I'm a writer and visual artist in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

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Posts tagged “Arcata”

Barbershop Quartet

Finishing up Barbershop Quartet, a new mini-book for a zine exchange at Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John’s. Four short stories about conversations that happened while getting haircuts in Montreal, Arcata and St. John’s. I printed 30 of these.


A few pages from Overwintered, a short bookwork I made about a year I spent living in Northern California. The book contains 32 spreads like these, with photos, writing, and a few drawings. I printed 25 copies of this for a zine exchange.

Bark beetle codex

Hiking near South Fork Trinity River this afternoon, and found this amazing piece of wood in a pile of debris washed up at a bend in the river. It’s about 5′ long and completely covered in intricate, overlapping bark beetle markings. Click the image above for a larger version.

Outside the city, looking in

Writing from my Halifax Walking Notebook, photo from downtown Eureka, California.

Unsystematic searching / scratching in glass

Finding myself far from the familiar, I am more aware of the world. Everything I read seems somehow connected, as if each book or blog post I come across is a mark on a map I am just beginning to understand. My brain is attuned; I keep making connections without trying. Living in a new place makes it easier to see things differently, to notice all the little details. Hardly knowing anyone here means my world is quieter, and I write more. I feel a fullness of purpose I haven’t felt since I lived in Montreal.

This clarity is perhaps because I have been reading a lot. Moving was an opportunity to pare down my library. Most of my books are in boxes in Newfoundland, lending a new essentiality to the ones I brought. A few days ago I chose four thin volumes to reread: John Berger’s And our faces, my heart, brief as photos, Don McKay’s Vis à Vis: Field Notes on Poetry and Wilderness, Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald. Books about channelling firsthand experience into memory and meaning.

I am writing in the university library, at a small table lit mostly by sunlight. Nothing urges me to write more than a chair beside a window. A moment ago I overheard two students at a nearby table talking about a history class. One described his visit to a distant historical site, an apartment made famous because a writer or writers had lived there: “The windows were full of writing; they scratched poems to each other in the glass.” My muddled impression is that he was talking about New England, but a little web research seems to suggest Robert Burns.

Writing in public has always felt best to me; I prefer coffeeshops, libraries and parks to the tiresome quiet of a desk at home. Used bookstores and chance conversations are my favourite ways to research. I do my best thinking while walking. These methods leave room for serendipity. I know I am on the right track when I feel slightly uncertain about the work; a little uncertainty leaves space for reinterpretation. It suits my work to feel a little unfinished, rough around the edges, liminal. Sometimes I work best when I’m not sure what I am working on.

“As you walk along, you find things. I think that’s the advantage of walking. It’s just one of the reasons why I do that a lot. You find things by the wayside or you buy a brochure written by a local historian, which is in a tiny little museum somewhere, which you would never find in London. And in that you find odd details which lead you somewhere else, and so it’s a form of unsystematic searching […] And the more I got on, the more I felt that, really, one can find something only in that way, i.e., in the same way in which, say, a dog runs through a field.”

— from The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald

index of first lines at Reese Bullen Gallery

index of first lines at Reese Bullen Gallery

My digital print index of first lines is currently being shown in the art department faculty & staff show at Reese Bullen Gallery, Humboldt State University, in Arcata, CA. I’m currently teaching Web Media & Design here at Humboldt.

Here’s the artist statement you can see on the wall there:

I am interested in adapting digital photographic data into information systems usually associated with language and literature, such as an index of first lines.

Occasionally found in anthologies of poetry, an index of first lines lists poems alphabetically according to each first line, eschewing authorship, title and chronology. A reader might not always recall the title or author of a poem, but is likely to remember how it begins. I’ve always found indexes of first lines amusing as exercises in found poetry – reading the lines sequentially often results in a charmingly garbled, wandering diatribe, full of false starts.

index of first lines contains the first row of pixels from every image created with my first digital camera, from the day I bought it until the day it died. The lines of pixels are stratified in chronological order, with the earliest photo at the top. The resulting image contains 2048 × 5197 pixels (my camera produced images that were 2048 pixels wide, and there are 5197 photos).

Software tools such as Photoshop often impose a film-photography metaphor onto digital imaging. To get away from such metaphors, I use computer programming to manipulate digital image data in a way that is intrinsically digital. In this work, a PHP script was used to copy pixels from thousands of photos on my hard drive and compile them into this image.

index of first lines is a product not only of a digital camera, but of computer code. It is composed of a series of sequential images that are never perceived individually. Like an index of poems, its usefulness as a reference device depends on my memory. Taken out of context, it has a certain surreal quality.

While it’s impossible for me to identify individual photos, looking at this image does bring back memories. Thicker bands of colour indicate distinct sessions of photographing, when I snapped many photos with similar backgrounds. For instance, a certain band of white near the centre is the trace of the overcast sky on the afternoon I first visited Stonehenge. In this way, index of first lines is a cross-section of my memory, or at least my photographic habits. Examining it is an act of reading.

The faculty and staff show is open from September 13 – October 4, 2012.

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