river of time

using time to great advantage

michael kenna

I never got around to posting from the Art + Environment conference at the Nevada Museum of Art in October, maybe because it was an overload of amazing people and ideas, or maybe I just got behind on making cider, a persistent stomach bug for the following month, managing the fall garden, keeping clients happy and trying to shake the proverbial tree for new ones.  Anyway, it was a little too long ago and too many other things happened in the interim to devote a whole post to it but I thought I’d start the stream there and see how it flows. Hopefully not a year in review, but it will touch on plenty of past subjects.

The title of this post is from Bill Fox’s introduction and conference kickoff.  It’s got to be hard to be the smartest guy in the room and at the 2008 conference Bill’s talks were some of the sharpest, touching on ideas from painting, literature, science and the history of western expansion. Vast, a weaving of seemingly disparate points, accessible and very much like the writing of Lawrence Weschler but the kind of talk that inspires further intellectual exploration and fires curiosity. However at the 2011 conference Fox’s role had changed and in a more administrative position as Director of the Center for A+E,  the talking points felt a little less charged and a little more obligatory, if not a tidy summation.  I think that’s what Bruce Sterling caught onto when he described using Fox’s theme of “time as a river” as “seeking refuge in metaphor”.  I thought it was a warranted shot from the smartest and snarkiest guy in the room to the brainiest. Here’s a link to the video of the closing comments, rant or riff by Sterling that benefits from attendance at the conference but is brilliant none the less.  Full endorsement of the 2nd conference and looking forward to 2014.

Bruce Sterling Closing A+E closing remarks

One of the highlights of A+E was having the chance to have a short conversation with Edward Burtynski, one of my favorite photogs, hearing Chris Jordan speak and seeing the extremely comprehensive landscape photo exhibit (but where was Stephen Shore?) which was fantastic.  The idea of time in most of the photographs in the exhibit was one of bearing wittness, capturing a moment and documentation, instead of what I think is one of the most interesting effects of time in photography which is the unexpected magic that can happen when a shutter is left open for long periods.

I posted about Michael Kenna in October but had a chance to hear him speak recently at the Tacoma Art Museum and he currently has a show at Gibson Gallery in Seattle.   What surprised me most, were some of his brightest images that are actually long exposures taken during night. The silky effect of these long exposures really contributes the ghostly atmospheric quality of his work.  It was great to hear some of his personal story and hear how it led to his stripped down aesthetic (during his teen years he was studying to be a priest) and I really look forward to seeing the actual prints at G Gibson (he still shoots film and produces all of his paladium prints himself).

I guess I may be a little overloaded with the vast majority of digital imagery and look to Michael Kenna for some refuge from the perfectly sharp and evenly exposed pixelated nirvana.  It’s a little like the room full of 1000 monkeys with typewriters, typing away for 1000 years to write the next great american novel. With the immense quantity of images produced and shared via social media each day, I often feel like shooting photos is just one pixel in a split second of a white noise screen. I somehow long for the days when tv would sign off with the national anthem, the lowering of the flag and gray fuzz.  While this cynicism has slowed my shooting with the SLR recently it has nudged me to find situations where opening the aperture and letting light work its magic may create interesting results. Here’s a few long exposures of a recent sunset shot through a scrim of trees.

And like salmon back to their source stream, I had a chance to sit on the panel at studio crit at UW last week where professor Ken Yocum challenged the students to find ways to manage/restore the Glacier gravel pit site on Vashon that was recently acquired by King County Parks.  My innagural post on this site started in that location and it was great to have a chance to hear student proposals for the highly complex and dynamic system; goats, fire, seed bombs and expressive use of landscape fabric, ala Cristo and Jean Claude.  All good stuff.

I would have really liked to see the students stretch the project both temporally and physically.  A sixty year timeline sounds pretty ambitious but as in Sterlings closing remarks, we are possibly entering the anthopecene, a new geologic epoch and by speculating on this trajectory of a warmer and drier climate, it could have produced some exciting senarios. There’s a saying that planting a tree is the most optimistic thing you can do since its timeframe vastly exceeds a humans lifetime.  At what point do we start thinking about planting coastal redwoods instead of red cedar in the Puget Sound region?


About jim gerlach

A seasoned landscape architect living and working on beautiful Vashon Island.
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