A Line, Issued out of the Ground

Koehler Gallery, Whitworth College, Spokane, Washington, 1994

Materials: Lodge-pole pine and Douglas fir logs, plywood, pine pitch, Chinook salmon skeletons

While in graduate school during a critique with several of my professors, one of them asked me why I didn't pursue healing the world in another field? Politics per se? I had no answer. Another professor, answering for me, said, "because Shawn is an artist."

I am an artist because of my need to create, to heal, both myself, and the Earth. This task of creating means to respect myself as a creature who shares the Earth with other members. By creating, I am held in communion with the souls of other creatures. As an artist, I believe the best gift I can share is the gift of creation. 

After viewing the world wherein he was created, Moses, overcome by his own nothingness, uttered a psalm of praise glorifying God. In his essay, The Long-Legged House, Wendell Berry writes, "...it seemed to me that my line had issued out of the ground there like a spring, as regardless of itself, in the historical sense, and as little able to memorialize itself, as water - and had trickled off into oblivion, as I said to myself that I would too..."

The line of sap (the Columbia River) is a line, issued out of the ground, circulating continuously, from the high mountain basins to the Pacific ocean. We as humans have also sprung out of the ground through the evolution of time. Yet it is our species, which have so dramatically altered that line. By damming the Columbia, we have created havoc with little regard for the Chinook, which once thrived in her waters. Through our parasitic relationship (in aluminum production, agricultural irrigation, and electric utility interests) to the Columbia because of our productive and consumptive "needs," we accelerate this wholesale destruction.

Now that the dams are here for good? the question is, where do we go from here? Do we continue to rob the Chinook so as to maintain our standard of living through logging, livestock grazing, mining, and road construction in the Columbia River basin? When will love for "the least of these" - the sparrows, the lilies of the field, the ancient forests, the spotted owls, the Chinook - compel us to change, to heal, by living poorer, simpler, and wasting less? What line do we draw? Where do we draw the line?