Tuesday, May 26, 2020

'Last to Sea' #10 : Explaining the Expansion?

 A comment on Communication and the Artist's Vision

image by Kelly Probyn-Smith

So there it is.
What do you see?

A big green net with some shadowy stuff inside.

Ok, go over and peak a bit closer.

Ok - that is obviously a shark!
And some dancing small fish shapes.
Hey, is that a horseshoe crab?
Some kind of weird plant like thing at the back. And a lumpy plate of come sort.
What is that strange shell like thing?
And no idea what the cluster of what looks like flowers is supposed to be?
Oh, yea, there is a pile of plastic bottles over the top.

Anything on that name plate?

Ah. 'Last to SEA', very funny, obviously a pun.

I don't get it...

As those who are regular readers may have glimpsed, that those that actually know me well understand : I have a love / hate relationship with 'the Arts'. Most specifically the tension between the 'practical' (Craft) and the 'conceptual' (Art).
There is a long discussion (read argument) about the difference between the useful and the symbolic, especially in the Modern Age.

It can be said that 'the Purpose of Art is to Communicate'.
Does that mean that for a work to be considered 'successful', it needs to clearly communicate the idea of the Artist?

On that scale, is 'Last to Sea' successful?
Is it enough, now that the work is presented to the viewing public, for me to just stand back? Take an attitude of 'Well, if you don't understand, that is just your failing!' ( 1)

I would be the very first to fully admit that some of my past offerings at the Elora Sculpture Project have been merely 'pretty', or just 'eye catching' (consider 'Spears of Summer' in 2014). On some, the under laying concepts have been simple (consider 'Barrel Turbine' in 2016). Or if more complex, may not have been easily apparent (consider 'Legacy' in 2018) ( 2 )

If any readers have been wondering why I have written a quite extensive set of commentaries on the thought behind, and technical production of, 'Last to Sea'? ( 3 )

Last year, for the first time since my initial contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project in 2013, I was able to attend the opening reception. Almost all the participating artists were there, and as we did a walk through of all the submitted sculptures, each of us gave a brief overview of our pieces. I personally found the whole process extremely interesting. As you might guess, some pieces were more technical than conceptual. Often I found the intended meanings not clear on first seeing the work. It was obvious to me that much would be lost to the viewing public without these background explanations.

To me, the obvious method to provide the public with these further insights was through use of the internet. ( 4 ) This year, with the threat of COVID-19 looming, the ESP people had specifically asked the contributing artists to make attempts to record their individual working process as each sculpture was created.

'Last to Sea' involved considerably more research in detail than past submissions. This a process that really started for me with the 2019 proposal 'Last to See', a work framed around the concept of past Mass Extinction events, leading to the current Holocene event. (In this, I had started applying the kind of research I normally undertake for artifact reproductions and experimental archaeology, both much detailed on this blog, to artistic works.)
Much of that research would remain totally invisible. The normal viewer of 'Last to Sea' is unlikely to be able to identify the individual species represented, beyond the two most obvious, 'Shark' and 'Horseshoe Crab'. Although 'Abalone' is a very faithful depiction and 'Tiny Fishes' are recognizably Capelin, I would not expect most people to recognize these lesser known species.
And for the reason these specific types have been illustrated?
Honestly, it was my own shock on finding out during the research phase these were all the Endangered List that made me pick these species in the first place (I mean - SHARKS! Who would have imagined?)

One final aspect, mentioned above, is the current evolution of COVID-19, with all the impacts from this pandemic on each of us right now. ( 5 )
The normal installation deadline for the ESP each year is around May 1st. As we moved from the jury notification (typically about February 15) into the production phase over March, the increasing closures effected many of the contributing artists. Many working in more complex materials needed access to other skilled trades to progress from initial stages to finished objects (think of those working in bronze, who normally would make a master pattern, but rely on foundries for the physical castings). With so many suppliers deemed 'non-essential' and thus closed, getting specific raw materials hampered others. ( 6 )
Because of these factors, the installation date for this year had been pushed back several times.

There of course was the over riding problem of pure economics. The individual situation here for participating artists I suspect varied considerably. Curiously, those who supported themselves full time from their artistic work might have been in the best possible situation, as most certainly I found myself qualifying for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. Those with 'regular day jobs' likely found their personal economic situations widely different under work reductions or outright closure, even complete job loss for some.
A factor to note here is that none of the participating artists involved in the ESP are actually paid at all for their work. Each of us must front the production costs, as well as provide the creation time required for our proposed contribution, as well as undertaking the installation and removal. Each of us in effect 'lends' the completed work to Elora for the length of the presentation (normally May 1 to October 31). It is true that the sculptures can be offered for sale (with delivery only after the full presentation period). Realistically, I don't think purchases of the works displayed actually are all that common. ( 7 )

So personally, I have considered the funds I have received (thankfully!) from the CERB have gone to support my ability to undertake the creation of this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project. ( 8 )
For me undertaking this (extensive!) documentation of this specific project is also part of a responsibility I feel against those CERB funds.

The previous blog articles covering the research behind, design concepts and physical production of 'Last to Sea' :

Friday, January 10, 2020
‘Last to Sea’
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP
Saturday, April 11, 2020
'Elkhorn' : ESP
Thursday, April 30, 2020
'Last to Sea' #2 - Abalone
Saturday, May 02, 2020
'Last to Sea' #3 - Horseshoe Crab
Saturday, May 09, 2020
'Last to Sea' #4 - Sea Turtle
Monday, May 18, 2020
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 6 : Tiny Fishes
Thursday, May 21, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 7 - Shark
Monday, May 25, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 9 : INSTALLED

It should also be noted that the typical blog posting in this series has taken between 2 - 4 hours to research, write and compose.

( 1 ) I always remember something my instructor had told us during one of my first year design courses at Ontario College of Art :
'Inspiration without Technique is masturbation'
I would suggest adding to this :
'Concept without Communication is meaningless self indulgence.'

( 2 ) Or in at least one case, an outright technical failure, 'Tipping Point' in 2019, where I certainly failed on the mechanical workings. There was a more complex set of symbolism with this work, which honestly I don't think was communicated at all to the viewer.
Embarrassingly, feel that piece failed in both the aspects given above!

( 3 ) In past years, I have always provided a version of the all the original submissions, usually expanded with extra comments. There is at least a second posting, showing the final piece as installed (allowing comparison to the initial concept drawing). Often there will be some 'work in progress' additions as well. Contributing artists are allowed to submit two different proposals every year, and most years I have published the description of a second (unused) sculpture.

( 4 ) Over the last several years, as my own proposals for the ESP have become more and more 'social commentaries', I have been suggesting that the general ESP web site be expanded to include just this kind of detailing. At the very least, each original submission the the jury had included both a 'Description of the Work' and an 'Artist's Statement'.

( 5 ) I am certain it will be recognized, looking back in years to come that the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be seen to be Human Impact / Climate Change story. Too many of us, altering too much of the Natural World.

( 6 ) Here at the Wareham Forge, a combination of relatively simple materials (industrial steels of various forms) and core level equipment combined with habits born of a rural location and a lifetime pattern of stockpiling supplies. My normal situation here is to keep considerable steel stocks on hand, if for no other reason than I work best when I can let inspiration, not available materials, determine what I create. Blacksmithing at core uses the simplest of tools, the production of the individual components within 'Last to Sea', used mainly hand tools, with the exception of an oxy-propane torch and a MIG welder (themselves long standing equipments here).
The only material I did have to purchase this year was a sheet of 2 x 2 square wire grid.

( 7 ) I have been honoured to have had a design selected for each of the years from 2013 to the present. That is a total of 7 sculptures. There is time invested for design, remember that I typically submit two designs each year. Each has taken on average three weeks to build (sometimes more). At least for me, materials costs have never been large, again typically in the $100 - $200 range for each.
I have sold one sculpture of this seven ('Armoured Fish' in 2015)

( 8 ) For a longer discussion of CERB and the Artist, see two related blog postings :

Thursday, April 09, 2020
'Working' during a Pandemic ...
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP


Monday, May 25, 2020

'Last to Sea' # 9 : INSTALLED

Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'
Overall installation rough
On Thursday, May 21, I was assisted by Kelly Probyn-Smith of Elfworks Studios in the final installation of 'Last to Sea' at Elora. The site is to the East side of the small park in the heart of Elora, at the corner of Mill and the bridge. ( 1 )

Social Distancing measures not withstanding, my normal practice over the years has been to undertake the installation early on a weekday morning, which allows me to get a parking space close to the mounting point for ease of unloading. This year the weather was perfect, bright and sunny and at the start of our first really warm temperatures of this season.

Placing the base (KPS)
I was bit concerned at first with the base position, which was right on the edge of the pathway around the east side of the park. The diameter of the overall piece was four feet, and so it was certain to project somewhat on the admittedly very wide pathway. In terms of viewing however, this would allow for close observation into the collection - which will be seen to be important.

Placing the base stone slabs (KPS)
I had taken a reference image of the stone slabs that form the 'ocean floor' part of the piece. The 'Elkhorn' unit was by far the heaviest, and as I had when initially working out the pattern, this unit was laid first, then the other stones around this. You can see 'Abalone' and 'Unknown in the Depths' positioned here as well. These individual sculptures are fixed to their respective stone bases.

Bottom stones placed (KPS)
The last two elements that sat on the slabs, 'Sea Turtle' and 'Horseshoe Crab', were designed with a cord to allow them to be tied down to the steel gridwork underneath. You can see how the rough limestone slabs cover the majority of the base grid. I had brought a few unusual pot-marked stones that I had gathered from South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. These worked nicely into the overall pattern, covering some of the larger gaps between the irregular shaped slabs.

Top grid with plastic and all sculptural elements in place (KPS)
The next step was to mount the upper grid, which already had the bottles and foam trays attached for the 'Sea of Plastic' element. This structure was secured with tightened nuts through the four upright rods seen here.
Last was hanging the remaining two sculptural elements 'Shark' and 'Tiny Fishes'.
These last two were the most fiddly, partially because Tiny Fishes is a moving element, and it was important to make sure there would be a range of motion possible without potential tangling. (I actually expect at some point over the long installation period, these tiny fish will in fact become 'caught' into the netting!)

Applying the netting (KPS)
I had previously cut to length the nylon fish netting that surrounds the piece. In fact this net was about 15 feet top to bottom (in normal use), so I had simply cut off a four foot wide strip. Since I needed about 13 feet minimum to encircle the four foot diameter, I had already stitched the net into a tube. (You can see this line of yellow cord running down next to my body in the image.) This all means that the fishing net is actually running sideways to its normal direction in use. ( 2 )
Although not difficult, with the net secured at both top and bottom, there were a lot of knots to be tied. This part of the overall installation certainly took the longest.

Completed installation
Overall installation rough
The steps between initial inspiration even to first production layout can have a lot of twists and turns. In the case of 'Last to Sea', I think the design I originally submitted to the ESP jury was faithfully rendered in the finished work.
The main difference I note is in the proportions, the illustration shows the total height to be less, closer to three feet, where the final piece is actually 4 feet tall.
Another difference is the detailing on the 'Shark' element, where the original proposal was for a rigid, 3D construction.
You will see in the layout there had originally been two coral types, the second was replaced by the 'Unknown in the Depths' element in the final work.

with the artist (KPS)
Standing back - showing the placement
One thing that became clear, once the work was done and we had a chance to stand back.
'Last to Sea' is a large piece. From a distance, the bright green of the fishing net dominates the view, with the individual creature sculptures within mere shadows.

Through the net (KPS)
As you come closer, peering through the net allows you to see the creatures in detail.

Just what are those shapes?
Why are they included?

Next up : Commentary on the Artist's Vision

( KPS ) Images by Kelly Probyn-Smith - used with permission

( 1 ) If you plan to visit Elora, be warned that the bridge crossing the Grand at the centre of of town is closed and under construction. For access from the south Guelph or Kitchener from the south-west, you will have to loop up on County Road 7, then turn east down David Street to get to the downtown area where all the sculptures are located.

( 2 ) Hopefully any real fishers seeing the completed installation will not scoff too much at this. And most especially at the (amateurish!) knot work. As it turned out, with both of us working on the tying up, two quite different methods (neither of them likely to be correct) were in use.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

'Last to Sea' # 8 : Awash in a Sea of Plastic

Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'
Overall installation rough
A group of ocean creatures are confined within the circle of a plastic fishing net, ‘drowned’ by clear plastic water bottles. Can they be more than glimpsed through that mass of human waste?
One of the things that strongly influenced the whole concept behind 'Last to Sea' was watching the documentary 'Ocean Blue' which centres around oceanographer (and pioneer) Silvia Earle. As the film traces over a lifetime of exploration and discoveries, it also illustrates many returns to those significant locations. The comparison between then (1960's) and now are absolutely shocking.

Through this all, runs the heavy hand of human impact.

If not forever, humans have used the ocean as if an endless resource - and as a garbage dump. Foul harbours or rivers at cities have been a known result for centuries now. 'Out of sight - out of mind' attitudes have shaped human practices towards our own waste and the seas. This perhaps could be accepted in early history, when almost all of that waste was at least organic, and overall there were not that many of us.

Over the last 100 years, the two barrels in the pollution shot gun have been exploding human populations and the massive increase in artificial materials - the plastics. Plastics will last centuries in the environment.
The accumulation of 'Microplastics' has been a contamination element of major concern over the last decade especially. Those floating water bottles may be breaking apart and out of sight - but the pieces still clog the waters.

Adding disposable plastic to the upper frame
I chose to use three main representations of plastic waste to 'Last to Sea'.
The choice was primarily based on my own practical availability of single use plastic. - I had a large number of clear disposable water bottles left over from the construction of 'Legacy' my contribution to the 2018 Elora Sculpture Project.
- Fruit juices we purchase are split evenly between frozen concentrates (packed in combination metal and cardboard) and those in larger plastic bottles. Over the two months constructing 'Last to Sea' I collected only three of these.
- Our personal economic situation dictates the purchase of a lot of 'day old' foods, typically vegetables. These all come packed on Styrofoam trays.
- Some small tools and sundries purchased for the Wareham Forge come inside plastic 'blister packs'. Annoying as I personally find these, they are almost impossible to avoid.
The selection of largely clear plastics was intentional, to permit light down over the sculptural elements underneath.
Water bottles certainly were the largest type. For Elora, with the ongoing controversy over industrial water extraction and bottling, this provides another 'topical' component.

The last major example of ocean plastics was the use of a fishing net to frame and contain the overall installation. This was part of a section of green nylon net from the commercial fishery I picked up beach combing on my last trip to Newfoundland (in 2017). Although found cast off along the shore, the section of net I found was brand new, roughly 15 feet wide by a piece about 20 feet long.
Used for a method called 'drift netting', historically these nets were mainly made of hemp (so degraded in the environment) and had larger mesh sizes that allowed smaller species / immature fish to pass through. Starting in the 1950's however, synthetic materials became the standard, and mesh sizes decreased (ie - smaller fish caught) ( 1 ).  As boats became larger, drift netting increasingly became the most 'profitable' commercial method.
Leaving aside the whole (massive) problem of 'by-catch', the new nylon nets, themselves almost indestructible, become a major environmental hazard when sections break free. In use designed to float near the surface, these 'ghost nets', trap and kill both fish and marine mammals. ( 2 )

Close up of final installation - showing the surrounding net

Last Commentary : Final Installation

( 1 ) Most will remember the 'Turbot War' between Spain and Canada in 1995.
Although primarily framed as a fight over territorial waters, use by European ships of small sized nets (harvesting under-aged fish) was an additional part of the dispute.

( 2 ) None of this is in any way intended to be a direct criticism of the people I know from Northern Newfoundland who are involved in the Fishery. Truthfully, none of those people do more than take limited, seasonal, deck work - on large (and massively expensive) boats owned by others - or increasingly major corporations. People I know personally most certainly have no control what so ever over current fisheries methods.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

the 'Viking' Chair ....

Yet another New Age Cash Cow design.

Duplicated from that web site *

(the following expanded from a recent small group discussion)

The discussion had started with a reference link to a video posted on 'BongBong' (1) :
The presenter there gives absolutely no historic / source reference, beyond 'I saw this at a friend's place' (so alarm bells most certainly should be ringing?)

I had first seen this design in the mid 1970's. At that point it was part of the 'Nomadic Furniture' movement.
The name back then was 'star gazer' chair.

A fast internet search?


Attributes published plans through the Boy Scouts of America back to the 1930's

https://www.craftsmanspace.com/free-projects/bog-chair-plan.html (2)
" The chair may often be associated with the Vikings and the peoples that used to live in the north of Europe, but there is actually no evidence to prove where exactly it first came from. Some artifacts indicate that, most probably, this type of chair originated from Africa. The chair came to Europe in the 19th century, and it was popular in the early 20th century. "

I thought I had seen the design in the original 'Nomadic Furniture' book (from about 1976). I remember the design being a bit different - with a jig saw used to make a long U shaped cut into a single plank. This gave the upright to back board two narrow feet. (This making sense?) I did check my 'new and revised' copy of that book - and did not find an illustration. I know I have notes in a drawing book from those days - someplace.

The chain of 'association with the Vikings' is itself an interesting piece of 'fake-lore'.

As Bruce says, the design was seen at 'Buckskinner' events in the later 1970's, then quickly adopted into the SCA at events like Pennsic about the same time. From the SCA it appears to have shifted over into 'early period'  camps (where there are very few artifact samples of any seating known.) I had never heard of it referenced as specifically a 'Viking Chair' until start of the whole Viking craze from around 2000 onwards.

Increasingly, with television being the reference (instead of actual history), there is the factor of pure laziness - and has been suggested by others here, simple false descriptions used to cash in.

On construction and durability.
The first versions of these I saw where mainly 12 inch wide by 2 inch commercial lumber. Older version plans I had seen called for 3/4 thick plywood. And often made of hardwood (oak or maple) not modern 'construction grade' spruce!
Given how difficult it is to get wide cut planks these days - I suspect a lot of people are using narrower boards. And as Bruce and Fred would certainly agree, the quality of commercial lumber of late is absolutely pathetic.
Your choice of material here will be critical to both balance and weight bearing...

Packs flat - yes
Easy to make - yes
Cheap to construct - depends
A bit awkward to use - yes
Historic ?
Not a chance - blame some old hippies

(1) BongBong describes itself as "The award-winning zine, blog and directory of mostly wonderful things."
From a (very) fast look over the offerings, there is a combination of 'maker's space' and political / social commentaries. All supported by an extensive on line retail store. (Donated content, likely given for personal fame, someone else getting the income generated - and with you giving up any copyrights to submitted materials.)

(2) That web site certainly had very clear plans (as pdf downloads) and easy to follow instructions!

* Images used without permission! - Original source links supplied.
I have started copying, saving and directly posting images sourced off the internet. This is because when I look back to earlier entries here, increasingly I am finding images missing, as web sites simply disappear.

February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

COPYRIGHT NOTICE - All posted text and images @ Darrell Markewitz.
No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE