Fathers, Felled Trees, and Memory as Innovation

Posted by Nick Slie, Oct 27, 2015 1 comment

When I was twenty years old, I had the great fortune of watching my father die. My dad and I were not close for most of my life, although when I found out he was dying of cancer, I saw an opportunity to reckon with the past by being with him for his final year on earth. Close to twelve months later, early one mild December morning, he died. I’ll never forget how far time stretched during the last minute of his life, how many possibilities I saw ignited in that room when we all said our goodbyes. Over sixteen years, the tremble of that one minute has never ceased its work on me, growing more influential by the season. 

The continual impact of my father's death reminds me of the ecological phenomenon of the felled tree. The tendency in forestry is to dispose of trees that have fallen to the ground. The gaze of the modern forest manager sees the tree as eliminated, part of the past- no longer of use. The problem with this course of action is that the felled tree often has more nutrient matter to contribute to the ecosystem of the forest in death than it did in life, making it an essential part of an ecological future. Remove the tree, and the future marches without the navigating power of its ancestry. Impact is a living organism that continues to orient us in the world long after an experience is over.

My artistic ancestors are the felled trees that enliven the soil from which my creativity grows. As an artist, my most significant explorations have been expressed through the collective efforts of my company, Mondo Bizarro. The impact we seek is multitudinous and is usually achieved through long term collaborations. There are many ingredients in our creative kitchen, none more important than slowing time. We believe that reframing our relationship to time has the ability to restore the power of sight to us—sight as both fact and vision: what we encounter and what we can imagine. We draw upon memory as site of innovation, allowing for a robust call and response between the past, present and future, where immediate desires to create art collide with the need of larger histories to be told.

Too often, our expectations of the work we must do are derived from the limitations of the present. I imagine a world where our impact as artists is judged by how effectively we link our collaborative efforts to the endless triumphs of the individuals, groups and movements that came before. I can picture a scenario where the resources applied to reward the myth of genius are used to strengthen the art of social coordination. I long for a revival of the dual possibilities within the word original - meaning both something that has never happened and something connected to its origin. I sense what would happen if we perpetually watered the roots of origin. How much space would be freed in us as individuals, as a field, if we understood that our efforts were part of a continuum of impact, the arms of which stretch across time and borders? If we maintain a clearer image of what came before, of how impact persists through our veins over time, our work can serve as a corridor between the timely and the timeless. 

1 responses for Fathers, Felled Trees, and Memory as Innovation


October 28, 2015 at 11:35 pm

Beautifully written, and I am so sorry for your loss, Nick. We can learn so much by staying connected with our past, and we can use the impact to carry us into the future, if only we remember. In terms of arts management, I feel we could stand to remember what has already been attempted and to build upon it. Sometimes I feel we are spinning our wheels just a bit, especially when I see articles from the '50s or the '80s that mention some of the same challenges. 
Thank you again for this thoughtful post, Nick. I'm sharing this one! 

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