in a noisy field
dusty clouds settle
behind one, two cars
passing on a gravel road.
long grass cut
with paths that hum, chirp, buzz
in a noisy field.
Five minutes off the highway, we’re hardly in the middle of nowhere, though as a kid the (now-familiar) route from home to Ottawa felt like a passage through empty space. Rounding each curve, one lake followed another followed a cliff, followed a swamp. Not quite empty, just so full of the unknown.
Today, frogs leap from beneath our feet as we stroll through Fieldwork, an annual installation of place-based creativity. Sound continues to permeate my summer thoughts with this year’s iteration: Soundwork. The critters and breezes harmonize in persistent symphony so that it is noisy even before we listen to sparrows in headphones or hear the sound of crashing waves through speakers. At the centre of the field, large yellow spheres glow in the light of the sun; a canoe rests on a wave of stone; and at the edges, field becomes forest. Inside, the pine grove is thick with branches and blanketed in needles. Sunbeams illuminate the ground in bursts, but it glows pink everywhere. In here, it is quiet.
The selection of works that comprise the exhibition all have a way of blending with the land, rather than standing out from it. Nothing flashy, nothing intrusive. Solar panels power the works; cords are hidden in the grass or well underfoot.
Walking amongst the high-up hives, we hear workers buzz and Ellen remarks, “I love bees.” I think about the warnings I’ve heard: how the environmental stress of climate change threatens to wipe out a species upon which the larger ecosystem so greatly depends. I think also of honey—sticky, luminous, gold—and of my friend who spoons it into her tea with insatiable abandon.
Seated inside the canoe, we are on an ocean of stone that sings in crescendos and swells. The carefully arranged riverbed is both water and land and it is mostly peaceful, but at times nearly perilous. We are wrapped in sound like a boat at sea, surrounded on all sides by water that never stops moving.
Rain-soaked and heaving under its own weight, a tower made from thick volumes of history and science, of novels and manuals sits in the woods. Stacked one atop the next, titles on spines form spontaneous verse, while other books lay open at the base. Some are deteriorated to the point of complete erasure; words disappear as paper returns to the earth. It smells like a musty basement when I lean in close.
Near the end of our walk, we approach a driftwood sculpture that curves and arcs into the shape of an ear. Ellen raps the drum at its centre, sending “messages to the surroundings, subterranean and otherwise.” An Ear to the Ground (2014), like other works in this hot, grassy gallery, calls its viewers to attention, or more precisely, to pay attention: to listen close, heed signs, look up and down—away from the mundane and towards the fullness, the richness of this space.
Fieldwork is an annual exhibition that celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. You can visit the outdoor site, located on Old Brooke Rd off of Highway 7, all year round. Special events are planned throughout the summer. Visit the website for directions and more information.
P.S. Thank you to Ellen: a treasured friend and superb field trip buddy.
P.P.S. Speaking Volumes and An Ear to the Ground are ongoing installations from previous years.