SPRING

“The stream yet to come is above and is the future. The stream that has gone by is below and is the past.” ~ 2007 Sabbaths, XIII, W. Berry

When one first acknowledges the body memories of spring – the quality of the sun feeling intimate and approachable and the stilled air letting the eye greedily process the assault of color dashed on a backdrop that has been muted for so long – it’s easy to be humble towards a world that produces such wonders. Winter feels like a personal affront, but spring feels like a communal celebration. Eager to get out and celebrate, we wanted to offer up a Goldsworthy to our fellow worshippers.

Flowers are back but in the woods leaves reign supreme. The pulsating shades of green drew us in and made our medium for this project apparent. While covering some ground on the hike and scouting out project locations, we couldn’t help but create with them!

leaf hat

The mobile leaf projects gave us some familiarity with weaving and interlacing the leaves that we came across so we came up with a concept to try in a stream we passed along on our hike. Andy Goldsworthy has done leaves-in-stream projects as well so drawing from this inspiration as well as what we naturally experienced ourselves that day, we wanted to give our own floating installation a try.

Goldsworthy Original

orig gw

Our first inclination was to use what I believe were White Ash leaves as they were small but sturdy – so easy enough to poke stems through to weave together but likely to maintain their buoyancy in the water. The idea was to create a delicate, snaking line of leaves that would curve around the bends in the stream, but we soon ran into an engineering versus art issue. It turns out that the connections between the leaves were too tenuous and we couldn’t get the line into the water without it coming apart.

Always up for some improvisation, we thought we could transport the line to the river on bigger leaves, allowing the ash leaf line to be maintained and take off on its own as the bigger leaves would sink away. Little did we know that the bigger leaves would make a way better water-fairing vessel. We wove together skunk weed leaves in the same manner we did for the ash leaves, and the line turned out to not only be sturdy and tightly connected, but also pretty regal looking for such a pungent, often frowned upon plant.

 

woven-up-close.jpeg

If our fellow celebrants didn’t see the final chain make it downstream**, perhaps they smelled it. You can’t disregard the body memories associated with spring smells either, and we were happy to enhance the natural aromas!

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** hope to include video shortly

SPRING

“Spring at her height on a morn at prime, Sails that laugh from a flying squall, Pomp of harmony, rapture of rhyme – Youth is a sign of them, one and all.” ~ Ballade of Youth and Age, W.E. Henley

Give a boy a boy-sized hill and he cannot resist the climb. Gradual trail inclines or rises in the land encourage a four-year-old’s trudge but given the opportunity to scramble up a proportionately sized obstacle over which to declare himself the ruler, energy abounds. We didn’t challenge his claim over the palette of surrounding brown – the carpet of spent leaves and varieties of wind stripped trees yet to reawaken – instead we decorated his kingdom.

climbsmile

Three weeks into spring, the woods are doing their best to deal with the stubborn temperatures and some buds are beginning to stretch open but materials for our Goldworthy’s still consist mostly of sticks and downed trees. The specific woods we were hiking in for this last outing seemed particularly affected by winter as the fallen trees littered throughout gave the woods a post battle appearance.

diana downed trees

John may have scouted out this project location but our group in general has been drawn to the knotted roots balls of overturned trees for the past few outings. There is something really appealing about the roots being so entrenched deep into the rich soil, that when the tree falls, the hearty clumps of earth brought up in the roots reveal the land that has housed the tree undisturbed through centuries of growth. So we lined the roots with branches as if to offer some protection from the wind which the tips haven’t felt in generations, and dashed on some leafy star bursts to honor the leaves that won’t come this year on this fallen tree, and also for a dash of color in the color-starved woods.

Although humans are nature alike seem to still be trudging through the last remnants of winter, we see the buds and can smell the burst of life to come and are reminded by those already in the spring of their lives to see the land and get climbing.

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SPRING

“…till Time made one of his gestures; his nails scratched the shingled roof. Roughly his hand reached in, and tumbled us out. ~ A Short, Slow Life, E. Bishop

The springtime holding pattern is upon us. The time when our calendars tell us it is spring and our internal body clocks start to anticipate a thaw of both the natural world and our own inner winter blues. We see the sun shining and assume we’ve made it through another winter cycle but the temperatures still say otherwise. Yet, somehow between the third and fourth nor’easters in so many weeks we were still able to squeeze in an afternoon to create a Goldsworthy in the woods and the budding forest reminded us we weren’t alone in our spring anticipations.

We took a path through the woods that we haven’t taken before and perhaps the newness of it coupled with the gracious familiarity of a more attentive sun had us seeing materials and natural canvases all along our hike. Factor in our pent up creative energies, we couldn’t help but dash off a few mini Goldsworthy’s before we were inspired to do a more intensive one.

The sticks for the second project were actually already in place when we came across the site. We’re not sure if it was a fellow natural art enthusiast who put them there or perhaps a diligent ranger had arranged them while clearing the path after the storms, but there were some vines incorporated in the structure that hinted that it may have been there awhile. We came across the bricks near the site which seemed to have come from a ruined foundation of a structure that had once stood in the spot but has begun to be reclaimed by the vegetation. We arranged the bricks in the stick structure as our own encouragement of the union of nature and the remnants of man.

brickroot

Downed trees and broken branches that were snapped off during the arduous winter and hesitant spring lined the trail. In one particular spot we came across a gnarled trunk that seemed to have other tree limbs gathered amongst it and strips of bark littered the surrounding area. The bark was thick and heavy like a shingle as it needs to be in order to protect the fibrous inner workings of the tree from the elements, much like the duties of the roofs over our own heads. With the tree trunk foundation and limb infrastructure already in place, it made sense to give the formation a roof. We lined the structure with bark that we could find on the ground and when that ran out we went to the source – a dead tree that still stood tall with the others.

It’s possible that our unintended creative output resembles a shelter because it is reflective of our wariness that winter is truly behind us and homage to the homes that have kept us insulated for the past several months. Or maybe, knowing the ephemeral aspect to these projects, it is a representation of what we hope to leave behind as our own personal springtime blooms begin.

 

 

WINTER

“Often you must have seen them loaded with ice a sunny winter morning after rain” ~ Birches, R. Frost

Holidays, record-setting cold streaks, and snow storms all contributed to our mid-winter Goldsworthy slump, but when we got back to the great artistic outdoors it was with a creative vengeance!  We celebrated our return with a funeral – a Viking funeral to be precise. How we got to that point involved the sun, the woods, the beach and some imaginative tinkering.

On the first temperate weekend in late January we set out in a more developed part of the woodlands preserve near our homes which has a paved path winding down a steep hill that eventually leads to a sandy bank along the Navesink River.  On our descent we came across many intriguing natural items for projects, like scrolls of bark and braided vines, but we couldn’t conjure up a moving idea on what to do with these items. Rather than force it we just took in the day and some other artistic flourishes that were left by others along the trail and waited for inspiration to strike.

Birdhouses in trees along the trail

birdhouse

When we got down to the river we saw that the ice that had solidified the water during the cold stretch from one bank to the other was mostly disappearing with the water current and heading out to the bay. However, a few ice floes had been deposited along the bank of the river instead of joining the pack. That’s when inspiration stuck – we would float a Goldsworthy down river.

We hadn’t seen any similar Goldsworthy’s to gather inspiration from like we did in our previous pieces but we knew some of his preferred styles – like colorful items popping off the white snow or sticks interwoven into geometric structures. We tried to keep these in mind as we started to create but the woods were bereft of color and we haven’t figured out stick weaving just yet, so we went abstract. We lined up sticks on the floes as well as a large rock and a smaller piece of ice while also adding a dash of the mustard hued sand for some color. We were pretty satisfied with the curious look of the finished project, envisioning boaters passing the floe by and questioning what they just saw on the random block of ice they just passed. We were also pleased with the development of our own artistic style on this project as we stretched our Goldsworthy inspired wings.

After a slight struggle to launch our canvas floe due to deep muck from melting snow and grasping reeds trying to keep it on shore, we were finally able to cast it out into the water. The current took it like a Viking warrior being honored after a victorious life to make the journey with the other unadorned floes to the open expanse that waited.

WINTER

 

“Bare branches in winter are a form of writing.” ~ Billy Collins, Winter Syntax

We’re pushing the winter season, which is something my cold weather and dark day averse family never does, but the first snowfall had us excited to see what kind of Goldsworthy we could achieve with moldable, packable, stackable snow! Although it’s not quite official winter by calendar rules, the temperature and the accumulated snow certainly had us in the winter time frame of mind.

We braved the lingering low temperatures to head back to the beach to search for drift wood pieces for a Nagato Iwasaki inspired creation Bop has been working on in his ‘magic’ art room at home, a man rendered completely out of drift wood fragments that we fondly refer to as ‘wood man.’ So our outing served double art duty, one aspect of which was to get Iwasaki materials to bring home with us, the other to leave a Goldsworthy behind.

Once on the beach trail it didn’t take long for Goldsworthy inspiration to strike. Mike spotted some barren bushes lining a marine pond that empties and fills with the changing tides. Likening the branches to the metal claws that hold precious jewels in place on rings and necklaces, he decided to nestle snowballs in the claw-like branches to see where that took us. It turned out to be the right call as the white orbs stood out from the wind stripped linear bush branches in a such a way that it created a pleasant visual oddity.

Goldsworthy is especially adept at his snow and ice pieces and has a full portfolio of ideas that he completed with winter material, ranging from wrapping icicles around trees to building snow and stone archways. Working this project with John, it seemed obvious that molding the snow was the best approach for our project and nothing comes more naturally to the toddler than a snowball, especially if it means a few could be diverted from the project to toss at me. Goldsworthy is no stranger to snowballs himself and in fact has worked with the snowball-tree combo, as well, with his usual pristine appeal.

Goldsworthy Original

glosworthy snowballs

Our decision to try to use shrubbery in lieu of trees tested our Zen levels as numerous snowballs rolled out of the less sturdy branches when the wind blew and shattered the balls back to flakes on the ground. Goldsworthy has monk like patience in the creation of his pieces. Not only in the select timing of their execution but also dealing with structural issues. In books of his works it’s not unusual to see a note describing ‘several collapses’ a project may have experienced during its construction, and his resigned and muted exasperation of the collapse of this stick piece speaks volumes of the man’s patience. Most people who work painstakingly on something for an extended period of time only to watch it utterly collapse would similarly collapse on the floor themselves into a heap of expletive spewing despair. Lucky for us we had cold temperatures and a three-year-old child to keep our perfectionism and therefore the frustration of failed snow balls at bay, and we got immense satisfaction from the ones that did stick.

As Bop and I walked to the bay to check out what became of the green circle Goldsworthy we did last week, which we discovered was pleasantly returning to nature’s preferred design, Mike found an even better canvas for the snowballs. Although the swaying quality of the branches was a source of frustration for our first snowball project that day, it was also a source of beauty watching the lodged balls bounce up and down in the bare branches when the wind would rise. The tree that Mike identified for the second snowball project on the other hand was ugly and harsh with stunted branches and rough finishes and didn’t react to the wind the way the bushes did. So we were able to add our snowballs to it fairly quickly without as much angst over stability and get a completely different feel from the same act. The snowballs provided a playfulness to the tree and a sweet acknowledgment of the tree’s presence in the challenging elements.

To complete the full art circle of the day, we ended our outing by bringing Bop’s completed wood man into the glade behind his house that will be the home to him and other drift wood creations, past and future. Iwasaki is in the Goldsworthy vein in that his creations are made from naturally found wood and held together naturally, as well, using wooden stakes as opposed to bolts or nails or glue. Although more representational than Goldsworthy, Iwasaki is an inspiration to Bop and as fans of Bop’s work ourselves, we were happy to learn from and enjoy both environmental artist masters that day.

 

 

 

FALL

I say How do you get to the river? They say It will come.   ~ J. Richardson, The Encyclopedia of the Stones: A Pastoral

Living by Raritan Bay can be staggeringly windy. The air currents charge off the water with such force that it’s not unusual for the houses here to shudder from their blasts. In colder weather the wind alone can be a deterrent to outside activity instead of the actual temperature as you can feel layers of skin cells being stripped from your face by relentless gusts. So when we had a rare fall Saturday afternoon with unruffled trees and a glassy bay, we decided to head to the beach where we knew the grains of sand would be calmly resting on the shore.

On a previous visit to Sandy Hook, Bop had arranged a structure of stones on a particular bay beach that had plenty of inspiring materials for similar projects so we decided to revisit that beach to take in the day while also seeing what Goldsworthy’s we could create there. Stones and rocks are prominently featured in Goldsworthy’s works, whether it be stacking stones into pyramid structures, adorning boulders with leaves, or arranging stones into shapes and patterns. Going to the beach we had that in the back of our minds but we didn’t have a fully formed idea of what we would be doing and instead decided to let the inspiration hit us once in the setting in true Goldsworthy form.

Goldsworthy’s work with stones

 

On our walk to the water, Bop and John, both of whom are big fans of sticks – one for art purposes, the other for little boy purposes – were finding various samples and would test their quality by dashing off some quick sand doodles which complimented the deer tracks we found along the way. Spotting these tracks on the beach always causes a blip in my city-raised mind that usually associates deer only with the woods. But where we live the woods and the coast are intertwined allowing for overlapping environments and thus even more opportunities to use different natural materials for projects across both settings.

When we got to the shore, Diana pointed out a quarry of green rocks that were exposed due to the low tide. The algae that had rooted onto the rocks created a really soft, mossy look on hard, impenetrable stone. Eager to use the rock medium and such a vibrantly colored one at that, Bop capitalized on a good drawing stick he had found and drew a circle for us to start filling with these velvet stones.

 

We initially thought to use a rusted metal piece as the circle’s center point, similar to Goldsworthy’s black center point in his circle of rocks above. Our choice to use metal deviates from what I’ve seen utilized in Goldsworthy’s work so far since the metal is of human origin and ultimately on the beach due to human neglect. We live close to the New York City and other high population centers so the environmental impact of humans is inescapable. What’s interesting though is nature’s ability to gradually return our goods to dust and in the process finding a way to make our discards somewhat beautiful and artfully dealing with a problem we burdened it with. While we initially planned to incorporate the metal, we ultimately decided the look wasn’t for this piece and removed it in favor of an all-green stone uniformity.

John spent a good portion of time diligently trying to smash his own rock pieces to fill the smaller spaces in the circle, or more likely, just for the sake of smashing things, while Bop, Diana and myself tread a worn path back and forth from the circle to the quarry to complete the project. These many trips disturbed the sand surrounding the piece so Diana found a log to roll around the circle like a baker’s rolling pin to flatten the sand. Goldsworthy plans for many of his works to be appreciated in certain periods of light and while we have lacked this foresight on our few projects to date, we all agreed the sun hitting the green stone at the right time would have looked great. Unfortunately the sun had other plans as did we and we missed our window to extract the true vibrancy of the emerald rocks, but all in all we were pleased with the finished work. We left there knowing the effort it took us to move all those rocks would likely allow the project to remain there for some time, but not vain enough to doubt the power of the water to resituate the rocks back to wherever it wanted them when it chooses to do so.

 

 

 

FALL

So dawn goes down to day, nothing gold can stay. ~ R. Frost

 

Our first crack at a Goldsworthy took place on a sunny Saturday hike in the woods right after Thanksgiving. The trees have mostly shed their foliage for the year so the ground was littered with waves of leaves varying in size, shape, color and states of preservation. The bare trees allowed the sun to reach the ground in a way it can’t during the more verdant times of the year and their shadows sliced the floor throughout the woods creating a weird affect where the late morning light seemed more like the golden quality of late afternoon.

We realized that the window for leaf projects is closing as it’s already late fall but we wanted to give one a try while we still have the medium somewhat available to work with. We learned from some earlier Goldsworthy tinkering that it actually takes a good amount of leaves to cover any particular area in his dense, plated style but unfortunately the ground leaves were mostly too gnarled and the tree leaves weren’t too available either. So Bop had the idea of using the matted leaves on the ground for the project to provide a surface in which to trace his outline similar to the Goldsworthy depicted below.

Goldsworthy Inspiration

golds prone man

In the Goldsworthy piece the image of his body is there from the absence of the morning dew falling on the part of the ground his body was covering so our initial attempt was based around the idea of the silhouette being the ‘blank’ spot surrounded by the carpet of leaves. Our execution included tracing a line around Bop in the leaves then trying to remove the leaves from the traced body but it wasn’t long before this plan unraveled. As my dad is laying prone on the side of the trail while me, John, my husband Mike, and my dad’s partner, Diana, are around him scraping away leaves, a biker riding a unicycle comes flying down the trail and he gets caught up on a branch right in front of us and goes down in a crash. As he’s pulling himself together he asks us if everything is ok in a confused and slightly alarmed manner. We assure him all is well and what we’re doing is just for art but we understand his worry about three adults and a child seemingly covering a downed man in a pile of leaves. We realized then, after confusing a man riding a unicycle in the woods, just how fun this project was going to be.

After clearing the outlined body of the leaves, the result looked more like a blob than a discernable shape and we knew we needed to switch up the approach. We hiked a bit further, gathering some in tact yellow leaves along the way until we came across another spot that seemed to call for an installation. There we decided to clear the blanket of leaves away from Bop’s body leaving the leaves under him to act as the silhouette against the soil we just cleared. This was the key decision to our first Goldsworthy success. The finishing touch compliments of a suggestion from Mike was to line the silhouette with the yellow leaves to really make it pronounced against the dark soil. Project completed!

We were all so taken with our first Goldsworthy installation experience that ideas for the next one were reeling before we even began our walk back. As we were taking pictures of the finished work John was already busily working on another wood structure. If we passed something intriguing along the trails home we would call out to each other how we could use lichen for this sort of project or some moss for that sort. We saw monsters in trees draped with vines and abode huts in upturned roots and soil clusters, our creativity alive and dancing before us in the woods having been piqued by Goldsworthy. We’re already looking forward to our next outing.