Category : Art

Trailing Ice and Glory

By now you have to know about Neowise, the comet that came into view just about the time the pandemic hit hard in the US, March 27. It’s now, for a short time, the darling of astronomers and star gazers. I count myself among those who get joy by looking heavenward. Are you part of our tribe?

The past couple weekends, Myron and I have driven 90 miles south of Chicago to corn and soybean fields, parked on the edge of a farmer’s healthy crop, and set up our chairs. I’ve unfurled my tripod and pointed my camera to that blank spot right below the bowl of the Ursa Major, the great bear—better known as the Big Dipper.

neowise DJ Lee
Neowise from a soybean field south of Chicago

The first weekend, clouds were moving across the southern Illinois sky, and I was able to snap only a glimpse of the comet before the cirrus formations swallowed it up. Couldn’t complain, though. The clouds have been so spectular in the COVID skies, I know people around the world are astounded at what our atmosphere looks like without contrails, without heavy pollution. As National Geographic put in in April:

“AS THE NOVEL coronavirus tears around the world, it’s exploiting our biggest weaknesses, from creaking health care systems to extreme social inequality. Its relationship with one pervasive and neglected problem, however, is more tangled: Air pollution has intensified the pandemic, but the pandemic has—temporarily—cleaned the skies.”

Some people in China and India and indeed the entire globe  are seeing things they’ve never seen before:

“From China’s Hubei province to industrial northern Italy and beyond, pollution levels have plummeted as lockdowns aimed at slowing the viral spread have shuttered businesses and trapped billions of people at home. In India, where air pollution is among the world’s worst, ‘people are reporting seeing the Himalayas for the first time from where they live,’ Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said in an email.”

Neowise
Image credit: Gerald Rhemann

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of those cloudy gems delivered everyday without fail. The night in the soybean field, though Neowise made just a brief appearance, I was just as happy to gaze at those clouds.

The following weekend, we went for round two, same field, same time of night. I knew a little bit more about Neowise by then: she was here for only a few weeks, visiting from her orbit around the sun, and she wouldn’t return for 6,800 more year. As she snuggled close to the sun, her body warmed, pulling things like gasses and rocks and dust and ice–yes, ice–from her body. Those materials created a long, sparkly tail, and a secondary tail made of pure, ionized gas and solar wind. That ionized tale is pure magic.

But what wouldn’t leave me after we came home and crawled into bed is the idea of Neowise shedding ice. I kept thinking about the other formations, the ones that move to geologic time instead of cosmic time, shedding ice on the earth. I kept thinking of the beauty of Lilliehookbreen, off the west coast of Svalbard, that I visited in 2017. A fjord. A glacier. Also shedding ice.

Lilliehookbreen
Lilliehookbreen on the west coast of Svalbard

What Are Your Practices of Hope?

Friday, June 12, Petra Kuppers and I kicked off our first event in the Practices of Hope Reading Series. I was a little nervous about it, being the technical guru without really knowing what I was doing. Petra, consummate moderator and host, took us on a real journey. The night began with the poet and Anishinaabemowin language teacher Margaret Noodin reading her poem in both Anishinaabemowin and English. We ended with Jennifer Sinor’s thoughts on how “speculative,” commonly used to describe science fiction, is a tool for nonfiction writers, too.

The Writers & Artists

Margaret Noodin (poem) “Gimeme’igonaan omaa / This place is our lullaby
Corey Pressman (prose) “Consider the Cricket
Sydney Epps (poem): “Nina Taught Me”
Denise Leto (poem) “Tend the Water With Them
Jillian McDonald (video) “The Dark Season
darlene anita scott (poem) “Making Soap
Lesley Wheeler (poem) “We Could Be
Megan Kaminski and L. Ann Wheeler (art) “Pussy Toes
Jennifer Sinor (prose) “Memories of the Future

The Performance

Watch the complete reading/sharing here and prepare to be inspired and have your mind blown!

What practices of hope do you engage in? How would you turn those practices into art to share with others?

More information on the entire Practices of Hope series.


When Hybrid Making and Local Knowledge Collide

Megan Kaminski and L. Ann Wheeler’s piece from our Practices of Hope issue of About Place Journal reads:

“The practice of divination has been and continues to be used by cultures throughout the world to help people navigate difficult futures. The Prairie Divination Deck turns to the plants and animals of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem as a source for knowledge and inspiration as to how to live in the world (and to re-align thinking towards kinship and sustainability). How might thinking with plants and animals allow us a different lens through which to see our present world and histories–and help to imagine futures?”

The Deck

The divination deck manifests local knowledge in wonderful ways.

Collaboration, Community, & Local Knowledge

After I hiked the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland several years ago, I landed in St. John’s, and there, at their wonderful museum The Rooms, I stumbled upon (in that serendipitous way one does) Pam Hall’s An Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge, a collaborative art-science-local knowledge book and art exhibit about the people from the north coast of Newfoundland.

The Plates

1) Twine and rope, both important for these fishing people. A lot of her knowledge sources knew about twine and rope and nets – and these were also metaphors for stories—the thread—so this one is on splicing.

2) But there were also important local and more “objective” or scientific collaborations. In one, local knowledge experts collaborated with Department of Fisheries and Ocean about fish species, marine mammals, historic sites, waterfowl, and ecological reserves. LEK is Local Knowledge Experts and FEK is Fisheries Ecological Knowledge.

3) In another display, a local woman, Elva Spence, kept intricate track of the weather for forty years morning, and afternoon. Her records are now part of Environment Canada.

4) Many are quirky and intimate, like “What Fred Cave knows about Vamps,” a certain kind of sock. The same idea of weaving stories runs through Fred Cave’s unravelling, making, and remaking. But his is also very practical, handed down, a way to keep the feet dry in the mud, rain, and snow, and to make some money.

Abandon Binaries

“[My project] is a view of knowledge that, while respectful of disciplinary traditions, calls urgently for the abandonment of binaries, whether based on philosophical foundations or economic ones. It calls also for more trans-disciplinary dialogues, partnerships, and research initiatives and for inclusive and experimental forms of collective decision-making about our communities, environments, and ecosystems.” 

The goals of local knowledge is to expand how we think about what knowledge is and who is invited to participate in its production. Like Hall, I believe that new forms, means, or modes for making, moving, and representing knowledge are urgently needed for us to forge knew, hopeful, energizing, and playful ways of being together for the future.

The Future

Predictions, telling the future, fortunes, art, randomness and synchronicity (of drawing a card or finding a book), magic, local knowledge, who has power to know what. These are inherent in the Prairie Divination Deck and the Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge.

What kind of local knowledge do you have? Will you share?


How to Make (simple) Plant-dyes

Gathered Triteleia grandiflora, Larkspur, and Siberian peashrub on our long walk in the Palouse hills. When I got home, I crushed the petals to make watercolor, and tried to paint a camas on handmade paper. Camas is the plant I was looking for but never found. But making plant-dyes made me feel so grounded and yet buoyed by their lovely fragrances as I smashed them and then streaked the paper.

You can do this, too, with just about any plant or vegetable, making it as simple or complex as you’d like. Follow these links for more: Compost and Cava and Atlas Obscura.


Easily Touching Still

My dear friend Petra Kuppers and I are leading a “Practices of Hope” workshop this month, co-creating with others around the country via Zoom. Erasure, silence, absence was one of our practices this week.

If you’re looking for a way to create in a relaxing, non-stressful way, where you’re removing rather than generating and yet generating just the same, give this activity a try. It’s an apt way to work during these days of restrictions.

The poetry of erasure reveals that even though so much is being taken away, what remains can be even more meaningful, or meaningful in a different way.

News articles are so dreary these days, but often journalists home in on gloriously sensual and concrete details, like the feel of copper, stainless steel, and take out food bags.

Here’s mine:

From this USA Today article.

And check out this small survey of blackout or erasure art.


Meditation on Ice


We were at 79 degrees north in a three-masted ship called the Antigua sailing up the west coast of Svalbard. Thirty artists, people from all over the world, whose art took different forms. Painters, sculptors, photographers, those working in performance, installation, and mixed media, hand paper makers and writers, like me. Everyone was clicking a camera, jotting down a line, sketching something. The tools of art were never still.

And then someone said, “I think we need some quiet.” Seven of us piled into the rubber zodiac and set off on a meditation tour. The engine purred quietly as we moved through the ice, the only sound the chunks knocking against one another in a hollow fullness that felt like the center of our own souls. We were there to observe, we knew implicitly, to be with the water and the glacier and the sky and the air, to be apart from the incessant documenting. It was the last place, we had been told that morning, where there would be a lot of floating ice in the meltwater next to a glacier. It was a last chance to document, be we seven wanted it to be something less–a moment and that was all. Not a moment we were taking note of, not one we were narrating as we were living it.

I had brought my book of Buddha’s teahings. I opened it gently to a random page and read: “To think that there is one absolute truth, and all other views are inferior, the monks call a fetter.” I pondered the idea as I floated, the seawind on my cheek, my hands curled into my mittens. The ice was moving and crackling, the sun glowed on the water, setting it on fire, blazing between each individual chunk. The Arctic was melting, we could see it, but we couldn’t see how fast. We didn’t know what was normal melting and what was extreme, but we could feel something changing in those moments in the meditation raft.

To think that there is one absolute truth, and all other views are inferior, the monks call a fetter.

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Not Afraid

The photographer Edgar Zippel has produced 100 images of young people from across Europe, including Portugal, Iceland, Italy, Germany, Albania, and England. The portraits are medium close-up. You can see head and torso, with background blurred.

The participants are aged 18-24. They look edgy and unsure, but also full of energy and grit. They are the face of the new Europe, the just-barely adults who will look in the mirror in 20 years having inherited a world. The Museum Europäischer Kulturen in Berlin ran the show in 2014, and now there is a book based on the show.

Catalog cover from Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Berlin

I’m most interested in Zippel’s use of oral history/ethnography along with the photos. I unfortunately couldn’t find much of the ethnography online, but I read in several reviews that he asked each person three questions: What do you want to do? What are you looking forward to? What are you afraid of? To the last question, one of the participants answered, “I’m not afraid of anything!” which became the title of the exhibition and book. The phrase is probably used ironically, but judging from the handful of images online, I’m not so sure. There’s something of optimism in it, too. Actually, the images communicate a lot of hope.

In fact, what I love about the questions is their thrust, their forward momentum. There is no pastness in them (except maybe the question about being afraid). Even though I’m squarely in middle age, I could feel something ignite, a spark of new, when I read the questions. The images themselves capture the now, the pure, momentary presence of these young people.