Archive for January, 2013

Styro-witness, Jan. 2013

Today has been a full day.  The Project Reclamation art exhibition I participated in is officially over for now.  I picked up my work from the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany and moved on.  Efforts are underway to see if this might make a traveling exhibit that university galleries might be interested in booking.  I hope so.  Having organized many art exhibits over the years I understand how much work goes into the process of creating a good display.  Once a show ends, I often had this feeling that lots of energies and passion were spent by the artist(s) and gallery for a relatively short amount of time and then it’s on to new art and the next exhibition.  We consume exhibits like we experience so many other things in life.  I think this is one reason why I enjoy this Falls project so much.  It exists outside the normal gallery conventions and isn’t bound by white walls, pedestals, labels, and consignment forms.  The show is ongoing in the context of life at large.

high Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan 19, 2013

With my artworks in the back of my car…I stopped by the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  The Ohio River has been up due to rain and snow in the northern part of the Ohio River Valley.  Under the railroad bridge you can get a good sense for the strength of the current.  New driftwood was accumulating and enlarging the wood already present.  I could also see a lot of man-made junk intermixed among the natural debris.

high water at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2013

Just beyond the distant trees in the above image is the approximate location of my outdoor studio.  My “treasure trove” of river-polished polystyrene chunks that I have gathered over the past year may or may not still be there?  Once the river level drops, I will be able to access my spot again.  Regardless, the area will be rearranged by the river…it will be the same, just different if that makes any sense at all?  I may even be able to relocate some of the Styrofoam if it hasn’t floated too far away.  From experience, I know whatever I may have lost is unfortunately too easily replaced.

Head of Styro-witness, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2013

With my usual access points underwater, I explored the river’s edge just west of the Interpretive Center.  Along the way, I found enough materials to create this Styro-Witness to help me experience and document the day.  Although it was a very sunny day, it was still cool and windy.  The river’s high level had me walking among the bottom land trees and walking over the logs that had been deposited here by previous floods.  Every once in a while, I would walk into cold water hiding under last year’s leaves as the river creeps inland.  The squeaky sound of wood rubbing over wood as logs rolled in the waves was occasionally interrupted by loud cracks as branches were separated from tree trunks.

high water at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2013

I was anticipating seeing ducks and geese, but none were around today.  The Ring-billed Gulls that were so numerous a couple of weeks a go were less prevalent on this day.  Just when I thought I might strike out with the birds…I had another personally notable sighting.   I observed three Eastern bluebirds engaging in “fly-catching” behavior flying from their respective perches to the ground and back.  I couldn’t see any insects at all, but I did see spider silk tangled among the branches and perhaps this is what they found here?  Anyway, the Eastern Bluebird is listed in the park’s checklist as being rarely found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park and in the ten years I’ve been paying attention…these are the first bluebirds I have seen here.  It’s really cold up north now and heading our way.  Were these birds driven here by that frigid weather?  Regardless, I wouldn’t have guessed that mid January would be the time I would sight bluebirds here.  Their wonderful predominantly deep blue feathers were complimented by the orange and white on their breasts.

wooden pallet in the trees, Jan. 2013

This wooden pallet has been snagged in the branches of this tree for at least a year now.  I use it as a reference for how high the river can get.  In the early days of this project, I recall seeing an old refrigerator perched in the top of a tree courtesy of the Ohio River at flood stage.  Seeing an appliance crowning a tree top is a surreal sight not easily forgotten.  I kept walking westward with my latest creation and eventually reached the limit of my walk.

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The Woodland Loop Trail eventually turns at a small creek that feeds into the river.  Here I found about ten fishermen casting their lines into the high water.  I decided to sit for a spell and watch while making small adjustments to my newest figure.

fisherman at the creek, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2013

These fishermen were casting small, bright green and yellow, soft-bodied,  tailed jigs into the creek and having amazing success.  All of them were catching Sauger which is a member of the Perch family and smaller cousin to the Walleye.

hooked Sauger, Jan. 2013

Sauger are predatory fish and have sharp teeth.  Their eyes seem to glow whenever light hits them just the right way and underscores that they normally live in deep, dark water.  Sauger eyes have adapted to gather as much light as possible in the depths.  Apparently, they are very fine eating and all of the fisherman I observed were filling stringers of fish.  Most of the fish I saw being caught were thick-bodied and in the two to three-pound range although they are also capable of getting bigger.  The fishermen were having the best time and there was obvious camaraderie among them especially since everyone was catching fish.  I had a good time too, but it got to the point of my adventure when it was time to get home and intersect with the family.  I stuck my Styro-figure into the soft wood of the log I was sitting on, took one last photograph, and walked away.

Styro-Witness and the fishermen, Jan. 2013

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nature's template, Falls of the Ohio

It’s been raining off and on for the past three days and so I’ve decided to give the actual Falls of the Ohio a pass this weekend.  That, however, does not mean that my heart and thoughts are ever far from the park.  Looking through my Falls image archive, I have put together a post on a topic that has been concerning me of late.  Increasingly, we feel we can manipulate nature and bend it to our desires without consequences.  Man has this vision that we can force nature into our template and that “she” will obey in predictable, obedient ways.  Ever see a square tomato grown in a cube?  Nature, however, is much more dynamic than we give her credit for and frequently presents ideas of her own.  As regular followers of the riverblog may have noticed new fauna often show up here and the consensus is that their appearance is a result of our altering the environment in myriad ways.  Over the last few years, I have also noticed some previously unknown plants.  Allow me to present a photo-bouquet of highly questionable, potentially toxic, exotic flora.

The Chemical Rose, Falls of the Ohio, 2012

Meet the Chemical Rose which is a new species I discovered at the Falls last year.  It was found growing by an area where an unknown iridescent sheen was percolating up through the sand.  It has no leaves and aside from its thorny stem, has no photosynthetic ability.  This is a fairly consistent trait of these new plants.  They may be parasitic or fungal-like, but I’m sure there is considerable variation on how they live.  The petals on the Chemical Rose are hard and seem very much like plastic.  More on this later.

The Sand Lotus, 2012

It’s beautiful in its own way, but what is it?  For lack of a better name, I call this a Sand Lotus.  It shares some characteristics with the Chemical Rose.  Notice no leaves…doesn’t need them.  It’s roots go down deep in the sand.  Like the previous rose, its petals are hard to withstand the rigors of the river.

Petrochemical Coleus

I bet I walked by this strange plant many times before something told me to look again.  I call this one the Petrochemical Coleus.  Although it has green leaves, it does not possess chlorophyll.  This specimen was growing up through the driftwood.  It’s small size also makes this one hard to see and find.

Flame Nut with seeds

Here’s the Flame Nut so-named because what passes for its foliage turns bright red when its seeds mature.  Its leaves feel very much like coarse fabric and it seems to prefer sandy environments as well.

False Pink Bell in bloom

This interesting and dare I say “lovely” flower is the Faux Pink Bell.  It combines characteristics of several of the mutant plants I’ve uncovered.  It possesses hard plastic parts as well as the softer, synthetic petals that are fabric-like.  It grows in highly disturbed, contaminated soils.  Which brings me to a theory I’ve been formulating ever since I first discovered these strange plants.  Although I’ve not done a chemical analysis on them, their resemblance to plastic can not be coincidental?  Plastic is after all organic by definition.  Plastic is derived from petroleum which is an extract from ancient life and I think there is something in the long memory of life that is presenting itself here?  We know that our traditional plastics keep breaking down to the micro level.  These really small particles are absorbed by living tissues.  Is it possible that this plastic pollution is altering life in reaction to the many changes brought about through man’s activities?  Can the long polymer chains connect with DNA?  In effect, Nature is demonstrating that it is even more plastic by molding and forming new species to harmonize with the changed environment.

Polymer Posey

I came across the Polymer Posy growing in the mud.  I believe this is as much fungus as anything else or a new theory has been presented.  Perhaps this is a carnivorous plant that traps and eats insects?  Upon inspection, there are small entry ways along its base that invite small insects like ants to go inside.

Yellow Bittercup

Growing out of the wood chips is this botanical novelty I’ve designated the Yellow Bittercup.  Again, no leaves required.  This flower can appear anytime of the year.  I came across this one last summer.

Orange Forget-me-not

The Orange Forget-me-not is indeed memorable.  It is encountered among the driftwood and may in effect break down cellulose to create its own plastic structure.  The holes in the flower trap, strain, and direct moisture and nutrients to its shallow root system.  And now for something really spectacular in a twisted way.

Polyvinyl Palm, 2012

I did a massive double take upon encountering the Polyvinyl Palm growing from the poor rocky soil in the western section of the park.  This is easily the largest of the new plants I’ve stumbled upon in my wanderings.  I had hoped to study it more, but another visitor to the park collected it.  We have discovered that it is possible to change the chemical composition of the atmosphere through our combined activities.  I believe we are simultaneously altering through chemistry the very organisms that inhabit this world with us with unintended consequences.  How long will it take before we change ourselves into something different as well?plastic tulip image

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submerged willows at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2013

It’s a new year at the Falls of the Ohio and this is my first foray of 2013.  As expected, I have the park to myself.  It’s cold, but not unbearable.  I can tell that the river has risen and fallen since I last set foot here.  The riverbank is rearranged with freshly deposited driftwood and junk.  The only wildlife to be encountered are birds.  I see the geese and ducks I expect to see, but the stars of the day are the hundreds of Ring-billed gulls that are flying over the river.  I begin my visit by walking the riverbank looking for potential art materials and anything else of interest.  I do find lots of new Styrofoam, but the pieces are heavy and frozen with water and too much to carry.  If the river doesn’t rise again soon, I may get the chance to move the bigger polystyrene chunks to my studio under the willows.  Walking the shoreline, here are a few of the other “gifts” I encountered courtesy of the Ohio River.

partially buried plastic Santa Claus, Jan. 2013

Half buried in coal dust and gravel is this plastic, scary Santa Claus.  I know we just celebrated Christmas, but I couldn’t resist posting this image.  He looks old to me and I pull him out of the mud and drop him into my collecting bag.  I may try to research him and see if I can find any info about him.  On this day, I also found another doll head.

plastic doll head, Jan. 2013

I’m always finding dolls and doll parts.  The interesting thing about this particular find is the location.  I have on other occasions also found old doll parts in the exact same place.  I’m beginning to believe that prior to this area becoming a park it may have served as a landfill?  In other areas of the park it is clear that this area was used as a dump from the amount of back fill I come across.  Nearby, something blue in the sand catches my eye and I take a look.

bowling ball fragment, Jan. 2013

interior view of split bowling ball, 2013

In case you were wondering, bowling balls do float.  I turned the beautiful blue-marbled surface over and discover that this ball has split in half.  The interior is made of a dense, hard foam and this is the reason these balls are buoyant.  The outer covering is a very hard plastic and I’m wondering how great a force is needed to break one of these balls open?  I imagine it is considerable and is another reminder of the power of the river.  Here’s one last find before moving on.

jar of peanut butter washing ashore, Jan. 2013

As I walked the riverbank, this jar of peanut butter was deposited by my feet!  I wonder where this came from?  Near the river’s edge I’m also picking up freshly peeled willow sticks.  This is evidence that beavers are in the area.  The sticks all bear their teeth marks as they nibble the bark for food.  Beavers are very secretive and I have only seen them twice in the past ten years.  I like willow wood for its ivory color and use them quite a bit in my river sculptures.  I wonder if beavers would like peanut butter?

outdoor studio, Jan. 2013

After scouting the river I head up the bank to the area under the willow trees that I have been using as an outdoor studio for the past year.  This ground is slightly higher, but is no match for a flooding river.  I have made many temporary studios over the years where I cache the Styrofoam and sticks I use for my figurative sculptures.  It’s been perhaps two months since I last visited this spot, but to my eye, not much has changed.  I set my collecting bag and walking stick down and select a couple of pieces of Styrofoam for my first figure of the new year.

The beginnings of a figure, Jan. 2013

Styro-figure in process, Jan. 2013

Before too long, a new figure takes form.  Today, I’m breaking in a new knife because I lost my trusty Swiss Army knife out here.  That’s two knives I’ve lost since beginning this project and think of my losses as tribute necessary to appease the river gods.  My new figure also sports one other find from this day…it’s a button that says “Kentucky is My Land”.

My latest Styro-figure greets his kin, Jan. 2013

After saying so long to his kin, my latest and unnamed Styro-figure sets out to explore his world.  The day started out sunny, but now has turned gray and cloudy.  I probably won’t stay out here much longer since the wind has picked up a bit too.

Styro-figure by large downed tree at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2013

Here is further evidence that the river has risen and fallen recently.  A freshly deposited tree has been stranded on the bank and provides an opportunity for investigation.  In the distance and past the railroad bridge, one can spy part of Louisville’s skyline.  Curious about the tree, my newest figure climbs on top to survey the world from this vantage point.

Styro-figure on top of stranded tree, Jan. 2013

Styro-figure on tree, Jan. 2013

Every day is a new wonder especially at the Falls of the Ohio.  2013 is a new year, but it also marks my tenth as the artist at exit 0.  When I started my Falls project I wondered if I would be able to sustain anybody’s interest much less my own?  It was fun learning from the WordPress yearly summary that my blog has been visited by people living in 103 different countries during 2012!  I suppose more people now know about this special environment as a result of my activities here which is cool.  The Falls are a unique window into the history of life from its past to the present.  It’s a place where nature and man’s nature intersect which tells us something about who we are in this  moment.  I hope my blog continues to be a venue where people can get a sense that creativity can be an active force in shaping the world for the better.  As for my latest creation…he decided to hang around to greet any new visitors by the fossil rocks.  Perhaps by now, he has gone home with one of them?  See you later from the Falls of the Ohio.

Figure by fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2013

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