They’ve moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, [the world] of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials [...], that is the hero’s deed.

-Joseph Campbell


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Natural Systems

One can never step twice into the same river...or can they? (Deschutes 1500-1640, Jan 13, 2014)



Imagine how interesting, and complex, the world would be if “every natural system had an inner life, a conscious center, from which it directs and observes its action” (quoted passage from Werner J. Krieglstein's Compassion: a new philosophy of the other, 2002, p. 118).





Deschutes River Self-portrait January 3, 2014


This work plays with the idea that all natural systems have an inner life. Through facilitating these drawings, I strive to give natural systems a voice through their creating of self-portraits.  For these river drawings the movement of the water results in the mark-making, and the colors represent the current state of the water and the atmosphere.  I end up just being a tool in the process of allowing the river to draw itself.



Participatory art has a century-long history of being an art of empowerment – a way to empower the participants.  With these self-portraits I am using participation as a tool for empowerment in a new and different way.  Here, the river, or other natural system, becomes the participant as it undertakes the creative act and shows us a glimpse of its “conscious center”.



Willamette River Self-portrait January 5, 2014


Such art is influenced by the process art movement of the 1960s-70s.  However, as I refer to these works as self-portraits of the natural systems that create them, I am suggesting that it is not just about the process, but that it is also about promoting new ways of seeing the natural systems themselves. 

It isn’t that I necessarily believe in quantum animism, but rather I enjoy wondering ‘What if?’.  And that is what this new work is meant to do, to provoke wonder in the viewer, to cause her to ask, ‘What if…?’






For the river self-portraits I have created a color system based on water quality data available for many rivers around the U.S. and elsewhere.  If there is no data available for the river whose self-portrait is being created, then I only include the base color, which I have chosen to be represented by the color of the sky at the time the drawing is made.  

For Deschutes River Self-portrait January 3, 2014 it was a beautiful, clear day, resulting in the use of a sky blue for the base color.  The sky was overcast and rapidly changing when the collage One can never step twice into the same river...or can they? (Deschutes 1500-1640, Jan 13, 2014) was made, resulting in the varied mix of colors used over the hour and forty minutes I spent at the river.  No water quality data is available for the Deschutes, so no colors from the color key were used in these drawings.  

On the Willamette River there is a US Geologic Survey monitoring station, which provides near-real-time data on the water quality.  The combination of colors from the color key, plus sky colors, resulted in Willamette River Self-portrait January 5, 2014.






video
Watch the river make a drawing at the Deschutes Spillway!  
As the river tumbles the canister, the water's movements result in 
marks being made on a piece of paper by soft pastels inside the canister.


Check back as I plan to expand this project to include lakes and oceans, the air, and the land.  And see the Natural Systems Self-portraits page on my new website.































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