Wonder for a moment what it might look like if everywhere you stepped left a mark, a stark print of your foot. Or maybe at those corners you hurried and turned swift there would be a messy slash, a primordial mark of your body’s cutting through air. Can you feel your feet buoyed by that unshakable pull?
We are unconscious choreographers, constantly making decisions about which way to navigate around things, step over barriers and through doors. What would it look like to record the dance of our daily journeys?
Every day thousands of people use the coordination of feet to maneuver their body along trails in the Smoky Mountain National Park. One hiker takes the side of the path that dips down into a maze of roots and another steps up and pushes off of a sequence of rocks. A child willfully spindles along the wooden plank of the mud sill while the mother meanders just behind, the tread of her boots impressing the soft earth.
It’s easy to think of hiking in a Park as mere frolicking- the trail cleared for simple thoroughfare. It’s easy to imagine the forest is your very own dwelling when you encounter no one else on the trail, to feel like an explorer, the virgin land loyal only to your feet. But in reality, so many feet have trod this ground, so much forest has been rearranged to allow the body passage. And each footprint is remembered by the earth, each body leaves its trace however subtle– the forest is rendered changed in the wake of each person’s departure.
This movement drawing was a mediation on the absence of bodies and how trails are chroniclers of transience and the passage of a human over time and space. Countless people have been momentarily embodied on the same ground, their feet smothered grass or wore a little more away of a rock or perhaps their arm broke a branch. A visible mark may be temporal, a hike may start out a casual day excursion. The tourist will take photos of vistas, of their faces imposed in front of scenic horizons and landscape compositions. Yet the ground holds memory of the body’s passage by how it is changed– shifted in its composition of its natural elements, its microbiology. And some hikers miss-step and move where the forest was not prepared to permit the body’s passage and their recordable presence is lost.
Everywhere our body moves the air closes in the fill in the space where we have been.* All that is left as evidence is the earth’s topographical “memory” that is no legacy to our specific inhabitance. Rather this ecological “memory” is the landscape proclaiming its ever-shifting identity, reasserting its face in our wake.
I wanted The Aftermath to be an ode to the human topography created by the body’s traversing over the earth along a trail. It is a narrative about a journey over swiftly changing terrain- both physically and emotionally. The Aftermath is a record keeper of presence, even as the trace of footprints speaks of absence, an everyday unconscious choreography of feet. The footprints become the storytellers of movements unseen, the motion of events passed. The additional component of the sound piece brings the narrative into a more sensory experience. The marks and sounds resonate with the coherency of place- all created from and on the same trail. And so together they are an echo of movements through confusion, fear, uncertainty, relief and the resilience of hope.
* Poem by Mark Strand, “Keeping Things Whole” https://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/poetry/poetry_in_motion/atlas/Baltimore/keeping_things_whole/
This drawing was made on a trail in the Smoky National Park using my feet to apply ink. In places the paper picked up the texture of roots and rocks. This is both a drawing of something perceived by sight and a print of the real. We cannot touch a landscape. It is by definition something beyond our physical contact, a distant composition of expansive scenery viewed from a single point. And yet we often treat the ground that we can touch, feel and see in the immediate dependence of feet, as a merely subservient surface. Roots, rocks and earth in a flowing topography of ecosystems are overlooked. Most tourists tread over trails to arrive at the more desirable beauty of the overlook.
Using the movement of my feet to create a drawing requires an attentiveness to ground. It is being present to my process that guides the composition. However, the making of Shaconage was more contrived – I found myself forcing marks and the lines of roots pushing up into the paper to create a composition reminiscent of the smoky mountains landscape. The ground very literally became my method for creating a pleasing composition to set up before the viewer, untouchable. In the same way so many tourists hike these trails for the sol purpose of seeing the mountains rather than realizing they are in the mountains and their feet are making contact with them. In Shaconage the layered footprints- whether defined or partially wiped away- become a reminder of material source, of process over destination and a call to the viewer back into embodiment and tactile embrace.
This dance drawing was composed for a recently married couple to music from their wedding. Though commissioned, it became a personal mediation on the journey of union – the ground where two bodies converge or the threshold where the self becomes whole. This liminal space is murky, yet nuanced –like the drawing.