It has been busy at the Nature Park during the past month. Every weekend we had either the Sensory Workshops or the Story Exchange; it has been such a delight to meet and create together with all those who came by. As the past Saturday concludes the last of the Sensory Workshops, I am excited to share all the amazing artworks that were created and more importantly, the process of discovery and experimentation taken.
The Sensory Workshops are inspired by the newt, a creature with limited senses which renders it highly in tune with its environment and the minute changes. The workshops took that limitation as a way of wisdom, creating a process of sense isolation in each, allowing the participants to experience the senses anew through art and a variety of mediums.
In the workshop Seeing White, participants were invited to draw with white oil pastel or white wax candle on white paper, making the marks invisible. They were encouraged to take a walk and focus on the sense of sight, drawing as they go. Once finished, they came back and painted over the invisible marks with watercolour and invasive plant-based ink, revealing the lines they created through a simple wax relief technique.
There were a lot of exclamations of awe especially in the younger ones when they found their hidden lines, it was such a fun process to watch that discovery. One of my favourite piece is the green one made by a special needs child, it took a while to explain and encourage him to try but once he did, he was engrossed for almost an hour. His masterpiece may look simple but the process was priceless.
Focusing on the sense of hearing, the participants were invited to take a walk once again in this workshop. While they walked, they drew on pressure sensitive carbon paper allowing them to press harder to create darker lines or softer for the lighter lines. Encouraging them to close their eyes, they created visually the sounds they heard and coloured with chalk pastel. The chalk pastel allowed the participants to smudge and haze in order to express the inexpressible and vibrant soundscape of the Park.
How would you draw the sounds around you? Many took the abstract route, playing with the colours and shapes. Some drew the birds that sang, the leaves that shuffled or the people who were talking. One boy told me about the footsteps he heard that clacked on the boardwalk. It was beautiful to see and hear about each participants’ interpretation of sound.
Participants got to work with clay in the workshop, Touching Blank. They were invited to tint the clay with food colouring, giving it a hint of colour. Or in some cases, bursts of colour resulting in some vibrant palms in a few younger ones. Then the clay is placed in a box with arm holes on the side, allowing them to create using only the sense of touch. The process resulted in many surprises and marvels of the capabilities of our sense of touch when we stop judging and doubting it with our minds.
Colours played an interesting role in this workshop. One boy discovered his colours through shape, remembering the shape of his blue as rounder when he tinted it compared to the more oval and lumpy green. The process enticed many interesting conversations as each participant rediscovered their sense of touch and how to understand it in its limitations.
I want to give a big Thank You to all the participants who muster up the courage to try something new in these Sensory Workshops. Many came back week after week as well to try the different senses. I do hope that through these workshops and the experiences of limiting and isolation of the senses, we can all re-discover and reconnect our sensitivity to self and the nature that surrounds us.
All the artworks created in workshops will be showcased in a celebratory exhibition called Silent Wonders on October 12, 2019 at the Kinsmen Pavilion inside the Nature Park. Please do look forward to it! In the meantime, I will ponder on all the conversations and discoveries made and interpret them into wordless book as the legacy portion of the project. More on that later as well.
Thank you to everyone who made it to the launch event this past Sunday. It was a delight to share the project with all those who dropped by. The launch was a casual meet and great, there were five touch boxes set up where participants reached in to feel objects found in nature and draw those sensations. Then they added colour to those drawings at the painting area beside it and experimented with the invasive plant inks. We also enjoyed some themed treats of butterfly cookies, blueberry tea and blackberry chocolates to tie in with the setting. Someday I hope to find newt cookies for our next event.
I loved the faces many made when feeling the objects in the boxes and the wrinkling of noses when first smelling the vinegar-based inks. There were many moments of awe, especially upon discovering the richness of the inks and their meaning. Some were surprised at the concept of the project as this approach to art was very foreign to them. That redefining of what art can be brought me great joy.
Some took time to warm up to the idea of trying something new and I was, in turn, awed by the courage taken to make that decision to try. A few opened up about their background and the beauty of being able to spend an afternoon in nature while some just watched us with smiles and acknowledgement. A bird photographer sat nearby for a couple hours, checking in on us once in a while. A few times right as he turned to converse, a hummingbird flew in right on que, causing him to miss his shot and bringing chuckles of encouragement. He redefined the word patience for me.
It was a beautiful day spent drawing, painting and chatting at the Nature Park. I felt there was something special about a space created where one can linger, discover, ponder and observe – each taking part in our own way in comprehending the community we have and the nature that surrounds us.
I am delighted to announce that The Interpreter Project is ready to engage with the community!
Throughout June and July, I have a variety of workshops and one-on-one conversations planned where we will slow down and explore the silent wonders of nature and the Nature Park. Each workshop focuses on one sense, experiencing them in a new way and interpreting them through art. The process is inspired by the Newt, taking its limited senses as an alternative way of understanding the environment around us.
The Story Exchange is a way to engage with the public in a personal level. Each conversation will be an inspiration for the upcoming interactive installation, Hidden Stories on August 24.
If you would like to participate in the project in a more casual manner:
Drop by and visit the artist at work. Conversations and feedback regarding the project are welcome. Small activities will be set up for visitors to join in and participate in preparation for Hidden Stories, the installation and the Newt legacy book.
Aug 3, Sept 7 & 14, 2019 from 1:00-3:00pm
Looking forward to meeting everyone!
I been longing to conduct and share the ink making process with the invasive plants found in Richmond Nature Park. Invasive plants are species that grows rapidly and vigorously to the extent that they crowd the native plants, taking up their space and nutrients. An easy way to understand them is thinking of them as weeds. In this case, the species are most likely brought in by birds from nearby cultivated berry farms. These cultivated plants are designed to be strong and takes over the park. As mentioned briefly in blog post 2, the Nature Park has been attempting to re-establish the native vegetation by cutting and removing these invasive species in hopes of giving others time to grow back.
Therefore, these invasive plants are perfect materials to play with and does not harm the park’s biodiversity. The park staff were kind enough to harvest some cultivated blackberry, cultivated blueberry and of course, the common dandelion for me. (A big thank you to them!)
I brought the plants home to shimmer and soak at leisure. They were promptly cut up and heated with vinegar plus a pinch of salt for preservation. To my confusion, after boiling, cooling, and an overnight soak, the liquid created little to no colour pay off. In the past, I worked with hyper-pigmented plants and flowers, guaranteeing a smooth process. This time the plants are more stems and not species known to produce saturated inks. I was considering alternative pigment additives but also adamant in aiming to preserve the true essence of the plant material.
After some more research and chemical brainstorming, I found the magic ingredient that activates low-pigmentated plant materials: sodium carbonate or commonly found in washing soda. It acts as a stain remover which logically makes sense as I am trying to extract the colour from the plants into the surrounding liquid. Its chemical compound is similar to baking soda, creating a beautiful fizz when added to the vinegar base.
I gave it another shimmer and overnight soak to be safe. Followed by extensive straining and filtering, a bit of gum arabic is added for fluidity and a clove for extra preservative; these beautifully rich inks are ready to be used for our upcoming workshops and events. Now on my walks, I do not only marvel at the colours of the vivid flowers but wonder at the possibilities hidden in the barks, the dried twigs, and the overlooked bushes in the corner.
The Nature Park is rapidly changing with the arrival of spring. The snow has completely melted, the branches show signs of green and everything has more of a warm tinge beneath. The Interpreter Project also took on some rapid changes the past month with new directions and re-envisions of older concepts.
A consistent inspiration throughout the process has been the newt. The newt is a creature who does not see nor hear well and is vulnerable to various elements. The Nature Park has three of them in residence; Junior whose picture is shown above, Peewee who turns out to be a salamander and Newton who is retired. Their quiet nature and small stature are a metaphor of the Nature Park; a quiet place full of small, hidden wonders and vulnerable to the developments surrounding it.
Just as the winter is a time of growth for the blossoming of spring, the concept for the project has grown in many ways. The best way to describe this change is unquestionably visually; from a happy mascot to a creature of wisdom, the illustration style I been playing with shows a glimpse of the vast differences in styles of approaches I visited throughout the research phase. Though the Nature Park is often seen as a children friendly park, I wish to bring to it a depth and introspection that is open to all ages and walks of life.
As this blog is a reveal of the behind the scenes, I hope to give space and acknowledge the beauty in re-thinking and re-doing. To view them not as mistakes but as a process that one takes to sift out what is truly important. I am looking forward to bringing this new vision of The Interpreter Project to fruition.
The past while I been diving into the research phase of the project, reading on the types of animals and plants that can be found in Richmond Nature Park. Which, according to various reports, is a biodiverse bog remnant. That led me to wonder what biodiversity means and its impact globally with issues such as extinction rate and bioresources. Then coming back to the local history of the park in connections to the physical and cultural development of the city.
Here is a brief history of the park: in 1962, the idea for a nature park was first conceived and by 1968, a proposal was developed and submitted to the city. The original concept actually included a gun range but was later shot down by the public. In 1971, the Richmond Nature Park Committee was established and on November 14, 1976, the doors were officially opened. The Richmond Nature Park resides in the Greater Lulu Island Bog, one of the 21 historical bogs in Fraser Delta. The bogs or peatlands, to which they are categorized under, where formed over tens of thousands of years. They have been reduced in size and effected greatly by the recent developments such as the highways, auto mall and farm cultivation during the past few decades. If you want more information, you will find the 351 paged, detailed report of the Lulu Island Bog extremely helpful.
However, I find that the more I research, the quieter these dates, numbers, and answers become in comparison to the knowledge found by walking through the park itself. There is unspeakable beauty found in rustling of the birch trees, the peak-a-boo of pine trees and the new growth in the cedars.
There are stories in the patterns of the eaten Salal leaves, the crispness of the winter dried flowers (to which I still need to identify) and the little branch caves that sparks of home to fictional and imaginary creatures.
A walk reveals the reality of the changes the park is undergoing due to human presence and developments spoken about in various reports and papers. They are made personal and serious through witnessing the cutting of the invasive cultivated blueberry plants to various degrees in efforts to preserve the bog’s biodiversity. As the beauty of nature draws one in, I am awakened again and again to the truth of the battle for environmental conservation by the sounds of the planes that flies across every few minutes, every day.
Welcome to the visual journal of The Interpreter Project, an artist blog that will document the journey through the year-long artist residency at Richmond Nature Park. From research to production, from workshops to installation, the blog will provide you with a peak at the behind the scenes process of the artist. As I discover, you will discover and as I get inspired, hopefully it will inspire you as well.
The residency is made possible by the City of Richmond and in collaborations with the Richmond Nature Park Society. Through artist research and a series of proposed workshops, we will create with the community an interactive installation, a legacy artwork and most importantly, precious memories that will stir up our connections to our identity, society, and the environment we reside in.
The word “interpret” has a special place in my heart. As an immigrant to this country, like many who lives and works in the city, I often have to find my own meanings to many of the languages and cultures I encounter. I enjoy Cambridge Dictionary’s interpretation on the word which is to decide what the intended meaning of something is or to express your own ideas about the intended meaning of something. As well as the more laid back, to bring out the meaning of…from Dictionary.com. They all capture my inspiration, for myself and to the community who will take part in this project, of putting our own interpretations, expressions or imprints of our identity on the vast knowledge contained in Richmond Nature Park. I believe there is power in producing personal meanings that can connect, in a real way, the concepts of environment, society and identity.
And with that, I will leave you with a selfie of the camera shy me strolling through the currently frozen park. As the weather changes and as I conduct my research phase, I am excited to see how the project will blossom and bear fruit in the community.