Guardians Of Skyland
A question that I get all the time is. What inspires me, what inspires my work? The simple answer for me is. ” The Persistence of Memory.” The answer itself really isn’t all that simple to explain. So l will try and tell you the story about the memories my work is focused on.
This spring when our Buffalo, our American Bison returned home to Montana. I was reminded of a course I took in a business class back in the mid nineteen nineties. The course was titled Paradigms for Success and was based on the writing and lectures of futurist Joel Barker. Why was an Artist like myself in a business class. The agency I had worked for lost it’s major contract and with that lost the majority of it’s funding and I found myself unemployed. I was living in Tucson Arizona at the time and decided to take advantage of a training program that was offered through a joint partnership between Pima County and Pima Community College to retrain. As an Artist we are constantly being told. You have to learn business to succeed. We were told making art itself was not enough to be successful. Does this sound familiar to you? So I signed up for the Entrepreneurs program. I completed the the program and got a diploma. Was it helpful, yes. Most of the course was just the nuts and bolts of business, pretty boring stuff until you need to know the nuts and bolts. As an Artist you do need to know the nuts and bolts to help you manage your way to success.
Back to the future. The section on Paradigms for Success by Futurist Joel Barker was one of the most interesting highlights of the course. The whole premise in a nut shell was the fact that most business fail to recognize change. Here’s the funny thing. I was sitting in the classroom filled by a majority of class mates who were computer science engineers that had lost their jobs working for IBM. They had lost their jobs at a time when the personal computer was about to change the world as we knew it. As Barker pointed out in no uncertain words, Big Blue, IBM failed to recognize the paradigm shift that was happening right under their noses. The historical fact is Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were sent packing by IBM with their revolutionary software and hardware designs. Why because IBM didn’t believe their was any sustainable future in the personal computer. The rest is history and my fellow class mates the Smurf’s as they referred to themselves were I guess learning a lesson the hard way. While these brilliant men and women were trying to figure a way forward in the coming new world. I was focused on the past.
A past that Joel Barker talked about as our future. He talked about the Buffalo Commons. This was an idea that one day the Buffalo would again roam free over the North American landscape. The concept was written about in the book, The Buffalo Commons. The hypothesis was that business, agriculture would change throughout the heartland of the Americas. That large tracks of land would be returned to the commons. The natural migration corridors would be restored, not just for the buffalo but for wildlife and fauna in general. Over the course of the last twenty years great strides in this pursuit to join together these vast tracks of land, to restore the great migration pathways are becoming a reality. A reality in large thanks to many people who have the vision of an old, but very new paradigm. The recent return of our genetically pure Wild Buffalo herd to the Blackfeet Nation in Northern Montana is another step forward. The same can be said for the changing management ideas of our Wild Buffalo management of our Yellowstone herd. The American Bison, the Buffalo is the only wild native species that has not been aloud to roam free for more than a 100 years across our natural landscape. As Barker believed and as I do with the Buffalo will come a restorative paradigm that will restore our natural landscape. I will go so far as to say that we have this idea of the wild free roaming Buffalo embedded in our memory, imbedded in our very DNA.
The second idea Barker talked about that stuck with me was connected to agriculture. He said imagine if we had used all of our creativity, knowledge and technology to manage and harvest our native natural foods. Native and naturally cultivated plants and animals? We would have built and agricultural system that would have been sustainable and restorative. His idea seemed so foreign to how agriculture was and still is I can still hardly grasp the idea. Still over the last twenty years the paradigm is moving in the direction of a natural and sustainable based agricultural system. Barker talked about cultivating natural foods in a natural landscape without the cultivation million of acres under the plow. Without destroying what nature had provided us to start with. Now that is a mind blowing idea. Think about that for a while. It really isn’t so far fetched when you think about the global fishing industry. Not that historically we have done a good job managing our global fisheries, but that management is changing. I go back to our memory, our DNA when we were hunter gathers. So we know that at one time it was possible. It would though be a very different world today. For now, I think of a world somewhere in between what we now have and what was. A world of the future that has it’s roots deep in our memories in our DNA.
Back to the Buffalo. So the other day I started designing some outlines for a series of new paintings. Painting about the Buffalo. I was scrolling through my Facebook page and saw an article by Derrick Jensen, “When I Dream of a Planet in Recovery.” The article was written for Yes! magazine. The headline had a picture of Buffalo on the open prairie. So I clicked and read the first paragraph, then continued reading.
Derrick Jensen posted Apr 06, 2016
“In the time after, the buffalo come home. At first only a few, shaking snow off their
shoulders as they pass from mountain to plain. Big bulls sweep away snowpack to the soft grass beneath; big cows attend to and protect their young. The young themselves delight, like the young everywhere, in the newness of everything they see, smell, taste, touch, and feel. Wolves follow the buffalo, as do mallards, gadwalls, blue-winged teal, northern shovelers, northern pintails, redheads, canvasbacks, and tundra swans. Prairie dogs come home, bringing with them the rain, and bringing with them ferrets, foxes, hawks, eagles, snakes, and badgers. With all of these come meadowlarks and redwing blackbirds. With all of these come the tall and short grasses. With these come the prairies. In the time after, the salmon come home, swimming over broken dams to forests that have never forgotten the feeling of millions of fish turning their rivers black and roiling, filling the rivers so full that sunlight does not reach the bottom of even shallow streams. In the time after, the forests remember a feeling they’ve never
forgotten, of embracing these fish that are as much a part of these forests as are cedars and spruce and bobcats and bears. In the time after, the beavers come home, bringing with them caddisflies and dragonflies, bringing with them ponds and pools and wetlands, bringing home frogs, newts, and fish. Beavers build and build, and restore and restore, working hard to unmake the damage that was done, and to remake forests and rivers and streams and marshes into what they once were, into what they need to be, into what they will be again. In the time after, plants save the world.”
And so the New Paradigm that Joel Barker predicted is gaining momentum. Looking back twenty years to today it seems like a slow start but the momentum is building. I realized that what Derrick Jensen had put into words was what I was trying to say with a series of digital prints I have been working on for a number of years. The prints based on the idea of memory. Not just our memories but the memories of the universe. I know that sounds profound, maybe crazy? When you look at the work, think about what I’m going to say now.
I call the prints the Skyland series. I could just have easily called them the Big Hole series. Skyland Challenge is an area close to where I live in Northwest Montana. It is a wilderness area that is adjunct to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. In 2007 a massive forest fire burnt through the area and was named the Skyland Challenge Fire. I’ve been working in these burn areas now for several decades. For me they represent the fundamental laws of of nature and of physics. Entropy is the second law of thermal dynamics. Entropy in a nut shell is all systems loses energy. Birth, aging, death. There is no real beginning or end, but a continuous cycle dependent on each. For every beginning brings and end and every ending brings a beginning. As one system loses momentum another gains. The artist Robert Smithson based his work on these ideas and was an early influence in the development of my ideas.
On August 9, 1877 the 7th Infantry attacked, gun shots shattered a chilly dawn on a sleeping camp of Nez Perce. By the time the smoke cleared on August 10, almost 90 Nez Perce were dead along with 31 soldiers and volunteers. Big Hole National Battlefield was created to honor all who were there.
I was down at the Big Hole Battlefield in southwest Montana back in 2006. I had taken a bunch of photographs of the Battlefield and the surrounding area. There are places that hold the energy of memory and Big Hole is one of those sacred places. As I was processing the photographs I had taken, for some reason I decided to try something different with one of the images. Back in the late 1970s when I was in school I had done a lot of experimenting with juxtaposition of images. Now working digitally the process is far less difficult. So I selected an images of Cows in a filed across from the battlefield and applied the process. Using 4 of the same image I stitched them together. In the clouds above the herd of cows appeared the image of 2 cows facing each other. I went on and repeated the process with other images from the Battlefield. In those images appeared, indian maidens and warriors. I thought this is curious and wondered what was happening. So I started doing some research.
Being a Photographer I first started to investigate the process itself. So here we go leaping into quantum physics. All information, (light is considered information) once it exists it always exists. So a photograph, or your own eyes see or create images based on light particles, information, reaching your retina the film plane or digital sensor. The largest concentration of information is in the center of focus. Left over information particles may still be present everywhere? Think of it like your peripheral vision. Have you ever thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye? I think the sensor captures this information. When the photos are joined on the edges where information is the least. This residual leftover information fills in the blanks where entropy and what is described as digital overfitting is at work. Pretty crazy huh? I’m just going to call it the memory of light. Because if once created it always exists, an idea of quantum physics, it must then alway be there in some form. In the memory of the universe or time.
Another reason you see various designs, images in the prints is because of Pareidolia. Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists. That is why you may see images of animals, faces and objects in my artwork. Pareidolia is the visual or auditory form of apophenia, which is the perception of patterns within random data. Because you have your own unique life experience’s you may see patterns in the work that only you see. I would go one step further and say these images you see are deeply rooted in your memory in your DNA. I have watched and listened to many people tell me what they see in the work. Each of us has I believe have our own personal deep memories connected to our historical DNA.
Another interesting thing about the prints series, is the images of animals that appear in the prints are relative or seem to have a relationship with where the images were taken. Most of us see animals native to the locations where the original photographs were taken. Bears in the woods or beavers along the rivers. While others seem to have a relationship to ancient spiritual imagery. None the less each print is full of images within images, images embedded deep in our memories.
What motivates me? The Persistence Of Memory.
More about the process I use.
The process I use to make my images is based on the Cartesian coordinate system, used in mathematics. However because I am using digital technology the traditional system is described as the Cartesian Cube because digital space is multi dimensional. The law of entropy also plays an important role. When you take a photograph the lens concentrates the most information, light in the center of the film plane or digital sensor. As you move towards the edge of the film plane less information is collected or captured. Using the Cartesian math theory. Joining images on the edge, forces the void to fill with information captured at the time the photographs were was taken. However the additional, extra information isn’t really visible to the naked eye because it is noise. This can be described as Overfitting.
In machine learning apophenia is an example of what is known as overfitting. Apophenia is the, “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”, Klaus Conrad. Apophenia has come to imply a universal human tendency to seek patterns in random information. Overfitting occurs when a statistical model fits the noise rather than the signal. The model overfits the particular data or observations rather than fitting a generalizable pattern in a general population. The process I use is similar to making a panoramic photograph. Except I use images that are not related to one another like you would use if you were making a panoramic landscape. This forces the images to overfit and fill the void with noise.The Per