Archive for August, 2010

I hustled out to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest after supper.  The evening promised a twin bill of fun and I wanted to reach Clermont while the sun was still out.  I was able to take in the “Model Homes and Habitats” exhibition of bird houses and bird inspired art.  The show had a strong Murray State University flavor to it with many past alumni and one current professor showing work.  Murray grad, Brad White assembled the exhibition for Bernheim.  I even saw my old drawing professor Dale Leys there as well which was a nice surprise.  Twenty five years goes by fast!

The designs of the bird houses ranged from the traditional to the conceptual.  Because the light level was getting low, I’m surprised I had images to work with.  Unfortunately, I can’t credit many of the artists because I didn’t see an exhibit guide and some labels were hide to find.  This house with the scary back has a more traditional hole in front.  I liked this picture once I downloaded it from my camera…the house seems to be suspended in mid air.

My friend Raymond Graf had a nice piece in this show.  Inspired by dovecotes and Japanese architecture, this piece looked like a bird skyscraper.  The piece is primarily made of wood and incorporates many Louisville Slugger souvenir baseball bats in its construction. 

At Bernheim it can be hard to tell how many people are attending an event because the park can accommodate them all.  I know I saw several hundred people enjoying the music, food, and art. The bird houses were scattered along a walking trail.  Once the darkness fell, the white screen behind the band would become center stage.  Folks would concentrate in the informal amphitheater sitting on old limestone blocks from the renovation and expansion of Louisville’s McAlpin Locks and Dam.  Kentucky’s first sanctioned “Pecha Kucha” event was about to start.

Now I will confess that I have never heard of Pecha Kuchas before in fact I kept calling it Machu Picchu all week-long!  Apparently, two American architects decided that the traditional slide show was too boring and could be shortened and made livelier.  The idea is the presenter is limited to 20 projected images and 20 seconds a piece for a total talk of 400 seconds.  That’s it.  Pecha Kucha  is said to be Japanese slang for “chit-chat”.  To me, it sounded like it could have some pace to it like a poetry slam.

Fourteen presenters interpreted the idea that “Mother Nature wants me to tell you something…” in very personal ways.  Many of the speakers were artists who are aligning what they make and do with the needs of the planet.  A concern for where society is going and what should we place value in were common threads in many of the talks.  Not all the presenters were smooth during their 400 seconds and you could tell a few less experienced speakers were nervous, but the crowd supported everyone with applause regardless of the performance!

This evening and the one before it were successful because of the collaboration and partnership between Bernheim and the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.  The weekend began with the opening of Julia Oldham’s “Possumhaw Plant Electrics” exhibit at the Carnegie Center which consisted of four videos and a gallery of wonderful line drawings.  Julia is the 2010 Artist in Residence for Bernheim Forest and the videos were created during her ten week stay.  For those who have followed this blog, Julia is a new friend that I shared a couple of outings with that we posted on our respective blogs.  It was great seeing her in Kentucky again!  Sometimes it’s a big world and sometimes it’s not…perhaps we will meet again?  I hope so.  The next Pecha Kucha will be held in December at the 21C Hotel in Louisville.  That’s another fine venue to take in an event.

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Battered and tired the old soldier looked wistfully to the west.  They said it would be an easy war as wars go.  And sure enough the enemy that wore a uniform was quickly overwhelmed.  Much, however, had changed since Styro-Odysseus began his career as a common soldier. 

Victories were no longer clear-cut and the peace was hard to recognize. Nobody could remember what they were fighting for?  After many years of trying to win the hearts and minds of the occupied people it was time for Styro-Odysseus to return to the muddy shores of his origin.

He had his country’s thanks, but all the old soldier wanted now was the comfort of his family and familiar surroundings.  His valor was now a thing of the past.  It would take all of Styro-Odysseus’ remaining energy to walk the distance towards the life he most desired.  His armor, shield, and standard that he once wore with pride grew heavier with each passing step.  He thought often of the innocence of childhood and green fields.

Along the way, Styro-Odysseus could not help noticing that the country he had risked his life for had fallen into neglect and ruin.  In places it looked as though the war had happened here.  He could not understand his countrymen’s apathy?  He wondered if people still cared?

Rounding a bend by a river, the returning veteran had the oddest sensation that the people had in fact been bewitched and turned into geese.  That would explain the poor condition of so much he observed around him.

Meeting fellow travelers along the way Styro-Odysseus learned that much of his beloved land was in a similar condition.  The ordinary man had become disillusioned by evil pundits who were masters of instilling fear and preyed upon the best intentions of the good.

Styro-Odysseus had much to think about.  It seemed to him that righting the course of his own country might prove to be a greater challenge than fighting a foreign enemy.  What force of arms could be used to fight the new enemy that resides within? What could inspire the people and renew the idea of a shared common purpose?  While Styro-Odysseus’ mind grew cloudy…his feet kept on walking and soon he reached a familiar path.

Styro-Odysseus was home and he forgot the great weight he carried upon seeing his family.  For now, he would set aside his armor and forget the duties of being a soldier for at least a little while.  He would try to allow what sweetness that remained in the world to begin the healing process.  The old soldier would rest and renew his energy for the next task at hand.

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The heat and humidity remain unabated.  I think this is the hottest summer I have spent at the Falls of the Ohio.  Yes, there were always super hot days in the past, but this year we have had many more of them.  I was excited about this weekend because I have three days off, few family obligations, and I planned to go out to the river to see and make what I could.  I have collected some large pieces of Styrofoam and it’s time to use it before the river eventually rises and carries it all away again.

On this day, I have made one of my tallest figures ever.  This one is a head taller than I am and when you add the extra long arm…it is even more so.  I can’t say that I worked up a story to go with this one…yet.  If, however, he hangs out long enough, I’m sure I will think of a narrative.  For now, this is what I made and in the process I drank all the water I brought with me and soaked through my shirt.  A mixture of sweat and sun block kept running into my eyes which led to a few choice words said by me.  Fortunately, there wasn’t anybody around to hear them!

After I made this figure, it seemed to me that it had some affinities with the Wallace and Gromit characters.  I think it’s because of the close-set eyes and large nose?  I like that this guy has a sense of humor which can’t be said about some of the figures I have made before.  He’s probably amused that anyone would choose to spend their day off engaged in this activity!

What prompted this sculpture was the long stick I eventually used for one of his arms.  The body is somewhat elongated and the extra long arm brings this out even more.  Perhaps the arm is an evolutionary adaptation for picking fruit from the higher branches of the tree?  In this way, it works similarly to a giraffe’s neck with its ability to reach the topmost leaves.

The brutal sun kept me close to the shade of the willows, but even this had its issues.  There are mosquitos in the shadows and the humidity is trapped by the vegetation and foliage.  Being uncomfortable made me less patient with myself.  Every once in a while I would get distracted by the song of a wren or the myriad insect life around me.  There are still many butterflies and wasps visiting the flowers and willow trees.

I had a few technical problems to work out. The main one being how will this sculpture stand upright?  Even though the sand and mud are soft, this figure is clumsy and comes down to a point.  My solution was to rest the figure on a tripod of sticks.  Two of them can be seen, the third “leg” lends support from behind the figure.  Once it cools down, I would like to move this sculpture around the different vignettes that the Falls offers and see if I can improve upon the photographs.  For the moment, I consider these evidence that I made something on a fairly uncompromising day cut short by the heat.  I decided to leave early and left this figure resting against the trunk of a tree.  I can’t wait for it to cool down a little.  I can tell Autumn is around the corner.  I detect a hint of yellow in the leaves around me that were a bright green not too long a go.

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I have made a recent addition to my Pages section that continues a theme.  The Shoes You Lose 2 builds upon a previous photo collection.  All the images of lost footwear were found in situ at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Shoes are objects I frequently come across as the Ohio River carries them far away from the feet they were intended to protect.  I have seen many more shoes than I have photographed and I can’t always tell you why I select the ones I do?  When I download my pictures from that day’s river adventure, often there will be an image of a shoe or two in the mix.  They belong in the context of that day’s experience, but it is also fun to revisit and group them together later. 

 There is that saying about spending time in some one else’s shoes that is meant to be an expression of empathy that I feel has an element of truth to it.  Shoes are partly intended to shield us from the rough aspects of the environment that could hurt our feet…and so it is interesting to me to see how the environment will treat these objects when they are no longer in our care.  Shoes are just expressive objects and prone to pathetic fallacy which is probably another reason I enjoy snapping their likenesses.  To view this latest collection, just find and click on The Shoes You Lose 2 under my Pages header and it will take you there.

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Vulture Boy hung out with me today at the Falls of the Ohio.  He’s a bit of an odd character and I don’t see him often.  He spends most of the summer observing the resident vultures of both species that live here.  He’s studying them. Vulture Boy also thinks of himself as being a bit of a survivalist and when civilization collapses…he will be able to fend for himself by mastering primitive weapons. 

He’s still a boy after all and seems to gravitate towards sticks and stones.  There must be some primeval aesthetic operating here that’s hard-wired?  Regardless, what I enjoy are Vulture Boy’s stories and encounters with the wildlife he sees in the park.  He tells me that he saw some Black Vultures feeding nearby and would I like to watch them?  I pick up my camera and follow him to the river.

Along the way we surprise two flocks of large birds!  It’s another very hot day and both the vultures and Canada geese are taking advantage of the shade under the biggest trees.  It’s cooler, but they are also vulnerable standing on the ground.  Some passing fisherman got too close and both flocks spooked and went airborne.  I could practically feel the whoosh of air pass my face as the vultures struggled to lift skyward.

Reaching the river, we find a few Black Vultures feeding on a fish carcass.  They were completely unconcerned about the people around them.  I wonder in some way if the vultures recognize the relationship between the people and the availability of fish?  Vulture Boy says that they are smarter than you think and adapt to situations that benefit them.

Slowly I move a little closer doing my best not to scare the birds away.  It’s tricky though because the rocks are very uneven and slippery in places.  With their all black bodies, I wonder if they feel hotter on a day like today?  That’s when Vulture Boy lays this factoid on me!  He says that Black Vultures (and other vultures as well) can excrete their waste onto their legs to cool them.  The process is called “urohydrosis”.  Charming! 

I asked Vulture Boy what else he liked or thought interesting about these birds and this is what I remember.  He said that they form strong pair bonds that are usually only broken upon the death of one of the partners.  Additionally, they do not build nests preferring shallow caves or protected rock ledges to raise their young.  Although Black Vultures may roost together, they do not like being near each other’s nurseries.  There is still that competition for food and a pecking order exists not only within the Black Vulture group, but with other species as well.  The shy Turkey Vulture usually surrenders his find to the more aggressive Black Vulture.

With their naked heads and necks…these vultures look more like the dinosaurs they are descended from.  The lack of feathers around the head helps keep things a little cleaner.  Still, I’m amazed that these birds are able to stomach most anything!  I’ve seen Black Vultures using their feet to help leverage a food morsel from the toughest meal.

After watching the river vultures for a few minutes, it was time to go home.  Walking back the way we came Vulture Boy and I could see that some of the vultures had returned to the shade under the trees.  A few individuals were nervously posted along the outskirts acting as look outs.  We walked around them and left them be.  Nearby, we came across roosting vultures  high in a tree.  Occasionally, one of these birds would sun itself by spreading its wings and it seemed almost a reverential act.  Or, at least…that’s what I like to think! 

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Every summer is different at the Falls and this one is starting to feel  overgrown with vines.  Walking through the vegetation, it doesn’t take long for one’s clothes to stick to your skin.  It’s been very hot here this summer and the high humidity raises the issue to another level.  Although I have never been to the tropics, I begin to feel like I know what it might be like.  The air is filled with cicada song and there are many insects of all types to be found. 

Overall, this has been a good year for butterflies.  I have enjoyed watching, learning, and photographing them as part of my Falls project.  At some point, I will probably post all my better images in my Pages section.  For now, I will release a few at a time as I come across different species.  Here are three new images that I made on this day .

I have seen more Buckeye butterflies this year than I have any other previous year.  Last week they were positively everywhere around the Falls of the Ohio.  This is a common species, but very pretty with its eyespots.  Apparently among professional lepidopterists, there is some disagreement about how to classify this butterfly because there are variations in its scientific name.  Some books list the Buckeye as Junonia coenia while other guides favor Precis coenia.  I haven’t read a good argument why one name is preferred over another!  I’ll wager the butterfly doesn’t care what we call it.

On this outing, I came across just one of these butterflies.  As they go it is rather nondescript and small.  Often the best way to identify a species is to check the markings on the underside.  With this butterfly I had just this single image.  After cross referencing a couple of butterfly guides, I’m fairly confident that this is the Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia.  With the Fritillaria, you need to look closely because there are many related butterflies.  Now the next species was even harder to identify!

I am not at all certain on this one, but my educated guess is this is the Scalloped Sootywing, Staphylus hayhurstii.  It’s fairly small and nondescript.  The very tiny white dots on its fore wing are a clue along with its fringy wing margins.  The geographic range looks good because this sootywing is found this far north.  I also note that one guide said this species prefers moist areas near willow and cottonwood groves and that certainly is here.  The sootywing is a member of the skipper clan which are a group of interesting butterflies that share characteristics with moths. 

For me, learning what other organisms share this space is a celebration of life.  Even the rather dull looking sootywing is spectacular by virtue of its existence which took millions of years of development to reach this point in time we could share.  On this trip, I enjoyed  just watching what types of insects were feeding off the loosestrife flowers.  It was easy to forget oneself in the collective buzzing and busy activity around this plant.

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It’s been a brutal and tough summer…one of our hottest yet.  When you are at the river’s edge there’s no place to hide.  It’s just rock, water, and sky.  Life in all its forms is trying to expend just enough energy to keep going on.  That also includes me.  The mosquitos and gnats were extra annoying and chased me from the cool and shade under the willow trees to the open light and heat of the riverbank.

In the air above me, a pair of osprey makes repeated visits to the dam.  Every once in a while, one of them would fold its wings slightly and dive into the river.  I wonder how they know that the water here is shallow?  On occasion their daring would be rewarded with a fish.  Birds, however, are not the only ones ignoring the heat today to chase fish.

This guy has just landed a catfish and is extracting the hook.  Around him is his fishing tackle which includes several poles and a small throw net.  To me it all appears very primal and it wouldn’t have surprised me at this moment to see him take a bite out of this fish.  Observing people fishing out at the Falls is like watching one of those nature documentaries where large bears intercept the salmon on their return home.  People arrange themselves along the most productive sites and arriving early helps. Not all the fish caught by the fishermen are kept.  The rough so-called “trash fish” are thrown back in a weakened, wounded condition.  I have seen the osprey picking those fish off and flying away with them.

Butterflies are seen in profusion during this time of year.  I have been watching which species like to congregate around the willow trees to sip up what I assume is tree sap.  I have seen as many as six different species lining up on the same tree.  I think areas where these trees have been damaged (from collisions with water born logs) are the preferred feeding areas.  These places that the butterflies like (this includes flies and wasps too) are on the margins of where bark has been worn away.  The above photo features two species…the larger Red-spotted Purple and the Comma butterfly.  I later watched these two individuals engage in a combat over a favorite spot on the tree.  The Comma was by far more aggressive.  So much for the idea of describing a butterfly as being meek.

I did make one plastic discovery tangled in the driftwood and sand.  I came across this Indian dressed in his Plains garb.  He’s obviously has led a hard life too and has come to rest at the Falls of the Ohio.  I snap his picture where I found him and dropped him into the collecting bag.  I may or may not use him in some other creation of mine.  We will see.

When I reached my studio under the willows, I found this image.  The helmeted figure made a month a go is still here, but he was leaning over with a “spear” thrown into his body.  There wasn’t any other signs of damage or disturbance.  I removed the spear and set the figure up in another location and proceeded to make a new piece.  This is what I came up with before the bugs chased me out into the bright light.  With all the heaviness that life throws at us…I made this figure to remind myself to do a little dance every now and then.  It seems to help!

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It’s been so hot and busy here that I haven’t had the chance to visit the river.  That will have to wait until this weekend.  In the meantime, I’ve added another exhibit to my unusual collections pages.  It’s perhaps a bit of a head scratcher since it consists of pictures of aerosol cans.  Looking through the archives, I noticed that I had enough can pictures that I could present them as a body of work. It’s just interesting to see what kind of package we can design around a product we can’t live without.  There’s also that hint of danger…”contents under pressure” that speaks of living life close to the edge.  And then there’s the old familiar stand by that this stuff regardless of its original purpose should not find its way into the watershed in the first place.  All these cans were photographed on location at the Falls of the Ohio State Park over the course of a few seasons.  To see this collection, check out “Contents Under Pressure” in my Pages section to the right of this column.  Thanks!

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