sous les pavés, la plage!

December 30, 2010

One of the best things about Montreal is the crumbling infrastructure. I have seen streets slowly seeping, upwelling, even spurting sheets of water up into the air! Sunday, however, there was a right proper pond.


Location: Peel St at St Catherines. Luckily the road crews don’t work on Sundays. (it was Dec 18th)

I went and bought as many pond plants as I could get with the money in my pocket at the dollar store.
Unfortunately there were no frogs.


This is what aquaducs could really be like.

All we have to do is get rid of the cars.

These people were really excited by it.

So much so it became a collaborative effort.

Normally I make things that are not so noticeable. It was a treat, then to step back and let it turn into a party.

People want to do things – poetic, a little rebellious, if just handed a reed and say here would you like to play too!

I hope the travailleurs found it amusant, and weren’t all like, pas plus d’art le!

(Meanwhile the most important weekend in the consumerist year was feverishly doing its enticing/zombifying thing half a block away…but we were at the beach)


do we really need the walls in the first place?

December 6, 2010

These two are brilliant.

So this is what I’ve been waiting for.  This is what I see happening.  I have been determined to be the one to live in the tree.

I don’t know if that is really possible anymore.  The trees need all the help they can get.  And I should really get down there and start digging.

dreams for an empty earth

September 27, 2010

I have been inhabiting Bain St Michel, a wonderful disused bath house that many in the cultural community here in Montréal are familiar with.  Though a small building, the main room with the empty pool gives a somewhat overwhelming sensation of space.  And quiet, even though one can hear the occasional car go by or pigeon on the roof.  In fact, the odd noise outside heightens this sense of quiet, of stillness or stasis, inside.  There is a solemnity to old and unused buildings, a quiet that lets in memory or echoes of what passed between their walls.

My aim was to bring plants into this space, to make it living.  To look at the space as a plant might, or a small community of hunter-gatherers much like Charles Simond’s Little People.

To that end I ended up selecting a space that was much more scaled-down than I originally planned, but worked much better with the architecture.  It became a priority to maintain that palpable sense of space.

In this rather monolithic space, the only real architectural anomaly was the overflow ledge at the deep end of the pool, where the water would have been filtered.  It was here I established (or planted) a landscape, a miniature ruined city.

Little rows of walk-ups and apartment buildings were cast in cement, forming a broken street mirroring those of the surrounding neighbourhood.

As ever I am wondering about our future streets and urban landscapes.  What will they look like?  Will we have to step over chasms of broken sidewalk, climb over mossy hillocks or cut our way through vines to cross our streets?

(Kudzu vines have already taken root in Canada.  With a little more greenhouse gases, could they not happily take hold in Montréal’s humidity and clayey soil?)

Would we develop more nomadic lifestyles, or  develop ad hoc shelters to live more lightly, responding to a shifting, changing environment?

Perhaps the more creative among us would start to look upon the vegetation itself, mutations and all, as shelter, as our new infrastructures.  We would cease to be builders and buyers, and instead become shapers and tunnelers. Climbers and burrowers.

What our cities will look like in the near or far future is anyone’s guess at this point.  What is exciting to me is the field of enlivened possibility that opens up with rapid, looming change.  (Whether I survive, or we make it through or not.)

At a basic level, there is an aesthetic enjoyment to new shoots of verdant complexity rising out of the rubble of the modernist empire that surrounds us.  The architectural spaces and empty volumes resounding with echoes of its swan song.  Post-modern indeed.

Tree bubbles

July 11, 2010

More treehouses:  A French company making bubble tents for tree yuppies.  Awesome!


The cost for the entire package is apparently over $20,000, Which is a bit steep for a tent, even if beautiful, sturdy, and secured to its tree.


These are not unlike Tom Chuleigh’s Treespheres, which would be the cabin to bubbletree’s tent. These are finely-crafted cabins, made on Vancouver Island that are wired, insulated, and securely installed, going for approximately $150,000.

More can be found at coolhunter, cause treehouses are cool.  (And a growing upscale industry.)  A variety of exciting designs are being experimented with, I think in response to a collective desire to live more lightly, to get away from the unstable and stratified space of the surface, and to feel more connected to nature. To feel closer to the wood elves that many of us wish we were.   What a heavy way, however, to live lightly!

Such is architecture.  Art, while being a whole lot cheaper to make (for me at this stage of the game), does not such a machine for living make.  Are these machines for living?  Or are these temporary escapes from the family, the cares and concerns of the house, haunted by unresolved arguments, debts, and emotional games?  Are they a way to experience being in nature without it actually touching you?  To feel the rocking of a tree in the wind, the shift in perspective to that of a squirrel?  Does it help us to be more sensitive to the needs of the tree, of nature, of eachother?  How many of us leave a hammock or laundry line tied around a tree because we can’t be bothered to untie the knot when we leave a campsite?

There may be  an opportunity here for a fundamentally different way of thinking, of living, than finding a new site for a camper, or a backyard refuge or even a novelty hotel.  (Though the collective efforts to do so are extensive, and make up a very interesting branch of vernacular architecture. )

What kind of aliveness would it take to live like the Korowai in Indonesia? Check out these amazing shots of living above the jungle.

Would we even need to live so high up? So precariously? So in touch with the winds and rains and movements of a tree?   ( I hope not – after a long history of climbing trees, I have developed a fear of heights in adulthood!  )

Certainly the year that Julia Butterfly Hill spent in a tree in protest was an expression of a kind of sensitivity to nature that goes far beyond the personal, into realms of caring and deep ecology that I can only dream of.  It is indeed fortunate that there are such activists and believers at work in the world, and even better that they may live 180 feet up a tree through an entire cycle of seasons and numerous confrontations to do such good work in the world.

Perhaps there is some pathology on my part, in being more attuned to the damage of the world than the hope and possibility for change, but I am not convinced that buying or building expensive escape pods, or frequenting luxury arboreal hotels necessarily help us.  If it is a transformative experience, then yes.  If it is yet another zone to stratify, control and separate the the priveledged from the common ground, then treehouses are another, albeit wonderful, way to avoid honestly being in the world as it is now.

A couple of years ago, Dave Csaky, known as Squirrelman, a homeless man living in Seattle, was evicted from his treehouse, which he had built over a vacant lot under the interstate.  He had built a pretty amazing home from scraps, found materials and the generosity of his neighbours, who seemed to like having him there.

His resourcefulness, outlined in the local media, was born out of necessity.  His creativity and struggle, however, presents a lifestyle that was much more in line with a lightly-lived, caring for the plot-of-land-where-you-stand tenacity, than one would expect from stereotypes about the homeless. Like similar tales of utopian squatting communities, Csaky’s was  unfortunately defeated by local zoning and ownership laws. The happy ending to the story was that he moved out of the city into a donated RV with a much better view.  (I can’t help but think, however, that he would miss the sense of empowerment from not only building his own home with no money, but from caring for and bettering the area around it.)

We know from narratives of grim futures that after the environmental/climatic/sociopolitical collapse or zombie apocalypse, zoning and boundaries of ownership are the first to go, and resourceful individuals like this become the true survivors and examples of how to be on this beleaguered planet.

At the same time, if I could return to the Gulf Islands tomorrow and start building a treehouse, with all the other alternatypes trying to live out a dream, I would be out there without a second thought.  But I’m not there. I am here, in this bright metropolis, making art that is an exploration of what the future may hold, and how we can nurture life from within a  decaying civilization.


Feral Landscapes

July 11, 2010

When I recently came across the work of Tokyo Fantasy, I realized that another post had to be made.  According to, these are photoshopped images of Tokyo, projected forwards in time, far enough to be post-disaster, and for local vegetation to take it over and make the metropolis its own.

Given the climate of Tokyo, this is not so improbable, and would happen in a relatively short period of time.  Japanese ruins and abandoned buildings (haikyo) are particularly intriguing as they tend to get overtaken by molds, fungus and plants fairly quickly.

abandoned house in Shibuya

More to come.  I’m off sorting through my photo collection of feral vegetation.

Project up and standing in the field

July 11, 2010

Badges for Brooke Valley - small verses my heart keeps singing

There are now three flagpoles in the main field at fieldwork, the aforementioned land art site outside of Perth, Ontario.  This one has the memory pavilion, and the boxes for the merit badges attached.

These are some photos from the opening, which was on Sunday June 20th.

fieldwork, Flower Marie Lunn, Badges for Brooke Valley
fieldwork, Flower Marie Lunn, Badges for Brooke Valley
fieldwork, Flower Marie Lunn, Badges for Brooke Valley
fieldwork, Flower Marie Lunn, Badges for Brooke Valley
fieldwork, Flower Marie Lunn, Badges for Brooke Valley

fieldwork, Flower Marie Lunn, Badges for Brooke Valley

It was so good to see many local residents come out – particularly as that was the audience I was primarily making it for.   As much as it was a piece about the landscape space of the field, it was also very much about presence in the local social space.  Give something back to both the landscape and community, you know? The badges are disseminating through that ecology now, and like seeds of a slow plant, will continue to do so over the summer.   Thank you everyone for coming!

It is there until Labour day.  Directions can be found at the fieldwork site.

busy busy busy

May 15, 2010

In a study of social ecology, I have been embroidering (very much not by hand) merit badges.  And them some.

This is for a project that will go up this summer at Fieldwork, in Brooke Valley, outside Perth, Ontario.   This is the main place I grew up in, and have many memories of being a child there.  I was thinking about the things and events that are big deals to a child, accomplishments or types of skills we develop that get discounted beside more practical skills, or forgotten when we become adults, or move to the city.

Skating over weeds frozen into ice, discovering secret patches of flowers in the forest, or going to the outhouse at night – these were kind of major events for me as a child, and examples of the types of experiences I wanted to mark.  With a badge.  For merit.

These are what this project is offering to the Fieldwork site, and the local community.  Whether each person that visits the site is a local or not, I want them to have a merit badge.  Either they have had similar experiences growing up in a small rural community, or they are visiting the area for a taste of life there.  Here  the overlooked and idiosyncratic experiences of daily life in the country will be commemorated.  Merit badges for all!

The structure or architecture of this dissemination will be three pavilions spread throughout the field, like in the maquette shown here.

I want them to be quite tall, so the banner or flag at the top furls, falls and blows in the wind,

much more so than what is indicated.  I want the fabric to flow through the sky, and lift my heavy heart to celebrate a place that I come from.

However, most of my attention at present is on the embroidery of both the badges and the nylon for the pavilions’ awnings, shown below.  These are snippets from random memories that serve to contextualize the piece somewhat, reinforcing the specificity of the site, of the particular community that is and has been Brooke Valley.

I have struggled somewhat at choosing memories that could be described as making up a minor scale rather than a major one.  Many important events have happened, people who have come and passed, important contributors whom I have never known.  It is not a community memorial or history marker that I am making, therefore, but an attempt to recreate the proportions and perspective of a child’s memory, and commemorate the experiences I had there, and to share this celebration with the local community and all who visit the Field this summer.

It is somewhat ironic then to be drawing upon the richness of those life experiences in the forest and land, turning them into images and text, and finally thread, while working in a sterile, empty, controlled space that is the textile lab at Concordia.

I so look forward to installing this project in a real, live, honest-to-god field!   Space!  Trees!  Crickets!  Blackflies!

manga luv

April 24, 2010

Tokyo artist Koshi Kawachi has come up with an novel sprouting idea: manga farming.

Peppery radish from horror manga, sweet corn from shonen ai???

forerunners of micro-nurtured tomorrows

April 11, 2010

In Detroit, the city so overgrown in places it’s been declared an urban prairie, a landscaper is returning people’s yards to nature, but beautifully.

Tom Milano, a 60yr old Detroiter, makes his living from building lush landscapes from native plants.  Though for him it seems to be less about making a living, and more about living according to his values.  Associating with the Hare Krishna temple near his house, he and his partner also garden and landscape unused land around them in the city, creating homes and spaces for the indigenous plants animals and insects to return and live in a healthy way:  “So the more indigenous plants you get, the more you’re kind of restoring the balance of wildlife in your own way.

They both eat from their gardens – which in other settings would be the fruits of foraging, like Cattails and milkweed pods- and are writing a vegan cookbook.

An important aspect of what he is doing, however, is social:  as well as promoting beauty amid blight, his efforts enable area kids to experience nature as an ecosystem, a living thing to be valued and protected.

“They’ll come with jars. They go around too and catch the insects and butterflies. I say ‘no no, here it’s a sanctuary. Everything lives, and you just kind of protect it.’”

He said he did it to teach them about respecting nature and private property, “and that’s what happened.”

This is amazing to me – Detroit has long been an interest of mine – first for the acres of abandoned neighbourhoods and the extent of their succumbing to overgrowth.

Photographs by James D. Griffioen

Not being so familiar with the city proper, as my knowledge of comes from from obsessive reading about its most blighted areas, I am not familiar with the demographics of Lennox ave, the base from which Tom works.

There must be some wealth there, for people to hire a landscaper, in contrast to farming between double-chain link fences, or sitting on your porch with a shotgun waiting for the drugdealers to show up and try to run your neighbourhood.  (There are some amazing people featured on Detroit Blog. For a detailed background of the trials this city has faced over the last century, I recommend Julian Temple’s very good BBC Documentary Requiem For Detroit ).

I have been fascinated by those who are still there, getting by.  They are the survivors, in an at times lawless and violent frontier. There are many many stories of people that are dealing with a crazy-making level of violence and violation daily, yet are sustained by their faith, their friends, or their memories.

They make up a community that gives me hope for the future, more than top-down “green” solutions or schemes for economic recovery amidst failure. I believe in the resilience of the abandoned, more than the greening or adaptation of those who have never experienced life outside privilege.

(Check out Glendale Stewart‘s example of resilience! Though he is more solitary, as he is billed on the blog, he operates in near-complete independence from existing infrastructures. I’m totally impressed with this guy. Or Mary King and her son, farming chickens on the lots of the empty apartment buildings next door.)

People like Tom Milano may not operate in the most desperate areas, but the way he goes about nurturing his surroundings, one garden and child at a time, gives testament that getting by can also mean healing our rift with nature, and learning once again to love the land, and help it to recover.

prototype for a new worlds

April 8, 2010

one baby terrarium

Lookit ‘er glow!  If the world is not as I want it to be, I will create small worlds to dream in.  For the fairies, out-of-body-beings, or nomadic little people to hang out in.  Little jars of possibility.