Drawing from the Land
Rachel Kauff, 2010
I came to the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute with the intention of exploring my relationship to the natural environment in which I live. I wanted to understand Nature as more than an abstract separation between the human and the natural, but as a force that structures both human and non-human life. Nature cannot be confined to the boundaries of a reserve; it is just as active in the city as it is in the country, and it is no less present inside as it is outside. While I might have pursued my inquiry in the studio, working in the unfamiliar setting of a more ecologically diverse terrain allowed me to escape routine and make more careful observations.
Although I began with the understanding that I am not exceptional to, or separate from Nature, I was surprised by how little I truly understood about where I was. Walking though the property of the PCCI was at first disorienting; the green of leaves blurred into a forest, the songs of many birds combined into one ambient noise. I was uncomfortable in a place where my own sense of meaning and order was irrelevant to my surroundings. As I grew more observant, my work became a set of methods for experiencing and listening to the living world while struggling to locate my place in it. Rather than employing each medium to assert my own meaning systems, I used printmaking, bookmaking, collecting, and drawing as ways to record my experiences with the land.
The Field Books began as a way to engage with Nature on its own terms, minimizing my presence in the work and allowing the environment to form its own marks. Attending to the books allowed me to establish a routine interaction with the different biological communities on the property. Every day I walked to the site of each book, turned a page, and listened. I soon learned to notice the changes in the environment. I learned to locate the books easily by becoming familiar with the site. I learned about growth and decay from the mold that grew and the slugs that ate away at the paper. I learned about daily observation: the ritual and the unexpected. The books remain as both record of their surroundings and of my daily pilgrimages.
The work Three Walks explores my own impact on the land, both metaphorically and physically. As I walk, I change the land, which is in turn is changing me. The copper plates I dragged as I walked across the grounds of the Institute bear the marks of the terrain as it is scraped and flattened. In this way I am reminded that I am not only an interloper, but a participant in my environment.
Each work displayed served as a way to wonder, as well as a connection with the material world around me. Through the ritual of turning book pages, recording the marks of a long walk, following the path of bumble bees, collecting roadside debris, and taking long breaths in the forest, I was able to navigate both the world around me and the world within me.