Chapter Six: The Counterpoint of Restoration Work

Published on 2019-03-07

In classical musical counterpoint, the outcome of consonant harmony determines the beginning of each phrase. In Ghost Nets, my personal resolution of conflicting emotions was indeterminate. But progress at the site was clear. The conflict I had to resolve was between my subjective experience and the external reality. Subjectively, all my efforts at restoring the site were all very difficult. Externally, it was tender and delicate work. I considered the pacing of events in time to be pre-determined by musical conventions from the classical sonata form, which kept me focused on process rather than the daily challenges and ups and downs. Process in Ghost Nets was multi-dimensional.

Questions drove the temporal structure of the art I was making. Could restoring a small geographic point, judiciously chosen, as I thought I had chosen the Ghost Nets site, initiate regional restoration? Could any success be replicated or create contiguity? Time is essential to those questions. Time is what allows humans to adapt to difficult transitions such as our ecosystems are experiencing today or how ecosystems might or might not adjust to the rapid change we impose upon them. 

Before determining rules for choice or predicting impacts, my first question about time went more generally to understanding environmental degradation. I went to literature to think that through. My second question went to the systems that determine that degradation. That emerged more from conversations with scientists I encountered who were giving that careful thought. As I struggled to adapt to CFS, identifying my depleted body with the depleted land, I was thinking about how landscapes and the people that inhabit them adapt to change as a systems problem to understand. I knew all the expressions of art could abstract the cultural experience of adaptation. If I followed the music to harmonic resolution in each step of my work, no matter how abstract that journey might be at times, I was sure I would find critical insights. At the same time I was trying to make sense of these abstract ideas, the actual work on the ground was anything but abstract and yet it informed the evolution of my theoretical thinking. The physical work of moving rocks and planting trees may have been less conceptually demanding than painting but because it was always accompanied by a constant state of reorganizing ideas. It was still strenuous and it did allow me to observe the dynamics of change before I delved deeply into physics.

At the inception of Ghost Nets, in 1990, I resolved to divide the decade of performance into three movements of a conceptual symphony in time and space. The movements were based on a sequence of restoration work from the uplands riparian zone, through the fresh watershed to the estuarine systems. The process was also inspired by my experiences of the progressions of the Native American Medicine Wheel, which recognizes four quadrants in an ecosystem that correlates to the behavior of winds. It was obvious to me that the wind patterns determined the composition of microhabitats. Wind divided the property into four quadrants defined by the incline and exposure. As I observed and analyzed those relationships, the colors, textures and shapes of plantings were determined. I called the first three years of work on Ghost Nets the Trigger Point Garden.

As any landscape designer or architect might, I could apply my knowledge of sculpture and painting to knitting the habitats together on the site, and in relation to the wider region.