During my residency organized by the Colorado Art Ranch, in collaboration with the Aldo Leopold Research Institute I created an intervention titled, “ Around the Center,” which was made in the Superior National Forest on a large stone along a path between the Ranger Station and the Vermillion College in Ely, Minnesota.
I started to contemplate the symbolic nature of this work and could relate it to when a stone is thrown in the water and ripples expand outward around the stone’s impact in the water. The stone’s impact creates energy and this energy radiates outward. This to me this also represented the energy created by the artists and scientists when they were able to learn about each other’s disciplines, collaborate and share common interests in nature.
From the creation of this work I began to consider what is at the center of my experiences in this unique place, and what surrounds this center? It is really absurd to try to define this center as a fixed thing because reality is continually changing from moment to moment. All phenomena are impermanent and therefore subject to change. What once was at the center of my experience has since dissolved with each new moment and as I have begun to intellectualize it, it is no longer what it was. Things begin to disintegrate and suddenly we realize that they do not exist in a fixed manner or exist independently but rather they exist in relation to, and in dependence on everything and are therefore interconnected. At the time that I am writing this, the ephemeral artwork that I have created has since devolved back into the environment and is no longer recognizable as an artwork.
The materials that I have used to create this work came from the needles of a White Pine and mosses that were collected from the shady forest floor. These materials could not exist without the elements of nature in balance creating the right conditions for the vegetation to grow. Without the glaciers that deposited this rock some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago I would not have a site to create this work. The White Pine grows in this area because of the well-drained soil and cool, humid climate of northern Minnesota. These beautiful trees provide food and shelter for numerous animals including, forest birds, squirrels, lynx, and wolves. It also provides cool damp shaded areas for a variety of vegetation like mosses and mushrooms to grow. Many people are drawn to this area to experience this unique beauty. Out canoeing on the water or sitting by the lake there is no need to worry about deadlines or being late for a meeting. Somehow living in the moment and the simple experience of traveling on water by canoe, setting up camp, cooking dinner by fire and enjoying the sights and sounds of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness feels liberating. When we can stop, breathe, and listen to what is around us, we are more open and receptive to the world around us.
While I was in Ely, I learned that an issue central to many people in the area revolved around the developments of a new mine. The town seemed to be polarized between those that supported the mine for their livelihood and those that were worried that the mine would affect the environment by bringing changes to the area that were damaging and irreversible. Many people depend on the area for a variety of things in order to sustain a livelihood. The mining companies depend on the valuable minerals in the bedrock while people who are supported by tourism depend on the landscape and wildlife for recreation activities such as canoeing, backpacking, dogsledding, fishing and hunting. I began to think since everyone depends on the land and it’s central to the health and livelihood of everyone, isn’t preserving the landscape in everybody’s best interests both sustainably and economically? As Chief Seattle said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” The development of the mine would permanently alter the landscape; affect water and air quality and take hundreds of years to fully recover. Does this outweigh the benefits that the mine will bring to the community? Are there other ways of creating jobs that won’t negatively affect the environment? And what are the prevailing attitudes that justify the development of a mine in this area? Aldo Leopold writes, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
As a stone strikes the water and creates energy, this unique residency allowed for artists and scientists to bridge creativity with observation and research. While residing in Ely, Minnesota during our residency we learned of the complex issues regarding this unique community and have grown from our shared experiences. From our varied perspectives we are creating new energy to move forward to inspire others to be concerned about the future of our planet, to become aware of our environment and to bridge gaps between the divisions that separate us.