Department of ForestryNovember 7, 2003 - December 5, 2003
The Department of Forestry evolved out of a studio initiated with Dan Peterman during his visit to the studio. Dan proposed that we obtain a significant pile of wood chips and that we utilize them to work on understandings of civic space in the vicinity of the Alabama studio.
Wood chips are a multi-faceted material. As a commodity they are positioned between waste and resource as an abundant by-product of a green cityscape. Working with this material in cityspace is an investigation into the nature of civic space as plastic; in a constant flux between being held static and changed in subtle or dramatic ways. Civic space is evidence of what we have formed whether by plan or residue. It is an actualized conception of how we want things to be now, and a multi-layered index of prior forms and traces. Civic space as is a representation; we formed it. Inversely, civic space also forms us back in ways that are significant, but not well understood. The chips are highly flexible and work as a plastic intermediary device; a medium with which we can ask material questions about civic space. How might it be formed? How does it form us back?
Ecologically, they decay over time, enriching the soil. The chips can fill an urban space, softening it, and combining cityscape with landscape. Quickly capturing space, they create walkways and communal areas. Not solely visual or decorative, their presence also produces a distinctive smell, confirming their organic quality. Wood chips can extend and enrich a sense of urban ecology.
In vast quantities, the wood chips help us to view the material as a resource, both ecological and decorative. Mounds of the substance assert their position. Outside, they are spread thinly around plants and trees. This is a simple gesture. Wood chips can also be used to create walkways, softening the ground for pedestrians, whilst adding nutrients to the soil. If we adapt their purpose, the chips’ value as an object can change. In exhibition, their common value is elevated and can be recontextualized. The product can be spread in differing forms and become an object for social interaction. In this way, human manipulation is part of the process. Therefore, their expenditure is open ended, with many possibilities. Over the course of time, when the wood chips have fulfilled one purpose, they can be given away to fulfill another.
The studio investigated these notions through different manifestations. Traditional routes were taken; paths were created, soil was enriched. The chips were also distributed throughout the community, to local residents, gardening and housing projects. Less traditional uses manipulated the chips. With Dan Peterman, a tent structure was created in the studio, acting like an incubator and accelerating their decomposition. The structure was on display at an open studio event featuring a lecture by Peterman. Chips used in the structure later formed a compost heap at the exterior of the building. Another chip formation greeted passers-by and visitors to the lecture. The rectangular spread spanning twenty feet of sidewalk blanketed the studio’s door like a huge welcome mat. The chips did not create an obstruction for pedestrians, as the spread was no thicker than a light snowfall. Nevertheless, the formation had such a strong presence that some pedestrians would not walk on the chips, instead walking around it using the street.
In the parking lot, the material was at first shaped into a nest, then eroded by the elements, and finally moved to its new location adjacent to the railroad tracks. Here, it takes the form of a wedged seating area, a kind of communal and ecological installation. Its location is publicly accessible, offering the neighborhood a share to take for their gardens.
The shape and location of the wedge form echoes the railroad siding platforms and stores of resources that lined the tracks when the surrounding area was active with manufacturing. Coal and wood were the two primary resources shipped in on the railroad. The flat end of the wedge adjacent to the sidewalk along the former 1st street corridor is formed into a long bench-like step.