The forested landscapes of North America are shrouded in a narrative of exploitation and colonialism. During my time living in Haida Gwaii, a remote archipelago off the North Coast of BC, I was exposed to the environmental destruction of a pristine wilderness, driven by capitalist interests and a colonial culture of disconnection, and luxury. As a response, I wanted to establish an art style that minimized (or at least clearly brought attention to) the level of harm I inflicted upon the environment. So, I developed the Domesticated Wilderness project, beginning with the Moss Chair. I took an armchair from the landfill and relocated it to an exquisite and isolated (boat access only) forest, and then converted the chair into an organic substrate onto which I transplanted carpets of moss from the surrounding forest. During this process I collaterally caused harm to the ecosystem, but with a complete awareness of the breadth of the impact. I continue to monitor the health of the moss, making adjustments to ensure a symbiosis between the object and its matched natural surroundings. Bringing the domestic comfort of an armchair into the most pristine and mossy forest I could find, I combined the two extremes of the natural resource industry (virgin forest, with consumer product). By juxtaposing a symbol of modern colonial comfort with the wilderness, and creating a permanent, living installation, I am giving nature a chance to reclaim an object that represents its transgressors. This image is also meant to invite you to reconnect with the true source of our constructed lives, and remind you that in the end, we all return to the earth.
This project was developed from my determination to establish an artistic methodology that would cause minimal harm to the environment. I collected these lichens from fallen trees, or after they blew to the ground during storms (where they would not otherwise survive since they are extremely sensitive to changes in air quality and humidity). Even with the goal of creating a project consistent with my ideals of non-destructive peaceful coexistence, the act of displaying these lichen wigs in an exhibition required me to incorporate materials and processes that compromised the integrity of my initial intention.
The lichen wig provides a false hope for the existence of a truly eco-friendly consumer vanity product. Though these wigs have been ethically crafted, and they maintain direct links between the creative process and the materials’ original source, it would be unethical to mass-produce them. Many lichens species are threatened, not possible to harvest sustainably in large quantities, difficult to preserve, and impossible to keep alive once brought into urban environments.
Lichens are rootless. They colonize new branches by being blown in the wind, anchoring themselves to the bark of trees. Wigs are rootless, they are a veneer, acting as a symbol for a new identity, a manipulation of our natural appearance. For those of us who are settlers, we are defined by a sense of rootlessness, living by the conventions of an imported culture that dissociates us from the ecosystem that we have colonized. Because of this rootlessness, we lack an intuitive awareness of how we fit into nature's cycles as a healthy functioning part of it, and instead, we exist on its surface, extracting materials as we need them, without consideration for the long term effects of our behaviour.
Within mainstream colonial society, there is a large consumer economy built upon the shame of one’s body hair or hairstyle. By creating pressure to conform one’s appearance to standards of beauty that sexualize the body, rather than treating it as a functional aspect of our humanity, many of us are conditioned to be preoccupied with maintaining our corporal aesthetics, consuming products to support our self-image, often resulting in further harming nature.
At the northern most tip of Vancouver Island, at the end of the logging roads, is a remote hike-in access beach where the ocean relentlessly paints psychedelic patterns across the sand. Twice a day, as the tide recedes, the water arranges the sand grains, replicating its own chaotic textures of ripples and turbulence- then hours later, the tide washes it all away again. There is an endless variety of shapes and patterns, intrinsically linked to the direction of the winds, the time of year, and the day of the month. The tide is the artist, and I am the dedicated witness. Camping alone on the beach, amidst the wolves and cougars, I live by the tide and the sun. From the moment the tide drops far enough to create the first pattern, I am out with my large format film camera, adamantly performing a sweeping investigation of the ocean’s most recent sand art, and I don’t stop until the tide floods back over the sand, forcing me to retreat 6 hours later. The impermanence of these delicate granular formations is what makes them so compelling. Too much wind blows them away, too much rain pock-marks their sharpness, too many hikers covers them with footprints. It is a lesson in letting go, and relinquishing control. The transient fluid element of the tide is both creator and destroyer. When perceived within the right temporal framework, nothing is truly permanent.
This is not a calming water video. Water is chaotic and bizarre. It assumes many forms, and can move unexpectedly. I have used color as a disorienting influence, to bring about subconscious associations that would not otherwise be there.
Uncertainty and paradox are natural laws that flow through all things.