Taking Natures Lead

I’m writing this lying on a couch in the low afternoon sun in my studio at Headlands Centre for the Arts in San Francisco. I’ve loved my first two weeks of this residency and I felt at home and supported right away. This is due to the welcoming and very capable staff at Headlands, my delightful and talented house mates and the interesting mix of all the artists here. It certainly makes for stimulating conversations during our delicious shared meals.

It turns out I’m not able to make compost while I’m here, as they have a commercial collection service and being a National Park means there are too many restrictions. So to keep my residency sitting lightly on the planet, I plan to make work that is either compostable or exists as pixels only. As much as possible I will use only materials found on site or gathered near by. To my delight during our orientation we were introduced to the storage area where previous artists leave things for anyone else to use. I dip into this on a daily basis.

I’ve been gathering and experimenting with a local seaweed variety that gets washed ashore on Rodeo beach. In Haida (Skidegate dialect), it is called Ihqyaama, in Greek it is called Nereocystis luetkeana (mermaids bladder) and bullwhip kelp is it’s name in English.

I checked about the protocol of collecting what is washed up and it is permitted to take up to 10 pounds per day for recreational use. I was first drawn to it’s characterful look. It’s easy to anthropomorphise as having a body, head and hair. In my research I came across a paper written by Nancy Turner titled “Coastal Peoples and Marine Plans on the Northwest Coast”. In it she describes how it is culturally and environmentally significant in this area.

“It has been identified as a “keystone” marine species, which by their very existence and dominance in the coast environment have tremendous influence over the biodiversity, structure and function of the “kelp forest’ and eelgrass meadow” eco systems along the coastline.”

“Although many of the uses and cultural associations with marine plants are from the past, many still continue, and it is a vision of First Peoples up and down the coast that the traditional knowledge and practices will become even stronger in the future, that their children and grandchildren will be trained in traditional ways as well as modern technology, and, therefore that marine plants will be even more important, culturally and environmentally, in the future than they are at present.”

As the most valued marine plant by The First Peoples of the Northwest Coast in traditional technology it has many purposes. Some of these include; as a mineral rich food, as anchor lines and fishing ropes, in ceremonies to amplify sound, for steaming wood, as storage containers, fashioned into musical instruments and for it’s medical and healing properties.

My practice involves a daily walk on the beach to take notice of the Ihqyaama. Some days I take some back to my studio that has become a biology lead experimental laboratory. By taking the Ihqyaama off the beach, I’ve slowed down the decomposition process. This allows me to work with the daily transmutations. It teaches me to watch, listen and to defer to nature’s immeasurable wisdom. I hope to find my own uses for this extraordinary marine plant. Once I’m finished I will return it to the sea to carry on the decomposition cycle putting the minerals back into the ecosystem.

I am so very grateful for everyone and everything that has supported me to be here. Everyday I am being fed on so many levels.