Where is the Government?

The government is the people’s voice. Sometimes it appears that the government is hiding. Sometimes, one is surprised just where it’s got to. Here is the art that Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo put up at Okanagan College in Vernon this month.

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Ryan Robson, Untitled

An issue with a wordless voice.

Here is the art that the government paid for outside.

P1380881 Gerd Maas, Destiny (Detail)

Gender equity, of course (It is, after all, a four-sided obelisk made out of melted mountain.)

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Erected to Celebrate a Ceremonial Partnership with Korea

Here is the art we pay for outside the main doors of the college.

P1380868 Always a Friendly Face

Here is the art that reveals the Canadian Government’s secret hiding place today.

P1010835Well, yesterday. Today, they could be anywhere! Look around, if you can. You might find them in the darndest places. Here, for instance.

P1130503The provincial government pays up to $2.50 a tree (20 acres …2000 trees to the acre … whew!) to subsidize the planting of Royal Gala apples such as these, to counteract the effect of national government trade treaties with the United States. To which, we might add:

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That Old Christmas Moon

Long before the world tree holding the stars …

P1380026 Straw Star from Dresden

… as well as the planets …P1380060

 

Blown Glass Ball from the Ruhr Valley

…on its branches, there was the old solstice moon.

P1370820Paper Wasp Nest in the Lilacs

It’s still here. Blessed be.

 

Evolution: A Human Social Mirror

Bullock’s Oriole, blending in…

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This fellow divides his time between South America and this dry northern tip of his species’ range.

California Quail (introduced species, so humans would have something to hunt), blending in …

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Hoo-HoooO-u, Hoo-HooO-u, Hoo-HooO-u

So social, eh!

Beetle, blending in …

shiny

Beautiful, isn’t she!

If I’m ever to have antennae, I hope they’re like that.

Those are all “natural” environments, in which the concept of camouflage does not seem to be at play. So much for the idea of evolution being a series of predator-prey capture-avoidance, eat-or-be-eaten relationships, as it is often displayed in popular culture (and racism.) Here is the lair of a top predator. Now, she is blending in:

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Incompleted Light Post Base, Vernon

Predator pretty much invisible.

For a view of the predator herself, take a look again …

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Black Widow Spider Blending In

Well, sort of. She flashes that red warning, after all. Note the very, very messy web. I have a few of those in my tomato patch, and another in my garden shed.

Now, to continue the theme, here is the lair of another predator, blending in …

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Back of Front Street, Penticton

Note the messy web. By the way, I think this is very beautiful, but not in the same way as the oriole, the quail, or the beetle above.

Humans, blending in some more…

P1010091Canadian Back Yard Art, Vernon

More beauty. Very popular with top predators. As you can see, the humans are blending in with social codes, not with the weeds in the foreground. They are up to their own thing.

Take a look again, for a guide to the finer details…

details2Dead Things and Romantic Things on Display

Body jewelry for predators. (With the lair being a body image requiring tattoos and other images of display in a complicated male-female dynamic.) Socially, many contemporary humans evolve within environments like this. In fact, you could say that they evolve to reproduce environments like this, or that the environments reproduce by imprinting themselves on the young humans at important environment-socialization windows. These are called cognitive windows, because, socially, human-environment social relationships are not accepted [ie they are invisible] in this particular culture. That doesn’t mean they are not there.

The weeds in the foreground of the above image are a series of individuals foreign to the balance of this landscape. They are in a dynamic process, which is a new balance, but the real story is not about individuals. It is about the collective. They are all in a relationship, the rules of which are not yet formalized. Intriguingly, they were brought here by human activity, and they represent an image of human conscious processes. Nature? Hardly.

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A Predator Has Been Here

By interpreting the landscape according to its own social codes of display and social coercion, this predator has turned at least a small part of the earth into an image of itself.

Now, that’s art! Of course, foreign plants such as the lavender above, once socialized within this human image, start to take on some human characteristics and become colonists of their own …

P1020612Escaped Lavender (Left, behind the curb.)

That is an entire community of previous escapees around it. The native plant community is gone. Even in escape, the plants carry human social information with them, and human attitudes to land. In other words, human social display and body decoration is part of the process of physically creating “Nature”.

One could say that “Nature” itself is a human social display, the whole concept. One could also say that many humans obviously prefer the weedy thing called “Nature” or “wildness” over a more ordered and productive space full of species beautiful in their own right. They are certainly not walking the grasslands with me in anything other than tiny numbers. They are here instead:

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Farmer Killing Leafhoppers in His Grape Vine Body Jewelry

City of Vernon in behind. Excellently complex predator behaviour! It will result in a simplification of the landscape (fewer species) and some unexpected escapees (the poisons he uses will become part of the environment, where they will eventually work back to change human social relationships and even human bodies. Poison as body art. Beautiful!)

The key to “evolution” is to stop thinking of separateness. That is just a human social image. Here, for example, are some weeds interfacing with some plants that found a balance here after the last ice age, and which were maintained in a specific human image by thousands of years of human burning and harvesting…

P1020545 Evolution in Play

Evolution is not a battle for dominance. Sure, you can look at it that way, but I suggest that that’s only how a predator will see it. To the plants here, and the bumble bee, it’s about community. Together, they make a whole. For the moment, Syilx traditional human social rules have been removed from this landscape by colonization 150 years ago and replaced by the new social rules of that colonization. As a result, the weeds that the new colonists brought with them are now colonizing Syilx space. Rather than being “Nature”, in other words, this is a portrait of social relationships over time, which include human ones.

Far too often, evolution is portrayed as a conscious process, one that “favours” certain traits or one in which evolution has to “choose” between brain size, which is “expensive” and, say, “muscular efficiency.” I find it a deep and pleasurable irony that scientific thinking, which began by trying to separate itself from a concept of nature, is now deeply married to a kind of pop-culture goddess called Nature, which it calls Evolution. It leads to some odd effects. They are out there by the millions. Here is just one, in an article which, actually, otherwise is based on some sound principles…

macleans

Evolution… favours? it’s as if it were a conscious process!

Note the lovely ad which MSN’s computers have placed there in order to prey upon you. Be careful around top predators, is all I can say. Source

There’s more. Take a look a little further down in the article:

hypothesizedSocial Display Posing as Learnèd Analysis

The intriguing phrase is “…found that shorter women are more likely to be in long-term, offspring-producing relationships [so far, so good] — perhaps, he hypothesized, because men evolved to disfavour tall women, who tend to reach puberty later.

Pure guesswork, or, rather, the writing of one certain, culturally-specific social display code upon the earth. I’m fairly certain that our scientist was also concerned about other types of favouring and the limitations of this (reported) hypothesis. Not so the databases created to insert advertisements in this material. These databases are inserted according to specific contemporary cultural rules, rather Darwinian and 19th century overall, which seek to prey upon any readers straying into their webs. There is no distinction between this process and any other process of art. Look what the database has chosen to go with this material…

baby

Could it just be that human technical (social and artistic) intervention in the “natural” process of birth is changing the dynamic of which women are having more successful babies than others, rather than birth being just a neutral “natural” process? Of course, but you wouldn’t know it from the article above. Here’s a case in which the database has proven smarter than the human journalist. Like evolution itself, though, it’s not on purpose. Now, one of the characteristics of evolution is duration in time. It’s another human social preference. Written into theories of “nature”, it allows the natural community to be viewed in certain ways. According to this preference for time-as-a-story and time-as-permanence, the view below is easily read as a competition for dominance by new plants (weeds) within an older landscape, just as the settler culture here …

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Land Sculpted to Be Viewed by Automobile and Real Estate Client with Oil Money in His Pocket. 

In this case, the agricultural and “natural” (ie de-Syilxed) images of the land are being sculpted just as strongly as is the physical earth and the social relationships within whatever humans live within or claim this space.

… has supposedly replaced the Syilx culture that preceded it, yet somehow has inhabited its forms and maintains a parallel relationship to “land”…

P1020521Bunch of Weeds Hanging Out, Bella Vista

You can read it that way, of course, and you would be right. But it’s the earth. It can be read in many ways. And it reads you, don’t doubt that. To read it in the way described above is to miss other stories and other versions of time. If their narrative could be told, the landscape would change socially to adapt to them. Tomorrow I’l sketch out some parts of that landscape. Here’s a hint: the plants above are not all the same age. The plants below are:

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Grape Vine Sculptural Display, Bella Vista

Art and Life

Art doesn’t belong to humans, but human art has consequences. Here is an art form made by sun and water…

rainbowRainbow Over Vernon

Object or process? Why must one choose?

It’s like asking: Man or Woman? Oh, please, both. They go together so beautifully. Like bird and house …

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Starling at Home in a Real Bird House, Turtle Mountain

This building easily has fifty holes like this, and another hundred covered (hopelessly) with tin. Birds fly in and out endlessly. I bet it’s noisy and smelly inside. Humans are not welcome. This is no longer their place.

Contemporary humans love to dissect things. For example, city health officials are going to want to dissect that house and turn it into land fill some day. To think: another species is starting to live in houses! Can’t  happen!

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When Humans Leave the Earth …

… the earth replaces them. Here, starlings have moved into the human ecological niche. Think of this as The Galapagos, Version 2.0. The resulting interaction between humans and starlings, as both claim the ecological niche, is an object of art.

To give starlings a leg up on becoming the masters of interior decorating, a house is required. An object. A piece of art. A building as a piece of art? Well, yes, in the process of a context …

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Photography, Vernon

A tool that can sculpt art out of any process and process out of any art. Must one choose? 

It’s a mainstay of contemporary artistic theory that one cannot make objects, only processes. Only processes, it appears, are art. To make these processes, one uses objects, yet the objects are disregarded. That’s a choice, not a logical imperative. So is this:

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The Dumpster, Vernon

The primary sculptural form of Contemporary Canadian Culture. Transportable, tipple, movable, and, in a pinch, a house, a shopping mall, and a grocery store. The Dumpster has it all. Because it is an object, however, it is not regarded as art. And a good thing. As evidenced by the paint marks to the left, art is being actively erased in this neighbourhood, on the principle that art destroys the value of property, which, despite being public, is private. Notice that wall, dumpster and grass are immune from this censorship. Sometimes it helps to be an object. Objects appear to have great capacities of resistance. Art, however, at least the intellectually acceptable variety, disregards them. This is how humans leave their planet. This is how that is witnessed.

There is a class of objects, however, which are considered art. This is the group of artifices called industrial memory objects. They are usually made out of such industrial materials as recycled plastic …

IMG_8634Garden Centre Fountain Offered for Sale, Swan Lake

Why oh why did they not add blue dye instead of yellow? Photo: Anassa Rhenisch

… or even recycled waste from dumpsters, shipped to China, reprocessed by people in the process of leaving the earth, and shipped back to North America, to help North Americans in their own self-assigned task of leaving the earth, along the principle that every house needs a bit more off-gassing.

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Plastic Grass, Vernon Discount Store

Cheaper than the real thing, and unchanging over the seasons. This is an example of an art form in which object has triumphed over process. This art form is known as prettification. It is intended for indoor, rather than outdoor use.

So is the earth remembered by creatures who have left it. Meanwhile, on the earth …

P1000022 Landscaping, Downtown Vernon

This is the art form known as beautification. It is part of the aesthetic of leaving the earth.

For all its object-centred essence, this industrial garden is showing the signs of wear. As its stones flow away due to the predation of winter snowplows, water and light return. This object, married with the absence of some of its parts, is returning to process.P1000027

Life in a Puddle

It has all the time in the world. Even the maple trees are moving into abandoned human ecological niches, aren’t they.

Process, yes, but without the object, no process. Process, yes, but without humans, the object. Forcing the choice is death or just torture.

P1090591Tree Slave Bearing the Ritual Scars of the War Between Object and Process, Kelowna

In this art form, the tree, an ancient life form, is used as a slave in order to influence the processes of humans. Still an object, though. Life, here, has been object-ified in order to create a process-based art work. In this case, the process is operating to convince humans within cars that they are travelling through a Garden of Eden.

Given the great gap between the organic processes of the tree (and the trace it leaves of them in form) and the wounds from which the tree suffers under the effects of human process-based art, I can only conclude that to humans living in their post-earth process-based world, the relationship between tree and human body is invisible to these creatures. They have, already, left life (and bodies) behind for something else. That something else is art. Where have process-based humans migrated, in their rush to leave objects behind? Aha, that’s the fascinating thing. They are where you’d least expect them. In objects!

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A Row of Post-Object Humans, Vernon

Hiding out as electrical poles, while a memory object of humans decorates the side of a building. Memory objects (rather than the process-based art of taggers) is not censored in this community. Logically. Without the object, the process of re-creating humans as electrical poles ends and they must stay there forever.

Somewhere, the creatures still remember that there is something better. Something with a different kind of process.

bee Bee, Foraging, Bella Vista

Choose life. It is an art form that does not separate process from object or object from process. In fact, it does not tolerate such separation.

Cities: The New Frontier

Let’s say you happen to glance off to the side of your city’s main street, right downtown, and see an amazing sculpture that not only looks dashing, but incorporates at least 500 years of history and the wall of a library, too, but makes beer. Sculpture! That makes beer! P1620979Okanagan Springs Brewery, Vernon, BC

All sculpture should be so useful.

So, suppose you’re a-wandering along, and you stumble into an alley behind the Kalamalka Inn Sports Bar, where that beer is poured into glasses and transformed into pure rocket fuel for the living sculptures that are humans, and what do you see?

P1630070Exquisite Fire Escape Sculpture!

And the plaster work in behind … the work of a master.

This is a sculpture that only gets used if the place burns to the ground. Now, that seems a waste for all that beauty, doesn’t it! It’s kind of like a match itself: use it once, and off to the scrap heap with it. Sheesh. Oh, what is a pure beer-less human to do? Bumble along, I guess and … oh, what’s this?

P1000021Water Pipes for a Humungously Expensive “Greening” Project

The city will have a dozen new park benches, and a couple dozen swanky trees.

Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, thinks the bumbling human. What if the pipes weren’t buried in the ground, but hung from the sculpture? That would look nice, wouldn’t it? You could pour a gallon of water in the top and, oh, I dunno, strawberries would come out the bottom. You could make daiquiris or something…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

PVC Strawberry Towers

Daiquiris in the making. Source.

Exquisite sculpture is everywhere. Put it to work, I say.

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Do We Need Smiles on the Faces of 1914 Women Picking Apples …

… because their husbands are already dead in France? Why not grow something on the wall instead? Remember the motto of Okanagan Okanogan: Choose Life.

Art: the new frontier. It’s time to plant it up.

Finding the Earth through Industrial Engineering

Here’s where a couple of ideas come together: creative economy and steam punk. By creative economy, I mean this:

wreck

Sculpture Installation, Gibraltar Mine

Cultures vary, but creative use remains constant. In Iceland, old industrial sculptures like this are carefully preserved for the creative potential in all their tempered and angled and fitted iron bits, which can be recombined into almost anything, in something like constructive chess. In Canada, where creativity is not seen as practical, such industrial sculptures are usually melted down into pig iron and remade into barbecues and lawn furniture, for a new life shaping humans to their wills. Occasionally, though, one or two escape to live a wild and happy life as targets for hunters and general social and personal anger.

By steam punk, I mean a couple things. First, pure art (portraits of nature to be contemplated, not manipulated within the world; the world in this art form is to be approached socially, with the hope that all good things will follow from that.). This “art” thing can be beautiful:
galleryinstallationBack Alley Behind the Curry Pot Restaurant

Vernon, Cenotaph Square. A place designed for enjoyment by ghosts, in a society designed to live within the deeds of the dead.

And what do ghosts want? Why, to escape the square into life, of course! It’s a brutal irony, but leads to beauty. Here, a soldier blasts out of the natural gas valve-shaped human at road level, through the heat of the curry, by passing jail, with his feet on the British Flag, into a trench that separates him from the Okanagan hills, ready to take on whatever Germans he finds there, of which there appear to be none, but mud. Lots of mud. Obviously the method is a little wobbly, despite its beauty. Here’s some steampunk updated for installation into the world today …

literacy Highway 97, Vernon

What a glory of lines and poles and wires. This is steam punk sculpture at its finest. Some of the highlights are the dry-cleaning sun and the telephone switching box sunflower, both of which replace their living counterparts, in order to more accurately display the way in which in a steam punk world, social relationships, and especially past relationships to technology and the latent creative energy within objects trumps the natural world.

It might sound like I’m being grim, but I’m not, because there is a different latent energy within those objects, apart from their recycled, reforged steel forms, and the 19th Century German colour engineering that went into the brightness we see here, and which was essential for the deadly pyrotechnical shows of the Great War between civilization and Kultur, which lasted from 1914 to 1945. This latent energy is the sun and the sunflower themselves. At the moment, they have been magically inserted into this steam-punk landscape, like ancient spiritual amulets. It is that magical energy that remains. What I find exciting is that here, at the heart of steam punk, there is a path to the living earth. When released, it will still be a part of steam punk, and will set this vast, intricate sculptural machine into the life it longs for.

redwhiteblueyelloVernon Alley, across from a design studio

Every day is sends out its message for life. Life is not found in opposition to the steampunk world, but through its door. Now, that’s pretty cool.

The Social Life of Steam Punk

Last week, I proposed that the Okanagan city of Vernon was the steampunk capital of the world. I suggested that it is a giant art installation, in fact. When walked through as openly as it displays itself, I suggested, it can provide a series of tools for creating productive urban and earth-based spaces. This week, I’d like to show you a little bit about how this works. First, a couple examples, to demonstrate just how innovative the steam punks in Vernon are. For instance, in the pre-steampunk world, the following image would have represented a gas fitting under some air conditioning ductwork in the back of a parking garage…

post In the social world of Vernon, however, it is art — and not just art but an image of the human mind and body, decorated and tattooed and re-imagined in response to the space in which it finds itself. To clear up the tattoo thing, here’s a nice tattoo installation waiting for final setting in the jewel of a human body (in old language: garden) …

IMG_8630

Swan Lake Garden Centre Beauty

Photo: Anassa Rhenisch

So, tattoo in one language; garden ornament in another. The reason for the big discrepancy between reality (tattoo) and the official version of reality (garden schmuck) is that contemporary mythology states that humans are individuals acting in self interest and coming together as units of economic production to produce large units of economic production, which are called cities, which have “social spinoffs”, such as economically-generated recreation sites, schools, “safe communities”, hospitals, and …

missing man

Happy Two-Dimensional Tattoo Ghosts

Vernon Post Office

In this model of individual-based social organization, “government” is a form of economic administration, that sees individual-based economic transactions as the primary relationship between all humans, and social life being a kind of automatically-generated result, much like this …

bigwires

Portrait of Vernon Social Life: Living Sculpture

Materials: asphalt, automobiles, buildings, and some truly beautiful work with electrical transformers and their hanging abacusses. The National Gallery of Canada could do worse than buy all this up and install it for posterity.

The civic administration of Vernon has even stated this principle clearly for its citizens, as the principle that economic competition is the greatest good, all interhuman relationships should be monetized, and those that cannot be run for a profit by “business” are the only things with which civic administration should concern itself, and only because they are cost-inefficient, and so worthy only of taxation, rather than the other form of taxation called profit. The result is this:

pushorpullorboth

Door Museum Piece Sculpture, Vernon

A portrait of time and poverty and the ingenuity humans bring to it with the help of an old shoe. Steam punk all the way!

The error in this method of privileging private taxation over public taxation is basic. The error is the belief that each human is an individual. It is a beautiful dream, but, as ever-practical humans show in their daily interactions …

holygrail

 

One Way Sign Glowing Like the Holy Grail

… the resulting aesthetic of competing physical artworks engineered from economic opportunities creates a world which humans react to by recreating as images of themselves. In short: the world you stick humans into is the one they recreate as images of themselves. Rather than being individuals, humans are social mirrors. It is a beautiful thing, which leads to the cities humans live in. Individualism doesn’t do that. It’s just a particular way of interpreting what humans do, which is starting to lag behind human innovation, and this…

wateroflife

Sculpture of Human Memory

Barred Door, recycling materials, gas valve, poor dead soldier boy with his gun trained on … Vernon? Sure ain’t anywhere that Vernon soldier boys fought in the Second World War. Someone has a sense of humour!

Back in his essay Walking in 1862, Henry David Thoreau suggested that “wilderness” was where civilized “man” (sorry, his term) went to re-create himself [sorry!] through contact with the wild forces of physicality. Some time has passed and now the term is understood as recreation, an art form which includes soccer fields, beaches, parks, and hockey rinks, like this beauty, which is the public face of a tire company …

stairsup

Kal Tire Centre, Vernon

Back porch or escape hatch.

See that? The wildness is now contained in a building, and is represented not by the earth but by ritualized violence within a game played by physically robust humans attempting to shoot a small black rubber puck into a small net. This is a form of art, and another part of the steampunk mystique. Where do individual humans live in all of this beautiful and rather blinding artwork? Why, out with the other creatures…

rutsTracks Left by a Mechanized Human (truck)  in Last Summer’s Burn

And while humans like me gush at the beautiful colour of all that, there’s another beauty moving into the space we all don’t really have our eye on, the one where we live as bodies, one on one, with the other star creatures …

P1620828Hawk Skeleton Weed

Moving in, to obliterate everything else.

And that’s the thought for today: when humans mistake the role of individual life for social life and spend all their time making beautiful steampunk art works within the galleries of their streets, they allow the social space they actually share with other creatures of the planet to be over run by destructive aliens, and wind up squeezed out of them. To put that another way, if we treat the living earth as a steampunk artifact, it will be, but we will not be making that art; it will be making us, and, I promise you, we won’t like it. The beautiful thing is, we have a choice. It’s not about giving up the wonders of steampunk life, but it is about accepting it, celebrating it, and learning our boundaries. Here’s a hint about that: whenever the world seems random to a human, that dear creature might do well to accept that it is looking at it with the wrong art glasses. Do you really think it’s random that a city that puts its farmer’s market in the parking lot of a hockey rink sponsored by a tire company winds up with a farmer’s market that looks like this?

tiredtiresRandom? No way. It’s art.

 

Photographic Punk: Another Look at the Urban Okanagan

Yesterday, I shared a vision for my city, Vernon, in the North Okanagan, based around the notion of steampunk, an art form usually praised for funky flea market jewelry made from recycled watches, and novels with computers, dragons, and zeppelins all flying around together having great, low-tech adventures. I see this exciting new way of considering urban space to have the capacity to unite communities into common vision (because it is already universal) and to provide as well clear terms for creating healthy interfaces with the earth, using terms rooted in young, popular culture, where any future will be created. While I work out some more detailed principles, I’d like to leave you with a thought. It’s about photography. These are all images of humans. What you will see as you scroll down are (bear with me here) four humans. Have a look at the beautiful creatures…

zone Human #1

A steampunk creation of brick, asphalt, a power pole, paper for recycling, a glass window,  a magnificent art work of natural gas piping, and some handsome sturdy posts, as part of the human-automobile war. This human lives in an alley between the Vernon Art Gallery & Civic Parkade and a discount clearance outlet selling anything and everything in no particular order.

We’re working on the primary sculptural principle that sculptures are representations of the space of a human body in time, but those are big words for something that photography has made simple. Here’s our second human:

planter2Human #2

Empty flower planter and dry fountain at the Vernon Museum & Archives. Budgets are tight. Flowers and water appear to be the first thing to go. Even though dry, though, the human still appears to be doing well.

It is one of the principles of photography that everything it captures takes on significance. It is an industrial, machine process so perfectly pitched to human consciousness that it fools us every time. It is, in other words, a form of sculpture. More on that in a second, but first, human #3…

lter Human #3

Recycling waste cowering for shelter around a sturdy pole, becomes, when meshed with a muralized wall, a human, bravely facing the future, although with a certain amount of unease.

It was Mary Shelley who first created the steampunk world, right when photography was invented. Her creation, Frankenstein, was a novel cobbled together out of experiences, ghost stories, and folk tales. It’s star, Frankenstein’s monster, was cobbled together out of dead body parts, reignited by a spark of electricity, and wanting a life of its own: pure steam punk! Also, pure photography. Here’s Human #4.

magicalwindows

Human #4

A particularly bright-eyed specimen, with very intriguing body alterations and decorations. A splendid example of steampunk. Backside of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Now, one might wish to call these humans “robots”, but I’d prefer that we called them images of contemporary Vernon citizens. I think they’re beautiful, and can be brought together with the other, fleshier humans, who live amongst them, to create a new language.  I am intrigued by how photography, which in a way (through its industrial nature) led society down the path towards being divorced from the earth, can now lead us back by helping us to see where its effects sit within our cities. I think these photographs are sculptures. I think Vernon itself is one giant spiritual photograph, one that is dynamically alive, as here in the one functioning civic fountain …

splish Notice the Clock!

Photography traditionally achieved its effects of aestheticizing the world through the addition of time: a photograph of anything 100 years old is automatically art. It’s a fascinating effect. Now, though, we have the Vernon Post Office …womantreeclose

A Woman’s Tree Fear

… the effects are immediate, and time has saturated all aspects of the urban environment. See how I got to steampunk? All those lockets and earrings made from old watch gears, and all those thousands of people streaming around to garage sales on Saturday, are all playing an interesting aesthetic game with time. The tree above is not, and that’s what’s interesting. This difference means that there is great latent power within this aesthetic, and I’d like to accept the challenge of trying to find words for it and to bring it to healthy life. I’ll leave you with one more thought, while I think further on this. Here’s the local farmer’s market …

sweetandsavoury Tents, Cars and People in a Parking Lot

One part of future economic health. 

And here’s another…

acupofteaA Pot of Tea (or, a Farm of the Future, or Human #5)

Back Alley in Vernon, with muffler, pineapple weed, and a used coffee cup. In the steampunk world, which adds articles together to create temples of time, nature is trying to get into the picture. The steampunk image is currently looking to the past, and to a very dirty industrial one, too. The plants are pushing the image into, what… life punk?

Let’s follow it!

Next: I hope to have some clear terms for this form of art and future making.

Vernon: Steam Punk Capital of the World

Steam punk is a branch of writing and art (especially jewelry and sculpture, romantic novels and visual poetry) that recombines materials from the age of steam and iron, and sets them in the contemporary world of petroleum and electrons. Here’s what www.steampunk.com has to say about all that:

  • Take place in the Victorian era but include advanced machines based on 19th century technology (e.g. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling);

  • Include the supernatural as well (e.g. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger);

  • Include the supernatural and forego the technology (e.g. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, one of the works that inspired the term ‘steampunk’);

  • Include the advanced machines, but take place later than the Victorian period, thereby assuming that the predomination by electricity and petroleum never happens (e.g. The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling); or

  • Take place in an another world altogether, but featuring Victorian-like technology (e.g. Mainspring by Jay Lake).

Very cool stuff. A popular way of crafting some good steampunk is to hop on down to the flea market and scrounge up some  broken watches and costume jewelry, and do your magic to them, like this:

steampunk-craftfair

What’s not to love? You can view the rest of this Australian Maestro’s gallery here. Well, here’s the thing. I’m living on the edge of a city in the grasslands, and for a year and a half I’ve been talking about the lost world of the grass, and trying to show how it’s the future, while wandering through the houses and vineyards that have been plunked down in the middle of it like some bad body jewelry. Well, I’ve just had a brainwave. This is steampunk!

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Steam Punk in the Hills!

OK, maybe more waterpunk, but still, right?

You see, this city is flush with crafty artists and self-proclaimed avante garde writers, who are busy … making old things, in old ways. The truly avante garde poet Jason Dewinetz, for instance, pretty much gave up poetry to devote himself to a letterpress. He has never been so happy. You can find his award-winning design work at www.greenboathouse.com. Here’s one:

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One of the first books Jason did, before he was in the dungeon of Okanagan College and out at the Greenboathouse just up the lake from my house now, and long before I moved here, was this baby. First, the proud papa…

daydreamhr … and then the book …daydreamh

And for a sample of this translation of Shakespeare into a kind of steampunk nrrgh? Here you go: click. At the time, I was trying to work out some things about oral language, but what I did manage was to translate myself into Vernon, capital of steampunk. It’s not just Jason. It’s Kevin Mcpherson Eckhoff, too. He’s a stand-up comic who teaches writing things at Okanagan College, hangs around Jason’s dungeon, and hosts chapbook making afternoons at Vertigo Gallery in Vernon. Here’s one of Jason’s books…

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This tradition of using Victorian etchings in new and wild ways as a new art form and a daughter of poetry and excellent glue-stick technique has roots in the first world war, and wouldn’t you know it! So does Vernon! In fact, in Vernon, the men of the entire Interior, between the Coast Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, a country as big as West Germany, were lured into a makeshift camp on the grasslands, trained for a few weeks in marching and lunging, and then sent off to France, where they all died. And that was the end of that. Well, you might think so, but not in Vernon. Now it’s steampunk. Look:

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In Vernon, the War has Just Begun!

See the Steampunk touch? The mirrored wall beside it, complete with tagging and this photographer’s legs and worn-out hiking boots? Excellent, Vernon!

In fact, the war is everything to Vernon.

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Note the Steampunk Hand-written Addition!

That’s one tagger I owe a cup of coffee. It was a French soldier who shot my Great Uncle Alfred through the head and sent him down the long road of a private post-war battle with the German Post Office and, gasp, eventual incarceration in an insane asylum in Sweden, no less. Not a boy from Vernon. No, they were all dead by the time Verdun rolled around.

My resolute hatred of war aside, I think this steampunk thing is the key to local society. After all, here’s a local alley…

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The Last Two Straws

The installation would be nothing without the tire. Pure steampunk!

Even the local art gallery is in on the act. It is right now trying to get funding to move out of its parkade before the local museum gets funding to move out of space built 50 years ago and as tiny as a crypt, while the politicians are trying to insist that they become one building, with one great big cold storage for all their paintings and artifacts (this was a fruitgrowing town once, and cold storage knowledge runs deep in the veins). Here’s what it looks like from the street…

show2 Annual High School Student Show, Vernon Art Gallery

While the kids are being taught about the ancient aesthetic thing of art (In mnany places, contemporary with the pre-World War I era, but in Vernon definitely a NOW thing), the passing traffic is driving right through their paintings. Really…

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Pure Steam Punk.

Note the lack of “plant art” in the “planting box frame”. For “art”, the writing is on the wall.

You see how that works? No need for a multi-million dollar gallery. Just a cold storage and a bunch of polished windows, and we’re in. Meanwhile, over at city hall, the wise councillors are into a little steampunking of their own…

fountainoflifeCivic Fountain

That’s an elm seed (an invasive weed) and a dead mosquito and … eeyew.

You see how this works? Vernon is so steampunk, that everything is steampunk here. Even nature. Now “nature” is not a word I use when I’m in the grass, but down in town, where it’s an aesthetic thing, well …

manintree See the Man Walking Up in the Tree?

I wish I could do that. Very futuristic! And the civic offices? Aha!

blackbird Former Flower Planter

Now a weed planter, framing the reflected “nature” in the office window… no different than the art gallery with its cars, but grass and dandelions. Wow. Just wow. Brilliant use of media, guys! I owe this landscaper a coffee, too. And as for the War That Will Not End, even it is fought in Nature …

neverendingwar Note the Flag!

In Vernon, where World War II soldiers line up at the bus shelter, Canada is steam punk, too.

Now, I’m thinking that we could make common cause here. I could use the concept of steampunk to find an appropriate language for the colonial treatment of the earth in this place and put on some photography/text shows to blow the whole idea of nature wide open, so even Leipzig, champions of street art, would notice, Kevin and Jason could teach the stuff at the college, the museum and the art gallery could move in together and make steampunk displays of both artifacts and paintings in the same installations, and install stuff in windows to keep it all up to date, the taggers could be put on the gallery board of directors, the landscaper dude can be given a bag of dandelion seeds to work his magic on the civic lawns, and the road crew could use their mastery of abstract impressionism …

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… to beautify the streets.

headrushGreen Light in Vernon

A head rush, for sure. There’s no limit. The cars don’t actually have to move…

waitingThey’re Waiting for Us to Catch Up!

Notice the excellent steampunk decoration of nature in the background. Exciting stuff!

Whatever else happens, the galleries and museums are going to need to reflect a culture in which the current galleries, the back alleys of town, are endlessly creative …

windowsweedswideIt Just Would Be So Much Less Without the Nature

Here too …

boxy Clever Use of Asphalt and Cardboard

And here…

door A Veritable Steam Punk Novel!

And pure mystery here …wallofmysteriesMystery Wall.

It is time to honour the culture of this place, and to help it heal its war wounds by bringing it to a language that can mesh its exciting culture of power …

betweenturns It’s Unclear Whether You Should Turn Left

and gas …

fitting This Gas Fitter Should Get an Award from the Regional Arts Council

Especially for that drain.

… and power…

redwhiteblue I weep for the joy of it. And for its exquisite use of line …redno Right to the Red Door!

…and (Hey, it is steam punk) Victorian lighting technology …lamplines In Vernon We Don’t Let in the Light. We Beam it to the Stars.

What a gas!

Not just a gas, but jazz…

jazzline The Power Lines of Vernon: A National Artistic Treasure

One of the earliest public art installations in the country, and, thanks to steam punk, excellently preserved. It makes those decades of a fruit industry all worthwhile!

And just in case you forget to …breatheBreathe.

More of that private parking thing, though. I think humans are at war with cars.

This war must end!

reflecteyes No Cars, No Steam Punk!

Note the eyes in the back window.

After all, the cars, strategically placed, beneath walls painted with the right colours, with the right orientation to the sun … can become steam punk, too!

sun

Vigilance is necessary …wild

… and nature could be treated with as much honour as the concrete it complements…

planter Weeds Trying to Steam Punk an Abandoned Planter for Shrubberies

Well, shrubberies were so 1970s. There was still money here. There was still a fruit industry. The museum had 50 years less steam punk to try to preserve. Time is part of every story here. And out on the outskirts, where something of the earth still breathes?  Aha …

plasticvistaThe Plastic Has Been Laid Down

Steam Punking the Land

It’s only here, where the city breaks down at its edges, that steam punking is a bad idea. In the city core, steampunking adds life. Out here, it’s just death. This soil has been stripped of nutrients, plasticized, chemically sprayed for weeds (yesterday, to prevent seed germination), and pounded back to rock …

soilTractor Blight

Steam punk gone bad.

So, you see. Steam punk, the heart and soul of a city that so wants to have a big art gallery like those huge multinational global cities of artistic excellence like Kelowna! What? You haven’t heard of Kelowna? Well, you’re forgiven. It’s a strip mall of car dealerships that sits on top of a bunch of old onion fields, but here’s the thing: they have the steam punk bug too.

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Stephen Foster’s Toy Portraits, June 22 to September 29th, 2013

Pure Steampunk!

Now, in Kelowna this stuff is called “Art”, but in Vernon it’s the streets. We have an incredible confluence of forces: museum, gallery, college, writers, print foundry, book designers, taggers, landscapers, road crews, and all the people who dress up like this …

olourfulworldWithout Colourful People, Vernon is Just for Cars

… just to keep the colour thing working. Kelowna doesn’t have that. As for the toy Indians? They did that in Dresden a decade ago. But this art is on the street and its punk thing? They did that in Leipzig only five years ago, so, like, we’re ahead, right! Not only that, in Leipzig, they don’t have this …

P1600605Crab Spider Hunting on the Steampunk Weeds in the Steampunk Suburb

They had a life on earth 200 years ago. We still have it. So, when we go to the stars with our art, and our streets, we can make a new kind of city, in which art, streets, museums and galleries are all one thing. I mean, we’re already there. Sometimes being in cold storage for awhile is an advantage… if you seize it. Even Kelowna can’t do that anymore, even if you haven’t heard of it, even if you have. Think Green!

forever “Art” is obsolete, but the green light is on!no card

Vernon! Steam Punk Capital of the World!

I’m serious.

The Pink Pink Grass of Home

It was such a pleasure spending some quality time in Tamara’s My Botanical Garden on Monday. Thanks, everyone, for welcoming me with such enthusiasm. It’s fine to share stories of the gardens of this earth. It’s a double pleasure to come back with another story of ancient gardens. This one extends my story about lichens that we posted a couple days ago. Let’s set the scene by stepping back to the lichens again, where they live in a garden billions of years old yet just hours new. They have, I’d like to suggest, effectively stopped time. And that’s a good thing!

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Marmot, Peshastin Pinnacles, Washington

Because of the lichens on these rocks (and the blue skies they created), the inevitable decline of Earth into a kind of Martian desert was slowed and even reversed, creating time for creatures like this to evolve and to prosper. Those are some of the old, uplifted volcanic plutons of the Cascade Mountains in the background.

Neat trick! Here’s how it’s done…

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Lichen Demonstrating How to Keep a Planet from Losing its Atmosphere

The secret? Be like the rock, but … instead of crumbling away, crumble onto something. This turns the crumbling energy inside out.

Billions of years is a long time — time enough for other plants to thrive in the lichen garden called Earth. Of course, if lichens were the only plant blooming in town, the earth might look like this:

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Kind of Looks like a Photo Taken by a Mars Rover, Doesn’t it.

Well, except for the highway and the car. (See it?) Actually, it’s the volcanic wasteland of South Iceland, covered with grey lichen about 15 centimetres thick. It extends for hundreds of kilometres, just like this. 

This was all rich farmland before the Lakagígar volcanic eruptions of 1783 that reduced the Icelandic population to 20,000 starving, choking, poisoned souls. Here’s a view of the disaster, looking over it to the upland pastures that are all that are left of the farms of the region …

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Iceland’s Grey Lichen

Those are some of Iceland’s green, grassy hills in the back — as well as the catastrophic paraglacial flood gorge of Fjaðrárgljúfur.

Grass, tiny trees and flowers are lodging in the lichen now and setting down roots. It’s not volcanic rock that provides them with a foundation, but the lichens. The way I see it, the newcomers aren’t growing so much in earth as in lichen. Life roots in life. Like this, sort of:

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Moss Making A Home in an Old Lichen, Bella Vista Hills

Mosses are algae that figured out how to survive on dry land. It took them almost 3 billion years longer than the lichens, but they made it, too. Sometimes in the spring it’s all too good to be true: a lichen can sometimes look exactly like a miniature, landlocked sea.

In terms of the Okanagan and the other volcanic regions of western North America (where this blog has its home), this story is especially resonant: both grasses and this region came to life between 50 and 65 million years ago. Back then, the area was covered in volcanoes (as the coast still is today.) Grass and the Okanagan are sisters. As a hint towards what they found here, here’s the remnants of one of those volcanoes:

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Giant’s Head Mountain, Summerland

The original stratovolcano was likely some 3,000 metres high, before multiple continental glaciers carried all its rubble away, leaving its frozen core. The name, Giant’s Head, comes from the shape of the mountain from the lakeside (behind and below the mountain). It is one of the traditional landforms of Plateau culture.

Likely, it was lichens that first grew on the new volcanic slopes here, as they do in Iceland today. The first grasses to root in those lichens were likely some of the first grasses anywhere. Maybe they looked a bit like this…

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Blue-Bunched Wheatgrass in the Floor of the Flood Basalts, Dry Falls State Park, Washington

Those are the old ones, the yellow lichens, spilling down the cliffs like the sun. Photograph made at 45 degrees Celsius in late July. What a beautiful day that was! 

Not only did the new grasses of the hot, dry new lands of the North American West (and the Asian Steppes, African Savannahs, South American Pampas and the Australian Outback) replace lichen (just as they are doing in South Iceland now), they evolved from lichens in the first place. In other words, the grasses are a stage in the blooming of lichens into full expression of their identity. Things work both ways in this story: to understand grass (and humans), understand lichen; to understand lichen, understand grass. Here’s the grass that got me to thinking of all this:

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Pink Grass!

It’s rather like a crocus, isn’t it! In case you were wondering, all that bare glacial till is a road cut that the grass is moving into.

There’s a story in the grass. It’s not quite like the story of the lichens, that are powered by the earth’s annual trip around the sun just as they have been for a fifth of the age of the universe. It’s more that the grasses are powered by cycles of heat and dryness, caused in part by carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and in part by the atmospheric influence of the grasses themselves. Grasses, that like heat, heat things up, which leads to hotter grasses and increasing atmospheric change.

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Junction Sheep Range, Cariboo-Chilcotin Grassland

It was on grass like this that humans became human. This is our native habitat. Let’s take a minute to honour our sisters, the grasses, as the wind blows through them and they carry it in waves, like water.

The soft contours of the hills in the above image are created by the winds falling off of the depressurized eastern slopes of the Coast Mountains — winds created on the open Pacific by the rotation of the Earth. They never stop (That’s a good thing!) The contours above are beach dunes — two hundred kilometres from the ocean and across an almost impenetrable barrier of mountains, glaciers, and volcanoes. They’re not new, though. This is the way they were 10,000 years ago, when the continental glaciers melted away and the fine silt of these post-glacial lake bottoms dried in the dessicated, re-pressurized wind — the winds, we might say, blowing off of the sun. The deeper the valleys, the hotter and windier it gets, as if the winds were rushing to the centre of the earth.

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Richter Pass and Chopaka

According to the elder and storyteller Mourning Dove, this was the Traditional Centre of the Syilx World. The light-coloured fields in the middle ground of the photograph host a species of miniature, desert shrew — an isolated population surviving here hundreds of miles north of its relatives in the hot country to the south. That’s what deep valleys in the lee of coastal mountains can do. (By the way, I was raised by the valley a few kilometres to the right, and north, of this mountain. It’s the centre of my world, too.)

Bunch grasses survive in this extreme climate that would draw eleven times as much water out of the soil as falls in snowfall and rainfall if it were not for the crust of lichen acting as a skin on the earth. One technique they use is to harvest water from an area far greater than their small, living hearts.

methowbunchgrass Blue-Bunched Wheat Grass, Methow Valley

They are the dominant creatures in the landscape. Each lives on its own, precisely spaced from her sisters. They do not make sods.

Bunchgrass harvests extra water by the trick of maintaining its stalks for multiple seasons. The growth of past years harvest waters for the present and for the year to come. Here’s a picture taken at dusk with a flash, to highlight the stalks, after a year of failing to get a decent picture because the grass just blends in so well…

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Blue-Bunched Wheat Grass in Its Winter Plumage

There is a small green clump of grass at the base of these outstretched old stalks. Water from dew and rain collects on the stalks, then runs down to nourish the plant at its base — leaving too little water between plants for much else except for flowers and lilies, which show themselves aboveground for just a few weeks a year and then wait it out in the dark. Like the lichens, the bunchgrass is buying time. It is doing it by buying water.

It’s not the only way to be a grass. Here’s another dryland North American grass that buys time by changing its supply of light.

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Corn under the Harvest  Moon

Corn is one of many grasses that utilize a specialized form of photosynthesis that reuses air until it is completely harvested of its carbon dioxide, then it breathes it out. This efficiency allows it to mature in areas otherwise too harsh for a full season.

Like all daughters of the lichens, the grasses are used to pretty extreme conditions — the kind you might expect to find on a planet in open space. Planets like that sometimes dry out, especially when the waste breath of the grasses tends to heat things up. Here’s a grass that has embraced the whole scenario, with style …

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Needle and Thread Grass, Bella Vista Hills

Needle and thread grass seeds are attached to long threads, which curl when dry, hook on the long, overhanging stalks, and hang just above the lichen crust on the soil. The daily heating of the sun causes the threads to flex and then unflex daily. The seeds have a drill point on their tips. Day by day in this way, they drill themselves down into the lichen, where they sprout. Here’s my earlier post on these beautiful grasses.

Grasses are all about buying time. Here’s one that buys time from everyone around it: the lichen, the grasses, the flowering plants: everybody. It’s called cheatgrass, it’s invasive, it has destroyed most of the grasslands of the West, its sharp seeds stick in your socks and drives you nuts, and it’s a survivor:

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Cheatgrass in its Happy Time

It takes all the water, before any native plants are ready to use it, it replaces the macrobiotic crust, it extirpates flowering plants and butterflies, and it dries up into explosive tinder by mid-summer. Give it a match and it goes up to gasoline — just in time for its 900 pounds of seed per acre to choke out anything else trying to reestablish itself in the ash.

Cheatgrass is also ready to photosynthesize the instant it comes out of the snow. It buys time by using everyone’s at once. And now, here’s one more way in which the grasses of our botanical garden here in the old volcanic country in the mountains skirting the North East Pacific Coast buy time:

P1220964 This is Not a Native Grass. But Look at It! It’s Burgundy Coloured!

I just love this stuff. It has yet another way to buy time: store lots of food in its underground rhizomes, spread throughout the late fall and late winter, when the soil is soft and cool, and sprout early, with vigour, to get above anything else that might be there. Forget about photosynthesizing. You can do that later. 

The red pigment indicates that no green chloroplasts, the little cyanobacteria traps within grasses, are present. Whereas many lichens are unions of cyanobacteria and fungus, in grasses, the cyanobacteria are trapped by the grasses’ DNA and replicated over and over again. It’s like this stuff is going through the whole process of evolution all in one season, over and over again, year by year by year. As the air warms up and photosynthesis becomes possible, the first green appears in the leaves (This year, about two weeks after the shoots appeared.) …

P1220962… and then a little more …

P1220959 … and more yet …

P1220960Two Weeks After Emergence

Notice the bright green cheatgrass making its move at the bottom of the image.

It won’t be long before these grass blades are fully green and towering over everything else in sight — even the cheatgrass. On these intricate, self-replicating chemical structures drawn out of the earth by the energy of the sun, and on their mothers, the lichens, and the mothers of them all, the light-eating cyanobacteria, all life depends. Each form of life has its own niche. Lichens reverse the flow of time. Grasses manipulate it and concentrate it, and make it possible for creatures to live within the energy fields that they create …

threehorsesThree Young Male Grass Creatures, Hofstaðir, Iceland

Kind of asking if we would just remove that wire so they could visit the fillies in the pasture across the road… pllllllleeeaasssseeeee?

And what do humans do with this amazing gift of the grass? Ah, landscape (a verb.)

weedeatYoung Agricultural Student Whacks Grass Amongst Once-Proud Horse-Drawn Grass-Cutting Tools, Holar, Iceland

Mountains nicely-eroded by sheep in the background.

The harvesting that was once done with the energy created by grass, harnessed by grass-like human ingenuity to horses, the animal most perfectly the spirit of grass, is now performed with large machines powered by dead plants compressed under heat and pressure deep underground — plants from an age long before there were grasses of any kind. The effect is increased carbon dioxide in the air and a younger, hotter earth — one not suitable for a multitude of other species that came to life in the webs that grasses made of the sun, or like horses and humans who came to life in the grasslands and remain dependent upon it.

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The Grasses of the Okanagan Indian Band Walk Home on an April Afternoon

If you want to see what a master photographer can do with grass, why not have a look at the book I wrote with the photographer Chris Harris: Spirit in the Grass. It has 300 photographs and was a labour of love.

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Thanks for walking in the grass with me today.