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Art and/as Process – Biodiversity residencies (part6)

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Oshaughnessy’s Dwarf Iguana (Enyalioides o’shaughnessy)

The nights were full of sounds and the thick soothing smell of the jungle. If the moon was out, she wasn’t prying her gaze through the clouds. The rain at the moment was light, dampening my hair and shoulders within a few steps.  Looking at darker silhouettes of plants, I listened to hundreds of voices imagining which animals were producing them. A twig breaking made me think of the large brown tarantula I caught a glimpse off a few days before, or maybe it was a fat snake that was carelessly zigzagging through the bush. A boastful loud grumbling dominated the conversation coming from a tiny cattle tree frog. If I listened long enough I could hear crackling as some animal’s paws moved up or down the hill, perhaps it was the ocelot whose paw tracks I would almost walk over days later.

Rainfrog (Pristimantis sp.) also know as mutable rainfrog

     At this point in the story I have been in the Chocó region for three weeks.  I had a few spots I would paint in regularly while making special trips seeking out new vistas. In the beginning I respected the ‘no trespassing’ signs.  My curiosity though pushed me over to the other side of the barbwire fences and onto the bulgy mounds of clay and grass carved by countless hove marks. Looking around from a high vintage point you could see hills stretching out past your vision, imagining the jungle that use to cover them as it still does in the Poco del Chocó biological reserve.  It’s even more mind blowing to think about this back in Toronto now, walking around concreate and pavement where once a forest was.

Leafcutter ants of the genus Atta

     Close to a milking station, where a truck would come every morning[1] to pick up gallons of hand pumped cow juice, was a stretch off land that suddenly dropped off. You noticed it every time you were walking away from the biological reserve because suddenly there were no trees obstructing your view. The first time I crossed the barbwire fence to see what it held I knew I found something special. The second time I took lots of photos with a cell phone camera I had on loan, since my own equipment succumbed to moisture. A week would pass before returning with watercolours. As I was painting using larger swaths of colour, wanting to capture more of an impression of what I was looking at as whole, it suddenly hit me. The landscape was like the flowing river rushing through the valley. It, like the river connected to a point beyond my vision and moved well past it, containing its essence in every section. I looked at my painting and saw it as something like a photograph in a time-lapse of a movement which traces back into millennia while moving forward, a reality in process.

Poco del Chocó biological reserve

     With the valley stretching out in front of me I saw the streams of growth bulging in the landscaped, scars covered in different, newer foliage. The view contained many different examples of processes or flows…and then I remembered a phrase I came across in Liquid Modernity by Zygmund Bauman over a year before: space of flows. The term itself was coined by sociologist Manuel Castells and it refers to the global network of connectivity which has created a new relationship between space and time for us to contend with. Global network of connectivity, well nature is that I thought.  It all started to fit beautify, this new way of looking at my surroundings.  What I was looking at connected to the work I have already done, and the work I have been thinking about getting into.

Chocó region, Ecuador. Watercolour studies

     So here I was, looking at the hillside, connecting the things that I have been painting and documenting so far like the landslides, roads, deforestation and preservation, grazing cattle, a piece of garbage in a remote natural area, root system, etc., a natural network of processes.  The cicadas were vibrating, sounding like living electricity, and I was smiling. I found the conceptual framework for my work in the idea of nature as a space of flows.


[1] The first time I took a ride on the back of the truck we only got half way when the axel dropped dragging 20 meters before we stopped.

Art and/as Process – Biodiversity residencies (part1)

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There was nothing unusual about the flight from Toronto to Quito. For a few minutes in line at U.S. Customs I thought I might not make my flight as the line was huge and my flight was leaving in less then an hour. I landed in Quito 12 hrs later. Got into my Hostel at 2 am and crashed. Did not realize it then but the altitude in Quito, combined with jetlag and the flue I have yet to fully recover from left little energy in me. After breakfast I got out my travel itinerary that had details and broad strokes about different sections of my 80-day research trip. Found myself staring at the page section that only had the name of the place I was going to without any other details. The longer I stared the more anxious I began to feel, thinking that somehow the details would fill themselves in.

    Next came the questions: do I have enough money, is my Spanish good enough, what bus do I need to get to the terminal… In my tired state I was forgetting that that section of the trip was left undefined for a reason. I closed the itinerary, took a deep breath. This was something to be resolved later as other pieces of the trip would unfold. I had more pressing concerns now, like buying a new hat since I left mine on the plane, dammit.

    Getting to “Un poco del Chocó” biological reserve took about 4hrs from Quito. 30 min on local transit across the sprawling city, 2hrs on a regional bus and 45min in a 4×4 on the one road that gets to the reserve. A road that become important to me later on.


Un poco del Chocó view from one of the trails

    The reserve is located in the Chocó region of Ecuador and is situated between 950 and 1200 meters above the sea level. It protects a small part of the ecosystem that once covered most of the region. It is a biological hotspot, with a great biodiversity that is in danger of disappearing; 83% of forests in Ecuador have been cut down since the 40s.

    My goal was to observe and learn from the researchers about how biodiversity is studied and understood. Parallel, I conducted my own observations, made watercolour studies and took photos of what interested me.

    Five days into the experience, I hit a wall. With so much stimulus I was having a hard time fitting the pieces with my initial idea for the work that would address the loss of biodiversity. Working with watercolours has proven to be a lot harder than originally expected. The humidity changed the watercolour pencils making them gummy, things took much longer to dry and regular rain and bugs made a lot of the locations I became interested in difficult or impossible to paint in. Then my camera stopped working do to moisture.

    In order not to focus on the negative I focused on what I still could do. Every weekday I worked for the first half of the day helping to maintain the reserve, learning about different plants and ways of working with bamboo or palms. Walking the 5 km of the reserve trails had multiple benefits. They gave access to different levels of the tree canopy, waterfalls, areas of secondary succession and the river.With every walk there was a new discovery and things seen before could be seen during different parts of the day in a new light. The second thing that provided me with a lot if interesting information’s and way of looking at things were the conversations with the student researchers. I was lucky to have arrived when two were just completing their research and another two were arriving to start. Each had their own uniqe perspectives and experiences to share.

    On the second weekend, Jonathan, one of the new arrivals was going to walk to Las Tolas. It is the nearest village, about 12km up the road and it’s about 700 meters higher then the reserve. Up to that point I did not give much consideration to the road as it was outside the reserve. Wanting to break the routine and see more of the area I went along with him and another researcher, Jaimie. They were both starting their research related to different bird species. The walk proved a crucial experience on my way to figuring out how to fit the pieces of what I was experiencing. It was my first sunny day there as it rained for the most part in the weeks prior. I found interesting locations to paint in without the aforementioned problems and the road gave me a much broader perspective on the surrounding area. Jonathan also volunteered to take photos on his phone for me during the walk adding to my already fruitful day.

    The next weekend I was left alone on the reserve. The volunteers and researchers would usually leave on the weekends to see other parts of Ecuador and this time Nicole and Wilo, the owners, left as well for a much deserved break. Nicole left me a phone in case of emergency. On Saturday I went out for what were now my regular walks on the road. I had a few different spots 4 km+ from the reserve where I liked to paint and meditate. They were located at different parts of a hill around 1500 meters above sea level. On my way there I came across a trail of leaf cutter ants which a lot of their soldiers running back and forth. As I was about to voice my usual lament of not having a camera I realized that I actually had one, Nicoles phone. I used the rest of the day to document all the spots I found on my daily trail and road walks that for one reason or other were interesting to me. 143 photos later my situation changed fully. I was content and a pattern was beginning to emerge…

Art and/as Process – Inspiration/Motivation

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Inspiration or motivation for making an art work can come from … well anywhere. I started out making art by drawing things I enjoyed. Now making art is part of my process of experiencing and thinking about the world I am in.

     My work with Fluidity got going, although I didn’t know at the time, because of the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The event happened at a time when I was looking for a new direction in my work. Following the incident, I felt frustrated at my own seaming ineptness to act on, or rather against such tragic events. As a way of moving past this frustrated feeling I turned to my creative process. In researching the media generated in relation to the spill I came across a Ted talk by Carl Safina; where he tells a story of a dolphin “begging for help” as oil leaks out of its blowhole. The story inspired me to draw “Wakan Tanka, Human and the Drowning Whale” where Waken Tanka, Great Mystery in Lakota spirituality, is seen infusing life back into a landscape tainted by an oil spill. Wakan Tanka became part of the project because I have just finished a painting of Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a Canadian Inuit activist. In wanting to do more research into First Nations and the inherent respect for nature that is part of their culture, I came across this spiritual figure. The drawing was distributed in Toronto and Montreal as a zine, explaining the story behind the drawing and its elements.

Wakan Tanka and the Drowning Whale_Andrzej Tarasiuk_2010

Wakan Tanka, Human & the Drowning Whale – custom paper, crayons, acrylic paint, 121.9cm by 243.8cm, 2010

What stuck with me after I finished the project were the ‘fluid shapes’ framing the drawing. The shapes stand in for the four elements: Earth, Wind, Water and Fire, a reality from which the figure draws energy for the beam of light/life. That flowing reality inspired me to further explore, through my artwork, ideas of reality as a perpetually changing, interconnected process. I became interested in the relationship between being and becoming of elements which make up reality, such as ourselves.

     “2011 Fluidity” portrays locations in Toronto as an interconnected flow of elements making up a whole. “2012 Fluid Shapes” explore change by transforming paintings on plywood into three dimensional forms of variable arrangements. “2013 Fluid Shapes” through forceful manipulation of luan embody a metaphor for human interference in nature, changing it to suit our whims. “Fluidity: Actual Entities and Occasions of Experience” centered on interconnectivity by portraying figures as outlines blending, into one another and their negative space environment.

2013Fluid Shape 6_Andrzej Tarasiuk

Fluid Shape #6 – 13cm x 8cm x 5cm, Luan, paper, acrylic, tung oil, 2013

    My next body of work will, like the “Wakan Tanka and the Drowning Whale” drawing, directly address the rapidly changing environment duo to human actions, this time focusing on the dramatic loss of biodiversity. What I am really excited about is that the work will be based on research that includes my own visit to the places I am reading about. My project proposal, to observe and learn, has been accepted at a biological research station in Ecuador and a wildlife rescue centre in Peru. Both institutions work towards preserving biodiversity through research, conservation and education. While there I will learn about the topic first hand and participate in the institutions work. My goal is to absorb as much as possible while painting watercolour studies as a catalyst for the work to be made back in Toronto.

     That frustration I felt at the time of the British Petroleum 2010 oil spill has acted as a catalyst for personal growth in a way I never expected. Through the motivation of waiting to do something, no matter how significant, it inspired me to do a great deal, some of which I touched upon here.

Art and/as Process – Time

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Have you looked at time compressed into a stone, a million years in your hand? Would not our life seem but a blink of an eye to a mountain?

The passage of time can be looked upon in a wide range of ways. For the figures In Fluidity: Actual Entities & Occasions of Experience (FAEOE) time is caught at a moment in-between breaths. It is a fascinating moment one which I spent a long time mediating on after reading Osho’s ‘The Book of Secrets’ years ago. The book is a collection of meditational practices from around the world and “The space between breaths” is one of the simplest meditations that can be practiced everywhere; well not underwater. What I noticed about the moment between breaths is that it doesn’t really exist, not in a definite stop/start view. As we breathe in we begin to breathe out, and as we breathe out we begin to breathe in. It’s a beautiful, non-friction, fluid process whose contemplation changed things as mundane as a daily TTC commute for me…

     In FAEOE the figures can be thought of as entering and exiting a moment. All we have to work with is a ghostly outline hinted by the various colour shapes as they move in all directions on the sheet of paper. The shapes in themselves are an abstraction of the forces and elements, physical and ephemeral, with which we interact. The work is attempting to illustrate that we, like everything else, are in a constant and dynamic process of change, of becoming.

     This image of a fluid transition from one moment to the next, a continues becoming, started to form when I was reading about the philosophical construct of Actual Entities & Occasions of Experience as defined by Alfred North Whitehead. According to him, as far as I understand, is that each moment presents a new arrangement of matter. This occasion of experience constitutes the ‘reality’ of an actual entity, or a physical construct (rock, person, star…etc). This means that at each moment, that which makes up our physical reality is in a unique, one of a kind arrangement never to be repeated again. It’s not that something ‘is’ or things, people, etc. ‘are’ but rather that everything is always ‘becoming’.

     This is why I am drawn to the metaphor of a river which permanents all aspects of this body of work. It’s a visible moving force of perpetually changing content, yet it still has a place in space, a place that is paradoxically static in our minds. In other words, when thinking along these lines any moment presents an opportunity for discovery and change, where the concept of ‘I am’, ‘this is’ and ‘you are’ is no longer static.

Featured music in the above videos (from top) Too Many ZOOZ, Misfits, The Chemical Brothers

Art and/as Process – Sanding the cushion pad on magnet

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Picture a snake eating its own tale. It’s a good way to illustrate the creative process. There is no real beginning and end to it: we do things, absorb things some consciously most subconsciously, we doodle, tinker, make to-do lists, deal with logistics, and here and there we mark the cycle with ‘works of art’.

     Having been engaged in this process professionally for over a decade, with some extremely prolific periods, I realized that the artwork in itself is merely the tip of the ice berg. Most people experience art in its ‘final’ form; after the artist, having reached a certain climax with an idea steps back and hands it over to the environment where time and context take over the shaping of the piece.

     That said please take this idea of ‘climax’ with a grain of salt. What this and future videos in the “Art and/as Process” series will focus on are the activities that are part of the creative process, some of which may be obvious others I hope will be surprising. I want to show the everyday, ‘mundane’ aspects of bringing a work of art to existence. I hope to demystify the notion of the ‘artist’ grounding it in everyday activity that overtime results in the acquisition of ideas, creative and hands on skills as well as experiences which in turn are recycled back as artworks, the snake eating its own tale.

The music heard in the background is from the Mule Variations album by Tom Waits, “What is he Building?”




Blog: What, why, when, where and how?

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I am starting this blog to explore the notion of Art &/as Process.

To me a work of art is not a static object but one which shifts in form, meaning and interpretation. As an artist I am involved in all the stages, some more obvious than other in the life cycle of a work of art.

I will use this blog to address different aspects of my creative process not shying away form the everyday mundane aspects of bringing a work of art to existence.  I hope to demystify the notion of the ‘artist’ grounding it in everyday activity that overtime results in the acquisition of ideas, creative and hands on skills as well as experiences which in turn are recycled back as artworks.

This blog will include writing, images and video connected to my interests, research and work process. Post frequency is likely to vary, but my overall goal is to have one a month.

The website has been designed by Adam Sawicki.

It is powered by WP and f8.