While this diversity of sensuous forms certainly displays some sort of reckless order, we find ourselves in the midst, rather than on top of, this order.
- David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous
Regions of the unknown have often provided open fields for the projection of unconscious material. But the invitation to psychic projection was never more imperative than in the case of the swamp, an image whose complexity and elusiveness… could lure awareness through an endless array of dissolving surfaces and shifting dimensions.
- David C. Miller, Dark Eden
Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité, dit le renard. Mais tu ne dois pas l’oublier. Tu deveins responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince
I leave to several futures, not to all, my garden of forking paths.
- Jorge Luis Borges
Holocene refers to the current geologic epoch. It began roughly 10,000 years ago when the glaciers retreated at the end of the Pleistocene epoch. What sets it apart is not so much geological phenomena, but human impact on the land, oceans, biosphere, and atmosphere. As I learned over the duration of my project, many scientists now believe the Holocene is over. They believe a new human-caused era started about 200 years ago with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. They call this the Anthropocene referring directly to humans.
For me, the word ‘Holocene’ is synonymous with the word ‘ecocide,’ and with the current extinction crisis, which is the 6th mass extinction in the history of the Earth, since life began about 3.7 billion years ago. The last extinction of this magnitude occurred 65 million years ago, when the K-T meteorite collided with the Gulf of Mexico, suddenly ending the Cretaceous period. According to the paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, “For each of the Big Five there are theories of what caused them, some of them compelling, but none proven. For the sixth extinction, however, we do know the culprit. We are.” Our species is now responsible for pushing approximately “one hundred species a day, four species an hour, into evolutionary oblivion.” Holocene was meant to be both a eulogy, and a celebration of the diversity of life. One cannot speak of death without also speaking of life.
I hoped my project would serve an educational purpose similar to a nature documentary, reminding people of the more-than-human world beyond our immediate perception – a wilderness of strange and amazing beings with senses and experiences unfathomable to us – a world that is diminished with every passing moment.
Holocene, consisted of a 33-day drawing installation / performance, lasting from Jan. 12th to Feb. 13th 2011, in the Faculty of Fine Arts Gallery vitrine. Over the last decade I’ve completed several large-scale installations of collaged drawings, and several room-sized collaborative drawings, but Holocene was the largest single drawing I’ve ever made on my own (115’ x 10’9”, plus 5 pillars 9’ in circumference.)
Everyday, I bicycled through the snow, downtown to the FoFA. There I spent between 2 and 17 hours on display in the vitrine, drawing in what was essentially a long hallway, with a wall of paper on one side, and a wall of glass on the other. As well as a physical space, this also became a realm of geologic memory, and make-believe. It was my personal domain – a world where time collapsed, and all manner of creatures could coexist – the real and the imaginary, from the present and the past.
While the vitrine was not quite home (as much as I would have liked to, I wasn’t allowed to sleep in it) I spent far more time there than anywhere else that month. The space was simultaneously gallery, studio, mural, terrarium, and imaginary world. It became my habitat, and I was determined to care for it with the devotion of a gardener.
On a day-to-day basis, wanderers through the parallel corridor were able to observe activities in the vitrine like a microcosm in an elongated petri dish. The blank walls held potentiality and fertility. Drawings emerged, grew, metamorphosed, and were sometimes erased or removed. The 33rd day marked a finissage for the project, followed by a week of stillness before everything disappeared, including myself.
Although I wanted to engage the audience, the creative process was intensely personal. Looking over my shoulder and paying attention to my audience either made my drawing self-conscious, or distracted me completely, so I did my best to forget that I wasn’t alone. The glass, which enclosed me in a space about four feet deep, created a sense of separation that was stronger than I had anticipated. Even when I stopped to speak with people only inches away on the other side, I never felt like we were quite together. And yet, I also felt a wave of relief when I got home and closed my bedroom door behind me, finally alone.
In the vitrine I did the majority of my work facing away from the glass, with my back to and away from watching eyes. Instead I looked into the wall – into the illusion of my drawing. This gazing into the imaginary is usually a private activity, somewhat more akin to reading a book than to what is typically considered performative. In a way I fulfilled the role of a storyteller, telling a story 33 days long. Drawing is a way for me to simultaneously escape from, and reflect upon, the ‘real’ world. This immersion (or submersion) in pictorial space, allowed me to become lost in a state of suspended disbelief. My physical presence within the enclosure juxtaposed both real and illusionary spaces, and real and illusionary inhabitants. The more deeply I traveled into the imaginary realm, the more detailed and complex it became, the more it became like a universe – and down the rabbit hole we went.
An important part of my subject is the complexity and interconnectedness of physical and imaginary worlds, and the vast diversity of life forms and experiences. Because it extends far beyond the individual, I wanted to include the perceptions of others in my work. In advance of the exhibition, I sent out a call for submissions of postcards. While the call was open, and I displayed everything I received, what I specifically asked for was depictions of real or make-believe places, and pictures of endangered, extinct, or imaginary beings. These postcards were a way for people to collaborate, and share their concerns, memories, dreams, fantasies, ideas, and reflections on the state of the Earth. Some of the postcards responded to subjects observed within my drawing, and to other postcards. The daily collection of this mail was for me a heartening expression of shared care for, and interest in, the human, and more-than-human world. I taped them up all over the glass, creating a second image-wall between inside and outside spaces.
I wanted to be deeply immersed in my subject, to give it all the time and attention it deserved. This meant pushing my physical and psychological limits as far as I could, shy of the breaking point, but also being ever mindful, every day, that I am an animal. This meant contemplating what it means to be an animal of the human variety, and considering what qualities we share with other species, and what qualities make us distinct.
The revelation that we are indeed animals may seem redundant. However, its importance was reemphasized for me while reading an article by Karen Houle, in which she describes a thought experiment she uses in the Environmental Philosophy class she teaches. “On the first day,” she writes, “I ask the students to take a piece of paper and draw or describe their most memorable animal encounter. Then we share them. It is fantastic.” The students then speak about all sorts of wonderful close encounters with bears, snakes, rays, etc. Some share pictures of the dinosaurs and monsters that inspired their childhood imaginations. “Then, after the show and tell, I point out that no one talked about, or drew a picture of, any humans. Humans are, after all, animals.”
Reading this, I realized that surely my most memorable animal encounters were with other humans – my family, friends, lovers, and strangers. I realized that while I had no trouble intellectualizing myself as an animal, as a vertebrate, a mammal, a primate, a member of Homo sapiens, belonging to one species among multitudes, I still carry within me a deep anthropocentric prejudice. I still consider myself extra-different, extra-special. I could declare that our civilizations are over-glorified termite hills, and that human separation from the rest of nature is illusory, but it was an illusion I still believed.
Remembering that I am an animal means that right now I have to take a breath, and take notice of my human behaviour – typing on a keyboard, using fingers evolved in trees. In the vitrine, remembering this meant that my act of drawing displayed a variety of human-animal behavior, and that my interactions with other people were animal encounters.
While searching for the animalistic within my artistic practice, I became interested in the essay ‘Art and the Animal,’ by Elizabeth Grosz. There she argues that, “Art is the consequence of that excess, that energy or force, that puts life at risk for the sake of intensification, for the sake of sensation itself – not simply for pleasure or for sexuality, as psychoanalysis might suggest – but for what can be magnified, intensified, for what is more, what is perhaps too much, but through which creation, risk, innovation are undertaken for their own sake.”
The exposure, scale, and marathon duration of the piece, certainly heightened the sense of risk Grosz describes. As a human specimen under observation in a terrarium, both isolated and exposed, living in both the illusionary and material world of my drawing, all sorts of questions arose. What is the nature of imagination? How does it intermingle with perception of the material world? Does imagination come from us, or through us? All this paper I’m enwrapped in, ink that I’m soaking in – what does it draw on me? Down this long hallway, which side of the glass is more captive? Which side is inside? Which is outside? All these non-human-animals on the walls, would they call me ‘non-bear’, ‘non-owl,’ ‘non-salamander’? Am I drawing them out of love, or as an act of sublimated trophy hunting? And what of these places, real and imaginary? Where are they, and who do they belong to? Does the Earth belong to us? Or is even my body something that I’ve borrowed from it? I’m not sure how to answer these questions, but the following paragraphs are my best reflections on what it means to be human, and what it is that I’ve done in my long glass jar.
After drawing for so long over so many days, the act of drawing became as automatic as walking or talking, and in ways resembled both. I could watch my own hand scratching charcoal into the bark of a tree on the wall, and daydream about how this dexterous paw originated in actual trees. My hands also know how to play guitar, how to record my day in a diary, and as always, to touch. The act of drawing is for me as tactile as it is visual. But no part of our bodies sustains more direct contact with the earth than our feet.
While drawing late one night, standing on the top of a ladder, it folded beneath me and collapsed. I dropped straight down, and landed barefoot on the concrete, completely unhurt. I thanked my feet, and my teenage-self for skateboarding. I also thanked my feet for carrying me so far. I thought about how other mammals walk almost entirely on all fours. Paleoanthropologists argue that in addition to freeing our hands, standing on our back legs made us taller and able to see farther, thus facilitating our departure from the trees, and adaptation to the open savanna. For the rest of our primate siblings, trees do not equal ‘resources.’ They are home. I can’t help wondering what the effect of alienation from forests has on contemporary human wellbeing.
The writer Wallace Stegner maintained that even if a person rarely encounters wilderness, these places are valuable to the human psyche, “We are a wild species, as Darwin pointed out. Nobody ever tamed or domesticated or scientifically bred us. But for at least three millennia we have been engaged in a cumulative and ambitious race to modify and gain control of our environment, and in the process we have come close to domesticating ourselves. Not many people are likely, anymore, to look upon what we call ‘progress’ as an unmixed blessing. Just as surely as it has brought us increased comfort and more material goods, it has brought us spiritual losses, and it threatens now to become the Frankenstein that will destroy us.”
It is a quality of human psychology to see the unknown as a threat, and to appreciate things as special only when they become rare enough to be exotic. As more and more species approach extinction, they step closer to becoming unreal, magical, and imaginary. Wilderness becomes this way too, with more than half of us now living in cities, consuming the products of animals and forests and oceans, without tangibly understanding their ‘harvest.’ Once gone, these lost worlds haunt our memories, memories being hybrid creatures themselves, somewhere between fact and fiction. All species eventually go extinct, but in the future, unfathomable animals will evolve. For today they are less than imaginary. They are unfathomable, pre-incipient shadows waiting in an abyss of deep future.
We are relatively large animals, compared to most other still-living terrestrial species. We may never know for sure what drove the near-time extinctions of mammoths, glyptodonts, megatheria, and Neanderthals, but a leading theory among paleontologists, is that our ancestors ate, displaced, or otherwise killed and outcompeted them. As humans migrated and proliferated around the world, the megafauna vanished or was diminished on every continent, likely by the ecological shock of encountering people. An interesting exception is Africa, where humans coevolved alongside with other large animals, allowing them time to adapt. Sudden species loss upon human arrival is most evident on islands, such as the extinctions of giant moa in New Zealand, and giant lemurs in Madagascar.
We are numerous. A report by the United Nations Population Fund has stated that the seven-billionth baby will be born this month. According to David Suzuki, humans outnumber all other mammalian species – there are more humans than there are rabbits, rats, or mice.
Although we have no sense of sonar, our brains are pretty big, just not quite as big as a bottlenose dolphin’s. We’re industrious and curious, creating, exploring, and re-arranging things in ways that radically change the shape of world. These effects are magnified by our highly social nature. The collective acts of human creation are so complex that no individual can understand how things work in entirety. When we work together we are capable of wizardry unlike any other species, and when we work against each other, our warfare is the most destructive force on Earth.
We are highly adaptable animals. We can speak. We can empathize. We can imagine what it’s like to be someone else, somewhere else, living differently than we do. We learn from the past, we have history, we have foresight, and we can choose our destinies with greater intentionality than other animals. The human impulse to narrative allows us to pick up rocks that are fossilized bones, and make sense of pre-history from them, and it allows us to imagine and choose a different future world.
The different adaptations and sensibilities of all sorts of creatures are fascinating, but in many ways humanity is extraordinary. However, this is not a reason, nor gives permission, for dominating the rest of the Earth and its inhabitants. Rather than viewing humans as superior for our intelligence, awareness, and ingenuity, one might consider us burdened with greater responsibility than other species.
While researching in advance of my project, I learned as much as I could about the various spheres of the Earth – the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. Along the way, I came upon the idea of ‘noösphere,’ defined by geochemist / mineralogist, Vladimir Vernadsky, as the “sphere of human thought.” In a didactic text accompanying Holocene, and displayed on the glass, I suggested that the growth of the noösphere negatively impacted the rest of the Earth. On reflection, I now feel this was a misinterpretation of the idea. Humanity’s collective powers of creative problem solving are our best hope to remedy the harm we cause.
Recently, I learned of a parallel sphere called the ‘ethnosphere,’ coined by anthropologist Wade Davis. Davis defines the ethnosphere “as the sum total of all thoughts, dreams, ideas, beliefs, myths, intuitions and inspirations, brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. It’s a symbol of all that we’ve accomplished and all that we can accomplish.”
By endeavoring to be mindful of animal nature, including my own, I have tried to bridge the psychological void that separates us from our fellow Earthlings – human and non-human. Through drawing I am striving for a holistic reconnection between artistic, social, and environmentalist concerns. In my work I wish to reject dichotomies between the expressionistic and conceptual, between chance and intention, collaboration and independence. I seek consilience between the scientific and artistic, the political and personal. These dualities all appear to me as spectrums in which both extremes may coexist, and even thrive by their intermingling. I am searching for the source from which sensation, emotion, and thoughts all stem and depend. The relationship between the imaginary and the physical are of special fascination to me; in everything I do, while drawing monsters and researching dinosaurs, or hiking in a rainforest and swimming in a plankton bloom. There are many ways to travel, and these are mine.
 Holocene |ˈhäləˌsēn; ˈhōlə-|
of, relating to, or denoting the present epoch, which is the second epoch in the Quaternary period and followed the Pleistocene. Also called Recent.
• [as n. ] ( the Holocene) the Holocene epoch or the system of deposits laid down during this time.
 Anthropocene |ˈanθrəpəˌsēn|
the current geological age, viewed as having begun about 200 years ago with the significant impact of human activity on the ecosphere. ORIGIN 2000: based on Greek anthrōpos ‘human being’ + kainos ‘recent’ ; reportedly coined by chemist Paul Crutzen (1933– ).
 ecocide |ˈekōˌsīd; ˈēkō-|
destruction of the natural environment, esp. when willfully done.
 Richard Leakey, The Sixth Extinction: patterns of life and the future of humankind (New York: Anchor Books, 1996), 254
 Ibid, 252
 Karen Houle, Infinite, Indifferent Kinship (cmagazine 107, Autumn 2010), 13.
 primate 2 |ˈprīˌmāt|
a mammal of an order that includes the lemurs, bush babies, tarsiers, marmosets, monkeys, apes, and humans. They are distinguished by having hands, handlike feet, and forward-facing eyes, and, with the exception of humans, are typically agile tree-dwellers. • Order Primates: several families. ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from Latin primas, primat- ‘of the first rank’ (see primate 1 ).
 Elizabeth A. Grosz, Chaos, territory, art: Deleuze and the framing of the earth, (New York, Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 2008), 63.
 Wallace Stegner, Wilderness Letter, addressed to the American Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, (1969), 2-3.
 Paul S. Martin, Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America, (Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005), 48.
 Ibid, 120.
 Ibid, 119-127.
 David Suzuki, from his lecture on Feb. 8th, 2007, at Queen’s University, Kingston, ‘If I Was Prime Minister Tour,’ recorded by CFRC 101.0
 atmosphere |ˈatməsˌfi(ə)r|
noun [usu. in sing. ]
1 the envelope of gases surrounding the earth or another planet : part of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere.
 hydrosphere |ˈhīdrəˌsfir|
noun (usu. the hydrosphere)
all the waters on the earth’s surface, such as lakes and seas, and sometimes including water over the earth’s surface, such as clouds.
 geosphere |ˈjēōˌsfir|
any of the almost spherical concentric regions of matter that make up the earth and its atmosphere, as the lithosphere and hydrosphere.
 biosphere |ˈbīəˌsfi(ə)r|
the regions of the surface, atmosphere, and hydrosphere of the earth (or analogous parts of other planets) occupied by living organisms.
 From Davis’ 2009 Massey Lecture at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre in Yellowknife, NYT.
Notes on Notes on Notes
It’s always seemed to me that life has no thesis statement, and my artwork is not meant to have one either. Rather than having any central point, my artwork is a realm, a habitat, and it has tried to expand, exponentially, into a universe. There is a threshold, a periphery, a limit to what is included, but this universe, like any garden, could presumably unfold somewhat farther, given the time and the space.
I don’t mean to be nihilistic when I say there is no point, but that there are constellations of points, and this sweet Earth is a sphere within spheres among spheres, and our thoughts are threads wound up in threads, and each life-line a story unknown to the other storytellers; narratives are not only multiple, and parallel, but tangled. Thesis statements strive to focus, to clarify, and to prove a point. My anxiety around such declarations is that they may be deflections/evasions from the very real confusion, chaos, and libidinous complexity of things.
In my work I am not trying to make things especially more clear or confusing, but to explore, and to describe my experience of this world, and my vision of another one. There is no single center to my work, and I don’t want one. My focus sharpens and softens. If I had to declare a center, it might be the process of creation and creativity itself – the firing of millions of neurons, and the resultant panic stricken desperate meditative frenzy of drawing and writing. The content percolates up, choosing me as often as I choose it.
My work is driven by curiosity, by a wish to understand. When I draw pictures I draw a lot of animals, and this is my way of imagining what it would be like to have a different body than my own. I want to know what it’s like to be something else, somewhere else, sensing and knowing different things. I want to be a salamander. I want to be a whale. Art is a way to explore the world, and a way for me to navigate an internal world, where on any given day it might be partly overcast with periods of rain, where coniferous forests and overgrown vegetation meet the edge of a continent, swarming with a hydrosphere of normal aliens.
This mix of physical and mental searching and traveling is more central than any specific point or revelation I might make.
Drawing has always been a way for me to tell stories. Handwriting can be thought of literally as a kind of drawing. I learned to draw first, and then to write. When I go to the beach, I drag my fingers through the sand. While I’m walking I look back at the tracks in the mud. The winter of 1998-99 was the snowiest in history at Mt. Baker, and the lines I drew with my snowboard down that mountainside were the best I ever felt. I understand things better by drawing them, because I have to look at or imagine things carefully to describe them – drawing is not only seeing, but also touching. I draw pictures of places to imagine being there.
SOMETIMES MORE IS MORE
There can always be more. My experience of life is bewildering, uncertain, and overwhelming. I’ll be satisfied as long as my work is ‘maximal’ enough to induce a sense of overload in my audience. This overdose is an expression of multiplicity, proliferation, excess, and frenzy.
THE OUTSIDE INSIDE A BOOK INSIDE A ROOM OUTSIDE A BOOK
My drawing installations and book-works are inversions of each other. In both the viewer/reader is transported elsewhere. The installations are environments made of paper, like a book that burst open all over the walls – the imagination turned inside out. We are physically immersed; various senses awaken, or become heightened. We might even remember the air.
Books tend to be read in privacy, taking the reader on an inward journey; but books are also physical, tactile and interactive. Our imaginations carry us into other places and other lives, escaping from our physical selves, confronting ourselves psychologically. I’m deeply interested in what happens during these states of suspended disbelief, when we forget what’s around us and become lost in imaginary places. What are these beings and places and situations that do not exist but can be felt vicariously and can be seen in the mind’s eye? Imagination is not so completely imaginary after all.
Who loves the sun? Not everyone.
- The Velvet Underground
I work in black, white, and grey for many reasons. The materials I grew up using were pencils and pens, so the greyscale is natural for me. I like that these supplies are cheap, transportable, accessible to most people, and that the results (within scale) are reproducible by photocopier. My favorite way to share my love of the drawing process is by throwing drawing parties and making zines with people.
Another reason is the democratizing effect of keeping colour out of a drawing installation. If most of the work is greyscale, any use of colour attracts special attention. I found that black and white lent a formal and emotive consistency to my work, even if the subject matter varies widely. Colours carry different metaphorical meanings than black, white, and greys. The shades of grey connote ambiguity, fog, twilight, doubt, neutrality, agnosticism, and in-betweens. It is often felt as somber. Black and white, binaries of the sharpest tonal contrast, are metaphors of clarity. They connote dichotomies: light/shadow, day/night, absence/presence, empty/full, right/wrong, good/bad, etc. In my work, black and white are tools to juxtapose and invert dichotomies like these, while greys may be used to blur and conflate them.
The irony of working in ‘black and white,’ is that few things we see are completely black or white. The way things are lit give colour. ‘White’ papers all have warmer and cooler tones to them. Some black inks are more purple, burgundy, blue, or brown than others. Charcoal-black is more matte, and Chinese ink is more reflective. The subtly of these slight colours and low contrasts are appealing to me. Truthfully, when painting nocturnes, I intentionally use a little blue and violet watercolour, mixed with black ink. The colour is so slight that one might not notice it consciously, but it’s not the same without it.
For me the greyscale is not in opposition to colour, but in dialogue with it. By immersing myself in black and white, I become hypersensitive to colour when I see it. My creative writing often involves colour, the colour being something for the reader to imagine, rather than see.
Another reason for my avoidance of colour, is the benefit of having some limits. Because my practice is cumulative and excessive, choosing constraints has been important. Part way through my undergrad, I decided to intentionally abandon colour in order to focus on what can be done within the greyscale. Instead of learning to paint in the language of colour, I’ve sensitized myself to formal concerns such as low and high tonal contrasts, light and shadow, positive and negative space.
Most importantly, my affinity for nighttime, snow, and rain are major reasons for working within the greyscale. Humans see in colour, so the greyscale offers an altered perception. Seeing in black and white is more akin to nocturnal animals, and greyscale is a step toward night-vision. Altered perception is also caused by the uncertainty of nighttime. Darkness mutes colours and dulls edges. When we look into the world through dim light, visual information is obscure, and our imaginations explain what our eyes can’t – we hallucinate. Our vision grows close to dreaming. Stationary objects seem to move just slightly. The everyday turns unrecognizable. The face of a companion warps. Dark spaces appear as passageways. Monsters emerge. Our fears, desires, and expectations become apparent.
Magic still seems possible at nighttime, and a more intimate world presents itself. The world is hushed, and so those still awake listen carefully. Stars make pathways through the treetops, and if it’s dark enough, we must navigate by touch. Sometimes it feels as though a sixth sense has opened with the depravation of sight. One can feel the air – it’s like growing whiskers.
Before I moved to Montréal I lived in LA. I left because I hated the sun. I missed the rain and snow. It seems I’m a little more light-sensitive than my friends. When I was a kid growing up in BC, I loved the rainy days best because I could walk around with my eyes wide open. My fondest memories are of playing in a rubber dingy, catching tadpoles in the rain. Like nighttime, different creatures come out when it rains. For my entire adolescence, I had a pet salamander named Warlock. Fog obscures in a similar way that darkness does, as does the whiteout-blindness of a snowstorm1. As a teenager, I dedicated several years of my life to snowboarding, and I fell in love with the blanket of a hidden, muffled land.
TO DAYDREAM IS TO WANDER
Floating, wandering, drifting, lost.
Travel lust, loneliness, homesickness.
Casting off, arrival, return.
Leaving, being left behind.
Lines travel. Road trip. Hitchhike. Trek. Skateboard. Snowboard. Scuba dive. Sky dive. Jet. Train. Boat. Bus. Bike. Books.
Walking, running, rowing, sailing, swimming, flying, riding, digging, diving, sinking.
The lines made of our bodies passing through space and time, wherever we go.
Travel as freedom. Drawing as free thought. Spontaneous recording of thoughts along the way.
Mental travel and projection – neurosis, prayer, lucky numbers, superstition, myth.
Imagining/worrying/wishing/expecting/intending things into being.
The pleasures and pain of departure, flux, separation, nomadism, migration, exile.
I am the nightwalker. The streetlights cast my shadow out before me like something to be walked on, so I did. I dug my shadow out like a canoe, headed for the ditch, and paddled down. The frogs said nothing. They were all frozen. I asked the weeds where I could sleep but I couldn’t understand their language. I paddled into the tunnel beneath someone’s driveway and waited. Perhaps it was not where but when that made the difference. When the sun rose I went into shock. I’d never expected that to happen. I must have fainted, and I don’t know how long my dreaming lasted, but it must have been a long time because when I awoke there were bull frogs all around me, and one of them was digesting my leg. It didn’t matter though. I’d needed the sleep, and the sun had sunk back into the land again the way dreams slip out the window at dawn.
LET GO OF YOUR ENGERY TRAIL
When I was a kid, I used to imagine that I left a trail behind me everywhere I went. I visualized it as a long trace of my body through the air. Imagining this was so vivid for me, that if I walked around a pole I would walk back the other way, so as not to get tangled and tied around it. My mom asked me what I was doing when she saw me on the soccer field, pushing down on the air and taking a big step over something that wasn’t there. I imagined that the trail behind me was a light colour, but got darker the more times I traveled through any area, so that my bedroom, for example, would be completely black from my traces. I imagined that if I flew anywhere, a long line of my body was drawn across the sky. Eventually, the thought of my imaginary trail became such a nuisance that I imagined a force field around my body that could cut if off. However, I still had a short area between my back and the force field, like a truncated tail, so I had to imagine another force field that began as a point inside my body, and expanded to the edges of my skin like a full-body-wrap. In this way I was able to stop obsessively imagining the trail behind me. Nowadays I know that drawings are not only made with pens and pencils. When I was a kid I left a trail with my imagination, but it was not just imagination. Even now, I am drawing a line through space as I travel, a line as long as I live.
THE OCEAN AND THE SKY AND THE FOREST AND HOME
these tangent thoughts, they skip like stones
and sew the sky and harbour together
with a thread of nothing
While rowing the boat at Salt Spring Island, there is about 100 feet below me to the harbour’s floor, and 15km of Troposphere before the Stratosphere above. I am a water beetle, riding a zipper in-between the hydrosphere and atmosphere. People who live on islands know there’s something significant about that gap between where they are and the mainland.
My artwork has evolved to depict my romance with the North Pacific Ocean, the Cascade and Coastal Mountain ranges, and with the temperate rainforests of British Columbia. Every time I return, I find it increasingly more difficult to leave, as experiencing life away from the west coast has revealed just how unique that corner of the Earth is. By the same measure, each time I return I’ve been startled by the rate of ‘development.’ With only a little knowledge of local history, I can’t but help imagine what my suburban hometown in the Fraser Valley would have been like only a hundred years ago, where a forest of Douglas Fir trees once stood hundreds of feet tall. Over the course of my childhood, I witnessed the patches of second-growth forest turn into streets, yards, schools, parking lots, and soccer fields. The one-acre lot I grew up on was home to a creek full of frogs, was visited by birds of all sorts, and even an occasional deer. It has since been flattened and sub-divided into six identical houses with fences cut between. This sort of ecological lost-childhood gives me pause to worry about the children a hundred years from now, who will try to imagine our world as it is today.
My Mom has always been an avid gardener, feeding our family backyard vegetables throughout my childhood. As such, she hates slugs, for invading the lettuce, and for positioning themselves beneath her bare feet. Mom used to kill them by burring them, but this gave her nightmares of enormous slugs climbing back out of the ground like zombies. So, she offered to pay me a bounty of a penny per slug if I’d go through her garden, collecting and executing the gastropods on her behalf. I didn’t mind the work, but never really hated slugs, and was distracted by the tent-caterpillars before I ever made a dollar off the slugs.
Banana slugs are the second largest slug on Earth, and the only indigenous slug in coastal B.C. They don’t eat gardens, but decomposing wood. I grew fond of their companionship while hiking alone on Vancouver Island. Their bodies make for fascinating macro-photography, and being so slow, they make excellent life-drawing subjects. Because I have trouble slowing down once I get marching, the slugs were good for getting me to stop and take a closer look at what’s going on in the understory.
In 2001 I traveled through Tibet and learned that people there believe new incarnations can be identified by presenting babies with the tools of the deceased, and observing the infants for reactions of memory or affinity with these objects. If this is true, then I’ve certainly never used a hammer or a power-saw in any previous life, but must have played with mud and slugs. Last summer at the Banff Centre, when I first touched clay, ceramic slugs flowed out from my hands, and have flowed forth ever since.
Paleontology enthusiasts, interestingly, are almost exclusively kids and scientists. It is worth mentioning that my first (and deepest) artistic influences weren’t artists of the kinds I’ve been exposed to in school, but the illustrations in my childhood dinosaur books, and the environments and animals I encountered firsthand.
The lessons of dinosaurs go beyond boyish fascination for big things with big teeth. Dinosaurs might be history’s strongest metaphor of death. They are so old, and so dead that their bones have turned to stone. Dinosaurs have entered the realm of monsters, occupying a space between real and unreal animals. They were real during a time when we weren’t, and no one has ever seen one, or ever will, except by imagining. What we know about their lives will forever remain theoretical except for the most critical point of natural history: everything that lives must die.
There might not be any such thing as dragons, but there used to be something like them. Pterosaurs were neither birds nor dinosaurs, but flying reptiles, of the class Reptilia, siblings of snakes, crocodiles, and turtles. The largest of these was the Quetzalcoatlus, which had a wingspan of almost 40 feet – large enough that a person could ride on one’s back. The extinction of pterosaurs opened the sky habitat to descendents of dinosaurs: the birds.
Sperm whales have the largest brains on Earth. They dive far deeper than any other air-breathing animal. Their heads take up one third of their body. Their forehead contains a large bulb of spermaceti, an oily substance that apparently resembles sperm. This sperm oil was the product most sought after by whalers. The Soviets used spermaceti oil to lubricate nuclear missiles, thus doubling the Greenpeace mission to save whales and stop nuclear proliferation. The actual purpose of spermaceti is to focus the whale’s sense of echolocation. Sperm whales have the strongest sonar of any animal, which they use to find squid in water so deep there is no light. Before diving they breathe enough oxygen to turn their blood black. As they descend, their hearts slow, and their lungs collapse. In darkness, they migrate by underwater mountain ranges that they can’t see, but sense by sonar. The imaginations of countless children have been captured by the vision of an abyssal clash between these monstrous mammals and their alien prey: giant squid. These animals are real, but their habitat and activities exist outside direct human observation. This makes them mythic.
Even if there is no such thing as Sasquatch or Yeti, there used to be such a creature. Gigantopithecus was a primate like us, but stood over 9 feet tall, weighed over a ton, and was covered in hair. These cousins of ours lived in South-East Asia within the last million years, and were likely out-competed by our human ancestors in the region. Perhaps more amazingly is that gorillas still exist today.
STELLAR’S SEA COWS
In 1741 there were 30-foot manatees called Stellar’s Sea Cows, discovered swimming off Bering Island. They were large and slow enough to act as living islands for smaller creatures. When harpooned, the others would come to help, and be harpooned too. Stellar’s Sea Cows were hunted to extinction within 27 years of their discovery.
THE RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD & THE LITTLE BROWN BAT
Bat trapped in the Pterodactyl Studio, clicking inaudible radar circles around my dangling drawings. I called to my friend Darren, “Oh my gOd! There’s a bat in here!” He shrieked and dropped the telephone like a 16-year-old girl, then ran to the table where he sat huddled with his little red riding hood over his head, murmuring, “Oh fuck, oh fuck, holy shit, bat, bat.”
Two days prior we’d had a hummingbird lost in the rafters of the same room, pressing his straw-like beak toward the sunlight, the dirty glass covered in needles and cobwebs, separating him from his sky. He sounded like a huge bee, though he was about the same size as the little brown bat. He moved like an alien helicopter, and flashed his UV-spectrum red chest like a fishing lure.
The bat, by contrast, moved with total silence, flapping leather wings steadily, round and round, circling figure eights over my bed, through the lower, darker cavern where I slept and dreamed. Only once did the bat enter the more spacious airy ghost boat chamber where I drew. I’d been working at the table, drawing a foie gras goose vomiting to death, when I thought I saw something move, like a wisp of hair past my eye. I looked around, disbelieving – but sure enough – here we had a living bat. This after having finally hung the last ‘LOST BAT’ posters all over Ganges, ‘FOUND BAT’ posters all over Fulford, and ‘BAT PROBLEM?’ posters all over Vesuvious. It was as if we had conjured or summoned the little spirit, now lost in our lofty room.
Knowing what I know now, on that day when we had a hummingbird, I would have opened the garage door and plugged in red lamps by the opening to catch the critter’s eye. Maybe sugar water down low by the exit. Maybe I could have found a ladder tall enough to get onto the roof where I could have laid tarpaper over the skylights. The ideas come too late. Instead we left the garage door open, and went out for the evening, hoping the bird would find his own way out. We thought he had, when later we returned to what seemed to be an empty studio, but the next morning revealed that the hummingbird had died. Unable to be free, the tiny, shocked bird gave up his body, and the corpse lay weightless on a concrete floor.
I don’t know how the bat got into the chamber. Possibly through a crack in the wall – or maybe the creature was inside all day and had just awoken. We watched the bat in awe and in irrational fear of rabies and superstitions of bats caught in hair – but Goya believed bats were symbols of inspiration.
Bats – the only flying mammal – they used to live in my chimney. I’ve thrown up pebbles to see the bats chase them like insects. I’ve watched them in the nocturnal segments of zoos, how they swerve and duck branches and glass panes and each other. I read that they are more dexterous than any bird, with the debatable exception of the hummingbird – their mechanics being different. At dusk in Joshua Tree Desert, they flew around my head so close it seemed we’d surly collide, but a bat has never touched me.
After a couple minutes I stood and walked slowly to the garage door. I pressed the button, the gate opened, and in one second, the bat vanished into the night, as if it had never arrived, as if we’d imagined it all.
Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world, and are harmless plankton feeders. Fifty years ago, so many basking sharks lived off the coast of Vancouver Island that ships could get stuck in the Alberni Inlet, wedged between them. Because they were often trapped in fishnets, damaging them, the basking sharks were hunted with the intent of extermination. Nobody has seen one off the coast of British Columbia for years.
deam diary entry, November 24th, 2009:
Last night I spray painted a 15’ basking shark on the most haunted wall in Griffintown. I got home at about 4am, took 5000 mg of Vitamin B-12 (alleged to give you vivid dreams) and dreamed that my Mom was driving me through my hometown, Aldergrove. It was dark and pouring rain. We drove up the hill past my old elementary school, hung a left onto the street that leads to the dead-end road I grew up on, but we passed our road, and kept driving. Ahead, the clouds broke, and the blue sky was bluer than seemed possible, casting incredible light and shadows on the trees. Above, the sky was still black. I rolled down the window to feel the warm breeze on my hand.
“Where are we going Mom?”
“On our way we’ll stop by to see the basking shark.”
“A real basking shark?”
“She’s sick. Somebody found her and is taking care of her.”
We walked down a hallway, passing two open doors on the right. Each had a large bathtub containing either a plastic basking shark, or a dead one. I couldn’t tell.
“Is that her?” I asked Mom.
“No,” said Mom, looking concerned.
As we walked into the room at the end of the hall, I saw a bunch of people – a couple families – standing around a bathtub. There was an alien-like girl standing in it, maybe nine years old. Her facial features looked almost Japanese, but her eyes were entirely black, her hands were backwards, and her skin was like wet rubber. In her armpits were extra folds of skin, like fins or gills. She was completely calm, standing there naked, looking back at everyone. I stood there with them, and then slowly reached out my hand toward her. She took my hand and held it. A woman leaned over the bathtub with a baby, and the baby stared intently at the basking shark girl. She looked back, and leaned slowly toward the baby. The baby’s face expressed something between panic and amazement, almost crying and then overwhelmed with fascination.
“You’ve been sick?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she said.
“Did you have a high fever?”
“Yes,” she said, “but I’m getting better.”
Then I woke up.
 A boring-warning for Eric Simon – the next several paragraphs will be familiar revisions from Horror Vacui.
 Jim Holyoak, Horror Vacui exhibition catalogue (Montréal, Centre des art visuel, 2010), 10-11
 The Mandarin word for ‘night.’
1 Music a short composition of a romantic or dreamy character suggestive of night, typically for piano.
2 Art a picture of a night scene.
ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: French, from Latin nocturnus ‘of the night.’
Jim Holyoak, Horror Vacui exhibition catalogue (Montréal, Centre des art visuel, 2010), 10-11
 Gastropoda |ˌgastrəˈpōdə| Zoology
a large class of mollusks which includes snails, slugs, whelks, and all terrestrial kinds. They have a large muscular foot for movement and (in many kinds) a single asymmetrical spiral shell.
gastropod |ˈgastrəˌpäd| noun
ORIGIN modern Latin (plural), from Greek gastēr, gastr- ‘stomach’ + pous, pod- ‘foot.’
 understory |ˈəndərˌstôrē| ( Brit. understorey)
noun ( pl. -ries) Ecology
a layer of vegetation beneath the main canopy of a forest.
 paleo- ( Brit. palaeo-)
older or ancient, esp. relating to the geological past : Paleolithic | paleomagnetism.
ORIGIN from Greek palaios ‘ancient.’
 ontology |änˈtäləjē|
the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.
ontological |ˌäntəˈläjikəl| adjective
ontologically |ˌäntəˈläjik(ə)lē| adverb
ontologist |-jist| noun
ORIGIN early 18th cent.: from modern Latin ontologia, from Greek ōn, ont- ‘being’ + -logy .