Moving water does not readily solidify. And so even as frozen pipes fail to deliver a Caledonia morning shower, another nearby trickling flow persists. Downstream from the Grand River Dam, the year-round H2O movement facilitates feathered huddles of Februarian resilience. Canadian as I am, I can’t say I’d easily call these frigid waters home (cold and comfort from my perspective remain oxymoronic). But for these Geese, even the subtlest stream is sufficient impetus to stay.
If you’re familiar with Cardus, you’ll have come across an issue or two of Comment magazine, which in its Winter 2014 incarnation features my work, Burning Bush on the front cover. Here’s the image in print adjacent to its aluminum counterpart. Does “Redeeming Conservatism” sound a bit heavy? It does to me. But if, as James K. A. Smith asserts, “there is something worth conserving“, then I hope my own reflections (from the issue’s back cover) also conserve an element of whimsy:
Artemisia Cana, integral to steppe ecosystems, is an institution. Timeless erosion-stopper and tireless nourisher of desert creatures, the benevolent ubiquity of Silver Sage is topped only by grey hair. Scathed by the fires of colonization and drought (but persevering anyway), he’s a resilient ascetic: one who drinks from deep roots; a keeper of the good; a bush not consumed. And yet the plains bison (though similarly hoary and conservative) did not fare as well under fire, succumbing to the herd mentality of lowercase (armed) sages on horseback. Now a mere 300, reintroduced of late to Saskatchewan’s grasslands, smoulder in a mythic wild. As the zealous smoke clears away, a calf cavorts in the dust, raising new plumes of questions, quite possibly prophetic. Parks Canada is well funded. Does there remain, even now, a song to sing, to the tune of “do not destroy”? Take off your shoes. We’re going to stay here a while.
If you’re still tracking, this is as much a game of eye-spy as ever. Silver sage is easy enough to spot, but for those wondering where the buffalo appear in this image, I’ve taken this opportunity to clarify. In the inset image below, I’ve isolated one of many layers in this photo-collage. It’s the layer that includes buffalo skulls, here used as a painterly device to create flames. In the final version, they’ve faded away, much like the creatures themselves.
Burning Bush is one of several works that resulted from a trans-Canada research trip I made in the summer of 2012. While it was first shown as part of my solo exhibit, LANDSCRAPES, at the you me gallery in February 2013, the work has been the locus of several other conversations.
Especially memorable to me was the acceptance of Burning Bush into the inaugural exhibition of O Ma Noot Gallery’s at Beth Jacob Synagogue. Rabbi Dan Selzberg, had initial (understandable) reservations about the appearance of the word(s) “EV-AN-GE-LIUM” visible in appropriated stained glass at the core of the bush’s burning. Rather than provoke, however, the image became a point of departure for further reflection and conversation. The theme of the show, “…and you shall tell your children” resonated with me as it was oft repeated during my own upbringing albeit in a non-Jewish context. We discovered that we shared in common a commitment to the wellbeing of the next generation, and an awareness of the importance of (religious) institutions in making that covenant concrete.
Since exhibiting the work again at Glenhyrst in 2014, I’ve continued to wrestle with the tensions in the work. How could I possibly justify the bringing together of tree roots along the Seine, inverted parliament buildings, injection-moulded footwear, and a map of Manitoulin island? Are these really my own stories to tell? Can I own an idea, simply by having crossed paths with it? Shouldn’t I rather defer to someone like Jane Ash Poitras, whose Cree heritage gives her more of a right than I’ll ever have to speak about the buffalo in terms of genocide? How can I even begin to speak when the entire image-borne story is so latent with perpetrated loss? On a recent visit with my brother to the Royal Ontario Museum, I was struck by the power and looseness of Poitras’ collage works. She says: “I think that the role of an artist today is to become free, to transcend. Then they can transform, enlighten, and become empowered.” These words ring true for me, but in ways that I haven’t yet unearthed. I often feel only a palpable lack of awareness.
What I keep coming back to is the open, curious nature of collage. It seems to be a place not only to juxtapose, but to collaborate: an imagined landscape where new languages can be invented and word games can be played without apology. Scissors and glue will always remain charged with the institutional memory of more insidious weapons. But if we move ahead as collaborators, we just might begin to collage together a future.
You can buy prints of Burning Bush.
What happens when you hang your world on imagination? This past summer, Phil, Rob, Julia and I got busy at Silver Lake (near Kincardine, Ontario) in an effort to orchestrate discovery. With so many eager hands and bright minds around, we couldn’t help but be optimistic. Was this the stellar stewardship of truncated icosahedra? Or simply the beauty of an organic solar system? Whatever it was, the next generation of terraforming urban planners appear to have it confidently together.
It’s tempting to don a skeleton on one of the few days of the year when it’s socially sanctioned. Of course, I could wait until I’m dead: plenty of time to feed the worms then. On the other hand, I do have this photo collage, called “Movers and Shakers”. White men with varying degrees of facial hair and roadbuilding legacy. Some are dressed up as themselves. Others are decorated with the patina of age, and/or bird droppings. I’m grateful that when power is wielded, it does occasionally serve (us) well. But whether the road you’re on needs replacement or only an (eye) patch, why not wear a constructive costume? There are plenty of concrete books and machines to go around.
With Oreo having triggered a lovely ruckus earlier this week, I note – tongue emphatically implanted in jowl – that colourful commitments should not really be foreign to fundies. We’ve all shared this flag for a long time now. For those of us whose God is Yahweh, the rainbow waves in solidarity with covenant faithfulness. I consider how something so temporal as light scattered (momentarily, ephemerally) through prismatic raindrops has come to symbolize lasting commitment, in so many places, and see across a surplus of situations the thriving presence of refracted life throbbing with vitality. I’m kind of curious to see whether we’re willing to look around, smile, and share the universal experience of the rainbow.
I have to start by honouring the power of these colours as I locally understand them. So let me show you how they function in the world I grew up in; afterwards we can explore further. In church communities where rainbow theology (read "covenant theology") is central, there are plenty of stubborn, head-in-the-wool, dye-in-the-sand religious bigots to go around. I’m one. For as many Sundays as there have been weeks in my life, I’ve sung antiquated, colourful, dashing and violent (but beautiful) Psalms set to 500-year old melodies. But then I’ve also enjoyed the blessings of a Reformed work-ethic, the ritual strength of belonging (via infant baptism), the constructed saftey of a haven for children in the triangle of home-church-school, a place where promises are made and affirmed; commitments solidified and sealed, marriages (between one man and one woman) forged, formed, and finished (over the course of a lifetime), generations raised in the fear of the Lord… and if all of that sounds like a brainwashed, Bible-thumping, institutionalized, insular soup, well it often is! But we usually end up alright. Well rounded, disciplined, and creative, if a little fearful and misguided.
We are afraid of what we (by virtue of celebrating one thing really, really well) have excluded from the realm of the possible. Though better motivators exist, fear can often instigate positive change, and so I want to enthusiastically affirm, the (super) humanity of the many individuals (and communities) who also wave the rainbow flag in their own windows, in their own ways: expressive of so many flavours of peace that I have only begun to understand. While working as a graphic/web designer/communicator in the context of HIV/AIDS community advocacy, I have been consistently impressed by the authenticity and passion of the beautiful people who live together alongside the label: "at-risk population", and those who come alongside them, or otherwise hang out, in one accord, in the same place. By their struggle to be understood, and heard, I can only be inspired. As a straight white male with conservative Christian roots, my own risks here are simply the usage of acronyms and other linguistic conflations – but in spite of them, my shout of solidarity extends strongly to PLHIV, LGBT, MSM, Drug Users, Sex Workers, Women, youth, unborn children, prison inmates, Aboriginal peoples, Africans, Canadians, Christians, Muslims and Hindus!
Will we lose our individual identities if we become this accepting? Probably, yes. But we will anyway, en route to becoming who we really are: our idols smashed, and our distorted conceptions of God refined. In that process of becoming, I struggle to articulate the particular brand of rainbow-coloured covenant-keeping that I would recommend. There are paradoxes here that I lack to capacity to resolve. But if Plato’s advice to "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle," is given urgency and scope through Jesus’ call to "love your neighbour as yourself" … we remain free to ask: are we ready to praise the Lord with all created colours and cookies?
There’s a unique privilege that I enjoy, in renting a room next-door to a place of worship. In particular the steeple at Providence has often given me cause to reflect, on the majesty and grace of (church) community, as it lives out its vision for a compelling presence in the world. But I’m also reminded that our beautiful (physical, intellectual, spiritual) eyes lack clarity, depth of field, and focus.
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."
— 1 Corinthians 13:12
The steeple points us beyond ourselves, beyond the mind-bending of pin-pricks of light travelling for eons to get here: to the Origin of the cosmos, to the Mystery of being, to the King of kings… and yet here we are, in this windy heat wave, grounded like a Southcote Road Sycamore… left to ponder such earthly experience as the sound of marching feet in the tops of the trees.
This window – an amalgam of acrylic and arboreal flourishing – frames for me an invitation to investigate, (to seek and to find) the fringes of the knowable – the metaphysical edges of existence. In light of this pursuit, I relish the permission that my Christian journey has given me to wonder about what "face to face" might mean, and to muse on what purposeful end we might be meandering towards in this milky way.
But the visual language of the window pane encourages another kind of reflection too: about how my search effort for clarity is itself supremely ephemeral and small. Certainty, though in some sense attainable, is a project with limits. I struggle to be okay with that.
And yet, when our pretty suburban bell-bearing tower is rendered in the fragility of reflection, it quickly loses all pretense towards monument. In such a moment, in the place where ambition has been killed, we find an opportune time for the Spirit to enter, filling the place it inhabits with the glorious aesthetic of the here and now. Let’s you and I together turn the collective crank of all the world’s windows… let in some wind, and engage in the divinely empowered performance art of Carpe Diem In Dei Gloriam!
stroke of adversity sprung
from a brush loaded
with layers and layers and seasons of painted brightness,
numerous vehicular numerals,
suddenly torn from their nestled velocities
suddenly (tragically) set on a trajectory towards
a terminus of jeering concrete!
Varney Speedway’s corner four
(sharpest in the country)
is a boundary defined:
experience as enjoyed and/or suffered by
the driver of a Durham race car,
making her mark on the whirled.
Colours do not fade but rather are
obstructed by blocked inkjet nozzles,
killed by camera sensor dust,
muted by tone curves,
amped by ambition.
Veils of history aside
I do intend to trust 580 as
the count of nanometres where
Orange will run out to meet Lemon
regardless of the present century.
And these same wavelengths will remain
as diligently honest as the mirror
with respect to cosmetics, not withstanding
the lines on your back and
the pimples on my cheek.
I’ve been working with Tom Smith at SML Solutions to produce my digital tapestries in a new display format. The artwork begins as a satin inkjet print, and is then sandwiched between sheets of aluminum and acryllic. "U-channels" fixed to the backside enable both a convenient hanging workflow, as well as an elegant floating appearance on the wall. At Move: AN UPWARDS JOURNEY I had an opportunity to showcase the fantastic possibilities offered by this approach. I’m particularly excited about the 6-foot tall Lipo Osteo, although a lot of people in the Christian community seemed to gravitate towards Communio – perhaps because on the surface it appears to be more hopeful and accessible?
The show got me thinking in a new way about the contrast between permanence and the ephemeral. I like to celebrate the way in which my sculptures often blow away, or are playfully vandalized by children on the beach. And yet, in order to share their poignant fragility, I must immortalize them between layers of synthetic human-made ingenuity. Is monumentality a necessary evil? Are there environmental considerations in the use of aluminum and acrylic that war against my concept? What negative side effects are there whenever we (in artmaking, or in other disciplines) work to carve out (for ourselves) a place?