I come out to the river to appreciate the natural world and exercise my creative muscles.  This usually puts me in a better frame of mind.

Since my last visit the river level has dropped exposing more of its sandy shoreline.  The aluminum boat that was out here is gone and I wondered if Steve was able to salvage it or if the authorities contacted its owner based on the registration numbers along its side?  As I walk along the bank, I’m keeping my eyes open for whatever is new that has washed ashore.  As usual I find toys like this miniature dinosaur which I scooped up into my collecting bag.  There’s an animated holiday special that airs on television each year that has been a favorite of mine since I was a child.  I know I’m revealing a lot here by admitting that I’m a fan of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”!  There is one setting within this Christmas classic that always gets me.  It’s the Island of Misfit Toys where irregular play things (like a train with square wheels and a Charlie in the Box) are sent into “exile” on this island and “exist” with the hope that Santa Claus will eventually rescue them and present them to kids who will love them.  Ah, pathetic fallacy strikes again. The poignancy of that image has loomed large in my imagination ever since I first saw it.  At times I feel that the Falls of the Ohio State  Park is that island and that the lost and misfit toys arrive here via the river.  Here are a few other toys I found on this particular day.

Here is the remains of a remote control car that was deposited upon the driftwood.  I wonder why it found itself in the river?

I came across this washed-up plush figure with a big nose and mustache.  I feel I “know” this character, but can’t place him at the moment.  Lying less that ten feet away from him was this very recognizable and classic character.  I wonder if they  traveled together?

I turned this Winnie the Pooh plush figure over and removed the burrs that were attached to it and then brushed some of the wet sand off of it.  Who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh and what is he doing in the river?  He is far away from the Hundred Acre Woods.  I carried Pooh and the “mustache man” with me as I gathered the other items I found (including a large chunk of Styrofoam and parts of a garden hose) and proceeded to make my next Falls creation.

Here is version #1 of the Styro-Snowman.  He’s a bit larger than most of the figures I have made out here.  I used a plastic coffee container for a hat, but wasn’t satisfied with it.  I wish I could have found different head-gear, but this is what that day presented to me.  I posed my two little outcast friends at his base and snapped this image.  This was a relatively warm and super bright day as you can see by the strong cast shadows.

This is version #2 minus the coffee container.  The eyes are the blackened remains of nuts from the buckeye tree.  I used other buckeyes and a few walnuts for the “buttons”.  The remaining elements are plastic fragments and driftwood.  Here is another detail.

I also found a length of yellow nylon rope which I employed as a belt.  I tucked the Pooh figure under it as well as a plastic booze bottle to add that extra element of holiday cheer.

As the day was moving along and since I was needed elsewhere…I left this figure at this location, but added one more element.

I added this message in the sand and walked away.  Inside my camera were enough images that I later printed for my holiday cards.  Along the walk back I noticed this white chair near the top of a tree.

This image is another reminder of how high the river can get during one of its flood stages.  The chair was deposited here during last Spring’s high water, but is especially visible now because the leaves have dropped.  I’m always amazed at how variable this relatively small place can be.  I hope everyone out there in the wider world has a great holiday season and I will end with one more message in the sand.

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As expected we set a new yearly rain total record and we still have time left in 2011.  At the moment, we have had 66 inches of rain breaking the old mark by two inches.  I waited for the river to go down a bit before returning to the Falls of the Ohio.  The water was still high which restricted how far I could go.  One very noticeable difference from my last visit was this lost boat.  The high water we did receive loosened it from its mooring up river and it showed up here.  I wonder if someone will attempt to salvage it?

I am always hopeful that I will find lots of cool stuff and this is what I came up with on this trip.  I’ve started collecting the plastic toy wheels that come off toy trucks and cars.  I don’t know what I will eventually do with them, but then again that’s part of the fun!  Here’s a closer image of the blue plastic parachutist in the spot where he landed.

This other figure in the blue coat is my friend Steve the Arrowhead Man.  I’ve nicknamed him this because he likes to knap or chip projectile points from the local rock as the Indigenous people once did.  For him it is a primeval aesthetic.  Steve was the only person I saw on this very cold, but sunny day.  Steve was hunting for rock, but was having no luck because the river was still too high.  I asked how life was treating him and he said that things were a little better for him.  He now has permission to be in the park to practice his craft.  Steve did tell me he once received a ticket for “littering” because someone found a small pile of rock chips he made during the creation of an arrowhead.  We both had a good laugh about that considering his “waste” rock is far less offensive than the daily barrage of plastic bottles and Styrofoam cups that other visitors have strewn about the park.  The new administration at the park has actually embraced people like Steve and potentially me too.  The two of us are living interpreters of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For so long, it felt like the only interesting events occurred in this place two hundred or more years a go.  The Falls, however, is a living site and should be treated as such.  This blog is a sampling of the reality that exits in the park at the present moment.  No doubt two hundred years from now people will find a completely different set of circumstances and folks might be curious about us…or not?

This is the figure I made with found materials on this day.  I walked as far east as I could in the park before the river and deposited driftwood blocked the way.  Along my walk, I came across a discarded life vest and I appropriated it for this figure.  I also found the Styrofoam here and there and carried it under my arms. The distinctive black eyes are old nuts from the buckeye tree. The nose is the spray nozzle from a plastic bottle.  A friend told me the other day that he prefers the animal sculptures I make over the “human presences” I create from these poor materials.  I had to agree, but told him that my figures do contain a certain amount of realism to them because they reflect so well the absurdity of the human condition and our relationship to the planet.

With his thin smile I left this figure waving goodbye and turned around for home.  It was time because I was feeling cold and my left knee was aching.  One of the parting remarks that Steve said to me was that he was considering trying to save the aluminum boat we saw earlier.  I wonder if he tried?  I’ll ask him next time I see him.

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I was taken a bit off guard on this visit to the Falls of the Ohio by a rising Ohio River.  While we have not received much precipitation recently, the same can’t be said for the parts of the Ohio River Valley north of here.  When I showed up on this visit much of the accessible riverbank was already underwater.  Here at the Falls the river level is regulated by a system of tainter gates and dams that helps ensure a steady water level for commercial barge traffic at the McAlpin Locks.  It is a curious notion to think how much of this environment is managed for the benefit of man.  Water is also released under these gates to help manage flooding along the length of the river and the land it passes through.

While walking the receding shoreline, I came across the remains of the larger recent figure I had set up in the tall grass.  The river had already captured and changed it.  I did find some new materials to make something with and this is the figure that resulted.  I have no doubt that it too is now gone.  I may find parts of it again once the river recedes.

He’s not the most attractive figure to say the least, but he’s what I had to work with on this day.  At first, I positioned him by some other objects that had washed into here during the spring floods.  As is my habit, I also moved him around to other locations that increasingly were being encroached upon by the rising river which was sending wave after wave crashing against the sandy beach.  Here are a few images of where I eventually left this figure to its fate.

The sky had this interesting quality to it.  Although it was still warm, the light conditions evoked a colder landscape.  I nearly expected to see a flock of Sandhill Cranes to pass by high above me in their characteristic “V-shaped flight pattern.  Since the day was proving to be less promising than anticipated…I decided to cut my day here short and move on to other concerns.  I left my latest figure on the log where it waved its good byes to the city on the opposite bank of the river.

All and all it was a rather melancholy day.  There are times I think I’m going to  be able to do more than I actually accomplish, but on this day the river was calling the tune.  I wonder how high the river will eventually get?

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As promised, here are a few images from my completed bottle project.  For the last several months I have been finding empty liquor bottles and filling them with the coal that washed into the park after last spring’s flood.  A recent invitation to participate in a coal-themed art exhibition gave me a new reason to work with familiar materials.

It’s my assumption that the coal is in the Ohio River because it washed or fell off barges destined for power plants in the valley?  In places under the railroad bridge there were deposits several inches thick on the beach.  Not all of it was coal gravel, but included pebbles and larger pieces as well.  My “favorite” rocks were the ones that the river tumbled smooth into egg-shapes.  The white flecks in the black gravel are fragments of mussel shells.

In my mind I made a link between the empty booze bottles and the coal.  Both are products that require extraction to bring into being before being consumed in ever addictive quantities.  Putting the coal back into the bottles was a way to put random carbon back into storage and also feel some sense of doing something positive and purposeful by at least removing these materials from the Falls of the Ohio.  In Kentucky, we are consuming our mountains for their coal a sip here and shot there and the social and environmental challenges are adding up to a bigger headache in the wider world.

Since I started this piece here I also wanted a photo of it in the environment in which it was created one found and filled bottle at a time.  Between trips to the Falls I would store the bottles in my basement until I got enough of them to make something with.  When I finally decided I had more than enough I dragged it all back down to the river and set it up on a pretty autumn day.  I also recalled the badly twisted ankle I had over the summer that took weeks to heal.  I was doing this very activity when I rolled my ankle over in the sand.  I think the finished piece has about sixty bottles on it. Most of them are made of glass, but the smallest ones are plastic. All the wood table/altar pieces were also originally found at the Falls of the Ohio.  I used a small folding hand saw and cut the wood to length before bringing it home.  Here’s a few views of the completed sculpture set up by the river.

I had trouble coming up with a title for this work, but finally thought “Mountaintop Minibar” was working for me as much as anything else.  Who knows…I may think of something else in time.

I prefer seeing my work out here by the river.  All the other information in the  pictures just adds to the moment.  I did take a few images of my minibar against a black cloth at the church studio.  Here’s what it looks like by itself and with a detail of the bottles.  So far, it looks like this work will be exhibited in an exhibition in October 2012 and perhaps other opportunities will come up before then.  And now, for the last two images.  Thanks for checking in!

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