Posts Tagged ‘art in public spaces’

willow trees and ice, Jan. 2014

Polar vortex…that’s the new buzz words for us this winter.  The Kentuckiana area has tasted this Arctic gift twice so far and we haven’t had a winter this cold in many years.  It manifests with the temperature bottoming out around 0 degrees Fahrenheit…colder still with the wind chill.  Snow and ice also accompany this blast of icy weather.  Once under the spell of the polar vortex…all one can do is ride it out.  It’s going to be bone-chilling cold for several days in a row.  Even if you know it’s going to happen, you really don’t feel prepared for it.  People tape plastic over their windows to trap heat and foil wind.  Shoppers rush out to purchase bread and milk.  Folks let the faucets drip throughout the day and night to prevent freezing and bursting water pipes.  Still, the plumbers are busy.  Extra layers of clothes are needed however,  you still feel cold around the edges.  If there is a weakness in a machine…the extreme cold will find it and this happened to my trusty rivermobile.  School may be out, but otherwise it’s pretty much business as usual.

ice formations, Falls of the Ohio State Park, Jan. 2014

The part about “business as usual” also strikes me as being a bit sad.  I am of the opinion that the reason the Earth has winter is to slow everything down and that’s vitally necessary.  It’s meant to be reflective and allows a moment for a deep breath before moving on again.  We all have more than enough pushing us to accomplish tasks at increasing breakneck speed.  The polar vortex challenges us to slow down if we can.

Ice formations, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2014

Ice formations on willow trees, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2014

In an effort to foster personal wonder for the world, I made it out to the Falls of the Ohio on a day that wouldn’t risk frost bite.  Over the years, I have prized coming out here on cold winter days especially if it meant seeing different ice formations.   There are ice ribbons, sausage-shaped icicles, frozen homemade candles, and just plain ice blobs on display.  I love the variety of forms and the play of light through the magic of solid water.  The most interesting ice formations are near the water’s edge where the willow trees catch the rising steam off of the river.  The water is warmer than the surrounding air temperatures and this “fog” helps coat the roots and branches with glassy layers of ice.  I thought I had the place all to myself when I was joined in this frigid landscape by a new friend.

The Ice Tourist, Falls, Jan. 2014

The Ice Tourist following my tracks, Jan. 2014

He described himself as being a fellow “ice tourist” and so that’s how I remember him.  He said he was curious about the ice, but also wary of stepping through thin ice and feeling the burn of extremely cold water.  I’ve had this experience before and so I could relate.  The Ice Tourist told me he had followed my tracks into the ice field and so far I had kept him out of danger.  We spent about an hour together before parting.  Here are some more pictures of him posed next to the ice formations we encountered.

The Ice Tourist, Falls, Jan. 2014

The Ice Tourist among icy willow, Jan. 2014

Ice Tourist and ice formation, Jan. 2014

The Ice Tourist had to check out everything as closely as possible.  He would climb upon the willow branches and roots to get the best view.  As it turns out, he was a local guy who like me, likes to hang out near the river whenever he can.  He was wearing a very thin and worn out t-shirt that said something about the town of Jeffersonville on it.  That’s the next town over from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I mentioned something about the poor condition of his garment and how it didn’t look substantial enough to keep him warm.  His response was that feeling warm was as much a mental state of mind and he was far too engaged by this novel environment to feel the cold.

The Ice Tourist, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2014

The sun was rising.  The day was warming and the ice was beginning to drip and lose its strength.  Today’s show was at an end.  The image of a hot cup of coffee or cocoa was starting to have great appeal to me and so I said my farewell to the Ice Tourist.  Perhaps we will run into one another again at the river…we shall see?  Leaving my new friend behind, I walked the riverbank  and could see that the Ring-billed gulls that had been absent during the polar vortex were once again in residence in the park.  I wonder if the groundhogs will see their shadows tomorrow?

Ring-bill gulls and mallard ducks, Jan. 2014

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Oh woe is me!  It was starting out to be such a beautiful day.  There was a spicyness to the air that was intoxicating and the willows were alive with birds.  I saw several different warblers and managed a good photo or two!  As I approached what has been my outdoor studio spot for months,  I could tell something was different this time.  A feeling of foreboding began to fill me and my heart sank as I looked around my site.

They were all down and destroyed!  Figures that had been my friends since early summer were lying around my studio smashed and savaged to bits!  The figure I made with Ariana that wore the lacrosse helmet we found together was staring up at me like some ancient Egyptian mummy.  The eye sockets were hollow and I could not find either the helmet or the eyes.  Even the small bird piece that had alighted on this figure’s shoulder was just random bits of broken polystyrene.

Both the Styro-Odysseus figure and the dancing figure that greeted him back from the war were goners now.  It seemed that a particular kind of viciousness was reserved for the heads as they appeared to take the brunt of the attacks.  The violence was not restricted to the “art” and I saw that even the old milk crates I stored found objects in were also now cracked and battered.  There were two other works out here and how did they fare?  What about that Figure with the Long Arm?  Look for yourself.

It’s not an encouraging sight.  All these sculptures had been up here for weeks and many people have had the opportunity to see them and interact with them in positive ways.  Among the other options included taking them home, moving them to another location at the Falls, adding to them in some other creative way, leaving them be until the river eventually found them, etc…  Unhappily, the option exercised was just to smash them with sticks.  One other figure was also out here and unfortunately, she lasted only long enough for one good post until she too was discovered by the vandals.

This is all that remains of Minnie now…fragments of broken Styrofoam.  Minnie was an interesting character and people seemed to relate to her.  More than likely all this carnage is the handiwork of adolescent boys.  I have seen this before…many times over the years.  What is it in the human spirit that finds some strange satisfaction at tearing down what has been built by others?  I don’t understand the pleasure derived from this kind of destruction?  I will admit to feeling down after I encountered all this trauma and I haven’t been back to this site since then.  I did gather up what I could and I intend to make new works if I can lift my spirits up enough to do it.  For now, all that remains are photographs of these sculptures when they existed intact and in the contexts that helped to define them.  Here are a few previously unpublished images.

I know I shouldn’t be too upset since all this stuff is just river-born trash anyway.  I think I keep saying this to myself in part because it’s true and to insulate my feelings for when these black days occur.  These materials had already been abandoned. I can’t take it all home with me and I should just enjoy the ephemeral nature of it all.  Still…

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