Much thanks to Andrew and his cohort for making this film!
Much thanks to Andrew and his cohort for making this film!
I would like to thank Rhett Reed for his tireless assistance and collaboration, willingness to get “itchy and dirty” helping me make the mycofilters.
I would like to thank Tad Fruits for all the beautiful photos he took that convey what has happened so much better that I ever could.
I would like to thank Kathleen for her sewing advice for the mycoboom tubes, John and Mike for their help with the greywater system, Bob Jenks for designing the mycoboom floats, Jim Poyser and Amanda Hermmann for the article and connections, the many Indianapolis community members who led the public events I coordinated, the many people at the IMA and everyone else who has helped with this project.
Without you, this would not have been possible. I am sending you my deepest gratitude as I bike away from the island to where the White River flows into the Wabash River.
After three days of bicycle riding, I stood at the mouth of the White River, watching it spill into the Wabash. The White’s silty water drew a line down the middle of the collective river, refusing to integrate at least for the first 100 yards. As I watched the 1/4 mile wide glut of water move past, my experience from the island rushed through me: mycobooms, greywater system, plumbing lessons on the hardware store floor, mulching the mycofilter, pasturizing the straw in a 55 gallon drum, seeing the mushrooms grow from pinheads to maturity in less than a week, spores releasing like frost on cardboard, the sound of the waterphone, public social university: what story will we tell about water, the truth of 100 acres, biking to Ben’s riverfront camp, combined sewer overflows aka sewers in our streams, Burmese refugees fishing for food, rowing under the stars, watching the moon’s full cycle from the island porch, the sound of the water lapping under the dock as I went to sleep, reading by candle and solar power light, the lake outside my door in the morning, trees becoming bouquets of color, swimming in the lake, getting over my irrational fear of water. As I read these two poems to the river to bid farewell to it and the touching experience I had at the island, I thought about where my life will go next and realized it will flow into another river.
-the Miami Indian word for river
River, río, riparian—who first spoke “Ri”
at a large flowing expanse of water
and understood the response?
In vulgar Latin or Old French,
how did water say water?
how did eddy say eddy?
Every Gaul and Roman uttered “Ri”
as fields creeped closer to banks
and trees disappeared.
The Miami knew untouched rivers,
the Waa-paah-siki, the Bright White River,
not this silted, polluted flow.
They knew the Kingfisher’s call,
the heron’s spearing bill,
the trolling pike and muskellunge
in the clear water,
the limestone bottoms’ gurgle,
and they knew the river water lapped against
rooted and tangled banks, shaded—siipiiwi.
- Kevin A. McKelvey
Swimming with the Poet
It is dark. The stars
are silver. You wish
it were that simple.
“At night,” you say,
“the moon’s surface grows
colder than any place on earth.”
You step into the warm
reservoir. He takes the straps
off your shoulders.
He is naked but guilty of more,
swimming in the moonlight of
more than a half-million craters.
The kiss will last 1000 years.
The water strider swims in circles
around your elbows.
You have seduced the poet
in your own neighborhood.
The water is dark. The Luna moth
emerges translucent green.
It is summer and the reservoir
satisfies the thirst of the city.
- Bonnie Maurer
“Reconfigured,” Finishing Line Press, 2009
Here are some questions that have been rumbling around in my head lately, but first—here is a video that Daniel and Emily at the IMA put together. Thanks so much!
And now with the questions. (Here is what I’ve been listening to while writing this: Fugazi – Blueprint http://grooveshark.com/#/s/Blueprint/HBPnv?src=5)
1. Is there anyway to be an artist that gets paid by institutions to do artwork and not get paid—whether directly or indirectly—by corrupt sources? If this is unavoidable, how do you rationalize it? For instance, I see what I’m doing with the mushrooms and the greywater system and the island at IMA as a good thing, but since the IMA is on the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s estate—how does it compute that I am doing this “good” thing if I am living on the land of an institution I oppose. I’m sick of taking money from corrupt capitalist sources, but maybe all money is dirty. How to navigate this?
1b. Along these lines, is it possible to live and make artwork in a manner that doesn’t destroy the earth? For instance, I had to use natural gas to sterilize the straw for the mycofilters. Right now, I’m using a computer two write to you, which is not only emitting co2 into the atmosphere and destabilizing our climate, but also causing the destruction of rain forests and raping of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the materials are sourced to build this computer.
2. I’ve been thinking about how I want to live my life, what kind of impact I want to have on this world, and how I want to be more active in bringing down (or at least sneaking out of) capitalism and wanting to reconnect with the wild world—I’ve been thinking about this since I read this essay: http://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-kingsnorth/confessions-of-recovering-environmentalist. Any advice on how to go about doing this? Or maybe I should just follow Kingsnorth’s advice and listen to the wind.
3. Do you think I should join the Wall St occupation? I am supposed to go back to school, but maybe school is getting in the way of me being part of the revolution. Is there any other sort of occupation or action you think is worth me re-routing my life to participate in? The struggle against mountain top removal mining or natural gas fracking? Or maybe I should just abandon ship head to the woods?
4. I have been dreaming of going to Portland and trying to get a crew of people to squat the city and build off grid living systems in the squats (greywater, solar showers, composting toilets, permaculture gardens etc). Do you think this would be a good place to put my energy? I am a bit nervous that no one would be interested and I would spend all my energy for nothing or for a tepid impact (like one squat with a police eviction) (I would prefer strength in numbers so this doesn’t happen). I guess this stems from me being a bit nervous about going back to Portland and not finding anyone that is actively struggling against capitalism and advocating for the wild world—in a creative, innovative, intelligent and non-boring way. Is anybody out there?
Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. What to do next. How to spend my “last year of freedom” as I’ve been thinking about it—before I have to start paying back my student debt.
I just had my first response via an interesting discussion with Calvin, one of the night cleaning crew members at the museum. His advice is to not set my goals so high and to realize that I can only do what I can do—to accept certain things that I will not be able to change. Which brings me to my final questions:
5. Can the “system” be changed? How should one person approach changing major systemic problems? If change is not possible, what should we do?
Today, I spent the day fixing my bike up for the trip I’ll be taking from Indianapolis to where the White River flows into the Wabash—starting on Thursday. I learned how to install a new chain, gear shifting cables, and fix a corroded adjuster barrel, and honed my skills for adjusting my breaks, which always feels like zen meditation. Charles Hammond, who started the Bicycle Action Project in Indianapolis, what kind enough to teach me how to do these things, and make me pancakes!
Here’s part of Phil Van Hest‘s performance lecture entitled The Story of Water:
“I recently moved to Indianapolis from Los Angeles, to pursue a career in show business. LA County sends out a water quality report every year for the year before, so that way if it turns out you’ve been drinking poison all year, you can find out exactly what kind, which is great. So I remember reading this thing for the first time and seeing that the water I had been drinking every day had arsenic, barium, lead, tetrachloroethylene and of course, uranium. Then the wonderful EPA mandated article called ‘A better understanding of Radon,’ the cliff-notes to that article go as follows: ‘It’s a tasteless odorless gas, toxic at pico curie levels and it might be in your water. Probably not, but definitely possible.’ And for all the other stuff they make it pretty hard to interpret the data, and even when you do, it’s essentially meaningless unless you do a few hours of research to find out first what the fuck a pico curie is and become really unsettled that a picocurie isn’t really a measure of volume it’s a measure of radiation and then, is 4 or 5 pico curies of uranium in your water fine or what? I mean there’s a column that says ‘Acceptable Level’ with a little check mark but what the fuck is that?
…Instead of sitting around trying to make up the story of water, we could be doing things that create stories, and those things should be fun to do, or why would people do them? This is a huge and wide open idea, I mean, I thought about building a plexiglass platform just below the surface of a lake so people could look like they were walking on water. I saw the “No Swimming” sign at the IMA lake and I loved that because it made me think, and I talked about it – what did it mean no swimming? Why? Alligators? They don’t want people in the beer? Is it too dangerous? So I thought we could think up a few signs for around town that might cause people to talk more about water. In LA I put up some random signs around town that said “SURGERY LESSONS” just for giggles, and that was really fun, so I’m thinking road signs that look like legit municipal road signs, with a sort of “War of the Worlds” theme behind them about water. If you like, think up the kind of sign you’d like to see around town about water. It could be completely nonsensical, or wildly inaccurate. They can just be silly, but they’ll generate conversation. Like if we put up a health code sign in a restroom that said “No Dumping, Drains to Ocean.” It might be funny, but also confusing, like, I’m in Indiana, what should I care about the ocean? Hey did you see that sign in the restroom? Maybe make a “Dolphin Crossing” sign, just things to get people thinking more and talking more about water. Water needs stories, or we’ll forget how important it is.”
Here is a powerpoint presentation that Sue Hyatt gave on women’s campaigns against water privatization in Britain in the 1990s.
Here are some photos of the event and some photos that Angela Hermmann showed us that evening from a urban canoe trip she took down the White River:
Like The Water
by Wendell Berry
Like the water
of a deep stream,
love is always too much.
We did not make it.
Though we drink till we burst,
we cannot have it all,
or want it all.
In its abundance
it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill,
while it flows
through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us,
except we keep returning to its rich waters
willing to die,
into the commonwealth of its joy.
At 4pm today, please join me for a yoga and poetry session inspired by water, led by yoga instructor Carol Tharp-Perrin and local poets Kevin McKelvey and Bonnie Maurer. We will meet in the grassy area between Funky Bones and Stratum Pier (the pier that overlooks the lake) in 100 Acres Art and Nature Park. Kevin will start things off reading poems he wrote in reflection of the Wabash River. He will also lead a spontaneous group poem-performance meditation to float into the “ode to water” yoga class. Bonnie will transition the class from yoga to Ai Chi and close with her poems. Bring a mat if you can, if not the museum has some that can be borrowed. This event is free and open to everyone.
This event is part of the community day to mark the opening of Mary Miss’s new public installation: FLOW: Can you see the river? www.flowcanyouseetheriver.org
Carol Tharp-Perrin teaches Ashtanga yoga in Indianapolis. Carol came to Yoga through the arts. Her knowledge of the mind-body-spirit relationship has evolved through her work in interdisciplinary arts, painting, gymnastics, and figure skating, as an equestrian and as a dancer. Dance ultimately led to Yoga, which has become integral to her life’s work. www.artofyoga.com
Kevin McKelvey‘s obsession with land and water was first sparked by growing up in the middle of farm fields near Lebanon, Indiana. That led to writing about animals and wildness and wilderness, and he continues work on a manuscript about the Deam Wilderness Area near Bloomington in Indiana. Some of those poems appear in a chapbook titled Dream Wilderness. Rivers are another big wild thing, and the Wabash and White are interesting because of their history and ecology and use today. His next project is writing about the Wabash, and the White keeps coming up in poems because he lives in Indianapolis and finds sanity in the White’s greenspaces.
Bonnie Maurer has an MFA from Indiana University and is the author of Ms Lily Jane Babbitt Before the Ten O’clock Bus from Memphis Ran Over Her, (Raintree Press), Old 37: The Mason Cows (Barnwood Press) and Bloodletting: A Ritual Poem for Women’s Voices (Ink Press). Awarded a Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship by the Arts Council of Indianapolis in 2000, Maurer wrote The Reconfigured Goddess, Poems of a Breast Cancer Survivor. She works as a poet for Young Audiences of Indiana, as a copy editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal and as an Ai Chi (aquatic flowing energy) instructor.
Today, I installed a greywater system on your island. It was one of the most inspiring and fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Afterwards, I was biking from the beach to the museum and I shouted with a smile, “I installed a greywater system!” I felt like I was in kindergarten and I learned how to tie my shoes or swim—a simple skill that will be used throughout life, a key that unlocks a door with light coming through the edges. Living in your island has forced me to realize my curiosity for off-grid, autonomous living. I was always curious, but never had the imperative to try it until I moved into your 200 square foot floating dome. I’ve especially become interested in closed loop systems, where after I build the system, it requires no intervention or maintenance on my part. The greywater system is designed with the intention that plants will transpire the greywater into the air, so I don’t have to deal with draining and dumping any effluent. The system’s mechanics are three tiered: I rerouted the sink in the island so it empties into a sink filled with boxes of straw, wood chips and corncobs inoculated with oyster mushroom mycelium, my hope is that the mycelium will clean the greywater enough so when it moves on to the third sink filled with plants, the plants will be happy to drink the water and transpire it into the air. If I was living on the island long term, I would build a rainwater refrigerator, solar shower, figure out how to use the solar oven, and fix the bike generator built by Jessica and Mike, last years residents. I’ve already started dreaming about occupying an abandoned building in Portland hooking in these systems.
I’ve noticed that the island has also made me become very a strategic schlepper. I’m always calculating what I need to move on and off island each time I step into the rowboat. Getting together all the little parts for the greywater system (pipes, gaskets, sinks, plants, rocks, rope, mycelium, fasteners…some prefab and some jerry rigged, I didn’t have a clue about plumbing and am so thankful those who helped John, Love, Mike, Kristel, Logan, Amanda, Phil, Scott, it takes a village) was a feat in itself and I finally set up on the porch to start gluing the pipes together and couldn’t get the top off the glue, so I had to row in and walk the half mile through the woods to the museum to get a wrench to take off the top. Anticipating what I’ll need and where I will need it is a skill I’ve been honing on island, though I’ve been conscious of it ever since I started using my bicycle as my sole method of transportation.
I’ve been thinking a lot about your intention for the island to have both security and autonomy. People often ask me if I get scared at night. I don’t because the island is such a defendable structure. I imagine the only way for someone to breakdown the locked door would be to swim across the lake with an ax or some sort of heavy tool. The likelihood—slim to none. It’s probably safer than the area of downtown Portland I was living in last. However, I did have a sort-of-stalker for two days here. The thing that really got my goat is that I feel like his presence made me lose some autonomy because now the museum’s security staff wants to escort me through the woods to the island at night. Last night I biked back through the woods without telling them and rowed out. I know that if something happened I would feel like an idiot for not calling them, but there is something inside of me that loves to be alone, untraced, unknown. I love the feeling of being on the island and no one is going to knock on my door or pass by my window. When I’m out there I’m the only one who is out there…well me and the herons.
Before I came here I was living in London, bicycling daily across town from the squat where I lived to work in a utopian studio. It was city, city, city, concrete, concrete, concrete—endlessly. I began to forget that there existed places like the lake and the forest that is my view from the porch every morning as I eat breakfast. I was sitting in a cafe in Soho one day reading Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist by Paul Kingsnorth which talks about how environmentalists have lost their connection to the environment. (Kingsnorth even calls into question the term environment) and I realized that I had lost my connection to the wild world, and that’s maybe why I had fallen for organizations that reduce the “environment” to a single number. These countless hours I’ve spent sitting on the island porch, basking in the sun or huddling against the windbreak, watching the sun rise and fall, clouds turn from white to pink, trees blow in the wind and change with seasons, waves relax into glass, the moon grow full and disappear, I’ve been repairing this connection and hoping that my best intentions for doing something to help the wild world don’t end up naive and making things worse, like I regret they have done in the past.
As far as the structure goes, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about the fiberglass design at first, but after living in it through hot and cold weather, I’ve been really impressed by how well the island keeps a steady temperature. The spaces in the flooring really do wick up cool air from the lake! I built some shelves (from old crates) in one of the cubbies. It’s pretty gratifiying to look at that little space and see all the clothing folded that I’ve been wearing for the past two months. I know that isn’t as minimal as your uniforms, but it feels like a good balance for me. I’m still interested in Fourier’s passion for infinite variation, but I also am grateful for how the island has helped me pair things down and focus—for the past few years I’ve felt like I’ve had so many different things going on I was always split like an intersection and never able to do anything really well. I do feel like I’ve done well what I set out to do with this residency: building the mycofilters, generate wonder through public events—all with loads of help.
It’s been amazing to realize what I can get away with not having. A bed is the most obvious thing, my air-filled camping mattress is incredibly comfortable. Then there’s the little things: a knife. I bought a pocket knife right before I came here when I was scooping up goat shit with my bare hands working on a little organic farm in Jaraíz de la Vera, a small farming town in Spain. The knife was made by a local craftsperson, but my hands are never strong enough unfold the knife from the red wood handle, so I borrowed a butter knife from the museum cafe and I’ve been using that for the past six weeks—it can even cut watermelons!
Well, I’m off to sleep now. Before bed, I always light a beeswax candle, smudge a little sage in a shell, and listen to the waves lapping against and sometimes under the island, and reflect on the day. Tonight, I will think about the group of school kids that cat called me across the lake, “Hi! Is that your home?”, I called back, “Yes, it’s my home!” even if it’s only for one more week. I hope the residue I leave behind is a welcome discovery for next summer’s residents.
Waving from the island,
ps – Here are a few photos of the greywater system. I’ll put the full instructions on the DIY section of the blog before I leave.
This weekend I installed the last batch of the mycobooms in front of the inflow/outflow stream by the White River. This is the most important spot on the lake because, as our tests showed last week, the E. coli pollution comes through this stream from the White River. I am pretty confident in the functionality of these mycobooms because of the visible signs of mycelium and mushrooms. I installed the mycobooms in a long chain to accommodate for heavy stream flow during the rainy season. My thinking is that the chain form will allow them to arch backwards, so they can filter the water but won’t be ripped away by the current.
Here is an article I’ve been mulling over since I first read it in June: Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist by Paul Kingsnorth. In this beautifully written piece, Kingsworth exposes the highly problematic mindset and tactics of the so-called “environmental” movement. I first read this at a time when I was beginning to realize my naiveté in my effort to do something to help the planet and that I had been perpetuating this problematic mindset that cannibalizes wild spaces with renewable super grids, quantifies the health of the environments in parts per million of co2, claims there can be a harmony between economic growth, social justice and the environment, and calculates that destruction minus carbon equals sustainability. Kingsworth’s discussion of “ecocentrism” and the importance of being emotionally attached to the wild world is something I’ve been contemplating and exploring while living on the island. I’ve also been trying to be cautious of instant fixes, silver bullet solutions and rethink what a “solution” really is.
The full version of Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist can be found at www.opendemocracy.net/paul-kingsnorth/confessions-of-recovering-environmentalist. Here is an excerpt:
“There are reasons; there are always reasons. But whatever they are, they have led the greens down a dark, litter-strewn dead end street, where the bins overflow, the lightbulbs have blown and the stray dogs are very hungry indeed.
What is to be done about this? Probably nothing. It was perhaps inevitable that a utilitarian society would generate a utilitarian environmentalism, and inevitable too that the greens would not be able to last for long outside the established political bunkers. But for me, now – well, this is no longer mine, that’s all. I can’t make my peace with people who cannibalise the land in the name of saving it. I can’t speak the language of science without a corresponding poetry. I can’t speak with a straight face about saving the planet when what I really mean is saving myself from what is coming.
Like all of us, I am a footsoldier of empire. It is the empire of Homo sapiens and it stretches from Tasmania to Baffin Island. Like all empires it is built on expropriation and exploitation, and like all empires it dresses these things up in the language of morality and duty. When we turn wilderness over to agriculture we speak of our duty to feed the poor. When we industrialise the wild places we speak of our duty to stop the climate from changing. When we spear whales we speak of our duty to science. When we raze forests we speak of our duty to develop. We alter the atmospheric makeup of the entire world: half of us pretends it’s not happening, the other half immediately starts looking for new machines that will reverse it. This is how empires work, particularly when they have started to decay. Denial, displacement, anger, fear.
The environment is the victim of this empire. But “the environment” – that distancing word, that empty concept – does not exist. It is the air, the waters, the creatures we make homeless or lifeless in flocks and legions, and it is us too. We are it; we are in it and of it, we make it and live it, we are fruit and soil and tree, and the things done to the roots and the leaves come back to us. We make ourselves slaves to make ourselves free, and when the shackles start to rub we confidently predict the emergence of new, more comfortable designs.”
A month ago, island curator Amanda York and I pumped 16 gallons of water out of the lake. We brought it to local brew shop Great Fermentations and handed it over to home brewer extraordinaire Sean Tucker. For those with adventurous taste buds, you can taste the lake beer this evening at Public Social University. We will also be serving kombucha for those with a non alcoholic preference or age.
This special brew was inspired by artist Eric Steen (www.ericmsteen.com) and all the free thinking he does with beer making, most recently beer made by walking: www.focusonthebeer.com/p/beers-made-by-walking.html