Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Days 1 and 2 - the Festival

Today's entry is rather is the opener, the introduction. Most of my following writing will be much more brief.

The artists have, for the most part, prepared for tomorrows festival. Volunteers have prepared and served an excellent dinner, and many of us have gathered to have a discussion about art, landscape and whatever lead by "J", who is quite good at this. "S" announced me as the Smoke Farm Artist in Residence (Smoke was the name of the family that farmed here - people always ask). The discussion is good. I wonder how the artists are responding to the environment where they will put there work. I wonder about that relationship.

Following the talk, which runs 'til near midnight, "A" and I head out with a few others to see some of the installations under a near full moon. The Smoke Farm was at one time a dairy operation on the north bank of the Stilliguamish River. Flat ground that once was pasture, but is becoming something else, leads up to steep hillsides that were old growth cedar, then cedar stumps, then alder, and now a mostly second growth cedar. It is dense, dark and green western Washington forest.

Earlier in the day, right after arriving and setting up my tent, I blasted out into the brush as I often do, compass in pocket, but no map (walk south and you hit the river). I find a dilapidated beaver dam in a near dry creek and recent gnawings. The beaver will probably return when the water is running this fall. Eventually, I busted out of the cottonwoods to find some 75 yards distant across a tall grass meadow, a machine that appeared to me, this being a former farm, as something made from a steam powered thresher. It was quite wonderful and I stayed well away to let the artists continue their work. As I walked, I found only a few more artist teams as they were very widely spaced on quite a large bit of land.

In the dark, "A" and I headed toward the "threshing" machine. "A" knew her way, having been here many times as well as being one of the organizers of the festival. A ground fog had developed and was lit by moonlight. The "thresher" was fogged in and lit perfectly. It turned out to be a human powered sound machine, a large complex of cogs, chains, linkages, bellows and organ pipes. It was quite fantastic and I think the setting only made it more so. We continued on to the river leaving others to turn the large hand wheel and send out an occasional howling note. The bank of the Stilliguamish was cobbled here, and as we walked, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of two 40 foot long drift logs, silver and barkless, some 30 feet from the water. What caught my eye, because logs aren't that unusual, was that they were completely parallel - which is unusual. It was a mystery moment, finding something out of place in the dark with the river drowning out any noise from beyond. "A" whispered (people whisper in the dark - I suppose not wanting to disturb the darkness, unless they are warning off bears), "the colored rocks." We walked up to the logs only to have them dissolve into stones arranged by color. In fact, they were not 8 inches high, but flat. The artists had sorted and plugged the stones back into the ground according to color making a few 40 foot long stripes that seemed something else in the night...wonderful. I will not go back in daylight. This was a discovery experience and discoveries cannot be repeated.

Morning comes and I make coffee and bannock for breakfast. "S" comes by to talk as I am starting to chew some bannock (fry bread). He declines to have some just as I am wondering why my bannock is so damned bitter tasting. After he leaves, I am sorting through my food bag and find that I have fried my bannock in dish soap, the soap and oil bottles being somewhat similar. It takes a bowl of oatmeal and a lot more coffee to get the taste out of my mouth.

Behind me, a woman is busy sewing on something red. She is, for sure, an artist behind schedule. I offer to help sew, assuring her that I do know how. "W" and I sit knee to knee and finish sewing something that will become a huge dragonfly wing. Sewing together with someone is always a fine time...I suppose that goes back a very long way.

That done, I go out and wander looking for art. I find a beautiful braided grass installation, spirals and curves with stomped flat grass floors, a fine use of the 4 to 6 foot tall grass in these meadows. A man with a numbered pin flag comes in. He is a poet and reads us a long and very fun, unbridled poem about wanting to be a dragonfly. My face hurts from smiling when he is finished. I head off down a trail and immediately find "W"s three red dragonflies.

Then I sit for an excellent performance at a post-apocalyptic camp. It is very emotional, very well done. I continue and just keep finding stuff...everything is a discovery. It is one of the best art experiences I have ever had.

I can see so clearly that all of the artists, whether they know it or not, for some of them have had details to attend to, are relating to the environment. They have changed my perceptions of what this space is, for the better. When I begin my work here, it will be at a different starting point than I had imagined.

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