Thursday, September 30, 2010

My OP-ED piece for the Vashon Beachcomber (will appear 10/6/10)

I grew up in a family that did not practice a religion, but whenever the weather allowed, my parents knelt on the earth, planting seeds, weeding or harvesting. Although I did not then understand their actions as a form of prayer, I do now.

Some of my first memories are of crawling through my parents’ vegetable garden tasting and smelling the bounty growing in their neatly kept rows. Before I learned to speak, I was digging in the dirt and tossing compost into the bin. As I grew older, I spent hours lifting up rocks to observe insect life and rarely tired of picking berries. Never did I imagine, however, that gardens would become a leitmotif of not only my life but my art practice as well.

In 2003 I was hired to create and teach interdisciplinary arts courses at the University of Washington Tacoma. My new colleagues advised me to look for a home on Vashon Island. They felt it would be a good fit, and it has been. This year I am experiencing my first paid sabbatical, after more than three decades of teaching all over the continent. While most people might imagine that professors go away to do research somewhere exotic, I’m doing my creative work right here on my own island. It is an extraordinary privilege to slow down and really feel the texture and pulse of where I live.

As part of this year’s artistic journey, I’ve developed a project that will hopefully give back to the community for years to come. UW’s Royalty Research Foundation has awarded me a grant to create a community-based, eco-art project, and I’m excited to invite the community of gardeners and farmers to be participate in this new work entitled “Eden Reframed: Gleaning Abundance.”

Inspired by the work of Vashon Island’s non-profit SEEDS (or Social Ecology Education and Demonstration School), which is currently funded by the Harris and Frances Block Foundation to do a soil remediation project on the south end of the Island, I conceived of a project that involved collecting the stories of gardeners and farmers and placing those stories in interactive sculptures surrounding a meditation garden. Although the original site for my project has changed and the future site for the eco-art is still in discussion, it is now the season to collect stories. My permaculture design consultants will assist in the restoration of the land once the site is confirmed, and we will disclose more about the project at that time.

As part of this eco-art project, we will build sculptural “story hives” to hold the stories we collect. My collaborator Shahreyar Ataie and I will collect stories like pollen, fill the “combs” with excerpts of those stories and offer up this “honey” to the visitors in the garden. Story benches with text burnt and carved onto their surfaces will be placed where visitors can rest and contemplate the garden and a video will be created so that visitors from afar can enjoy the stories and garden on the Web.

We are curious to learn what inspires the people who plant seeds and how they relate to their work as a spiritual practice. We will ask gardeners and farmers what gives them a sense of future, what mystery guides them in the garden, and what heals them about the work of growing food and plants.

During a time when many aspects of our world are undergoing dramatic change, it is important to be reminded about what gives our neighbors faith in the future. The harvest of “Eden Reframed” will be available to everyone who visits the eco-art site for years to come.

If you are interested in participating in “Eden Reframed,” contact Beverly Naidus at

Sunday, September 26, 2010

First steps, revised

We are still waiting to go through another hoop to get approval from the board of directors at the new site, and we are getting a little impatient. But I am determined to get started with aspects of the project that are not dependent on a particular site. Our story "hives" and benches require some "action/research" so I need to get the word out. If I write a short article for the local paper I can inspire some gardeners and farmers to participate. So Shahreyar and I will go out with video camera in hand, and start harvesting stories. I will also brainstorm with him re. the structure, size and dimensions of the hives. Collecting "pollen" to make "honey."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Almost there

Well, the new proposal has been approved by UW, so now I just need to hear from the folks at the new site, and we'll be on our way. Cross your sticky fingers with me and we'll be picking fruit next summer and sharing it all around.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New Horizons - Restoration Rather than Remediation

Well, it's almost a month since I last posted and some of you may have thought that I'd flown the coop. Or perhaps that this project might never get off the ground. But there's been a relocation process happening and it's been in the works these many weeks. I still can't divulge where the project is going to go, because it is not yet a signed deal, but the project is definitely leaving the Beall because the owners aren't on board. In defense of their reluctance to take the project on, readers should know that they weren't the people who okay-ed the proposal at the beginning. The folks who gave me the go-ahead in 2009 moved away this past May and when the old owners of the Beall returned they were surprised by my announcement that I just received funding to do an eco-art project on THEIR land. It is not public land, although many tenants have been artists, and have had open studios, workshops and events there. So, when I realized that things were not flowing in the way that I had imagined, I started looking around for a public site that might be enthusiastic about an eco-art project. And I believe that I have found one.

I have to redesign the proposal for the new site that includes an overgrown orchard (impassable at the moment due to the blackberry vines and Scotch Broom). There is still space for the altars to seeds that will include stories of local farmers and gardeners. There will be benches for meditation, walkways, and lots of permaculture design with native plants. The orchard, once open, will be available to the community for gleaning and for cultural events in good weather. I will have to apply for more monies to create a fence and gate, and the site is huge (over 2 acres)so we may need more time as well as funding, but it is very accessible to the public, and the committee in charge of it seems very interested. AND I AM EXCITED!!!!!