Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996
Materials: six handmade maple chairs, black bear skulls, Red pine logs, plywood, pine pitch, steel cable
A few weeks ago, I was listening to WUOM during their annual spring fund drive. The woman who was coaxing listeners to call in with pledges made an analogy about the need for change. She told listeners that "Michigan was once covered by great trees" and asked her listeners if we wanted to "go back to a time when the state was covered with trees."
I will admit that for the most part change is good and I will also admit that I would not like to go back to the early nineteenth century when "squirrels could traverse from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan without touching the ground." Nevertheless, the history of Michigan is made up of a landscape, which was in bondage to an economic colonialism that exploited and abused the land, willingly and intentionally. There were so many trees that many people thought it would be impossible to ever cut them all.
They were wrong.
The giant, majestic White pine could reach 200 feet and were five to seven feet in diameter. They had been growing for over 300 years before loggers sent them crashing to the earth. Today, there is only one place where these native monarchs now stand (Hartwick Pines Sate Park near Grayling). Michigan's commercial logging began earnestly in the 1860's, and it became the number one lumber producing state in the nation. But, by 1887, Michigan loggers were already beginning to move west, and by 1905 the great White pine was gone. All that was left were tens of thousands of acres of cut-over land with stumps as far as the eye could see.
The wilderness as we now know it has become an artifact of civilization. The wild that produced us, that we were dependent on, is now our dependent. We must acknowledge that we all have a common interest in the land that precedes our interest in private property. In sharing this common wealth, we also share a common health, which requires clean air, water, soil food, and shelter. We must also acknowledge that all land, private and public, farmed and forested, is natural and thus all land being natural requires good stewardship for the common good, wealth, and health of all creatures who share the earth.
A Path that Joins and Divides explores the dependence between culture and nature within the specific context of one of America's furniture capitals, Grand Rapids. To symbolically illustrate this mutual dependence, 36 ten-foot Red pine logs are used to create two diagonal walls on either side of a plywood pathway. Hanging from the logs and extending from the back wall to the front of the gallery, are six handmade hardwood chairs. In each chair lap sits a bear skull.