Disorder and Order, Old and New

Posted by Deborah on June 28, 2012

I am preoccupied with the contrasts of tame and wild, nature and mind, perception and reality and have been since my earliest explorations into image-making as a photographer.  My photographs focused on changing light and its insubstantial but atmospheric influence on our perceptions.  In many of my pastels I depicted subjects that contrasted our search for knowledge through language and thought with our connection to nature.  And the subjects of my paintings tend to examine wildness and our struggling relationship with it.  Ironically, for 25 years I lived in a fairly typical static suburban environment.  Little ever changed.  Lawns were cut when the grass grew imperceptibly higher than acceptable. The predominantly evergreen shrubbed landscapes never changed from season to season except perhaps for a brief flourish of exuberant bloom in spring or early summer. Streets were swept, concrete driveways power-washed, any untidiness or sign of aging done away with before it could bring into question the values of the neighborhood and its residents.  I looked outside my immediate environment for the questions and the answers to the subjects of my interest, and then felt like an outsider, an observer and recorder of these contrasts rather than a participant. 

Here, on this uncaged piece of land, once planted and managed by people, then left to its own tendencies for many years,  the contrasts that I believe to be important components of human understanding are palpable. Daily buffeting by the weather, seasonal changes in vegetation and animal life, the mental adaptations and necessary tasks that cycle with the heat and cold, wet and dry, light and darkness—all this is very immediate with little but a pane of glass or a roof of wood between myself and these elements. 

The house was primitive but hinted at a simple elegance beneath its crust of age and dirt.  We’ve changed its life a lot.   We now live in cozy comfort where once bushy-tailed wood rats ran freely through the walls, making their tinsel nests and hoarding odd rodent sized knick-knacks and treasures and cobwebs were the only decoration.  The dark and dank overgrowth on the land is slowly being cleared, revealing the sky and allowing the sun to warm places that haven’t seen the light for many years.  Recently the changes have accumulated to the point where we wake up some days and feel like we’re in a completely different place than we purchased two and a half years ago.  

Wresting order from the wildness is delicate work.  It demands patience, thoughtfulness and awareness of the impact one is making.  The balance we strive for was tipped long ago on this piece of property.  As long as we live here we will continue to change the natural environment with consequences we cannot anticipate, no matter how good our intentions.  We’ll remove the ivy, the holly, the bamboo, the happily persistent noxious weeds as best we can.  At times it seems like a Sisyphean attempt, the strong nature of these invasives being far more powerful than us.  But ultimately our presence is all that it takes to alter this place from its natural course.  It is human nature to defy nature, either consciously or unconsciously.

At the end of May we began building the studio, a place in which to create. We have to clear and demolish before we can design and reconstruct, so earth is moved, walls torn down and old foundations shattered.  

We work at ground level, the old house hanging above us, propping up the beauties of old age with the strength of new concrete.  The work will be done in calculated phases so that we do not ask more of the integrity of this old structure than it can manage and hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll have a closed in basement ready for finishing.  This change to the house is elemental, and its character will grow. 

Carl and our friend Phil, and myself, are doing all the work, one day at a time. Meanwhile the grass keeps growing and this place lives its own life in many ways undisturbed by us and our dreams and realities.  The land and sky are perpetually creating and at times it seems silly to be building a place in which to create when there is so much of that happening around us without our efforts.