Songs of Urban Ecology: Cathedral of M-14 Fugue

What spaces around you do you ignore?

Stop, Observe, Listen.

The Second Song to Urban Ecology, this one was actually begun first. It was originally a photo series that I took in one of my favorite parks, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

M-14 is an expressway that runs between Ann Arbor and Plymouth, which is an ex-Urb or Suburb of Detroit.

The “Cathedral” is the open space beneath the overpass, as it runs over the Huron River. The light on the tracery of the steel-framed bridge combined with the rhythmic organ of the traffic overhead make it a very contemplative place. Nature and City collide here, not just because of the highway, but because it the western bank of the river is skirted by an old industrial corridor where welding and manufacturing shops once dominated, though few now remain.

Although the overpass could be thought of as marring the landscape, and the noise pollution and runoff can be harmful to the ecosystem, there is something beautiful to be found in the coexistence of this massive basilica of concrete and steel, designed not for occupancy, but instead for passing over.

Re-claiming the beauty of labor normally masked by its utility, I seek to showcase the labor of the Ironworkers and other skilled trades as they contribute to our culture by re-claiming the space for something besides a pass through.

The light shines off the tracery of the steel frame. The fog hides and reveals the ugly concrete pylons. Graffiti quite literally marks people’s interest in the site. Ripples highlighted by the thin line of light between the lanes create calligraphic flourishes on the surface of the water.

In this project, I also re-claim the space beneath the bridge for the ways that nature and land shine through human imposition. I stopped there and meditated, watched, listened about once a week for a couple of years. I began to notice many small details. All the photos are of plants which grow* along the banks of the river in the natural area opposite the old industrial corridor.

Here I want to acknowledge that one person or set of people cannot truly claim the land we inhabit, whether they hold deed and title or not. In re-claiming the land, I do not claim ownership. I re-claim the right to create a stronger relationship between people and the earth. This “Cathedral” is part of a complex system for which we are each responsible, and which is affected by our actions.

Beyond that interconnectedness, I also acknowledge that Washtenaw County has its own storied history of disputes between Native Americans, French, English, and ultimately the Territorial European Americans who became “Michiganders,” like me.

The Huron River, after all takes its name from one of the several local groups of Native Americans: groups that have traversed and lived here include speakers of Anishnaabe and Wyandot, known to many Americans by their tribal names (Chippewa, Ojibwa, and Huron, Iroquois respectively) as well as other tribes from Canada and Ohio with whom they traded well into the 19th Century.**

One step, beyond acknowledging who was here first, is to think about how we can better honor the land itself. I don’t own any land that I could give back, but I can be a better steward of the earth, and advocate for more harmonious relationships and care between humans and nature.

Place Based Education: Stay at Home Workshop

Saturday May 16, 10:30 AM

Eastern DaylghtTime

Join with Google Meet: https://meet.google.com/cwg-akvj-hed

For the participatory art part of this project I am creating a workshop which will be geared to sharing some ideas about how to combine art and science to take advantage of the time we are all spending stuck at home.  

Everyone is somewhere.  But what is somewhere?  How do we know our own “where?”

Place-Based Education focuses on those questions in order to engage people.  Looking closely at the world right in front of us.  It is something that people often take for granted, but to study it, to really look at it to see things as they connect to you and to other things, takes practice.

In Making Learning Visible, the children created their own maps of the city of Reggio, for example.

Another example is a project that Lisa Voelker from Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition collaborated with me and FLY in which we created a digital installation and a mini map of the park behind the Riverside Arts Center based on a series of small projects that students did in just one week.

Place Based Learning can begin with a small moment right where you are.

Everywhere you go, there you are. Place is an easy text for anyone and everyone to begin a learning journey.   

Before the Workshop Saturday at 10:30 AM:

In this workshop we will play with taking time out of every day to look and listen by drawing and photographing something you can see near your house. Since we are all on various versions of Stay Home Stay Safe, I ask that anyone wishing to participate adhere to local public health recommendations and local law enforcement. If you are allowed to go to a park, do it! If not, don’t.

  • Take a picture of something you are interested in that you see nearly every day (for example outside your window).
  • Take a picture of the same thing every time you notice a change.
  • Write down or draw out things that you notice:
    • What is the same?
    • What has changed?
    • Is it only visible things? What about sounds and smells?

If you don’t have time between now and then, don’t worry, I will have some samples and give time to go out and take a picture during the workshop. You might also want some things from your recycling bin, some crayons, some water, something to stick (tape or glue) and some markers.

*With the exception of the trillium, all of the plants were photographed within a half-mile of the bridge. The trillium grow there, but mostly in very small patches. I found such a beautiful large pink patch elsewhere that I couldn’t resist cheating This particular trillium plant was photographed in Montibeller Park in Pittsfield Township.

**In some ways, Michigan’s history, with French dominance into the 1820’s means that relationships between present inhabitants and past inhabitants have been preserved. The French wanted to convert, and “save” rather than dominate like the perpetrators of Manifest Destiny. There are still Native Americans from local tribes living in Michigan, particularly farther north. This does not mean there was no harm. Forced family separations, discrimination, and damaging economic practices remain to this day. But I did learn Native American History during my second grade class, and it did include the harms and the wars in my eighth grade class, and went into staggering detail about the cruelty by my junior year of High School.

How to Make: Shadow Puppet Machine for FOOLmoon Reimagined

For FossilFOOLs, I created a work of arts-based research about how city-dwellers access nature combining digital animation and found sounds to highlight the ways that nature is affected by and yet still permeates urban areas. Inspired by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, I combined a recording of the sounds in my backyard– both human and natural– with instrumental and vocal tracks to create a re-mix of narrative sounds.   Rautavaara is known for his symphony to biodiversity, Cantus Arctics, in which he composed a rich multi-layered work that is built around recordings he made of birds in arctic region of Finland.

Still from Song to Urban Ecology, 2020

Originally, the work was to be presented with an active call for participation, people would have created shadow puppets to interact with the installation of the video on a multi-layered tent full of transparencies.

The original inspiration, collecting the ways that nature permeates the lives of my fellow city-dwellers still holds, and I have translated it to a virtual call for participation:

You can MAKE YOUR OWN shadow-puppet machine and share your story!

First, do some research

  1. When you go out today for an appropriately spaced walk, bring a piece of paper or a notebook with you.
  2. Look at the plants and animals that are around you, and spend some time looking at a few that you feel drawn to.
  3. STOP, LISTEN for 3 whole minutes: Write what you hear using onomatopoeia: some letters that you think will make the best impression of what you hear where you are.
    • It doesn’t have to be sounds from the thing that you are interested in. Just any sounds you hear, practice saying them outlaid.
    • For example the plane going over my building right now says “GURURURURURURUOOOOOOOSHSHSHSh!” and the birds say “CRRRRpppptCCrrpt-shwooooot.”
  4. THEN: Draw all the shapes you think the plant or animal you are interested in has in it. Don’t try to draw the thing, just draw the shapes.
  5. FINALLY: try to draw the thing, using the shapes you just drew. Since we are making shadow puppets later, don’t worry about the details, just get the outside shape of the thing.
  6. When you get home, think of a story about the things you drew.
    • What are the relationships between those things?
    • How does the sound relate?

Then go home and make your spinner:

Materials:

  • Re-used plastic bottl- cap
  • Drill or something sharp to poke with
  • Paper Plate, or re-used cardboard
  • Re-used plastic Forks, or popsicle sticks
  • Paperclips for attachments and hooks
  • Yarn if you want your puppets to dangle more
  • Re-used cardboard for puppet
  • Tape, Glue, other sticky stuff
  • Clothespin
  • Drawing stuff like markers

Directions:

Make the spinner

1. Poke a hole in the bottle cap, using a drill. If you don’t have a drill, you can probably use a nail and a hammer, or some other sharp thing combined with a heavy thing. For this part, you need to have a friend or a grown-up around just to be safe.

2. Stick the chopstick into the hole in the bottle cap. Put a dot of glue or tape under the bottle cap inside the lid so that it stays where it is.

  • If you use a hot glue gun, remember that the silver part and the glue are hot, so you should not touch those.

4. Take out the plate and mark the center by folding in half and pinching the middle to make an X.

5. Poke a hole through the X using a pencil or scissors, spin them around to make the hole nice and big so it spins easily. This might also need a grown up or friend to be safe.

6. Glue or tape your spokes, which are the popsicle sticks or forks to the edge of your plate so they stick out like a sun. You can use cardboard scraps if you don’t have popsicle sticks or forks to recycle.

7. If you are using cardboard or popsicle sticks, you can tape or glue a paper clip to the end of your spokes so that you have something to hook your puppets onto.

Make the puppets

  1. Take out your research drawings.
  2. Look at the shapes and the way you put them together to draw your image. You will use this to decide how to cut the cardboard for your puppet
  3. Draw the shapes you want to use for your animal or plant onto the cardboard. I like to use old TV dinner packages for this. It’s relatively soft, and not so hard to cut with scissors.
  4. Cut them out.
    • If you want multiples, you can fold the cardboard, like making gingerbread people, or snowflakes to get multiples of the same shape.
    • You can cut them with scissors or a knife. If you use a knife, please make sure you have a friend or a grown-up to help with this, just to be safe.
  5. Tape or glue them together.
  6. Tape or glue them to a paperclip. You may have to bend the paperclip to make a hook for your spokes.
  • Hang your puppets onto the spinner.
    • To assemble your story, think about the order you put them in
    • If you have birds, for example, different wing positions could indicate progress.
    • If you have flowers and Bees, you could put two flowers and one bee, or lots of flowers, some empty spokes, and then a bee.

Participate in FOOL Moon Re-imagined

To participate, post photos, videos, stories and more to the FOOL Moon Re-imagined Facebook page.

You can go with your grown-up or friends to find things that make noise in your kitchen, pots, pans, jars of rice, and create a sound response to what you heard. A wok makes a nice resounding noise, some sticks from outside might make nice snaps or scrunches.

Combine those with the onomatopoeia you created in your notes, to create a few seconds of sound to make while you take a short movie of your shadow puppet story.

Film your puppets, with the flashlight and your spinner on the wall, like in the photo. Use the hashtag #foolishsongs20 when you upload, or just put it onto the FOOLMoon Reimagined Facebook group.

  • PLAY Play!
  • Make noises like the ones you wrote down! Tell your story in a short video or write it down with some pictures of the shadows you make!
  • Here’s some ideas for how to start:
    • I picked ________ because…
    • ________ are important because…
    • _______ and _______ do ________ together because…

I plan to make a compilation video of all the submissions that everyone creates, so if you want to be included, drop me a line in the comments here, or send me an email to the letter “A” at Allida dot com. If you do not give me express permission, your documentary words, photos, and videos will not be included in our final collective story.

About this project:

Climate change is an issue that directly impacts equity, and environmental justice world wide.  Wealthy nations and communities have the resources to anticipate and act on behalf not only of themselves, but of the rest of the planet, but too often they ignore the urgency of the issue because it is inconvenient to the bottom line. In this moment, with a pandemic influencing the globe, it is clearer than ever that our mutual fates are intertwined, and that collective action is necessary, not just to prevent harm to the vulnerable, but to create beauty and connection for all.

The core inspiration for this project came from a recent encounter I had with a group of Finnish educators at the Next Wave Summit last October in Boston, hosted by the Center for Artistry and Scholarship. Their presentation at Next Wave was titled : “Everything Has to Change and it Has to Change Right Now: Sustainability in the Finnish Education System,” and they also shared this book you can download for free edited by Justin Cook of the Center for Complexity at RISD.  The presentation started with an introduction by the former director of the Finnish National Curriculum who said:

“When I started out in the office here, I remembered the love I felt when my grandparents would read to me, and I thought, I want every Finnish child to feel that love and support while they learn.”

Irmeli Halinen, retired Head of Curriculum and Development, Finland

Yes an artist, my Finnish cultural heritage influences my understanding of getting by by making do.  My mother and grandmother taught me how to re-use everything from cutting down clothes and creating rag-rugs, to darning socks and coming up with inventive ways to use old plastic bags.  I have always worked with re-purposed and re-cycled materials both because of these habits, and because the impact of seeing everyday objects in new forms raises awareness of our cultural associations. I’ve re-purposed construction materials to create wearables and decorative home objects.

It almost made me cry, because my grandparents– both the Finnish ones and the others– used to read to me and were all strong advocates for empathetic supportive education as central to civic agency.  Their model has inspired me as an educator and an artist to cut through my own identity and privilege to find common ground with people across cultural, class, race, and disability. It makes me passionate about elevating the voices and ideas of the communities I have served as an artist and and educator.  

In my work, I endeavor to love every student, and hear what they have to say because we are all one, and the multiple points of crisis our world is facing right now makes that clearer than ever.