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:

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.

Make it Out of the Ordinary: Pixel Magic

We are all living in a surreal moment, so this next creative prompt leans on the Surrealist practice of collaborative drawing to connect our FOOLmoon CommUNITY.  

Over the next few weeks will will be collecting our pixels and bites to create compelling stories about our CommUNITY and connect not just our drawings and sounds but each other.  

This week, you are going to help us take over the FestiFools Instagram Feed with our collective surrealist dreaming. Follow the directions below and email or tag your photos #makeitoutofordinary and #pixelmagicmoon on Instagram or Twitter.  Our FOOLish team will cast some pixelated spells and post your images on Instagram where they will connect and tile, just like collaborative drawings on paper by Dali, Miró, Tanguy, Man Ray, and others.  [Edit: Now with collaborative Whiteboard, see image below, or follow this link]

Join the #pixelmagicmoon Challenge!


  • Paper
  • Something to cut with, or patient fingers to fold and tear
  • Dark marking implement (black or blue is ideal!)
  • The camera on your phone or other device to share with us at
  • FOR AFTER you share your black and white image: Coloring implements


  1. Make a list of ten things that made you stop and think. 
    • What made you feel connected to our CommUNITY?   
  2. Make your paper into a square.  It does not matter if you are starting with a GIANT page or a tiny page, once it’s a square we can do PIXEL Magic and shrink it to link up with everyone else’s tiles.
  3. Mark the midpoints on the sides of the square by matching corners and pinching JUST the edge of the paper.  (You can fold across, but then you will have the creases visible. If you are a very young person, it might be easier to pinch, anyway.)
  4. Mark with a pencil where those creases are.  These are how your machine will match up with other FOOLmoon CommUNITY members’ machines.  
  5. Look back at your list, and choose TWO things that you think would be FOOLishly fun together and draw them into your square so that pieces of them touch those midpoints.  
    • How do they relate? What can you imagine and invent?
    • You can use pencil and then outline with marker later. 
    • You can use mechanical elements like gears or levers or buttons
    • The MOON is the limit: use your IMAGINE-ation!
  6. Take a picture before you color and share it on social media and/or email it to 
    • In a couple of weeks, we will provide instructions to repurpose a cereal box to turn these black and white drawings into a color-it yourself tile puzzle, and are hoping for some other fun re-mix ideas!
  7. Color your machine if you want.  Make another! There’s no limit!  
  8. Check out our machines as we build on instagram, or check back for curated tiles on Facebook!
  9. As a community we will connect our stories and ideas. Join the BEAUTIFUL collaboration (beginning of image below)!

Make it Out of the Ordinary: Faux Luminariaux

This post about making something “Out of the Ordinary” is the first of several I will be doing in collaboration with WonderFool Productions as a part of their new initiative, FOOLmoon CommUNITY in which they will enable creative engagement with WonderFool artists both as a response to the current physical isolation, and to deepen and extend their community impact throughout the year.

Written instructions can be found at the bottom of the page.

Under the circumstances we do not assume anyone has any one material at home, so everything we imagine for you will have multiple materials suggestions so that you can truly  make something literally out of ordinary things, you already have at home.

This week, we are truly appreciating our artists and the ways that our virtual platform has created CommUNITY, so here is a project made from ordinary materials that will bring back a little extraordinary GLOW!  

Faux Luminariaux:

Lots of luminaries from ordinary materials

You can take materials you have around your house to create your own mini luminary with abstract images created with Crayon and Marker; Re-purposed magazines that create imaginary scenes that pop; or build draw your own scene on regular paper and bring it to life with a flashlight.  

Creating a joyful image

  • What is out of the ordinary for you right now?
  • What did you see this week that  you joy?
  • What story matters to you?

As you read the instructions below, full of technical information, hold on to these questions. Imagine what these things look and feel like. Think about what colors they might be, how they sound, and how to break down the story into snapshots.  

The technical bits are here to give your ideas some legs, but it doesn’t matter if you have all the materials or if your folds are perfectly straight. What you want to express is the most important. 


  • Paper
    • Could be plain printer paper with crayon, marker, or watercolor
    • …A page from an old magazine that inspires you (collage post creation to add interest)…
    • …Baking parchment colored with crayons
  • Crayons
    • Works on most light surfaces
    • Flows and blends very well on parchment paper.
    • Wax is hydrophobic, so you can use watercolor or marker on top of it and it will show through.
  • Markers
    • Works best on copy paper, but some markers may be alright on magazines.  Not recommended on parchment paper
    • Can be used like watercolor if you want to do wax resist. Just use a paper towel or brush to gently brush across it with a small amount of water, or mist it with a spray bottle. 
  • Watercolor
    • Only good on printer paper, but don’t use too much water. 
  • Glue (for collage on finished luminaries if you want more details)
  • Other sticky stuff like staples or tape (for lantern version).

Folding Version 1: Origami Box

Diorama Luminary, with collage detail

This version looks more complicated because there are more steps to follow.  However, the kinds of folds that you are doing are easier, so this one is the easier version.  

  • Recommended for young people who have not yet attained the age of 7 or 8.  FOOLish fun for people of any age.  
  • Recommended for printer paper or magazine page.  
  • Fold first, then unfold so you know where the main image should go on the paper unless you’re going to go totally abstract. 
  1. Fold Hotdog style (vertical, longways in half).  
    • Use your rectangular paper.  Printer Paper size or similar rectangle.  It can be a scrap, but it works best with something that is close to A4 or Letter in proportion.
  2. Close the cupboard doors:
    • Fold the two sides so that the whole side goes into the middle, a move called closing the cupboard doors in Origami circles.  
  3. Open the whole paper up flat.
  4. Fold Hamburger style (Horizontal shortways in half)
  5. Close those cupboard doors, it’s a wider cabinet this time.  DO NOT OPEN this time.
  6. You will see that there are four lines that cut through the cupboard doors like they were window panes in a French door.  The top and bottom fold lines are where we are looking right now. Taking the paper up to the bottom fold line on the right side, make a triangle by matching the folded edge to the window pane fold line.  
  7. Do that to all four corners.  DO NOT UNFOLD
  8. You will see that you have a kind of irregular octagon now.  In the middle where the cupboard doors are folded there is a bit of paper sticking out just past the triangles you just made.  Using the triangles as a guide, fold that back.  
  9. Here’s the magic part: You can now reach inside the pockets you created by folding back that flap of paper, and pop up your box, carefully reaching inside each corner and pinching along the edge of the triangle to make it stand up.  

If we were just learning the box you’d be done unless you wanted to make a second one as the cover to keep something in.  BUT since this is a Faux Luminary, you’re not done yet.  Notice where the bottom (top) of the box is, and fold it flat again.  This is where you can color your scene.  Unfold the box and draw whatever you want inside that rectangle, with whatever materials you want.  

Folding Version 2: Accordion Lanterns

  • Easy, but easier with experience and strong hand eye coordination, so recommended for young people from 7 or 8 years old and up. 
  • Best with parchment paper or printer paper, because magazine paper cracks easily with its coating.  Experienced folders can do magazine paper, but if you haven’t done this before, it is recommended that you use printer paper for your first one.  
  • Draw and decorate your paper first, then fold. 
  1. Accordion your paper, so that the outside folds are mountain folds. There are tips for how to do this evenly in the instruction video.

2. Crease the whole accordion with a marker or round scissor handle. 

3. Fold the top and bottom third of the accordion into a pleasing angle, think the way a capital C curves, and crease as hard as you can.  

4. Open the “C” curves up, so the accordion is a line again.

5. Flip the accordion over and re-crease the folds you just made so they are very strong and deep.  

6. Open the c curves and open the accordion flat-ish.  

7. Lay it so that the accordion zig zags look like stairs or ladder lines going away from you and begin reversing the folds that are on the side of your dominant hand.  I am right handed so I started with my right hand on the bottom fold and carefully followed the crease lines all the way to the top.

8. Do the same process on the other side of the ladder.

9. When you are done, the accordion will be reconstructed, and your c curve will be there flat, but inside out

10. Pop the middle of the curve back to flat, but not the c curves.  This will create an arched semi circle like the picture

11. You can staple or tape the ends together so it stays fully curved.

First Song to Urban Ecology: Jamaicaway Matins

While natural systems and cities are symbiotic everywhere, there are huge equity gaps across the globe. Higher income areas have more access to open space, and foliage and are therefore more likely to have active and noisy animal populations. There have been many articles about this through the years. One of the most memorable for me was in 2012, on a blog called PerSquareMile titled, “Income inequality as seen from Space. It was during the time when Google Maps was becoming more detailed and people outside the research community were just starting to think about this and the author, Tim de Chant, collected anecdotal information about many cities and their open space which he shared in the second link above.

When I started this project last fall, and even when I sent the germ of it to FossilFOOLs I was not thinking that it would come to life during a global pandemic, but it turns out, the decrease in human activity in cities has drawn attention to how animals are influenced by human action in urban ecology. I heard a piece on New England Public Radio via the NPR app this morning about hearing different and more birdsongs now that there is less traffic on the roads due to quarantine measures so that even in dense urban centers, people can hear more natural noises.

Wildlife biologist Paige Warren of the UMass Amherst Department of Environmental Conservation has reviewed research on how human-generated sounds impact animal communications. She talked about the challenge different kinds of birds normally face when they sing near the rumble of cars. “If you have a high-pitched, ‘tweety tweet tweet’ sound, then it might get through better than if you have a low-pitched kind of sound,” Warren said, imitating the call of a dove. “So if you’re a dove, it might be harder to get your message through the traffic. And then when there’s less traffic, it might be easier to be a dove.”

Nancy Eve Cohen, NEPR, March 31, 2020

To create the sound in my video, I raised the treble to accent the birdsongs that I was hearing, and raised the bass to accent the traffic rumbles and whooshes. It is true that the middle range of sounds is not as audible, and with the sheer volume of those other sounds, even on the unedited audio recording, it would have been hard to distinguish sounds closer to the pitch of the traffic noise.

The audio track was created before the shutdown began in Boston, as I was getting into my car for the morning commute, with many other motorists flying by on the Jamaicaway less than a football field away from me. Now, even at the height of rush hour, there are gaps in the roar and sputter, and fewer planes rumbling above.

Yesterday on my short walk, I jaywalked across the Jamaicaway into Olmsted Park at a place where that would normally be unadvisable. As I meandered into the trees, I heard at least five different types of birds in the middle of the afternoon, fighting, calling, chasing each other. There was even a red-headed woodpecker high in a tree on the border with Brookline. Right now, I hear wind in the trees, two mourning doves calling to each other, groups of starlings, a robin, a jay, a house wren, and a distant redwing blackbird from the park.

Looking from Olmsted Park across Jamaicaway towards the Jamaicaway Tower.

In this fraught time of self-isolation, I feel privileged to be in a place where I have a backyard to look into and a park nearby. Even growing up in an economically disadvantaged area I was embedded in the City of Ann Arbor, it was surrounded by natural areas, and so I was privileged to have orientation to wide open spaces, and still be able to navigate many advantages of life in a thriving college town.

However, many economically disadvantaged urban communities have a lack of space devoted to sustaining accessible natural systems. Torn down houses in formerly “blighted” areas of Detroit, for example, may contain natural systems, but they have largely been left to hazard, filling up with invasive weeds, foragers, and pests instead of being re-planted with native plants and trees that might attract a more sustainable ecology.

Some attempts to reclaim land, like the off-the-books Water Street Common, have been pushed out by city governments in crisis, as Ypsilanti has, citing liability for the toxicity of that zone, about which much ink has been spilled ranging from hope to corruption. Others, like the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, and the Boston Food Forest Coalition here in Boston, have had more long term success at creating sustainable economic development combined with sustainable and/or permaculture practices. There are many other models of community and of place-based initiatives that have had some success in the arts or farming or sustainability, but I want to get back to this project.

Urban and natural spaces are permeable to one another all around the world, and human participation in natural systems is intrinsic.

We are part of nature, and hearing less traffic and more birds right now sounds out loud and clear both how interconnected we are, and how deeply our noise and pollution affects our ecology. These new commentaries about birds and silence and breezes make me hopeful that more communities will prioritize investment in creating cities that are sustainable by both human and ecological measures.

It has been inspiring to do online workshops: I can hear and see what others have been creating.

It has given me a peek out windows here and around the world. Even though I’m in Boston, since everyone is working online, it was easier to connect with two former students in Michigan. After teaching online, I then did a teaching-artist oriented workshop with two colleagues in Illinois and Sri Lanka. Observations from all the participants from their windows or wishes included sheep, school buses, monkeys, cobras, cars, trees, and more birds.

This project was originally created inside a portable tent cinema full of transparencies with the idea that I would bring this project around the world, packed into a market tent. I do hope to bring the project around the world in a tent.

However, you are invited to participate in this new permutation, and create your own shadow-puppet cinema! Join in with your own sound effects and puppet-stories through the FOOLmoon Reimagined Facebook Group

Or if you want to participate in with a slightly less complicated story just send me a photo of the view out your window and tell me what you hear or make a recording of the sounds.

The collected works that you share will be used to create another clip in this series, possibly “Lullaby for Empty Cities.” The next work already in progress will most likely be titled “Fugue for The Cathedral of M-14

You can email your submissions to me, comment on this post with your photos, or tag anything you make with these tags on instagram or twitter so I can find them: #FOOLmoonreimagined #foolishsongs20

Spring 2001: Meditations and Transformations

Looking back on these works, they form a through line of spiritual seeking through process. In times like now, where the world is in suspended animation, a dose of specific process and ritual can be helpful. In what ways can I impose order on the simultaneous plodding of too fast and too slow?

These fledgling explorations of spiritual connection through internal or external processes formed the ground on which I sit: learning to navigate and impose routines and practices upon myself to manage the firehose of information that I am curious about and engaged with at any given moment.

Although the final work in the series, which I shared last week, was designed to invite participation, both of these works are focused internally, or at least on making personal internal processes external, just for me.

What I wrote at the time only scratches the surface of what I can see now looking backwards, so in addition to the captions from the red portfolio album, I’ve added some reflections, and included a third piece, which was not successfully documented at the time, but which connects to a tension in my work about embodied fashion.

Performance I: Copper Circle Clock

To draw attention to the tension of values that is inherent in the aesthetics of fine art in the western canon, I often choose materials that one would normally consider practical and re-cycle, re-purpose, or re-position them to an aesthetic rather than practical value.  In the world of the arts, materials matter.  Whether one chooses oil paint, pencil, charcoal, or fabric, there is something to be said for the way the material affects the viewer.  

Materials have cultural weight, and by repurposing hardware, I seek to show honor and value for labor in my creative practice.  

As the daughter of a college-educated union Ironworker, I value the beauty that is created by labor.  It’s one of the reasons that the buildings and bridges in Chicago were so inspirational.  Hands made them, and I value every stage of the process from idea and design, to re-bar and sand-blasting.  

In this work, I took washers and laid them out in a clock formation in the middle of the room and then twisted them successively on to loops on refrigerator tubing and large washers to create an artifact from the performance.  

In designing the work, I was considering the form that I imagined, an artifact which would leave a vertical tracing through time. Knitting or beading leave behind a structure, and the purpose is the product, for example a sweater or a necklace.  In this performance I created illustration of time itself by using fiber craft skills to engineer a purpose-made object that spirals up in a circle, with cardinal points to mark how we chart time on a clock.  

The most interesting piece of the work was the sound that the washers made, jingling and sliding along the copper tube.  It reminded me of my visit to the Buddhist temple in Japan when I was fourteen years old.  The rhythmic jingle was like the meditation bells and drums that the monks and practitioners made as they repeated their sutras.  

The finished object hung on my ceiling for awhile at home, jingling in the breeze of that summer with the window open reminding me about stopping and noticing time and process.  

Performance II: Rolling into Transformation

So many times when we consider changes we want to make in ourselves, we think we know what to expect, and yet, even in a simple action, there are often emotions and feelings that one does not anticipate.  Some are joyful, and some are frightening.  It is how one considers them that creates growth.  

This was a performance to externalize internal processes of wrapping and unwrapping emotions and thoughts during moments of change.  Conceptualized as a quick meditation on personal transformation, I cocooned myself into a cloth in Lincoln Park. 

The wrapping was more claustrophobic, and the unwrapping was more freeing than I expected it to be.  

The cloth was a sign leftover from an exhibit at the Field Museum, which I purchased at a re-use center and which my friends had taken to Burning Man.  Dust from the Playa, stuck in the cloth despite repeated washings, also stuck in my throat.  I can still feel the air as I finally came free, joyful to be out of that internal space. 

Performance III: Personal Space Farthingale (Undocumented)

The convenience of public transportation is huge, however, the process of entering a crowded train carrying a hatbox on one’s head on the way to the theatre can make one feel like a sardine.  

One tension I felt in Chicago was between that independence provided by public transportation and the dehumanizing feeling of being packed so close to other people, never looking one another in the eye, or looking too closely at one another as sometimes happens.  

To explore this, I attempted to create some personal space for myself with a PVC icosahedron farthingale, which I wore on the bus during one of our studio days.  It kept people from touching me, and its pointy triangles hurt both me and them.  The reaction I had was mostly stares, as if this personal safety device were more of a fetish object than armor.  

Unlike the washer mail I created, it does not invite touch, but the visibility of this armor meant that in wearing it, I still made myself an object of curiosity.  There is that tension in urban space between seeking to connect to others and wishing to remain safe and anonymous.  This work did not do exactly what I expected it to, but it created an interesting discourse about safety, desire, and space.