Day 3 & 4: Glaciers and Wreckage


Over the weekend, we took a trip out to the Bow Glacier to see first hand where Calgary’s only water source begins. The three hour drive proved to be rather scenic with beautiful mountains in the background.


Anticipating the scary scenario of encountering a bear, we equipped ourselves with a bear bell and bear spray. Both those items became useless when we spotted a bear and her cub on the side of the Trans Canada Highway. The black bear was so uninterested in us taking photos, she never looked up at us and just wandered back into the forest. I guess they’re not as scary as we thought.


Josh getting his first glimpse of the Bow Glacier.


After spending a few minutes staring at the glacier, we realized that we still had to hike to the top.


About an hour later, we arrived to the top of the waterfall. Seen above in the top right, this waterfall is spilling glacier water directly down into the Bow Lake and eventually feeding the Bow River. It’s pretty amazing to imagine the distance the water travels; from the glacier all the way to the homes and gardens of Calgarians. The theme of time, flow, and repetition keep coming up in our research.


Yesterday, Randy Niessen, the Programming Coordinator at TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary and the Project Implementation and Development Lead for WATERSHED+, took us on a bike ride to see what’s left of the damage that the flood left behind.

Above: The 10 foot mark on the meter next to the bridge is how high the river rose in this area.


Trees completely ripped out of the ground.


Temporary fences mend the completely eroded trail.


Josh observing the wreckage. Behind him, once cemented stones have been completely ripped out of the ground.


This part of the trail is now completely gone.


A lot of sites throughout Calgary are still under repair. However, it’s quite amazing to note that the majority of flood issues were taken care of during the first week after the flood.


This bridge collapsed as the water rose and began eroding it. A cargo train was crossing over at the same time and it took search and rescue crews 12 hours to back the train safely off the bridge. They’re still working on its reconstruction.

More soon.

A Tree Grows in Detroit

Ailanthus altissima, a name that may not be in any way familiar, though there is a very good chance that a person who lives in the urban centers of Windsor or Detroit sees this “ancient” tree on a daily basis. This tree is known as “Tree of Heaven” or to some “Tree from Hell.”

The tree of heaven is a native to northeast China and Taiwan, it thrives in temperate climates and is capable of reaching heights of 15 meters in 25 years, though it has a relatively short lifespan of 50 years. What might be the significance of this tree you may ask. Well, it’s on the forefront of the cultural mythos of Detroit’s current revitalization.

This is not the first time that the Tree of Heaven has been reclaimed as an icon for cultural growth in circumstances and environments of neglected or “broken” urban centers. In 1943, Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which features the Tree of Heaven as its main metaphor for “the ability to thrive in a difficult environment.”

There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Introduction

Continue reading “A Tree Grows in Detroit”



A project by xClinic Environmental Health Clinic at NYU and the Living Architecture Lab at Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, AMPHIBIOUS ARCHITECTURE attempts to generate a new dialogue between the environment and us.

The description, quoted from the site, since it’s more clear than my attempt at synthesizing the information would be:

“Installed at two sites along the East and the Bronx Rivers in New York, the project is a network of floating interactive buoys housing a range of sensors below water and an array of LEDs above water. The sensors monitor water quality, the presence of fish, and human interest in the river’s ecosystem, while the lights respond to the sensors, creating feedback loops between humans, fish in their shared environment.

Additionally an SMS interface allows homo-citizens to text-message the fish and receive real-time information about the river, contributing towards the collective display of human interest in the aquatic environment. The aim of which is to simultaneously spark a larger public interest and dialogue about our local waterways.”


These are the sensors lit up before being installed in the river. To see some video of the sensors actually installed and floating, you’ll have to check out the site’s landing page.


This is an image of some of the sensors lit up, being activated by passing fish, water conditions, and text messages. It’s an amazing cool project, especially given our proximity and recent interest in imagining some kind of Detroit River based project.


GROUNDWORK from Render

I saw this on Render’s blog, and considering our work towards an artist-led community garden, I had to repost it. Not much to look at lightly dusted in snow, but the idea is incredibly great.

Running from April 2009 to the following winter, GROUNDWORK will function as a community garden and creative research site. The project will take place on the grounds of Rare, a 913-acre nature preservation and agriculture education site located on the Grand River between Galt and Blair. GROUNDWORK will bring together a core creative group of a dozen youth from the Gaweni:io School (Six Nations) and Waterloo Collegiate Institute’s Collision group to develop and cultivate a community garden/site of creative research and knowledge-sharing.

The community-outreach on this project is considerable, and it’s projects like these that involve such deep integration and collaboration with different parts of a community (and it seems Render is taking on more and more of them) that really interests me as an artist and parallels some of the bigger things I think we’d like to do in BCL.

Botanicalls at Conflux 2008

Botanicalls as part of Conflux 2008

Botanicalls is this incredible project I came across sometime last year. Essentially, it uses a microcontroller and sensor along with PHP and an open-source telephone system to allows plants to make phone calls and ask for water when they’re getting dried out. The project, as part ofConflux 2008, has become a walking tour in New York during which, “Participants call the Botanicalls main phoneline and navigate to the location-specific plant. Each tree or plant, speaks in their own ‘Botanicalls’ voice – which is based on their botanical habits and characteristics.” Not only do I think the project is a really great use of simple hardware and technology to create a novel experience, but the way in which they document and visually describe their project is really, really good.

We Have Germination!

 seed bombs are successful!

After taking a few seedbombs home with me yesterday, I’m happy to report that with some considerable watering, our second recipe seedbombs have started to germinate. Also, and maybe even more exciting, the test seedbombs in Michelle’s yard have also began to sprout! Michelle also suggested we should make some photocopy handouts with the recipe on it to give out to people at the demo… hoping Josh has that recipe?… or was it in Michelle’s sketchbook…?

In Progress

Kim Boske, In Progress

In Progress by Kim Boske. From her statement, “I experience the “now” as a complex collection of all sorts of connected influences from the present and the past; a web of similarities and minute differences caused through the slight moving of time.”


Closed (Eco) Systems

Mathieu Lehanneur - Local River

Saw these two installations, made me wonder about the potentials for filtering water hydroponically, in place of using something like a Brita filter. The first project is Local Riverby Mathieu Lehanneur. The installation consists of a refrigerated aquarium that include live fish and vegetables working together to clean the water and provide nutrients for one another. 

DrinkPeeDrinkPeeDrinkPee by Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray

The second installation, DrinkPeeDrinkPeeDrinkPee, by Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray creates a demonstration of a closed-loop system where viewers are encouraged to sit on the toilet facing the water fountain, thereby closing the loop of tubes that form the installation. The tubes carry urine from the toilet, filtering it through two aquariums and a “biomechanical  reaction mechanism” and a plant that is fertilized by the reaction’s byproduct. There is also a DIY kit to carry out the process at home that was available at the Eyebeam Feedback show back in March.

I think these two projects are interesting in that they tackle a roughly similar idea with two very different types of execution. Lehanneur’s design is very clean and less science-diagram-ish than Riley and Bray’s installation, but I wonder if something like DrinkPeeDrinkPeeDrinkPee is more along the lines of what we might like to show (the aesthetic of naturally filtering water as a science-type project), rather than a demonstration of our collective design skills.