Nature's Layered Geometry

This past week I spent time at a small part of Elgin Creek, which winds its way through South Surrey, British Columbia. This specific area is actually near my Mom's house, which wasn't far from where I spent most of my time as a teenager often walking or biking through different paths that line the creek. Over the weekend I spent time clearing blackberry bushes and other weeds from the roadside near this part of the creek. It used to be clear when I was a teenager, but over the years became so overgrown that last week you couldn't even see the street sign that identified 31a Avenue turning into Northcrest Drive. It also provided a good cover for youth to drink and homeless to camp in the creek bed. And finally, the mess of bush also became a spot for people walking on the sidewalk to deposit trash, treating the bushes as nature's garbage receptacle which just isn't cool. As I peeled back the layers of the brush, I found many plastic candy wrappers, lids for coffee cups, some compact discs, a bicycle wheel and many plastic doggy poop bags, as partly seen here in this photo from Saturday, June 9, 2018: 

Debris found in the bushes

Debris found in the bushes

I didn't plan on the order in which the garbage fell, it just sort of ended up splayed around the discarded bicycle tire. I spent about two days clearing the area, and this stuff was stuff I found on the first day. In an odd sense it feels like an artwork in and of itself, hailing to the traditions in sculpture and painting where found objects can become art objects. It also harkens back to the old saying of how one man's trash can be another man's treasure. In Andy Goldsworthy's new film, Leaning Into The Wind, Goldsworthy describes this idea as representing "...two different ways of looking at the world," which Goldsworthy describes as being "...the beauty of art that makes you step aside off of the normal way of walking or looking."

With the area cleared, the side of the road now looks a lot cleaner and you can now see down into the creek bed easily.  I did this not just for a cleaner visual aesthetic but to also When I took breaks during the work, I kept looking down at the creek, listening to its flowing water, birds chirping and the leaves rustling. I remembered hanging out and exploring the creek bed as a teenager, including one time when I walked it from 32nd Avenue up to 24th Avenue. And it's this mix odd mix of remembering and reminiscing that made me decide to venture into the creek bed when my work was done, to spend time there reflecting and building my small project.

I loved how Goldsworthy is able to spend a lot of time in a few specific places, both within the urban and rural landscapes that surrounds him in his local community. The film documents his time spent in these places and also revisits places he spent time at in the past and I enjoyed watching this interplay between the actions of the present with memories of the past. As I walked into the bed from the roadside, over the branches and leaves I'd cleared and spread out over the ground to decompose, I was amazed at the landscape, how the creek undulated and flowed unencumbered through a layered mess of geometry - curves, rocks, fallen and decomposing trees. I was amazed at how similar it was to the places Goldsworthy explores half a world away.

One spot in particular appeared to be a wall of wood, but still the creek had found a way under that diversion and kept on flowing. The mess of branches and the large tree that had fallen and likely once blocked the creek, causing it to alter its path and dig under it amazed me. In many ways it felt as though the mess could represent the challenges we face in life, and in particular the challenges I've been facing as well. We each chose how we deal with these challenges and we can either let them bury us under or we can find ways in which to bury under them and push through them to the other side.

For awhile, I simply walked around this area until I decided to start picking up some of the branches that lay all around me. At first, I only touched branches that were already there, a little further away from the ones I had added to the area on the weekend. Some of these were in varying states of decay. Some were strong but many were weak. Some had moss or other moulds and fungus growing on them. At times I was a bit afraid to touch them, but after awhile I just instinctively started to grab them without any kind of forethought. In the moment, I had let go. So I simply piled them on top of each other, on top of the main log and on top of the side of the creek bed closest to me. It felt natural to do this. Eventually the shape of an isosceles triangle started to suggest itself, and as I thought about the triangle, I thought about the natural strength inherent in it. The shape mirrored the flow of the creek, which flowed from a wider area to a more narrow area, mimicking the shape of a triangle or an arrow as it pushed under the debris. In some ways the creek was leaning into the wind by its very act of pushing through. Just like how Goldsworthy has done and just like we do in our lives. My layered geometric shape lay above the creek but as I created my Earthwork I also found myself placing the larger sticks I found right into the water and allowed them to enter into the top of the triangle, while not quite reaching the other side of it, as illustrated here:

A photo of my in progress Earthwork...

A photo of my in progress Earthwork...

I didn't want it to connect, I wanted it to give the suggestion of connecting, of reaching towards each other but also providing a space for escape. I also found myself subconsciously wanting to mimic how the water flowed and passed through a seemingly immovable object:

My Earthwork - finished - for now...

My Earthwork - finished - for now...

I was also attracted to the idea of layering an ordered stack of sticks onto layers of unordered stacks of wood, sticks and debris that had built up in the area over time. There are so many layers to everything we do in life, and there's so many layers to what can be found in nature and in our man made environments. And I also liked how the finished object pointed towards the direction the creek was going in, and just how far the creek continued in the distance (which I'm not sure I was able to capture very well in my photographs):

My Earthwork - finished, for now...

My Earthwork - finished, for now...

I also like how Goldsworthy is able to document his work both photographically and through a visual medium such as film or video. To this end, I shot my own short video, which I think helps provide a better context and feel for the area I played in, including all of its various sounds from the water flowing to the birds chirping, frogs croaking and even to the sounds of my own footsteps crunching the leaves and twigs on the ground below me as well as of a plane flying somewhere high overhead:

Finally, as I left the space, back through the way I came into it, I stopped and turned around and found I could see it through the leaves from the road. Here's my attempt of photographing what I saw, and I apologize for it being a bit blurry as it was getting late and the light was darker and shooting through the trees made it difficult to focus in on my Earthwork in the low light:

My Earthwork as seen from the roadside...

My Earthwork as seen from the roadside...

I do like how it's not completely visible from the road, you can only catch glimpses of it through the brush and the Earthwork is not totally visible in its whole from any particular spot on the road. I'd like to revisit it and perhaps add to it, build it up more and layer it more to make it seem a bit more imposing or even noticeable from the road. Finally, I like the idea of how this could be there for awhile, at least until some teenager comes and kicks it aside or in the winter or spring, when the creek water is higher, it simply washes away like one of Goldsworthy's pieces. What will become of it is ultimately a mystery, and I've found that creating Earthworks teaches an artist how to let go. This can certainly be seen in LEANING INTO THE WIND as there is no way any artist can control an Earthwork once you leave it (or even when making it), and I've found that can be both terrifying and liberating at the same time.