Square pegs and round holes: a story of culture clash and rotting twigs

Remember BranchWeave and the Coiled River? Now that construction is done we can finish off our installation, unfortunately the woven orbs that were made with community participation back in 2011 have biodegraded to the point beyond installation in the new facility.  A lesson learned in the clashing timelines of construction delays and biodegradable work!

To recap for anyone who wonders what I am talking about- In 2010 I was awarded a contract with  Science World to engage community in the creation of sculptural forms using both invasive species and city green-waste. The new park would be all about teaching sustainability and getting   the public to have an increased awareness of how our daily actions impact the planet. Water, Waste, Transportation and Agriculture are a few of the key areas- My work would fit into the story of waste, and I asked Vancouver Park Board and Stanley Park Ecology Society to be my partners as material suppliers.

It is hard to describe exactly how over the moon excited I was about the possibilities of this project.

Original meetings with the design crew on the project were about making something that could withstand the beating of 1000 guerillas- a concept that is used when designing the Science World displays for children to interact with. They have created a very specific culture there where kids and parents alike expect to be able to play hard while learning about how the world works. Looking at the park plans a location was chosen for the woven forms; the intention was to place them in the trees as sculptural forms around trunks/branches- safely out of “child play reach”.

Construction zones and time lines:  The outdoor park project seemed to get bigger for various reasons, and costs ran up. Timelines were pushed back.  I was very lucky that we were able to look at my part of the project as community programming not construction- so even though the park project timeline was pushed back- my particular part could move forward. A good thing, as I am very small time- and having designated a big chunk of my  2011 year to the project  I was dependant on the income it would generate. So I was keen to move forward. I was sure the forms made would survive a year plus of storage…

In hind sight now I can call that wishful thinking.

We made 17 woven orbs over the summer of 2011 using Alder, Cottonwood, Willow and Red osier dogwood as the Park Board provided it from routine trimming. We had an incredible experience and I met some amazing people through this project- some who have gone on to become friends and collaborators!

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The orbs were put into “display storage” in an outdoor secured setting at one of the community centres that had been our project partner in marketing the workshops. The expected storage time of 1 year, become closer to two- and out of sight, out of mind as the saying goes. I would ride my bike by every once in a while look up to the 2nd floor location and think; yes! The orbs are there safe and sound awaiting my return…. IMG_3903

I should have checked back

I spend a huge amount of my time in any given project doing communication stuff- making sure everyone is on the same page- everyone knows what page we are on, and any footnotes required get written and the   relevant reader has them brought to their attention, and everyone else is cc’ed -just to make sure everyone know everything I think anyone might want to know… I cannot stress enough how much time I spend on communication.

Yet things get missed.

The gardener who tended the area where the orbs were, did not want to go near them, and let the grasses grow up and into them,   basically making the orbs a part of their surrounding… they got well buried in long ornamental grasses- even a pigeon chose this spot to die, and so a pigeon carcass kept the orbs company while they awaited my return… Meanwhile I just rode my bike by every once in a while, waved in their general direction- and when  I was feeling really proactive,  I emailed the programmer on site to say, “are they still ok there, not in anyone’s way?” To which the answer was, “yes, they are fine, no problem.”

I should have gone to check.

I should have had a conversation with the gardener.

I also could have paid closer attention to what wood  I was getting, as some rot faster than others.

At the end of the day- there are lots of should haves I can accuse myself of or just chalk it up to the learning process. But the big lesson really is in seeing at this point the value of what I do is in the experience of the making- not necessarily the product that is made. I know this, I say this to others in artist talks all the time, but occasionally I forget, and find myself in a corner where there are expectations of a deliverable product…

Or even worse- I claim I can deliver something which proves to be impossible.

note the “beaverdam-like pile of sticks in the background…. the ones that survived would crack when we even looked at them sideways.

The day I went to move the orbs and found the pieces VERY imbedded in their temporary homes, and breaking much too easily upon attempts to move them- I came home in shock and told my partner-a  wise man,-and he said,  “you know, in 2011 you sold your ass up the river, and today is the day you have paddled to shore. Now you just have to deal with it.” OK-not   huge in the sympathy department, but I like the metaphor and I will be way more conscious in the future of those times I am about to sell my ass up the river!

It was one of those days that had to end with beer for a group re-think.

I spent many hours with Derek who has assisted me in this project brain storming how to re-mount the work that could survive, we scouted for new install sites; my work was not the only thing in this project that had gone a bit different from what was conceived, the trees we were to install in ended up being very small aspen like trees- wispy things that would not be appropriate for anything to go in to!

Next lesson learned?

I really rock at responding to an environment.

Responding to blueprints and artist renderings of future sites is much harder and less predictable. Had I not been so eager to get on with it, the smart eco-artist would have waited until the construction was complete and THEN made something with community for the site- smart eh? Hmm, one more post-it note on my brain for that one.

Derek and I worked at making willow woven rings as an external support stucture to host the weavings that we could weave a top exoskeleton on, it would have worked structurally for a while but, it just didn’t make sense visually in any fashion I could figure out..

We settled on the new pond area as a “1000 guerilla  safe zone”, and I spent some time figuring out how to work with the parameters the pond had in relationship to what was possible from Science World’s perspective. IMG_3270 One of the first rainy days that I was there to re-weave: scratching my head thinking, how I am I going to pull this off and have something that makes sense, that I am proud of and that the community participants who made the work recognize and are proud of? Out came one of the programmers who said,” by the way, the project manager wanted to make sure   you know that everyone here is pleased with what you have done, and consider your obligations complete- the main thing was community interaction, and that happened- so if this does not work easily, that is OK, we don’t need this to be just because it was in the original plans…. “ WHEW! Did I sleep well that night.

a little photo collage I did back when this project was going on -all the round stacking forms I found at Science World- speaking of sqaure pegs, round holes- it seemed fitting!

 I commend Science World for being open enough to have an ephemeral art installation as a part of the plan, and for them to have recognized that plans change… but it does bring me back to realizing I am perhaps a square peg, and need to keep my distance from round holes; or at least when selling my ass up the river, I should only sell it to square holes….  Is my mixing of metaphor confusing you yet?

 At this point, the Coiled River installation,( approx. 300 coil bound English Ivy rings) which had a short life inside Science World during our “holding time” has been moved outside to its permanent ( until it rots) home.


thanks to Keith Martin for the photograph


 I wish I could say I love this piece outside as much as I did when it was indoors.

Inside it was quite spectacular; a 3 iteration fractal that was about 13 feet across. Outdoors unfortunately, the renderings of the fence that we had worked with initially ended up quite different, so the  forms are now on a red fence very similar to modulock, with speakers and security cameras mounted right above.IMG_7237  The space and size for what was possible fell short of my hopes and expectations; it makes me all the more thrilled to have had it indoors in such a wonderful way, outdoors it just seems odd still, but I am ever hopeful that when the plantings fill out and it feels less new and concrete-like around there that one day I will ride my bike by and fall in love with it again.

I do like the shadows, they are my favourite part.IMG_7242

So, now what?

We had a bit of funding left in the project budget  for installation and I am now just going to start fresh; respond to the surroundings as they exist, and make some small simple  pieces with community members that can go around the planting area and chicken coop of the  new  Science Park. I am also going to create a series of posters from photos of the original workshops so we can install a photo essay of the orbs being made and the final forms in their storage location to be installed at Science World in May. I hope   this story reaches a few of the folks at least that played such a part in the making of the work, and  apologize to them that they did not get to see it installed as we had dreamed  2 summers ago. If you, fine reader, are one of those folks I do hope you consider coming out again for the next step…

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The final project for BranchWeave at Science World:

Basket-bombing Ken Spencer Science Park:

A new way to think about leaving your mark! Not guerilla knitting, not stencil tagging, but basket-bombing! Working with Sharon Kallis at the Mount Pleasant Means of Production Garden, participants will do a bit of material gathering of grasses and bind weed and learn simple coiling techniques to create beautiful small forms that will installed at the new Ken Spencer Science Park at Science World around the planting area.

Leave a corner of the world in better shape then you find it: a little weeding, a little weaving, and something beautiful transpires.

Participants are encouraged to bring a bagged dinner for break time, all tools supplied, no experience necessary but some hand strength /dexterity required.


 Wednesdays, 6-8:30pm

May 1, 8, 15, 22

Free, but limited registration, please pre-register here
location: Means of Production Garden, corner of  E 6th and St. Catherines, (the far west side of North China Creek Park)

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