Cross Section Remnants – an art project about tree slab monuments in Washington State

La Conner Tree, June, 2015

La Conner Tree, June, 2015

La Conner Tree Rubbing, detail, in artist’s studio.

Spruce log in Forks, Wa, March 2015

Spruce log in Forks, Wa

An iconic feature of many regional, state and national parks is an upended cross-section of an evergreen tree, usually protected from sun and rain by a rough-hewn gazebo. These are scattered throughout Washington state, reminders of vast forests that once covered the Pacific Northwest. As monuments, they speak to both our reverence for these behemoth trees and our need to catalog and collect remnants of dwindling resources.

Over the next several years I plan to seek out all of the tree sections on public lands in Washington State, to create rubbings of each specimen. My goal is to capture the abstract beauty of these slowly disintegrating hulks.

Many of these monuments have interpretive signs and the tree rings are often used as a timeline, marking dates such as Lincoln’s assassination, or when Columbus landed in the new world. Though we like to embellish the rings with cultural references, they contain a wealth of knowledge about the past. Just like ice cores, or soil profiles, tree rings are analyzed by scientists to determine the local climate conditions the tree grew in, year to year. Dendrochronology is used by paleoecologists, archaeologists and to calibrate radiocarbon dating.

As an art installation, the rubbings can be viewed as historic and scientific artifacts, as well as symbols of loss and transformation. In a group, the large rounds become phantoms of ancient forests. The lines within each rubbing are a script that describes events throughout the life of each tree. The marks offer a portal to imagine deep time and change.

 

Leary Slough Tree, which was radiocarbon dated to be over 3600 years old.

Leary Slough Tree, which was radiocarbon dated to be over 3600 years old.

Photos of Mt. Waddington Reliquary – Installed at Francine Seders Gallery

Here are several photos of the Mt. Waddington Reliquary, installed at Francine Seders Gallery Oct 11, 2013 to November 2, 2013. See the previous post for a description of the fabrication and inspiration behind this piece.

Silk organza printed with high resolution scans of each meter of the ice core, using archival pigment inks

Silk organza printed with high resolution scans of each meter of the ice core, using archival pigment inks

Detail

Detail

detail, with one of the 8 speakers. Steve Peters created an 8 channel sound piece from field recordings of glacier melt.

detail, with one of the 8 speakers. Steve Peters created an 8 channel sound piece from field recordings of glacier melt.

detail

detail

The relics, ice core water from each meter of the core, numbered and sealed in glass tubes, and housed in a aluminum-leafed box

The relics, ice core water from each meter of the core, numbered and sealed in glass tubes, and housed in a aluminum-leafed box

each tube is numbered

each tube is numbered

Mt Waddington Reliquary – Art Installation

Installation at Francine Seders Gallery

Installation at Francine Seders Gallery

In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, reliquaries were created to house a relic, usually a body part of a saint. Many cultures have a version of this; Buddhist stupas hold the bones of lamas and rempoches, Greek tombs held vials of blood, even the Egyptian pyramids are a form of reliquary. The relics are recognized as sacred and honored as such.

ampule01

I am fascinated with the idea of Geomancy (literally “foresight by earth”), an ancient belief system that assumes the earth holds an immense tome of wisdom. Scientists interpret geologic samples like rocks, plant matter and ice cores to understand our past and predict our future – much like priests and shamans have done for millennia. Metaphorically, these samples are sacred objects offering us a deeper insight into the physical world.

I visited the Mt Waddington Ice Core field camp in British Columbia in 2010 (read about that journey here). That experience, as well as journeys to Antarctica and other Northwest glaciers, Inspired me to create an immersive art installation that captures a sense of the scale and frailty of these environments as well as visually convey some of the insights this science is yielding. I built the Mt Waddington Reliquary as a permanent record of this research and as a study for developing the exponentially larger WAIS Divide Reliquary.

I fabricated the relics as a visiting artist in the ISOLAB at the University of Washington. They offered access to small samples of water from the ice cores that are left over after isotope testing. It has been invaluable to have their input and support on this project.

The “relics” are really ampules, made from lab glass tubing, cut and sealed, containing 0.20ml of water from each meter of the ice cores. There are 142 ampules corresponding to the 142 meters of ice drilled. I made each tube by first cutting lab glass into short lengths, sealing one end and firing them in a kiln to bake on the numbers.

Each tube was then filled with a small sample of water from each meter of the core. This water is left over after analysis takes place. Even so, I carefully followed lab procedures to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination that could alter the isotope ratios.

Finally, I melted the open end with an oxygen/gas torch. There was a bit of a learning curve to properly seal the tubes, but I eventually figured out a process to completely seal the ampules. The Mt Waddington ampules are contained within a reliquary that I made with bookbinding board, silver leaf and a small topaz to mark the drill site.

box-web

detail of Reliquary during fabrication

I also made 142 silk organza “ice core” tubes that will hang at eye level to define a large circle, creating a sanctuary for the reliquary. Each tube is ten centimeters in diameter by one meter long that I printed with a high resolution scan of one of the core sections. They are a full scale model of the entire Mt Waddington Ice Core.

Waddcores-sized

detail of several “core’s” hanging in studio – in process.

I am excited to announce that the first installation of this sculpure will be at Francine Seders Gallery, opening this October 11, 2013, until November 2, 2013. Sound Artist Steve Peters has made a beautiful 8 channel sound piece using recordings that he made during a hike to the Easton Glacier on Mt Baker.

Peters-Recording

Special thanks to Peter Neff; Eric Steig; Andy Schauer and Kyle Samek at the ISOLAB; and Angel St Teresa, who interned with me in 2012 and assisted me in printing and finishing the organza tubes.

All photos – Anna McKee

Ice Stories Exhibition

Ice Stories was a three woman show at the Washington State Convention Center on display from November 19th, 2011 to January 19th, 2012. Cynthia Camlin and Maria Coryell Martin and I met through a shared interest in ice landscapes and climate change. We work in different styles which provided an interesting response to ice landscapes as seen through field research, scientific specimens and imagined climate collapse. We first proposed this exhibit to the Convention Center with the goal of reaching a large audience, beyond the subset of people who come into art galleries.

Since returning from Antarctica, I have worked on a series of paintings to capture the space and light. The first of these paintings sit within the ground plane, looking out across the ice plateau, as in the diptych on the right in the above photo. Gradually, as I contemplated the unstable outlet glaciers of this immense ice sheet, I began to alter the ground plane to convey the instability of ice landscapes as in the painting “Break Up” on the left, above.

We held a reception on November 13th and each gave a short tour, sharing stories and answering questions. It was a wonderful opportunity to highlight information about the science that inspired a great deal of this artwork. We had several wall text plaques that gave information about the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project and Maria’s field work with Walrus scientists. I also showed about a dozen of the “Camp Stories” etchings that illustrate the field camp on the West Antarctic plateau (in photo above).

Read a review of the show in the Cascadia Weekly

WAIS Divide Science Meeting 2010

Last month I attended the annual WAIS Divide Ice Core Project Science Meeting to give a presentation of my artwork. It was a fascinating experience to be in a room full of about 100 of the most distinguished ice core scientists and graduate students in the United States and reassuring to see the rigor, integrity and brilliance these folks bring to climate science research. Their primary agenda is to more fully understand glaciers and the dynamics that drive global climate processes. Having worked around these folks for the past several years, I can say that there is a high level of self monitoring and critique. Even minor discrepancies in data are scrutinized thoroughly, only the most ironclad conclusions ever make it through their review and are published.

I was honored to give a short presentation about my art project to this crowd. It was a nice milestone to summarize the past several years, researching and developing artwork about ice cores and glaciers. It was even more nice to get a genuinely interested response to the presentation. They were glad to have an artist show up interested in their work. But also, I think that my images and story offered a unique view to their work, just as their research gave me new insight into my work. To have this cross communication was one of my primary goals and satisfying.

After returning from the conference, I jumped back into the studio, madly getting the paintings and prints ready for exhibitions at Francine Seders Gallery and the Gage Academy of Art. It is a bit difficult to shift gears from creating new images, to the various tasks involved in preparing for two shows and public presentations. I have so much more to explore with this work and part of me wants to stay buried in the studio to wander in the big white and clear spaces of this subject. But it is also valuable to have the work seen, to brave the public’s response – whatever that may be. It will be interesting to have that perspective, however, I look forward to the next year, making more prints about the WAIS Divide field camp and creating a catalog with stories and images of this journey.