Archive for the ‘outstanding…’ Category

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.



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!

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.

vertical density

April 2, 2010

Patrick Blanc has been featured all over the internet, but somehow I hadn’t picked up on the scale of his work before now.

A French contemporary landscape designer, he has perfected a kind of pared-down hydroponic system to enable large-scale vertical gardens.

But what landscapes!  Saturation! These are wall-of-sound-with screaming-feedback areas of plant intensities!  If Hunterwasser was reincarnated as a ? Japanese noise band horticulturalist?

A while back I had read one of his texts, from his then-unpublished book Vertical Gardens, but I had no idea of the possibilities he was taking vertical gardening to!

I am very curious about the system beneath the plants.  It seems to consist mainly of circulated water and nutrients, and drainage.  A metal frame is installed that supports two layers of polyamide felt . These layers mimic cliff-growing mosses and support the roots of many plants. A network of pipes provides a nutrient solution containing dissolved minerals.  The roots of the plants take up the nutrients they need, and excess water is collected at the bottom of the wall by a gutter before being re-injected into the network of pipes.

This polyamide felt – how strong is it?  I am assuming the plants grow right in to it, which would mean that it could be potentially pretty flexible, though I would imagine the waterflow from the pipes would need to be continuously feeding it.  There seemed to be some controversy there about the pipes being made from PVC, as has been discussed in the Topological media Lab’s system design.  I wonder if it is as long-term a system as implied. (I would like it to start eroding the surface of the building, and thus create areas of exchange, slowly transforming the buildings into living systems.*)

Nevertheless,  Blanc’s system is very elegant, to permit work on such scale. Very impressive.

Very intense.  Full-spectrum plant space.

Do check out his website, and a video interview.

Apartment Therapy has a list of websites for his work and his book here.

*Some examples of my favorite established, long-term living systems are highlighted over at Tokyo Damage Report, including this one:

!!! What I would’t give to see this in full summer!!!

Artists, depression and moss – does this make it better?

March 29, 2010

When reading about links between creativity and depression, I recently came across this quote:

“Art may have evolved as a way of accentuating the emotional significance of communal rituals… It can still express shared spiritual and sacred meanings, although few exist in modern “secular” societies….

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969 (I love this painting)

The depressed artist examines painfully the purpose of living and the possibility of dying in this spiritual vacuum, often at great personal cost, according to Schildkraut. “Yet depression in the artist may be of adaptive value to society at large,” he maintains.”

From an article here in Science News.(Italics mine) This is excerpted from a 1994 report in the American Journal of  Psychiatry.  Joseph J Schildchild, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, traced the depressive tendencies of several Abstract Expressionist painters. Only one of whom was still living; the rest had died tragically.  Their conclusion?  Art is a personal hell.  But profitable for the rest of us.

The irony of course being that the Abstract Expressionist painters were tremendously profitable for America.  They gave America a style that could be championed, wrestling world cultural authority away from a ruined Paris, and making several rich families very very rich and into cultural institutions.  Big art was big money, especially for the status-hungry nouveau riche of  1950-60’s America. The Abstract Expressionists effectively portrayed the heady experimentation and freedom from historical tradition that some were fortunate to experience.  (Even the CIA promoted Pollock for a culturally imperialist tour through the Soviet Union.)

Jackson Pollock, from

So, when considering their personal lives, it is somewhat sobering to note the correlation of public success and private suffering.  Or the parasitical nature of public success?  Perhaps it was more like a sensitive musician having a lifetime contract with a corrupt record company than we were lead to believe?  Are lead to believe?

Given the intoxicating economic and material frenzy of the 50’s and 60’s, perhaps this group of painters could be viewed as the soul, the collective sensitivity, that became public sacrifice to feed the gods of industry that grew fat on the spoils of war, the industrialization of the home, and the sexualization of the automobile? Is this the adaptive value Schildchild was talking about?  (I will have to start quoting  David Hickey soon.  I refer to his brilliant essay “The Birth of the Big, Beautiful Art Market,” which can be downloaded here.)

Pollock actually died quite early on.  Most of his work was done during two short years before his death, but boy, what a legacy it has had. Like Van Gogh, the amazing work from a pitiable  life becomes the stuff of entire economies.  More details of Pollock’s personal life can be found at the Artist Quote of the Day blog.

Personally, I only really get depressed when I think about my failure as a professional artist.  (Or I think in terms if failure because I am depressed.  I have not been able to work that one out.)  However, I do try to counter the personal-failure-feelings with a recognition that what I feel is part of the general end-game-reality presently at work in the world.   And focus on the fact that I would rather be true to what is, and feel the reality of this global failure, than try to maintain a false sense of optimism and feed the speculative cultural economy.

Nevertheless, other emerging artists are surviving and even thriving within this milieu.  Honestly speaking, I am not able to pay for my life let alone my art practice.  What then do I call this practice?  An unhealthy obsession with making things?  Is my work any less art if it never gets shown in a gallery?  If I never get a single grant?  If people forget I exist?  Do the plants care about that?  Is being a successful artist the best way to serve the aliveness in the world?

At the end of my career, I will have the damn finest living room ever!    From what it’s going to be like!

On another note, I went moss collecting today.  It is amazing to me that these little dark dry pads open up and bloom such a vibrant green when misted.  And it happens instantly, before your very eyes!  I am going to post an animation of this. But not today. Today I was casting concrete for the moss to grow on, while I get the miniature terrariums ready.  I hope they will be happy.

I think mosses are one of the life forms that have reached perfection. Like dolphins.  Except mosses have been around since the dinosaurs, since Pangea, and survived the massive die-offs at the end of that era, which is surprising given their environmental sensitivity.

The drawing at right is called “Muscinae” from Ernst Haeckel‘s Kunstformen der Natur, 1904.  I cannot recommend his amazing work enough.  What a sensitive and patient eye he had, long before our convenient recording technologies.

A very comprehensive moss-love site is here at pflantzenliebe. ♡!

This is not the first time I have worked with moss; I used it in an installation two years ago in the vitrines of the Concordia Art Gallery.  What was meant to be an installation ended up becoming a performance piece, as everyday I would go in and mist the moss to make it humid enough again. It was a massive struggle to keep the moss alive in a very dry and hostile environment, and ultimately a lot of it did not survive.

This time, however, I am making friends with the moss at each step along the way.  This is already much more enriching than treating it like an art material, as some sort of proving ground, so to speak.  This is a thread I am only recently picking up again: making friends with my materials.  Making friends with them as each is an aspect of the living world.

These hopefully happy mosses will be part of little tiny worlds.  Those little tiny bursts of aliveness will be scattered throughout the city, so those who need it most will find them.

Perhaps my experiences with depression are what drive me to reach out to  the work like this.  My whole heart is involved.  Apparently, the colour of the heart chakra is not only pink as I had previously thought; pink like a wound that is freshly healed, still sensitive, and easily re-opened.  The energetic colour of the heart is also green, the colour of new grass, the colour of bright moss opening up to drink in the water of the world.  Opening, breathing, reaching, growing taller, overcoming, slowly slowly at is own pace.

Perhaps  my ideas of what it means to be a successful artist in the world are in their necessary ferment, and are becoming the compost to nourish my opening heart.

Dare I dream that that is what the global economy is also undergoing?


March 4, 2010

Helen Nodding is an  English artist I’ve had my eye on for a while. She is pretty active, pretty interesting, pretty inspiring.  She takes sensitivity seriously, and makes magic in the cracks and corners of the city.

Weed Enclosure

getting intimate within the forgotten spaces of the city

March 4, 2010

Miru Kim is a NY  artist who photographs herself naked in derelict buildings and tunnels of the world’s cities.  Immersion! Dirty feet! Cuts and scrapes from rusty metal, broken glass, used medical equipment: would that I had the courage to be in the world like this.  What could be yet another study of the female nude in landscape becomes a study of vulnerability in the forgotten, dirty spaces of the world.

This is the human counterpart to plants growing up through the cracks: naked, without a country or social coding, lightly wandering the world beneath the world.

A Ted talk video opens in new window:

Her website is